October 21, 2012

George McGovern has died.

The first presidential candidate I voted for, in 1972, the year I turned 21. He was 90 years old.
A slender, soft-spoken minister’s son newly elected to Congress — his father was a Republican — Mr. McGovern went to Washington as a 34-year-old former college history teacher and decorated bomber pilot in World War II. He thought of himself as a son of the prairie as well, with a fittingly flat, somewhat nasal voice and a brand of politics traceable to the Midwestern progressivism of the late 19th century.
ADDED: More, from the linked NYT obituary:
The Republicans portrayed Mr. McGovern as a cowardly left-winger, a threat to the military and the free-market economy and outside the mainstream of American thought. Fair or not, he never lived down the image of a liberal loser, and many Democrats long accused him of leading the party astray.

Mr. McGovern resented that characterization mightily. “I always thought of myself as a good old South Dakota boy who grew up here on the prairie,” he said in an interview for this obituary in 2005 in his home in Mitchell. “My dad was a Methodist minister. I went off to war. I have been married to the same woman forever. I’m what a normal, healthy, ideal American should be like.

“But we probably didn’t work enough on cultivating that image,” he added, referring to his campaign organization. “We were more interested in ending the war in Vietnam and getting people out of poverty and being fair to women and minorities and saving the environment. It was an issue-oriented campaign, and we should have paid more attention to image.”

63 comments:

Diogenes of Sinope said...

George McGovern was such an decent, honourable man who always seemed to be able to maintain his personal integrity while a politician. McGovern was the exception, an honest politician.

hoyden said...

McGovern was also my first vote. I remember at the time not understanding why he lost so badly. Now I do.

Kansas City said...

My first presidential vote as well. He seemed to drift away after losing in 1972, although I know he was around. My recollection of him is that of a good man, probably a bit naive and deserted by democrats after his big loss in 1972.

RIP

Skyler said...

Yes. He should have focused on image so the people wouldn't notice his disastrous policies. Seems Obama must be the result of that advice.

Kansas City said...

I guess that I would agree he was an honest politician. Like Hoydan, I remember not understanding at the time why he lost so badly and now I do. I suppose he never had much of a chance in 1972, but I wonder what would have happened if had won? We probably would have had Reagan by 1976, instead of 1980. Then the most important issue would have been how Reagan dealt with Iran. Would he have acted to prevent the Khomeni takeover?

John Foster said...

Also my first vote. I lived in DC at the time so I was in a place he carried! (Well, other than SD.) Clearly out of his league against Nixon.
About 15 years ago I was taking a tour of the Tower of London and in our little group was George and Eleanor. Just folks. I was tempted to say "At least I voted for you," but thought better of it.
He would have been a disastrous president, but he was clearly a good and great man. He belonged to another era.

rick said...

My first vote also at 21 YO. Young, idealistic, naive and stupid.

My older brother made fun of him for promising every family $1000 when he ended the war. Thought McGovern was buying votes. The Dems have now turned vote buying into an art form.

Comanche Voter said...

Boy I wrestled with my conscience in the voting booth in California in 1972. I've been a lifelong registered Democrat (of the Scoop Jackson persuasion). I'd been indoctrinated by my father, a yellow dog Texas Democrat, that Richard Milhouse Nixon was the incarnation of evil.

So you're presented with a choice--vote for a naive, but nice, extreme liberal--or vote for Trickie Dickie? (Slick Willie was far in the future.)

Won't say which way I voted, but part of the calculus was that Nixon was going to carry California no matter which way I voted.

Paul Kirchner said...

My first vote was also cast for George McGovern. My attitude was "anyone but Nixon." Later, as I became more conservative, I wouldn't have considered voting for him, but I still always considered him an honorable politician who actually told you what he intended to do. Candidates didn't seem so heavily managed in those days.

Mitchell said...

Bullshit.

His campaign sold that image just fine.

It didn't sell well enough, is all.

If he really said those things and if he really believed them, decades later, during an interview for an obituary, then he wasn't much of a man worthy of admiration.

It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to.

Perhaps there's a heaven where George McGovern now has a second chance to own it.

Mian said...

George McGovern piloted a B-24 during WWII and flew 35 missions over Germany -- a brave man who served his country with distinction. For his service, I will always admire the man.

May he rest in peace.

Pastafarian said...

A decent man and patriot. I wish the modern left had more -- scratch that, any -- like him. I guess you'd call him a paleoliberal.

campy said...

