McGovern declares victory

Published July 26, 2004 5:10AM (EDT)

They were the ghosts of the Democratic Party past, the symbols of defeat that no one at the DNC office wanted in the convention spotlight. But a funny thing happened when Walter Mondale (who lost not only to Ronald Reagan in 1984, but as a last-minute stand-in for the late Paul Wellstone in the 2002 Minnesota Senate race) and Michael Dukakis (George Bush the Elder's punching bag in 1988) showed up to honor George McGovern (victim of the 1972 Nixon landslide) -- this losers' ball turned out to be one of Sunday night's hottest tickets. A long line of surprisingly young and fashionable people struggled unsuccessfully to gain entry to Via Matta, a slick ristorante wedged between two of Boston's toniest hotels, the Park Plaza and the Four Seasons, like red-carpet extras in "Zoolander." Inside, the temperature was hot and feisty. Even Mondale abandoned his normal air of Wobegone unflappability to exult, "There's 30 years of good stuff here tonight, a wonderful legacy. And John Kerry is going to do very well," he told Salon. "He's learned the right lessons -- politics is a contact sport and you have to fight for the people."

"I think John Kerry is going to win -- decisively," predicted a confident Dukakis as he pushed his way through the throng.

McGovern, fit and spunky at 82, was even more combative. "If [Mondale, Dukakis] and I had been elected, we'd have a whale of a better country today," he crowed, to lusty cheers from the crowd.

McGovern, who has been touring the country to promote his new book, "The Essential America," an unabashed defense of liberalism, said that he was recently interviewed by a radio host, who with shock and dismay reported that Kerry's voting record made him the No. 1 liberal in the Senate and that John Edwards was ranked at No. 4. "Well, if we keep working on it, maybe we can get Edwards to the top," McGovern told him.

"I don't know of a liberal program that conservatives didn't later endorse," McGovern asserted. "I tell them, 'Are you against Social Security? If not, then shut up.' We don't want to turn it over to Enron, Halliburton or Arthur Andersen. Everybody is for these programs except the most retarded in either party."

As he waded through the crowd, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank liked what he heard: "McGovern's entitled to say, 'I told you so.' People tell you that you shouldn't say that. But I find that at my age it's one of the few pleasures that gets better."

By David Talbot

David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of New York Times bestsellers like "Brothers," "The Devil's Chessboard," and "Season of the Witch." His most recent book is "Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of My Stroke."

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