The latest gambit of Senator Clinton's presidential campaign is to liken her opponent, Senator Obama, to, of all people, Senator McGovern. A Robert Novak column this week described "Clinton insiders" as likening Mr. Obama to "a latter-day George McGovern whose career record of radical positions will prove easy prey for GOP attack dogs." Harold Ickes, a top Clinton campaign aide who was a deputy chief of staff to President Clinton, spoke to reporters in Washington Monday and defended the idea that superdelegates might hand the nomination to Mrs. Clinton.
"I suspect that had superdelegates been at the '72 convention they may have had a different assessment about George McGovern," Mr. Ickes said, according to the Daily News. George Will sat down to breakfast with Mr. McGovern for a column in the February 25 Newsweek and observed that Mr. McGovern "has seen important aspects of American politics move in his direction in the 36 years since he lost 49 states to Richard Nixon." Mr. Will also noted that Mr. McGovern, a veteran of World War II, was an early opponent of American involvement in both Vietnam and the Middle East.
There are a lot of ironies here. The first is that Mrs. Clinton herself has her political roots in the McGovern wing of the Democratic Party. When Senator McGovern in October endorsed Mrs. Clinton for president, he referred to the fact that both Bill and Hillary Clinton got their starts in presidential politics working in his 1972 presidential campaign in Texas. It was an uphill battle. As Mr. Clinton recounts it in his memoir, the former Texas governor, John Connally, was leading a group called Democrats for Nixon. Mr. McGovern lost Texas, 67% to 33%.
If the point of Mrs. Clinton's campaign is to suggest that Mr. Obama would be in for a similar drubbing, chalk it up to Mrs. Clinton's oft-touted 35 years of experience. The question is whether the superdelegates of today's Democratic Party do, in fact, represent the moderating influence that Mr. Ickes suggests was embodied by party elders such as AFL-CIO president George Meany, who was shut out of the 1972 convention in Miami. Or whether they are a new breed of McGovernites. And another question is whether it is Senator Obama or Senator Clinton who is the rightful heir to the McGovern policy legacy in this contest. Not a debate either of them should be eager to win.