'72 was also my first year voting. If I had the same choice again, knowing everything I now know about both men, I'd switch to the other one.

whoresoftheinternet said...

Good riddance. I hope he suffered.

The idea that George McGovern was honest is laughable. This man gave us the government food pyramid---which he based, not on medical evidence, but on the fact that he and his staff wanted meat-eating demonized and vegetarianism lauded (because and his crap staff hated masculinity).

At the hearings where he set up the carb-heavy lifestyle that has made us all fat, numerous doctors argued with him that there simply was no consensus that saturated fat/fat/cholesterol-filled foods caused health problems.

McGovern's "honest" answer? That he didn't have the luxury to wait for consensus, and that something needed to be done! So he deliberately created a government food pyramid that he knew wasn't based on sound evidence, only to further his politics!

Fucking rat-bastard liar. I'm not surprised abortion-loving Easy Annie A. loved him.

May he rot in hell, the fascist.

Bob Ellison said...

The "my first vote" comments here are really interesting. Lots of new commenters coming in. McGovern touches a few nerves.

gerry said...

I was not naive and goofy, and worked for the Young Republicans on my campus.

McGovern was a man with bad ideas, but he at least stated them and was defeated completely. The Dems restructured their convention rules then to prevent a group of sillies from being able to wrest matters into oblivion again. They also realized that the liberal philosophy was a losing proposition, so they swore never again to state their purposes, intentions or beliefs openly.

Obama is proof of that M.O., and he actually used it against his fellow Democrats.

Bob Ellison said...

whores, you need a Quaalude*.

*I am not licensed to describe barbituates. My comments here are my own opinions, not the Professor's. Nobody should take drugs without consultation with a doctor. I say this only because this weird commenter seems to be either a weird, incompetent troll, or someone off his meds.

Bob Ellison said...

Uh, *prescribe. Though "describe" might work better.

madAsHell said...

Out here in the Pacific Northwest, you can still find an early 70's Volvo with a pristine "McGovern for President" bumper sticker.

Bruce Hayden said...

Coming from a Republican family (since Lincoln on my mother's side), I had little understanding of why anyone would vote for him. I didn't, in my first chance to vote. Someone put a "McGovern McNothing" sticker on one of our cars, and the brother who would turn out most liberal cut out "McGovern Mc".

The problem with Vietnam at that point was that the war was essentially won, through a major change of tactics after the bloodbath under LBJ. McGovern was essentially proposing cutting and running after spending 57K+ American lives to win the war. Of course, that is essentially what we did, after Nixon resigned and the Dems in Congress cut off S. Vietnam from the aid we had promised them.

If McGovern had won, by some miracle, what would have been different? Little with Vietnam. Cutting and running a bit earlier, but little difference in the ultimate American military death toll. A little less in defense expenditures, but blowing $1k per person as a bribe to vote for him would probably have put us in even worse position. Budget with his socialist tendencies and a Dem Congress would likely have been worse, not better. Not sure that Reagan could have beaten McGovern in 1976 - having Carter screw up both the economy and with Iran sure helped him in 1980. (And, to be fair, LBJ and Nixon really got the economic mess going - partially to fund the war, but in retrospect, probably a lot more through their social spending, aka War on Poverty, etc.)

campy said...

Out here in the Pacific Northwest, you can still find an early 70's Volvo with a pristine "McGovern for President" bumper sticker.

I live in what was once the land of the "Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts" sticker. Haven't seen one in decades, though.

Must be the road salt.

Bob Ellison said...

Bruce Hayden, you're on your way toward an alternative history novel there. It could be good.

From the NYT quote: "I’m what a normal, healthy, ideal American should be like." A presidential candidate couldn't say that today.

Clyde said...

Everything I've read about Senator McGovern said that he was a very nice man, and a patriot. But he was on the wrong side of history regarding communism.

The Democrat Congress turned the end of the Vietnam War into a debacle and a humanitarian disaster that cost millions of lives in southeast Asia. If it were up to the Democrats, there would still be a Soviet Union. 'Nuff said.

Bruce Hayden said...

The idea that George McGovern was honest is laughable. This man gave us the government food pyramid---which he based, not on medical evidence, but on the fact that he and his staff wanted meat-eating demonized and vegetarianism lauded (because and his crap staff hated masculinity).

I think that it is as likely that his preferences for a carb heavy food pyramid come from his farming constituents.

