Donald P. Russo
April 12, 2008
In the fall of 1972, I was a junior at Moravian College. Sen. George
McGovern of South Dakota was the Democratic presidential nominee.
Then, many college students looked like hippies. Everyone had long
hair. Society was polarized, and mainstream Democrats were not very
enamored of Sen. McGovern. I was a volunteer for the McGovern
campaign that year, and we were not even allowed to use local
Democratic Party offices. The Northampton County party boss at the
time, Attorney Justin Jurolanio, disapproved of the McGovern
candidacy, and he was not about to lend official party support to the
McGovern had wrested the nomination from Minnesota Sen. Hubert
Humphrey that year, and it was a nasty fight. The decision went to
the wire at the Democratic National Convention. Sen. Humphrey
attempted to disqualify the California delegation from voting as a
bloc. Had Humphrey been successful, he might have had enough votes to
win, it was that close. That was 36 years ago.
This year reminds me of that time. McGovern's supporters thought
everyone loved George McGovern. However, President Richard Nixon was
re-elected in a landslide. Most of us in our early 20s, the
''hippies'' of the time, thought McGovern's campaign was a sure
thing. Nixon had been elected in 1968 due in part to his promise that
he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam. Four years passed, and Nixon
escalated the war. Nevertheless, McGovern could not find a way to
capitalize on that fact. In 1972, we were told we had to fight
communism. In retrospect, that was laughable. There are American fast
food chains in Vietnam now, and communism reigns supreme in that land.
We import Vietnamese goods, just as we import Chinese goods.
Ironically, American businessmen seem to love communism, because
communism guarantees a cheap labor force to manufacture low-cost
goods. While I honor the bravery and the sacrifice of the 55,000
Americans who died in Vietnam, I continue to expect our leaders to
explain why it was that we were in Vietnam in the first place.
Moving forward 36 years, I cannot help but experience that old Yogi
Berra adage of ''déjà vu all over again'' as I observe the race
between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It's the McGovern-Humphrey
fight redux. I am sure the Republicans love it. They have nominated a
rather preposterous candidate, John McCain, who is talking about 100
years of war in Iraq and how he will hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Bush
has had seven years to ''hunt down'' bin Laden, to no avail.
McCain's 100 years of war talk should be enough to guarantee a
Democratic landslide. Sadly, that will not happen. We do not have
Democratic landslides in this country (at least not since Lyndon
Johnson in 1964). I am fearful Democrats might be attempting to find
a way to lose. Obama appears to have the upper hand right now, and
his supporters seem confident. This hubris, however, brings back bad
memories of 1972. Obama is a brilliant and articulate star. He just
might prevail in the end. It appeared he was about to be
''swiftboated'' by the right-wing loonies when reports about his
former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, surfaced. However, Obama
gave a great speech, and he did it quickly. His speech was lionized
by the mainstream press. This guaranteed that right wing mud slinging
would not become ''news.'' Granted, the right wing echo chamber (Sean
Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage)
still rant about Rev. Wright. However, they were checkmated by
Obama's masterful speech.
In 2004, had Kerry used the mainstream press immediately to squelch
the "swiftboaters" who were utilizing right wing media outlets to
parlay their trash, he could have stopped the bleeding. He did not,
and he paid the price.
Is Barack Obama prepared to deal with the negative onslaught that
will arise in a general election campaign? I am not sure he realizes
how ugly this will get. I know the Clintons would hit the Republicans
back twice as hard for every time they are hit.
Nonetheless, Obama showed some finesse with the Jeremiah Wright
problem. I only hope he is ready for the viciousness that the right
wing is about to lay down at his doorstep. We will just have to wait and see.
Donald P. Russo is an attorney in Bethlehem. His e-mail address is