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Tom McCall and the Third Force

BClick

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Just finished Oregon governor Tom McCall's TOM McCALL: MAVERICK, a short and grandiosely titled memoir chock full of potential PODs. Apparently McCall considered running for mayor of Moscow, Idaho while working there as a cub reporter but was shot down by his boss; he also escaped a mysterious assassination attempt in 1972 when, during his prostate surgery, nurses discovered a nitroglycerin bomb outside his hospital room.

Most interesting, though - especially for people with less of a parochial focus than yours truly - are McCall's Watergate-era plans for a "Third Force" in American politics.

By the time he made headlines as the first Republican governor to call for Nixon's resignation, he'd already alienated himself from the national party through personal spats with Ronald Reagan, Spiro Agnew and Oregon's senior senator Mark Hatfield as well as through his habit of cheerfully leaking party information to the press. (McCall claimed that as a former newsman he wanted to help them justify their travel expenses to their editors.) In 1973, he'd publicly mulled switching parties to challenge Senator Bob Packwood as a Democrat.

In the book, McCall claims that before the 1974 midterms he was approached separately by Clare Booth Luce and George Romney, who encouraged him to start a new political party and run for President. Eugene McCarthy apparently offered to be his number two on an independent ticket in 1976. (Whether or not any of these conversations really happened, he was being talked up as a potential candidate by some commentators at the time.) Apparently, in the summer of 1974, 60 Minutes filmed an episode on McCall's concept of a nonpartisan "Third Force" in politics, featuring interviews with the governor himself, former HEW Secretary John Gardner, Ralph Nader, and Elliot Richardson. The show was never aired because it had been set for broadcast on August 14th and was rendered old news by Nixon's resignation.

McCall spins the CBS special's cancellation as a bit of a POD. He says in the next chapter that he wouldn't have wanted to run against an incumbent President and especially not a fellow Republican, but also goes on about his fear in the summer of '75 of a Reagan-Wallace election and how it would leave left "65-70 percent of the country unrepresented and looking for a rational progressive." It's all very vague and faffy, but you can get an impression that he might really have gone for it had circumstances been different. A worst-case Watergate, maybe, with Nixon in prison or a scandal-tarnished John Connally holding the Presidency?

What would an independent McCall campaign in 1976 have looked like? Apparently, the Third Force "eludes definition" but its "commandments" include "protecting the environment, stressing energy conservation, developing a new openness in government, creating a national presidential primary and national initiatives [ed: that is, referenda], eliminating the seniority system in Congress and protecting consumers." A Third Force campaign might involve national versions of programs McCall pushed in Oregon such as a Bottle Bill, comprehensive land-use planning, and an expansive interpretation of free speech. He tackled the energy crisis with rationing and austerity but supported federal wage and price controls in response to stagflation. It's also worth mentioning that McCall was a proponent of legal euthanasia. Conversely, the platform might be thinner on issues where he had less expertise or interest, such as civil rights, labor, and foreign policy.

The overall picture captures a certain 70s zeitgeist and there would be a constituency for it - but I'm not sure the majority of Americans would be in that constituency.

It's difficult to imagine a path to victory for any independent candidate, but McCall's charisma and list of actual accomplishments as Governor would put him in a better starting position than the comparable OTL campaigns of McCarthy and John Anderson. A lot would depend on the other candidates in the race. If Carter still won the Democratic nod, their outsider messages might overlap too much. The stigma of Nixon had begun to fade by this point IOTL and the Third Force would have had less appeal than it did in 1974 - you might need a really heinous end to the Watergate saga to give McCall a chance.

What do you all think?
 
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Oppo

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1973-1974: Richard Nixon/John Connally (Republican)
1972 def. George McGovern/Sargent Shriver (Democratic)
1974-1974: John Connally/Vacant (Republican)
1974-1975: James Eastland/Vacant (Democratic)
1975-1977: James Eastland/Claude Kirk (Democratic/Republican)
1977-1983: James McCall/Eugene McCarthy (Third Force)
1976 def. George Wallace/Mario Biaggi (Democratic), Ronald Reagan/Jim Rhodes (Republican)
1980 def. Frank Borman/Charles Percy (Republican), Jerry Brown/Brendan Byrne (Democratic)

1983-1983: Eugene McCarthy/Vacant (Third Force)
1983-1985: Eugene McCarthy/John Gardner (Third Force)
1985-0000: Guy Vander Jagt/Charles Percy (Republican)
1984 def. Lee Iacocca/Lawrence Hogan (Third Force), John Jay Hooker/Bob Casey (Democratic), Eugene McCarthy/Gene Burns (Libertarian)
 

