Image 01 Image 03

Remembering McGovern

Remembering McGovern

George McGovern is dead.  The lede and two subsequent grafs from the New York Times report today give us an inkling of what we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot until he’s laid to rest.

George McGovern, the United States senator who won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972 as an opponent of the war in Vietnam and a champion of liberal causes, and who was then trounced by President Richard M. Nixon in the general election, died early Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was 90….

To the liberal Democratic faithful, Mr. McGovern remained a standard-bearer well into his old age, writing and lecturing even as his name was routinely invoked by conservatives as synonymous with what they considered the failures of liberal politics.

He never retreated from those ideals, however, insisting on a strong, “progressive” federal government to protect the vulnerable and expand economic opportunity while asserting that history would prove him correct in his opposing not only what he called “the tragically mistaken American war in Vietnam” but also the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rarely mentioned is McGovern’s belated mea culpa over not having had a business background before assuming public office, inspired by his post-Senate experience of trying to open and operate an inn in Connecticut.  As he explained in an Inc. magazine guest column, McGovern discovered that some of those liberal regulatory hurdles he’d voted as a senator to impose proved too high a jump, even for someone with his Rolodex.

The second lesson I learned by owning the Stratford Inn is that legislators and government regulators must more carefully consider the economic and management burdens we have been imposing on U.S. business. As an innkeeper, I wanted excellent safeguards against a fire. But I was startled to be told that our two-story structure, which had large sliding doors opening from every guest room to all-concrete decks, required us to meet fire regulations more appropriate to the Waldorf-Astoria.

By all accounts George McGovern was a fine man, and his life will be celebrated in countless words over the coming days.  But those celebrations won’t be fueled by his character (nor by his bravery and skills as a World War II pilot).  They’ll be fueled by what baby boomers remember so fondly as his opposition to “Nixon’s war” in Vietnam.

Here, for example, is a tweet from Dan Froomkin, the Huffington Post’s senior Washington correspondent: “I have much more love for someone who lost as the candidate for peace than for anyone who won as the candidate for war.”

Back in the Vietnam era, McGovern was most often compared to another failed antiwar presidential candidate (though he never received the nomination), Eugene McCarthy; and you can be pretty much assured that McGovern will be eulogized from the same template that McCarthy was nearly seven years ago.

At the time, I was so struck by Bill Clinton’s eulogy that I took to the pages of The Weekly Standard with a short column.  And since I fully expect that Clinton will (a) show up as McGovern’s keynote eulogizer, and (b) pull out the same superlatives, I’m going to quote the piece in its entirety.  Only the name will need changing.

A MEMORIAL SERVICE for former senator Eugene J. McCarthy was held last Saturday at the National Cathedral in Washington, and former president Bill Clinton was there to eulogize him. This was not surprising: President Clinton will probably be present to eulogize every other boomer icon, whenever photographers are permitted, for as long as his health permits. What was surprising, though, was that Clinton credited the senator, who died last month, for turning the country against the Vietnam War—the operative word being “credited.”

“It all started when Gene McCarthy was willing to stand alone and turn the tide of history,” said the forty-second president of the United States.

But “to stand alone and turn the tide of history” is the kind of language generally reserved for the likes of Churchill’s warnings about Hitler at a time when no one wanted to hear them. Or for Lincoln, risking everything to keep the United States united. Indeed, those could’ve been the words Clinton used for Rosa Parks, substituting “sit” for “stand” in his eulogy at her funeral. They’re used for people whose actions are considered unambiguously good.

As far as I know, there has never been a national referendum in which America as a nation decided that President Kennedy’s decision to send military “advisers” to South Vietnam as a bulwark against falling-dominoes communism was an error of historic proportions; that those who fought, and died, did so in vain; that the consequences of our leaving Vietnam without winning—millions slaughtered—were, at worst, morally neutral. That the war, in short, was unredeemable from first to last.

Those appear to have been Clinton’s conclusions. After all, he had come to praise the senator, not to bury him. So is this what Senator McCarthy deserves for helping to turn much of the country against the Vietnam War?

Well, I’m acquainted with several Vietnam vets who feel strongly that they served their country well in a noble cause. And I wrote a book with and about a man whose heroic service in Vietnam as a gunship pilot was the proudest time of his life—no matter that he was black in what was then a white man’s world.

I think it’s unlikely that these veterans believe Senator McCarthy’s public opposition to the war served anyone but the North Vietnamese—an opinion, in fact, shared by the North’s commander, General Nguyen Vo Giap. Seeing that his forces could not beat the United States militarily, Gen. Giap considered negotiating a truce until the antiwar protests reached critical mass—soon after Senator McCarthy came out publicly against the war. From then, Giap wrote, he realized that he could lose every battle and still win the war. All he had to do was endure.

In Vietnam, the “American War” may be settled history. But in this country the Vietnam War isn’t. Not now. Not soon. And when it is, the matter won’t be settled by men who, like Clinton and me, could have fought in that war but demonstrated against it instead—and therefore have a vested interest in seeing that turned tide as a flood averted. The truth may be that we started one.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


…just think about how screwed up the ’70’s would have been had he beaten Nixon. Moreover, the Reagan Revolution would never have occured. 1972 was one of those pivotal points in history.

We would never have had the disaster that was James Earl Carter,
We would not have had Ford…who was only a minor disaster,
We would not have had Reagan,
Or Bush or Clinton or Bush…

The world would have been a very different place. I think it would have been much, much worse.

    heimdall in reply to Rich Vail. | October 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    It is scary isn’t it?

      Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to heimdall. | October 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      “BAD OMEN”

      (McGovern’s Death on election’s eve)


      At least that is my opinion and I am sticking to it!

