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Would McGovern have beaten Nixon had Woodward and Bernstein broken their story well before the 1972 election?

Oct 21, 2012 Would McGovern have beaten Nixon had Woodward and Bernstein broken their story well before the 1972 election?

George McGovern passed away today.

Would McGovern have beaten Nixon had Woodward and Bernstein broken their story well before the 1972 election? How much is Jimmy Carter’s subsequent 1976 presidential win a result of people paying penance for not having timely realized how dangerous Nixon was to the American people (only to be followed with Reagan’s landslide over Carter, and subsequent Democratic winners being in the moderate molds of Clinton and Obama)?.

I think my favoring McGovern against Nixon (at the age of 9 in 1972) had little to do with McGovern and more to do with my virulent aversion to Nixon. Since Nixon’s role in the Watergate story had not broken yet, why was I so opposed to him? Was it Nixon’s ongoing pursuit of war in Vietnam?  Was it Mad magazine’s frequent lampooning of the man (when I religiously read the magazine)? Was it my view that the break-in was unlikely without Nixon’s advance knowledge if not outright complicity?

As an aside, from 1974 to 1996, I started bumping into McGovern-related and Nixon-related history. In April 1974 — just around four months before Nixon resigned lest he be removed from office by impeachment — my family took our first trip to Washington, D.C., staying at the Washington Hilton north of Dupont circle, apparently the location where Reagan was shot seven years later. Within two hours of our arrival, Nixon showed up for some meeting or press conference. As much as I reviled the man, then at age eleven, he had some sort of persuasiveness (or else I was just following the crowd) that when he waved heartily to the awaiting crowd outside, I waved back.

In 1988, when I caught McGovern’s keynote speech to my preceding law school graduating class (George Washington Law School). I remember nothing about the speech other than that he probably urged the graduates to boldly go forth and help the betterment of society, even if at substantial personal risk.

Just weeks thereafter, I occasionally bumped into McGovern’s final running mate Sargent Shriver (and his wife Eunice) on the elevator in the building shared by the law firm that I worked at as a summer associate, and the Special Olympics.

An elementary school friend — whether speaking in hyperbole or not — remembers me and him as our class’s only McGovern supporters during the 1972 election at our Fairfield, Connecticut, public school. He alerted me that McGovern taught a course (”America Since World War II”) at the University of Bridgeport — a few miles from my hometown — where my friend’s father was a professor of Chinese history. I see that McGovern’s teaching at Bridgeport preceded the effective takeover of the university by Unification Church loyalists and overlapped with McGovern’s Quixotic purchase, renovation, and management of the nearby Stratford Inn, which was not exactly in a remarkable location other than being near the by-then renamed Shakespeare Theater.

In 1997, eight years after graduating from law school, I sat down with an orthopedic surgeon at his office at the Watergate office complex to prepare his testimony for a then-upcoming personal injury trial. It turned out that the doctor’s suite included the office that was burglarized in the 1972 Watergate break-in of the Democratic National Committee. The office space had gone the way of commercial real estate trends, apparently with no competing interests having rented out the space as a museum (but would the landlord and nearby tenants have wanted museum traffic there?). I saw not a plaque nor any other trace of remembrance of the break-in at that doctor’s suite nor anywhere else at the Watergate complex (during my countless visits to the Safeway grocery store there when living a few blocks away during law school and for a year thereafter). The whole complex looks like an odd 1950’s effort at a futuristic building design.

In 2003, I was walking behind Carl Bernstein, of Woodward and Bernstein fame, at the national mall just moments after leaving the end of the Peter, Paul and Mary concert at the Lincoln Memorial for peace in the Gulf, and just days before Gulf War II began. He turned around to see me seeing him. He seemed to like the attention; I did not wish to interrupt him and the woman he was with.

Hanoi during  the Vietnam War has been described as looking like a provincial outpost, from where plans and orders came that ultimately brought down Saigon. While Washington, D.C., does not look like a provincial outpost, it is by far the smallest of the nation’s five major cities both in terms of square mileage and population (around 600,000) “ and does not feel like a big city — but profound power is struggled for and exerted in this city. Nixon never seemed to have felt comfortable in his skin, apparently wanted so much to be liked than to be lampooned and reviled, but brought about his downfall by engaging in Watergate when the break-in was unnecessary to his decisive 1972 election victory.

The question remains: Would McGovern have beaten Nixon had Woodward and Bernstein broken their story well before the 1972 election?  Or would Nixon have dropped out of the race in favor of another Republican had his role in Watergate been known before the election?

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