By TOM LAWRENCE
The Daily Republic
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series examining the events of 40 years ago that led to Mitchell native George McGovern’s Democratic presidential nomination and run for the White House.
George McGovern was the antiestablishment candidate in 1972.
That was especially evident this week 40 years ago.
McGovern, the recently crowned head of the Democratic Party, headed to Texas to meet with former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and, the very next day, to Chicago to meet with Mayor Richard J. Daley.
LBJ and Daley were two of the most establishment Democrats in the nation. Neither were particularly fans of McGovern, the anti-war insurgent candidate who amazed insiders and the media by claiming the party’s presidential nomination.
Johnson had served as president from 1963 to 1969, and McGovern was in the Senate during those years.The Vietnam War had bogged down during those years, but LBJ stuck with it, determined, in his words, not to be the first American president to lose a war.
McGovern, meanwhile, became one of the leading critics of the war and was opposed to the war policies of Johnson, while praising him for his “Great Society” social programs.
In an interview with The Daily Republic in 2011, McGovern remembered what it was like to be lobbied by Johnson, a towering man who liked to look down on his subjects while he tried to persuade them.
“We called it the nostril treatment,” McGovern said.
In 1972, LBJ was out of office and out of sorts with his party. He had not endorsed McGovern until Aug. 15, when he told two small Texas weekly newspapers that he supported the Democratic candidate.
McGovern attempted to be gracious at the cold shoulder.
“President Johnson has been out of active politics for a long time,” he said. “His health difficulties are well known.”
McGovern and his second running mate, Sargent Shriver, flew to the LBJ Ranch on Aug. 22 in an attempt to persuade Johnson to make a more formal endorsement. But Johnson banned all reporters and photographers from the meeting and also told McGovern to keep several members of his staff away as well.
The three men met, with a photographer brought to the event by Johnson. The former president said he would support the ticket, but did very little to do that.
A new book, “The Presidents Club,” says in fact Johnson told people he had little use or respect for McGovern and actually favored President Nixon, who had sought his support.
LBJ’s political protégé and close friend, former Texas Gov. John Connally, started up a group called Democrats for Nixon.
After that frustrating day in Texas, McGovern flew to Chicago, where the World War II veteran received a cool welcome at the American Legion National Convention, when he called for cuts in defense spending, which he said was “riddled with waste and inefficiency.”
McGovern donned his blue Mitchell American Legion cap for the speech, and said he was grateful for the scant applause and glad there were no boos or hisses.
He then met with the powerful Daley, who had been removed as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention the previous month as part of the reform effort McGovern had launched.
The two men met and later posed for photos with the press, vowing to work together for the party.
But McGovern wore a thin smile in the pictures. The Democratic establishment had made it clear: He wasn’t their guy.