He puts on a brown overcoat, shuffling toward the door, then stops abruptly. Over his shoulder, hung in a hallway, is a framed photo of himself on the cover of what appears to be the November 13, 1972, issue of Newsweek magazine -- or a News-week from a parallel universe. The headline says, "THE GREAT UPSET." Beneath those words, alongside the candidate's beaming visage at age 50, is the cover's subtitle: "President-Elect McGovern." Newsweek prepared the cover, [George] McGovern explains, just in case he beat the odds and won the '72 race. It is one more reminder for him of what might have been.
He lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon, who in turn fell to Watergate but whose name is immortal, synonymous with scandal and savvy despoiled, whereas McGovern's notoriety recedes with each passing year. Like most presidential nominees who never won the big prize, he has become less a major figure than an intriguing footnote for all but the most passionate political junkies, another answer to a set of trivia questions whose correct responses include the names Dukakis, Mondale, Humphrey, Goldwater, Stevenson, Dewey, Willkie, Landon, Smith, Davis, Cox, Parker, Bryan, Blaine and McClellan -- the good, the bad, the forgotten.
This is from "What Might Have Been", Michael Leahy's marvellous feature on people who have lost presidential races, with George McGovern as its prime focus. An evocative and moving piece, it contains some delightful snippets from McGovern's life, such as this one:
He [McGovern] occasionally saw [Barry] Goldwater, who, nearly a decade removed from his own landslide loss, had discovered a new perspective on defeat, marveling over how dreadful it would have been to lose a close election. McGovern recalls: "Barry said to me, 'You and I got beat badly. Just imagine how awful it must have been for that son-ofabitch Nixon [in 1960], getting so close to the White House but losing to Kennedy by a hundred thousand votes."
Read the full thing.