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TIME and again in his campaign speeches, George McGovern tells crowds that "Richard Nixon is hiding the White House, sitting on his Gallup polls, while I am taking my campaign directly to the American people.
Yet McGovern is not making a concerted effort to reach people through face to face contact. His advisors are unconcerned with whether five or ten thousand people turn out at a given appearance. The major concern of the campaign is to present events for television that give viewers the impression that McGovern, is out with the people. In an average day of campaigning McGovern, spends less than one hour speaking directly to voters. An analysis of a day's schedule demonstrates this point conclusively.
McGovern began his campaigning two weeks ago today with a breakfast speech to a group of carefully-selected labor leaders. His speech was brief and was essentially a recitation of his proposed economic policies. The point of the speech was two fold: First, he wanted the thousands of union members in the New York area to see that he has some labor support. Second, he needed an excuse to outline his positions on economic issues for television coverage.
After his television speech, McGovern drove to Lyndhurst New Jersey to a Holiday Inn, where a half hour was set aside for the press to file stories on the morning's event. The McGovern campaign had taken a large suite in the motel and had put in over 25 telephone lines so that reporters and radio commentators could phone in their stories. The McGovern staff provided typewriters and prepared texts of the address to make it easier for the press to write their pieces.
The next event on McGovern's schedule was a luncheon with Italian-American labor and political leaders in Belleville, New Jersey. About 150 leaders showed up and again McGovern delivered a short campaign speech stressing the importance of loyalty to the Democratic Party. McGovern could have easily met more Italian Americans had he gone to a subway stop in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and givenout literature in the morning. Yet his point was not really to try and convince the Italian leaders to support him; rather he wanted the great mass of Italians and white ethnics who watch the 6 o' clock news to see that McGovern considers himself a loyal Democrat and to recognize that there were influential people supporting his candidacy.
Rather than make any campaign appearances during the afternoon, McGovern spent the time taping radio and television interviews. His last scheduled event of the day was a rally in Hackensack, New Jersey with Senator Edward M. Kennedy at 6:30 pm. The event was scheduled at 6:30 so that there would be time for it to be filmed and shown on the 11 o'clock news. The rally itself went well and McGovern thus achieved his desired effect--showing the voters that he went out to meet them.
Thus McGovern had only made one real appearance in front of an open meeting Friday. By skillful use of the media, he was able to woo ethnic and labor votes as well as to show people that he was "taking his campaign to the American people."
The events were all planned to give the media ample time to meet deadlines. Press facilities were available after each appearance and McGovern was able to achieve his desired goals.
Because McGovern won the primary with a massive grassroots organization, little attention has been given to the McGovern media operation which is one of the most extensive in history. McGovern travels with at least eight full-time press people, ranging from his press secretary, Dick Doughrety, to "media mothers" Polly Hackett and Carol Freedenberg.
Doughrety oversees the entire process which includes sending out radio and T.V. excerpts of speeches to different stations around the country, writing press releases, transcribing speeches and making sure that the press is kept apprised of what is going on in the campaign.
Polly Hackett and Carol Freedenberg, the McGovern media mothers, have the sole responsibility of making sure that the press is kept aware. They travel on the buses with reporters, flirt with them, serve drinks and give out the releases that Doughrety and his staff write. When Doug Kneeland of The New York Times wants to know when he can get the name of a city where McGovern will be giving a speech later in the evening on national T.V., Hackett and Freedenberg will have to find out.
Joe Walker oversees McGovern's radio operation. His job is to get segments of McGovern's speeches to as many radio stations as he can. To do this, he tapes every speech McGovern makes and prepares a news report for radio stations. Walker pretends that he is a radio station's correspondent with the McGovern campaign. He then plays the tape over the phone to 16 McGovern radio people in campaign headquarters around the country. These people then have 12 volunteers phone the report that Walker has given them to all the radio stations in their area that do not have a correspondent with the campaign.
RADIO stations love to have taped excerpts of speeches and thus they are very pleased to get the tapes sent to them by Walker. Walker estimates that he has the capacity to reach each of the 7000 radio stations in the country at least once a day. If there is a particular urgency, Walker says, he has the capacity to get another tape to half the stations he has already reached during that particular day.
Even in the 1968 campaign, where the media played such an important part, neither the Nixon nor the Humphrey campaigns were able to reach more than 1000 radio stations a day. During that campaign all the radio reports were shipped back to Washington before they were sent out, thus delaying the process and minimizing the number of cities each of the candidates could reach. Walker said that 25 per cent of the American people use the radio as their primary news source, and he thus feels that his job is of extraordinary significance.
In spite of the rise of campaign consultants, Walker is probably the first person to use his system of distribution of radio spots. Walker just graduated from Georgetown last year and began working with McGovern after a short stint in the Hughes for President campaign. Hughes had a veteran radio reporter who was in the process of developing the distribution system for a national campaign. Since Hughes never really got of the ground as a national candidate his radio man never got a chance to use his system. However, Walker worked him developing the plan, and perfected the system in the McGovern campaign last spring.
