I can vaguely recall the presidential election of 1972. What I can remember is my first grade teacher asking with a show of hands whom our parents supported for president. I was only one of two kids whose parents supported George McGovern. The rest all supported Richard Nixon.
I thought about this the other day and the genuinely sociopathic nature of American politics when I read George McGovern passed away. I have read a number of editorials that have made the point of what he a good and decent person he was and how he was ahead of the curve on the issues of hunger and peace but unfortunately he was the type of candidate, the type of politician, no one listens to and that especially includes his own party. In this day and age of George Bush, a draft dodger, announcing “mission accomplished” dressed in a flight suit, we are reminded that McGovern was a decorated WWII flying ace who served his country nobly. He was the anti-chickenhawk
McGovern is often compared to Barry Goldwater. Goldwater won a few more states than McGovern but still suffered a serious shellacking from Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 election. However, whereas Goldwater is seen as the spiritual forefather of the Reagan era Republican party, McGovern is seen as primer of what not to do.
And sure McGovern made plenty of mistakes. The biggest one was not vetting his vice presidential choice, Thomas Eagleton. This is something every campaign has done since with varying degrees of success.
McGovern may have been too liberal for his time but to me he represents the last gasp of the good and noble Democratic Party, the party of FDR and LBJ, the party of civil rights and social security. He also represents a break between the military-industrial complex and the previous Democratic presidential administrations. This is something the Republicans would seize upon.
George McGovern wasn’t solely responsible for scaring the Democratic party way from Progressivism (the losses of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis helped too) but he started the sociopathy ball rolling towards Bill “The era of big government is over” Clinton. Clinton with his incremantilism, his support of NAFTA (The ultimate shafting of American workers), his sanctions on Iraq that killed children, his gutting of welfare, his backing of a “peace plan” that would have turned the Palestinians into American Indians on reservations they have very little control over, is as Michael Moore says “The most successful Republican president of all time”
I heard it said the other day that Richard Nixon by today’s standards would be too left wing to get the Democratic nomination for president much less George McGovern. This shift rightwards by everyone in politics pushed by the Reagan era hurts working men and women and is largely responsible for the financial mess we are in now.
George McGovern was at his most eloquent when he spoke of economics, about war, about old men sending young men to die. I’m hoping a new generation connected by the Internet and hard financial times caused by the greed of large companies and investment bankers will rediscover thorough his passing this great man’s words and policies for a more humane and just America.