The McGovern campaign

I think I was more surprised than Bill Rosendahl was when I agreed to give him a hand on the McGovern campaign. Bill called me at the office one day in January 1972 and introduced himself. “l’ve been hired to do the groundwork for George’s campaign in Chicago, and I thought you might be able to help,” he said. I invited him over to the office for a chat.

Bill was a tall, heavy-set young man with an air of urgency about him. “We are badly outgunned right now, Frank,” he told me. “But how we do in Illinois is going to have a big impact on how McGovern does in the country as a whole.” (I’m paraphrasing from memory, of course.)

“l’m sure McGovern is a nice guy who deserves to be president,” l said, “but he’s missed his opportunity, hasn’t he? I don’t see him broadening his campaign to include the working class, and that’s the most important thing any movement to stop the war has to have.”

“This isn’t about class poIitics,” Bill said. “This is about stopping the war. George is the anti-war candidate, and I think all of us who oppose the war need to get with it and support him right now.”

There was a tenuous logic to it, but mainly I was fed up with inactivity and I wanted to help get something, anything, under way. “Don’t count on me as a sponsor ar anything,” I told him, “but I do know a little about raising money.” I won’t go to bed with you but l’lI feel you up, as we might have said in the old days.

The trouble, of course, was that BilI’s contacts were mostly people like him who came out of the anti-war movement. This kind of person did not tend to have a major bank account. I knew there was a whole generation of radicals and young people in Chicago who I’d lost track of, or had never had a connection with. In a sense, I had given up on them. I didn’t think I had any more to offer, until Bill came to ask for what I did have.

All the campaign was interested in was money. It was my job to know people with money, and some of them I knew were good liberals and earnest people. Over the next few weeks, Bill and I met regularly, and I set him up with the phone numbers of people I knew who he might be able to shake down. I enjoyed training him in the finer points of boardroom behavior. It was fun because I didn’t have to do anything, just show him how to handle himself.

As things accelerated, and the money began to roll in, Bill Rosendahl was increasingly on a high. “I actually think we have a chance to win, Frank,” he told me over sandwiches at my office a few weeks later. “Look at this. I just picked it up.” It was a check from some executive at General Dynamics for $50,000. I tried to say something about white-glove criminals and their need to buy insurance, but he wasn‘t listening, so I just tried to act excited for him.

The illusion that McGovern offered a referendum on the war caught on very early. In reality, the McGovern campaign diverted a large part of the anti-war movement from other kinds of mass activity. Almost all of the McGovernites I knew — bright young people, all of them — got involved in the political horse-trading process and were corrupted. The best of them came from the new left, and they brought with them all the vices of that circle, including a strong dose of nihilism mixed with elitism. They had no program to reach the mass of working people in America.

I knew this thing had gone too far when Frank Mankiewitz called with a further request, which he phrased as an offer. “How would you like to be chairman of the Illinois McGovern-for-President Committee, Frank?” he asked. Bill must have really been talking me up, I thought.

I turned him down as politely as I could. “I don’t think having a rock concert promoter as the public head of your organization would project the proper image, Frank,” I said. “Do you?”

There are some real reasons too, I reminded myself. For one, there is my political past, which could make the whole operation vulnerable to red-baiting. For another, I thought Mankiewitz at the time was as corrupt as anyone I had met, and I didn’t relish the idea of getting involved in organization intricacies with him. But the best reason was that I wasn‘t a Democrat, and there was a reason for that. I didn’t just want a referendum on the war. I wanted a referendum on the whole society.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WP Hashcash