Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern, R.I.P.

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.


  1. Strange combination in McGovern. Courage and naivete. RIP
    I may be responsible for all the bad things happening to us during the cold war. People warned me if I voted for Goldwater this long list of evils would occur, but I ignored them and it did.

  2. I was in college when Goldwater ran and I worked for his campaign in a small way - mailing out free copies of "The Ugly American".

    I was in Taiwan years later, In the 80's if I remember right, when he visited. Boy, did they roll out the red carpet for him.

  3. I remember back in the 1990's, McGovern wrote a Mea Culpa piece about his woeful experience with a hotel in New England--hoisted on the petard of regulations he helped craft while a Senator. At least he learned.

    Sam Hall, I was in Taiwan during the '80's, too (as a teacher and translator). I hope McGovern apologized while there. His supporters were partly responsible for a very anti-Taiwan climate of opinion in the USA during the late 1970's.

  4. Kepha, Sorry I wasn't clear. It was Goldwater who made the visit.

  5. "Indochina is devoid of decisive military objectives and the allocation of more than token US armed forces in Indochina would be a serious diversion of limited US capabilities" (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 26 May 1954)

    "The United States could not have prevented the forcible reunification of Vietnam under communist auspices at a morally, materially, and strategically acceptable price." (The US Army War College Quarterly, Winter 1996-97)

    Congress basically gave authorization for the Vietnam War with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a resolution based on 'events', part of which were highly exaggerated and part of which never happened. 50,000 more Americans then went on to die.

    1. The Viet Nam War was another one of those modern American wars designed and built by Liberals. The objective is not to win, but to tie. Now we have a new model, designed by the Left. Libya: go to war without Congressional approval, we break it, bad is replaced by worse, and a tyrant who wants to get along is replaced by jihadist who want to kill us. This is known as "smart diplomacy."

  6. Shakespeare: "The evil that men do, lives on; the good, often interred with their bones."

    McGovern was a disaster for America. Whether he was a brave and decent man I leave to others to judge. However, his candidacy effectively transformed one of the two major parties into a party that despised the founding principles of America, as only intellectuals can despise their own people, history and country. Compare the Democrats pre-McGovern to the Republicans today and you’ll see that they were more conservative than Republicans in many respects. That’s because the tidal pull of the Democrat Party Left has moved the middle of “acceptable” opinion so far that the country elected a President in 2008 who disliked America so much he vowed to fundamentally change it. And the country voted for it. For all this we have to thank George McGovern. I understand that Neville Chamberlain was also a decent man. Then there was World War II.

  7. McGovern's legacy will be that image trumps substance. His supporters -- and I was among them -- only saw him as the guy who would end the war. Many bought his welfare ideas, too, but Vietnam overrode all else. We see the results of his campaign today: feel-good moral and intellectual superiority infests the left, just as as it did during the antiwar protests. The ultimate expression of this mindset have been sullying the White House for four years now.

  8. I was there as part of the (read Army ) security for that convention. When that d-bag said he'd send the vice president to Hanoi on his knees , I thought I didn't give a happy damn if he'd gotten the MoH, he was still a traitor. Add to this , this monument to loss supported Henry Wallace... Yeah, principled ..

    Too bad more people didn't speak with his squadron mates while they were living. McGovern was not exactly well regarded by a huge number in his old outfit. Oh well, there's always Ambrose's semi plagerized hagiography of McGovern to ignore..