Senator McGovern has died.
The 1972 election was the first in which I could vote. Democrat Senator George McGovern was running against Republican President Richard Nixon.
I voted for Nixon--and not sorry for it, despite what happened later.
Senator McGovern struck me at the time as somewhat loopy: a throwback to an era of American isolation and innocence. He appeared as a cross of William Jennings Bryant and the two Robert La Follettes (father and son): lots of moralizing and advocacy for more and more government to do more and more "good" things. He was somebody whose "sell-by" date had long come and gone. Perhaps this is unfair to McGovern, the main reason for my vote against him was the people attracted to his cause. You are often judged by the company you keep. Anybody with a modicum of intelligence had doubts about how we were pursuing the war in Vietnam. I had doubts, and, frankly, was relieved to have drawn a high draft lottery number. Unlike, however, many of the people around McGovern, I did not see America as evil or the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong as good. While we were not fighting the war the right way, I wanted South Vietnam to survive as an independent, capitalist, and democratic country just as South Korea has done.
McGovern, of course, was a decorated WWII hero (DFC) who did one of the most dangerous things you could do: pilot a B-24 on thirty-five daylight bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. Yet in 1972, he seemed to throw in with, or at least not distance himself from, the leftist, dirty, long-haired goons who hated the military and America, and wanted our enemies to win. His foreign policy prescriptions re the Soviet Union were dangerous. They were at best FDR-naive, and at worst Henry Wallace-ideological. His insistence on gutting the military in favor of massive social programs was downright destructive.
Many years ago when I served in New York at the US Mission to the UN, McGovern, working with the World Food Program (WFP), came by for a briefing on how the US saw events at the UN. He was very polite and friendly in that old fashioned sort of mid-West way that sadly is disappearing from our national politics. I told him of our efforts to have the UN condemn Castro's human rights record (more in a subsequent post). He listened attentively, but while very ready to criticize Guatemala, Chile, and El Salvador on human rights, he seemed uninterested in criticizing Castro's Cuba. I remember being frustrated and annoyed with him; unable to understand why he could not bring himself to criticize the horrid Castro regime. That confirmed for me that I had been right not voting for McGovern.
He subsequently went into private business and gained an understanding of how excessive government regulations stifled entrepreneurs, so he was open-minded enough to learn something. He like Goldwater, another Presidential candidate who lost in a landslide, had and continues to have a great impact on his party and on political discourse in the nation. Goldwater laid out the guidelines for what would become a more conservative/Tea Party GOP, and McGovern for what would become a more liberal/progressive Democrat party. Schumpeter's observation about the present being guided by the dead hand of the past seems very apt.
George McGovern, R.I.P.