Below are edited excerpts from a 2004 National Journal interview with George McGovern about the night he won the Democratic nomination for president in 1972:
For me, the highlight of my life was winning the Democratic presidential nomination and responding with the acceptance speech in 1972 at the Miami convention. Unfortunately, we didn’t pay any attention to little things like television or prime time or the sleeping habits of Americans. It was a free-flowing convention. We were concerned with the issues facing the country, but not the issues of our own schedule. Earlier in the evening, we’d probably had 80 million viewers. When I spoke, it was in the range of 2 million to 3 million.
Veteran television journalist Howard K. Smith came up to me at a quarter to four in the morning. “You know, George, that’s the best speech I can remember at a national convention,” he said. “I’m just sorry everybody is in bed.” I had begun to worry about that myself, about midnight. What didn’t occur to me was that my team and I were in charge of that convention, and we could have cut it off at any time. I should have called [campaign chairman] Larry O’Brien and said, “Cut that nonsense off up there. I’m going on at 10 p.m.”
I think if the country had heard me for 45 minutes in prime time, it might have changed the outcome of the election. It doesn’t mean we would have won, but the first impression would have been a very favorable one. The theme was “Come home, America.” It was a repetitive theme: “Come home to the ideals that made us great at the beginning. Come home from this ill-advised and tragic war.” I kept returning to that idea, always calling the country home to the founding ideals of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights.
The cheering was just about nonstop. I had to talk over it. It was a marvelous occasion. Since then, every convention tries to run like clockwork: two minutes for this, three minutes for that. Everybody has learned that lesson.