Few Democrats argue with the unspoken assessment of former senator George McGovern (D-S.D.) of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination as an eye-glazer. Most cannot discuss their political situation for more than two sentences without nodding off.
On the other hand, few regard his announcement of his candidacy as the answer to the problem.
McGovern is not a self-conscious man. If he were, he would not have burst through the black velvet curtains in the back of a George Washington University auditorium to announce his candidacy to an enthusiastic student audience and the dubious family members sitting on the stage.
Also he would not have said, first thing, that his campaign would be waged on "a platform of realism and common sense" without specifying that he was not referring to political realism and common sense, although it would have been appropriate. In his previous try, he won just one state (and the District of Columbia) in the 1972 general election; since then he has lost his Senate seat.
He was candid enough to hint that his attempt has been as much dictated by his own needs as the country's. He could not, he said, "sit on the sidelines" while President Reagan ruins the country.
Mercifully, he did not use that announcement bromide, "Many friends have urged me . . . ." Most of his friends urged him not to run. They warned that without the engine of the protests against the Vietnam war to drive his campaign, he was headed for pity or scorn.
They understand why they did not prevail.
McGovern remembers his nomination, not his defeat.
He blames the size of his loss on his hasty, ill-informed choice of Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) as his running mate.
He misses the warm lights of the television cameras. It rankles that his discredited rival, Richard M. Nixon, is now regularly importuned for his opinions on world affairs, while McGovern has pined in the obscurity of the lecture circuit.
For McGovern, it was apparently not a painful choice. Better to risk looking foolish than to be ignored.
He does not, he said, wish to criticize the other Democrats, although criticism is implied in his action. He's already left them all in his liberal dust, proposing an end to U.S. military involvement in Central America, and threatening to cut off aid to all parties in the Middle East unless they negotiate.
Being even-handed about Israel is a luxury other candidates cannot afford. McGovern, however, has no campaign manager to send into apoplexy, no fund-raisers to offend and no game plan to upset.
His friends, who will talk only on a "not-for-attribution" basis, said that McGovern has been pawing the ground for months, waiting for someone to surge ahead, waiting for someone to sing his song.
Former vice president Walter F. Mondale is too cautious for him. Besides, McGovern said privately, Mondale gives Reagan the chance to run again against his favorite opponent, Jimmy Carter.
The hostility toward their most recent president is a phenomenon among Democrats, who will not mention his name.
McGovern, who was savaged by the Republicans as the "acid-abortion-amnesty" candidate of 1972, may be a symbol of hapless radicalism to traditionalists in his party, but he may be a shade more popular than Carter. His views may not have been 10 years ahead of his time, as he said his friends are telling him, but he was consistent.
His problem was not his promise to "crawl" to Hanoi to get the POWs back or to give every American $1,000.
These gave much offense at the time, but the trouble was deeper. Many voters, looking at his thin face and hearing his reedy voice, were doubtful of his ability to lead the western world. Could he, in the White House, ask for a glass of water and be sure it would be brought to him? People weren't sure.
But McGovern said he thinks the other Democrats won't do.
In Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), currently sharing the lead with Mondale, McGovern sees not the Democratic Eisenhower of other Democrats' hopes, but a Democratic Reagan.
The bonds of loyalty to Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), his 1972 campaign manager, have loosened. Hart has been at some pains to move away from the McGovernite constituency. Besides, McGovern said, "Gary isn't getting anywhere."
As for Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who has succeeded in sequestering the peace vote, McGovern is skeptical because of Cranston's advocacy of the B1 bomber, which is built in his home state of California.
If these reasons had not sufficed, he doubtless would have, in the way of hungry politicans, found others.
None, however, was good enough for his wife, Eleanor, a charming and gentle woman who won't campaign with him this time. But McGovern has persuaded himself that he must give history a chance to write something else about him than that he was its most defeated presidential candidate, and this is the only way to go about it.