Senator Eugene McCarthy had a vision. He believed that if he could channel the energy of the youth protests that had taken hold of America in the late 1960s he would be able to secure the US Presidency under the banner of a new anti-war Democratic Party.
In 1968, Senator McCarthy announced his intention to stand for the Presidency and it quickly became clear the sheer power of the movement he had created around him. By the summer, he had swept up the youth of America in an anti-war fervor, pulling record numbers to his rallies and capturing the attention of the nation.
At first, the events of 1968 were viewed as a triumph for McCarthy’s campaign. He had brought the nation to a standstill and a new dawn of political change had arrived. However, the tide soon turned against him.
The biggest challenge to McCarthy’s vision was the sheer pace of his success. He became a victim of his own success, with anti-war protests and rallies filling streets and spilling over into violence. His desire to harness the power of the new generation of protesters backfired, and the movement soon began to consume him – leading to his eventual downfall in the lead up to the election.
By the end of 1968, McCarthy’s presidential aspirations had floundered as his once powerful movement had fizzled out. He was left with nothing but a faded dream and the realization that he had misunderstood the forces of disruption he sought to control.
Though McCarthy’s attempts to capture the forces of disruption failed, his legacy still stands as a testament to how influential a mass movement of people can be. His attempt to break the old structures of politics without resorting to violence was both daring and admirable. He may not have achieved his ultimate goal, but he succeeded in capturing the spirit of a nation and proving that the power of a social movement is greater than anyone individual.