That has been the thing that I have long felt absurd about it, that it is promulgated by the department dedicated to supporting agriculture and not health. And, though USDA does support the meat industry, its focus has long seemed to be on the grain industry (or at least plants versus animals). My guess is that the reason for this is that there are more farmers than ranchers, esp. in the midwest (or, given the geographic reality - what we out west sometimes call the "mideast", since it is mostly east of the geographic center of the country).

The most recent evidence of this insane pandering to the grain industry are the ethanol mandates. Can't really show that raising corn, then turning it into fuel (that destroys gasoline engines) actually reduces either petroleum imports or CO2 emissions (and, indeed, it most likely significantly increases the latter). But, the program keeps growing, while resulting meat prices increase, as do other farm prices, and our agricultural exports decline. Lose-lose, except for mid-west farmers, who make out like bandits. McGovern's constituency.

Roger Sweeny said...

It's ironic. One of the reasons McGovern lost so badly is that he was successfully characterized as an out-of-the-mainstream extremist. But McGovern thought of himself as a pillar of the community who ran an issue-oriented campaign.

Eight years previous, Barry Goldwater had the same charge successfully laid on him and felt the same way.

Darrell said...

People that I met that knew him said he was a son-of-a-bitch*. That said, even SOBs should rest in peace. I am glad that you never became President and I will say a prayer for your Soul.

*His war service alone puts him light years ahead of the current crop of SOBs that infest out government. They are totally useless. McGovern was not.

Tregonsee said...

1972 was the second presidential election in which I voted. At the time, I was enjoying the sights in a wonderful place called Vietnam. We hear a lot of talk today about how hard it is to vote, but it was far more difficult 40 years ago. Nevertheless, I made the effort. I did not vote for McGovern, and have no regrets on that today.

The Drill SGT said...

My first vote was for George. literally. The top of the ticket in ’72. A Californian, back from Nam, I had seen Nixon's secret plan in action and didn't like what I saw. A couple of things to appreciate about George:

1. He flew 35 B-24 missions over Europe piloting the Dakota Queen, earning a DFC.

2. PhD from Northwestern

3. After the Senate, he tried to run a hotel and famously said: “I … wish that during the years I was in public office I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender”.

A Leftist mugged by goverment regulations....

George likely would not have made a good President, but he was honest, and had a lot more experience than our current POTUS.

PS: to add to Bruce's novel.

1. McGovern gets elected (and like the BHO-Dem love for the "good war"), we don't abandon South Vietnam and cut off all funding and support.
2. SVN survives
3. No killing fields

Not that I beieve it, but a couple million less useless dead makes up for a lot of food pyramids...

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

PPS: wouldI vote for him now, of course not. unless Zombie Nixon is the other choice :)

Pogo said...

A nice guy who fought in battle, but came to believe in some horrifically stupid ideas.

His defeat in '72 marked the end of the old style Democrats, as the party was soon taken over by the mendacious boomer socialists.

Après McGovern, le subterfuge.

edutcher said...

Never had a second's doubt about voting for Nixon in '72.

McGovern wanted to fund "clothing stamps" - just like food stamps so, in his words, "poor people could dress up and feel good".

The road that led us to Choom began in '72.

PS I'll never forget the smarmy smile on his face as the Russian tanks crushed the ARVN in '75.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darrell said...

I met a 30-something teacher who wanted to attend the Democratic National Convention in 1972 because she grew up watching them on TV and wanted to see one in person--she was passing around a petition to be a delegate. Mainly because she was hot, I told her that I would help her and I went around to grocery stores until we got 20% more signatures than required. I figured the Daley machine might want their people in and would try and challenge her petition. She got on the ballot and was elected as a delegate. That was the year that McGovern decided to work with Jesse Jackson and the left-wing scum to unseat the Daley delegation and my teacher friend got tossed along with the others. Fuckers that never went through the bother of an actual election took their seats instead. That was social justice, we were told. Fuck them all. They are the ones we are fighting now. David Axelrod included.

Quaestor said...

"But the dogs won't eat the dog food!" McGovern was one of those people on whom the lesson of that story was totally lost. The Democrats ushered into their party as unpaid volunteers doing the 1972 campaign's grunt work are now its leaders. Thanks in no small measure to George McGovern, a man who never understood what the Delphic oracle meant by "know thyself", the Democrats have exactly two arrows in their quiver -- demonize the opposition and re-label the dog food.

Bob Ellison said...