In addition to trying to get out general radio news spots to as many radio stations as possible, Walker also attempts to send out specific spots to radio stations with specific constituencies. For example, if McGovern were to speak on farm prices and inflation Walker would distribute on spot to rural farm listeners and another to urban stations.
John Gage, who left the Public Policy Program here because "he couldn't stand the bullshit handed out" has the responsibility of making sure there are outlets for TV cameras at each McGovern speaking engagements. Gage is the person who has to find the extra extension cord, or to set up the platform for the cameramen to stand on. Gage prides himself on the fact that McGovern has not had one rally since the convention where any television camera failed to get usable footage.
Doughrety flies on the Dakota Queen with the South Dakota Senator. In the back of the plane, he has a xerox machine, a mimeograph machine and three electric typewriters. He supervises a staff of three which produces the transcripts of speeches, press releases and schedules for the press. Doughrety thus can sit in the front of the plane and discuss ideas for a press release with McGovern, then walk to the back of the plane, write the release, and distribute it before the airplane lands.
With such an efficient organization the question arises: just why is McGovern going to do so poorly? In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, Christopher Lasch argues that McGovern fails to make an impact on people because he has not assumed a populist stance. In a recent interview, Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield, authors of the book A Populist Manifesto, took a similar stance. After hearing McGovern on the stump for a week, it is fair to say that this assertion is simply not true. McGovern consistently attacks the Nixon administration for selling out to "special interests" and proceeds to attacks the President for the ITT affair and the Russian grain deal. McGovern says repeatedly that in his administration "the government will be turned over to the people." He told crowds all over the northeast last week that if he were elected he would close $22 billion dollars worth of tax loopholes which now exist. In his rhetoric, McGovern also tries to portray himself as a friend of the little man. In speech after speech McGovern says that "there is no reason why a Wall Street banker can deduct his $20 martini luncheon and the average working guy in this country can't deduct the cost of his bologna sandwich."
McGovern also lashes out at the Nixon wage and price controls, charging that the price commission is "fixed so that nine out of ten applications for price increases are granted to the big corporations while the government places a tight lid on the wages of the working man." These arguments are a prominent part of McGovern's basic campaign speech.
Probably the only issue which Newfield and Greenfield feel should be a component of a 1972 populist strategy, that McGovern plays down, is crime in the street. While addressing blue-collar audiences, McGovern buries the issue into the middle of his speech. He refers to drugs and crime only when discussing ways the U.S. could use the $7 billion it spends each year on the war in Vietnam. Yet crime control is certainly not a major component of a populist program. Economic issues are, and McGovern certainly does deal with these questions.
Probably the reason for McGovern's failure to reach the American people is the nature of his rhetoric. McGovern's attacks on the Nixon Administration are so brutal and strident that it is difficult for anyone who is uncommitted to hear him and come away feeling that McGovern has reasoned positions. Rather people come away from rallies amazed at how vicious McGovern has been in his attacks on the President.
In his biography of McGovern, Robert Anson quotes the South Dakota Senator as saying that his 1960 Senate campaign against Karl Mundt was his worst political effort. "It was my worst campaign. I hated him so much I lost my sense of balance. I made some careless charges. I got on the defensive during the campaign and was rattled. I started explaining and answering things I should have ignored. It was hard to get a book on Mundt."
McGovern has run into the same problem in this campaign. He spends most of his time blasting Nixon and his Administration without delivering carefully thought-out talks. Time and time again he calls the Nixon Administration "the most corrupt in the history of American politics." He has repeatedly called President Thieu "savage and corrupt and immoral." These rhetorical excesses, while perhaps satisfying to many of his more committed supporters, do little to convince people to support him. Most people who vote in American presidential elections want a moderate candidate, and McGovern does little in his public orating to discourage claims that he is a "radical or extreme" candidate.
Just as he said he did in the Mundt campaign, McGovern has gotten rattled. A prime example was his reaction to the announcement of a possible settlement of the war in Vietnam. In the course of one day's campaigning last week. McGovern gave reporters three different comments on whether he felt the settlement would help his chances to get elected.
In the morning he told a CBS radio news reporter that he thought a settlement would "destroy" President Nixon's chances for-re-election. McGovern said that people would realize Nixon was only settling the war to gain political advantage and would thus support his candidacy. Later in the afternoon, McGovern said in another interview that he felt a "settlement of the war might give Nixon some political advantage." Finally, in the evening, McGovern changed his position again and said he "didn't give a damn who a settlement in the war helped, as long as the war was ended."
McGovern's failure to take a single position has hurt his candidacy greatly. It was not until a day after reports of the settlement that McGovern did what a smart politician would have done as soon as he heard of the news: take credit for the action. McGovern should have immediately said that any settlement was due to his efforts and the antiwar movement.
When McGovern finally came around to this position, it was not given the attention in the press that it would have had McGovern originally articulated that line.
McGovern's staffers recognize that a settlement of the war in Vietnam and their candidate's weak response will probably close out their chance to win the election. By the end of last week, almost all of the people connected with the campaign had lost much of their energy and appeared to be getting ready to suffer a smashing defeat.
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