In 1984 the McGovernization of the Democratic party was completed. “McGovernism” is a poor term, but the most enduring one, for a political temper or movement which began well before Senator George McGovern became its exemplar. The movement was called the “new politics” by its original cheerleaders, and later was called “New-Left liberalism” or “counterculture liberalism” by its critics. But McGovernism is the term that has stuck.
This movement was born in 1968 when the presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy succeeded in persuading thousands of activists from the student Left to take time out from peace marches to work as canvassers in the Democratic primaries. Purists among the campus radicals decried such efforts to “work within the system,” but the vast bulk of their comrades chose to go “neat and clean for Gene.” They discovered that by shedding beards and beads and revolutionary rhetoric, they could in fact constitute a potent force in behalf of their most cherished goals.