Forty years after McCarthy’s swift brutal destruction of the most powerful Democrat in the second half of the 20th century [LBJ], it remains unclear whether his party will ever again support a political figure committed to waging serious war, any war: Carter confined himself to a disastrous helicopter rescue mission in Iran; Clinton bombed more countries in a little over six months than the supposed warmonger Bush has hit in six years, but, unless you happened to be in that Sudanese aspirin factory or Belgrade embassy, it was always desultory and uncommitted. Even though the first Gulf War was everything they now claim to support – UN-sanctioned, massive French contribution, etc - John Kerry and most of his colleagues voted against it. Joe Lieberman is the lonesomest gal in town as an unashamedly pro-war Democrat, and even Hillary Clinton’s finding there are parts of the Democratic body politic which are immune to the restorative marvels of triangulation. Gene McCarthy’s brief moment in the spotlight redefined the party’s relationship with the projection of military force. That’s quite an accomplishment. Whether it was in the long-term strategic interests of either the party or American liberalism is another question. Yet those few months in the snows of New Hampshire linger over the Democratic landscape like an eternal winter.As I once put it, the
Democrat Party began its veer to the hard left in 1968, with Eugene McCarthy's anti-war candidacy. McCarthy didn't win the party's nomination that year, but his strong showing made reflexive anti-war rhetoric a respectable staple of Democrat discourse.(Thanks to Ed Driscoll for the pointer to Steyn's piece.)
The Democrats proceeded in 1972 to nominate George McGovern, who seems moderate only by contrast with Ramsey Clark and Michael Moore. Since McGovern's ascendancy, the left-wing nuts generally have dominated the party -- in voice if not in numbers. Nominees since McGovern: Carter (a latter-day Tokyo Rose), Mondale (Carter's one-term accomplice), Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry -- all well to the left of the mainstream (to borrow some Democrat rhetoric). Bill Clinton (of the failed plan to socialize health care) became a moderate only because he faced Republican majorities in Congress. Clinton lately [in his comments about the war in Iraq] has been showing his true colors.