BClick

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1973-1974: Richard Nixon/John Connally (Republican)
1972 def. George McGovern/Sargent Shriver (Democratic)
1974-1974: John Connally/Vacant (Republican)
1974-1975: James Eastland/Vacant (Democratic)
1975-1977: James Eastland/Claude Kirk (Democratic/Republican)
1977-1983: James McCall/Eugene McCarthy (Third Force)
1976 def. George Wallace/Mario Biaggi (Democratic), Ronald Reagan/Jim Rhodes (Republican)
1980 def. Frank Borman/Charles Percy (Republican), Jerry Brown/Brendan Byrne (Democratic)

1983-1983: Eugene McCarthy/Vacant (Third Force)
1983-1985: Eugene McCarthy/John Gardner (Third Force)
1985-0000: Guy Vander Jagt/Charles Percy (Republican)
1984 def. Lee Iacocca/Lawrence Hogan (Third Force), John Jay Hooker/Bob Casey (Democratic), Eugene McCarthy/Gene Burns (Libertarian)
Maybe!

You do highlight the fact that even if he won McCall wouldn't be able to serve two terms, not with the cancer that had been hanging over him since the early 70s - whether he goes down fighting or decides not to run again.

In terms of VPs, McCarthy did supposedly make the offer but I'm not sure he would be the best pick. His national profile came mainly from his early opposition to Vietnam, which would be yesterday's issue by this point, and I don't think he'd do much to broaden McCall's appeal. I think to be successful the Third Force ticket would need to look to the future rather than refight the battles of the sixties. The same goes for Elliot Richardson, who was another name thrown around in Third Force discussions - he was "the Watergate guy" and putting him on the ticket risks making it look like a single-issue campaign even in a Worsergate scenario.

Other names McCall identifies as being part of the Third Force are George Romney, Dan Evans, John Gardner, Ralph Nader and William Proxmire. (Yep, a bunch of white or off-white guys - it's still the 70s.) I'd say that Evans is right out because he's just the other liberal Republican governor from the PNW and doesn't add anything to the ticket, while Romney would risk making it look like a liberal Republican factional split. Gardner would be an admirably bipartisan choice but as one of the architects of the Great Society, he might make it difficult to open up a distinction between the Third Force and the Democratic campaign.

I'd say that Nader or Proxmire would be the best bets from that list. The young, handsome, nonpartisan consumer advocate (remember, he's not the kooky Green who elected Bush at this point) sends the message that this is really something different in American politics. Choosing Proxmire, as well as being a bipartisan move, would underline the Third Force's commitment to fiscal parsimony and draw a line between it and traditional liberalism.

What about other options? Dick Lamm comes to mind as one of the few elected officials to share McCall's skepticism of economic growth for its own sake, which would be hands-down the most revolutionary aspect of the campaign. (If that element manages to stick to a hypothetical Third Force party or movement, it would make it a very different beast from a neoliberal or libertarian party.) I'm not sure if McCall had a great impression of his political skill, though - he slams him in MAVERICK for fumbling a Colorado Bottle Bill despite support from Coors.
 
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BClick

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No way in hell Jerry Brown runs against McCall. And even if he does, there's no way he wins given his natural base is the McCall base. Some union guy, maybe Carey, and some Southern Yeller Dog. Works as a product of Self-Defeating groupthink.
I might have to hop to it if I want to write this as a TL, you're predicting some of my thoughts
 

BClick

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someone actually wrote and published a utopian AH novel called McCallandia a few years back about this very idea.
Looking into this a bit more. The POD is different (Nixon picks McCall to replace Agnew, which isn't super plausible but not ASB either), and it's pretty explicitly unrealistic/idealistic in order to make a political argument (Ken Kesey is appointed to the Cabinet, and McCall hosts a Vortex II festival on the Mall to celebrate his version of the Camp David Accords) - so I think I'd be safe taking a different tack. I'll still have to pick up a copy once I'm done writing this though.

Also the guy who wrote the book is a Lincoln County commissioner. Gingrich ain't the only alternate history fan in politics.
 

Walpurgisnacht

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What about other options? Dick Lamm comes to mind as one of the few elected officials to share McCall's skepticism of economic growth for its own sake, which would be hands-down the most revolutionary aspect of the campaign. (If that element manages to stick to a hypothetical Third Force party or movement, it would make it a very different beast from a neoliberal or libertarian party.) I'm not sure if McCall had a great impression of his political skill, though - he slams him in MAVERICK for fumbling a Colorado Bottle Bill despite support from Coors.
Maybe John B. Anderson might be involved later on in the party?

You might see a lot of people who plumped for Reform OTL becoming more successful in Third Force.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
I now have a copy of this. Was going to wait until the end of my lil TL but I thought I'd better grab it while I could. Possible SLP blog review incoming?
That I'd like to see! Always good to see the more obscure PODs and ideas in the reviews.

'Tom McCall and the Third Force' sounds like an Andy McNab book
TOM MCCALL: MAVERICK sounds like either an old Men's Adventure paperback series and a 1970s/80s British comic strip. (Maybe a merger of Political Action! and Guns VS Huns meant McCall: Maverick had to be made the CO of Third Force)
 
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