Professor, I'm taking from this thread that your readership is way above average age in the country.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Eventually McGovern's (perhaps unintentional but nevertheless) devastating role in the obesity epidemic will become more widely known.

His ridiculous Food Pyramid and subsequent low-fat hysteria has probably caused more premature death and suffering than any war he may have been a champion of the Left, against.

Dead is dead, regardless the cause.

JBeuks said...

Like many others, 1972 was my first vote for President. I voted for Nixon. Even knowing what I know now, I would still vote for Nixon. When it comes to President, we're better off with a competent crook than a decent and honorable fool.

That said, McGovern was a good and decent man. God rest his soul.

Skipper said...

May he rest in peace. But, with all due respect, blaming "image" is the usual lament of the loser.

ndspinelli said...

McGovern had an epiphany after getting out of politics. When he opened a bed and breakfast he was appalled @ all of the regulations and taxes. He did many mea culpas about how he helped contribute to this roadblock as a politician and became an advocate for small business. Not the horseshit you hear from both parties about being supportive of small biz while sticking it to them, but a real advocate. He was a WW2 pilot that flew over 30 missions. His daughter died from alcoholism, frozen to death in an alley on the eastside of Madison. he helped build an alcohol treatment facility in her honor. He was a good man.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

But we probably didn’t work enough on cultivating that image.

He probably should have told more stories.

pst314 said...

"McGovern's 'honest' answer? That he didn't have the luxury to wait for consensus, and that something needed to be done!"

Sort like how his friend Fidel Castro didn't have the luxury to wait for concensus, and "had to" turn Cuba into an island prison, murder camp, and slum?

Cedarford said...

Hypotheticals are fun to toss around, but McGovern was as antithetical to the electorate as Conservative cream crush Goldwater was or race baiter Jesse Jackson was.

The idea of any of them being electable is a laugh. Each was a case of their Pary's Base kidding themselves.

With respect to McGovern, as with Goldwater (also a military hero) -one of the decent, mostly honorable pols, but deeply wrong and misguided.

As for Nixon and the "competent crook" meme - we know now that FDR, JFK, LBJ, John Kerry, John Edwards were all ethically challenged liars now. Worse than Nixon, if we held them to the same standards..
Reagan also lied, but got a pass in Iran-Contra.
Obama lied about nearly everything he can on, but he is also incompetent. Carter didn't lie - he failed at nearly everything from incompetence that he honestly wanted to get done.

Cedarford said...

Hypotheticals are fun to toss around, but McGovern was as antithetical to the electorate as Conservative cream crush Goldwater was or race baiter Jesse Jackson was.

The idea of any of them being electable is a laugh. Each was a case of their Pary's Base kidding themselves.

With respect to McGovern, as with Goldwater (also a military hero) -one of the decent, mostly honorable pols, but deeply wrong and misguided.

As for Nixon and the "competent crook" meme - we know now that FDR, JFK, LBJ, John Kerry, John Edwards were all ethically challenged liars now. Worse than Nixon, if we held them to the same standards..
Reagan also lied, but got a pass in Iran-Contra.
Obama lied about nearly everything he can on, but he is also incompetent. Carter didn't lie - he failed at nearly everything from incompetence that he honestly wanted to get done.

Lyssa said...

I'm intrigued by how many of the commenters here, now (I am assuming) fairly conservative voters, voted liberal earlier in life. I'm a bit younger than most here, and my first vote was for George W. Bush, at age 20. Though even at 12 I was sporting a Bush/Quail bumper sticker on my flute case (no, I'm not making that up).

I guess I just have no heart, as the saying goes. Though I'm more inclined to say that I always understood the difference between good intentions and real results.

Sam L. said...

He wasn't mine. His campaign couldn't sell me on it.

McGovern could have said he was too soon old, too late smart.

Craig said...

McGovern got the nomination because he wasn't Humphrey, who had already lost to Nixon in '68, and he wasn't Wallace, who then had nearly 30% support in the party. He won because the Humphrey mainstream wasn't willing to run Wallace against Nixon. He lost in the general election because the Humphrey camp's support for him was never more than lukewarm and the Wallace camp thought him a dangerous radical because he opposed the war. Winning the nomination was a real accomplishment. It paved the way for Carter who would be revered today if the blue collar vote hadn't defected to Reagan in '80. Watergate grew out of McGovern's moral high ground.

ganderson said...

Like many of the posters here I cast my first vote for McGovern. I even went door to door for him in St. Paul. From the responses I got, I knew he was going to lose. And even though I have come to disagree with pretty much everything he advocated politically, I always felt he was an honorable and decent man.

Big Mike said...

McGovern was a one-issue candidate, and when Dick Nixon effectively ended the war by bombing Hell out of Hanoi and mining Haiphong harbor -- things he could have ordered the day after his inauguration -- McGovern became a no-issue candidate.

Those of you who are so proud to have voted for McGovern -- why? Oh, rick already answered at 8:25.

ndspinelli said...

Lyssa, I wager most flutist had Clinton stickers on their cases.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

It makes me sad. We (and I speak of those who were against the VN war) were against tyranny. I think of the the Marine about to pull out of a northern province of South VN. The landing craft we on the shore. A boy approached him and asked him, 'Marines coming?' to which he answered 'No' and the boy hugged him as if to keep him. Our tyrannies were too local. The loss of so many of our young men and South Vietnamese. IMHO, we were in when we should have been out, by accepting the Geneva accords. And out, when we had achieved the Paris Peace accords, when we should have been in.

William said...

Pogo had a perceptive comment: "After McGovern, the subterfuge." McGovern was the last liberal to openly pronounce his liberal beliefs. I think both Carter and Obama obfuscated the depth and breadth of their liberalism......McGovern really was an honest man with a brave and honorable record.

dc said...

He was endorsed by Hanoi Jane.

I'll bet that helped.

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

About George McGovern I mostly remember some lines etched on the side of a gent's room stall in the Texas Tech engineering building.

"Don't change dicks in the middle of a screw.
Vote for Nixon in '72."

I do not recall for whom I voted that year. Probably Nixon. It was not until a few months later that it was obvious Nixon was up to his ears in Watergate obstruction of justice.

Another memory of that era is flying a triangular pattern at night over west Texas to log hours, listening to broadcast band on the ADF radio after a traffic controller had alerted us that "Nixon is resigning."

fivewheels said...

Do they tell the person they're being interviewed for their own obituary? That seems awkward.

My first (primary) vote was for Jack Kemp.

Quaestor said...

Craig wrote:
Watergate grew out of McGovern's moral high ground.

Is there a "Most Inane Comment Award of 2012"? If so there's your winner.

MadisonMan said...

Professor, I'm taking from this thread that your readership is way above average age in the country.

Had the same thought. All these people were old enough to vote in '72?

He may have won the fake election in my 7th grade class that year. I don't recall.

Chip Ahoy said...

flying a triangular pattern at night over west Texas to log hours

Joyless flights make me sad.

The Godfather said...

De mortuis nil nisi bonum.

In 1972 I cast my presidential vote for Tricky Dick for the second time (I was too young to vote in 1960, so my first presidential vote was for Goldwater). Even knowing what I now know about Nixon, I would have voted for him over McGovern. McGovern was probably a good and decent man, but his positions were foolish and irresponsible (and if that's because he allowed himself to be captured by his radical supporters, that's even more reason he shouldn't have been president).

If we all voted on character and decency and not on policy, then Goldwater would have beaten Johnson, Humphrey would have beaten Nixon, Ford would have beaten Carter, G.H.W. Bush and Dole would each have beaten Clinton, and McCain would have beaten Obama.

BTW, my mother cast her first presidential vote for Norman Thomas in 1932 and her last for Nixon (in 1968, but if she'd lived I think she would have done so again in 1972). She was probably right both times.

Michael Brand said...

How different it all might have been if he had waited till '76 to run. A post-Watergate McGovern campaign is an intriguing counter-factual history

Portia said...

RIP, George.

Well here's another young liberal and old conservative. I voted for McGovern in 1972 and that was not my first presidential election. I too wondered how he got so swamped in the final,when he swept the nomination.

Needless to say if I were voting now I would switch my vote.

Peter said...

Bruce hayden said, "If McGovern had won, by some miracle, what would have been different?"

We might have had a 'Great Society, Part II' ?

And, perhaps a few more "Cuban Missile Crisis" type confrontations, as the USSR perceived that at least the executive branch of the USA's government had no interest at all in defending its interests in the international arena?

One thing that is lost here is that although Nixon was a singlularly unattractive candidate, he was in many ways more liberal than conservative.

Was McGovern an honest politician? Well, yes, but so was Hubert Humphery and (mostly) Jimmy Carter.

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