    Anchovy in reply to Rich Vail. | October 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    On the bright side we would have had an economy that looks a lot like the one in Greece and we would all have plenty of time off work because our economy would look a lot like Greece.

    Group hugs do not a GNP make.

    WarEagle82 in reply to Rich Vail. | October 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    I suspect McGovern would have screwed things up as bad or worse than Jimmy Carter did. Reagan would have won the nomination in 1976 since there would have been no Ford to contest the nomination. So, in all likelihood, a McGovern “victory” in 1972 would have given us Reagan in 1976 instead of 1980…

      casualobserver in reply to WarEagle82. | October 21, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      I agree with you WarEagle82 and think that outcome (Regan winning on his first attempt) is just as likely as the absence of Reagan. He was very determined to win that office.

    J Motes in reply to Rich Vail. | October 21, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    And McGovern wouldn’t have tried to open a small hotel and come to the realization that his legislative priorities were ruinous to business, small business in particular. So I will grant him at least the ability to learn something, a quality that few other politicians possess (the current leading example being Elizabeth Warren).

McGovern was a decent and honorable man. Too bad there are no more on the left these days.

    You basically hit the nail on the head. The Democratic party has left those people behind. Joe Lieberman is now an independent. If those loyal, yet left-leaning individuals have no room in the democratic party, what does that say about “The Big Tent.” It’s now a party of socialist progressives and closet communists.

    Squires in reply to Estragon. | October 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Aside from his massive ego, the ignorance it led him to take pride in:

    …his statist urges, and merry-go-lucky friendship with one of the worst tyrants to ever grace the Western hemisphere:

    I’ll repeat my comment from the previous entry: I won’t celebrate his death, but I won’t mourn it either. Ditto his buddy Castro, now also reportedly on his way out.

    I really don’t get where this image of him as “decent and honorable” comes in. He served in WWII? So did a lot of men of his generation. So did the inexcusable Murtha. So did both my grandfathers, who were decent men. So did a great uncle, who was in the KKK.

    NeoConScum in reply to Estragon. | October 21, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Estragon…I couldn’t help but ponder the same thing. I was 28-yrs when I enthusistically supported-voted for the man. The likes of Patti Murray, Chuckles Schumer, Carl Levin, Tommy Harkin, Babs’Mam’Boxer, etc. aren’t worthy of shining Senator McGovern’s wingtips.

    God Bless, Senator. Godspeed, Sir. A man of integrity.

    NeoConScum: ‘Mugged by Reality’ in ’81-82.

    Belial Issimo in reply to Estragon. | October 22, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Well, there’s Jed Bartlet.

For a good overview of McGovern’s WWII service, read Stephen Ambrose’s The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany.

McGovern would have been Obama, without the hate. He would have been Hillary Clinton, without the stupidity. But he would have been a disaster.

Sounds like the Constitution should be amended to require that one eligibility requirement for federal public office should be that one has to have owned a business and had to make payroll without government assistance.

Yeah, well Bendict Arnold fought well for America until he turned traiter…now we have to forgive mcgovern? Screw him

casualobserver | October 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Just as progressives remember Ted Kennedy for ‘decades’ of progressive legislation, it looks like they will also remember McGovern for decades of dreaming. Dreaming of no war. Dreaming of creating a government that could fix every social ill in the cosmos….etc.

what I always wonder is how the hell did the Republicans get the blame for Vietnam …truman got us in and kennedy and johnston got us the body count

Henry Hawkins | October 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm

I’m old enough to literally remember McGovern, not articles on him. Yes, many thought him a good and decent man – just as many currently do Obama.

I remember anti-war activist McGovern purposely wearing his American flag lapel pin upside down.

I remember McGovern blaming the Cold War on…. America. Sound familiar? I remember McGovern comparing Ho Chi Minh favorably to George Washington, for crissakes.

I remember old-school Democrat McGovern caving in like a house of cards to every liberal subset and demographic out there, adopting every identity group’s causes. The Dem Party remains a coalition of ID subsets, ‘victims’ all.

I remember McGovern reversing his principled position on abortion simply to appease feminists.

I remember McGovern speaking absolute pie-in-the-sky goofyness on anything regarding the economy, budgets, etc. No clue. None. He was all Tax And Spend on a monumental scale, as bad or worse than Obama.

I remember McGovern presiding over the Dem Party convention, which was a comical circus that ran all night long, wherein good folks were nominated for the VP spot, people like Cesar Chavez, Chairman Mao, and even Archie Bunker. It was like the whole thing was organized and run by deeply stoned frat boys who had zero regard for the American political process.

I remember McGovern as the man whose candidacy irreparably split the Democrat Party and allowed the liberal left wing to take control, allowing lib dinks likes Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama to head the party.

I remember McGovern as the man who took leftist Democrat political philosophy into the mainstream in all its unicorny, fairy-dusted, idealistic, moonbeamish, pandering glory.

I remember McGovern as the first nationally prominent leftist liberal more than willing to subjugate my freedoms in pursuit of his own progressive dreamschtick. His honorable behavior in WWII thirty years previous did not mitigate this later Blame America First McGovernism.

Theodore White on McGovern:

“At McGovern headquarters, the word itself – patriotism – was a code word for intolerance, war, deception. . . phrases like ‘peace with honor’ actually did make them gag.”

When you think of decorated war hero George McGovern, do it the same way you think of decorated war hero John Kerry.

An ACTUAL American hero and veteran, Sgt. Major Basil Plumley, died recently.

He appears to have loved and served his country and NEVER appears to have bought into the Soviet-inspired, anti-American propaganda that seems to have inspired McGovern…

Can you be a “Soviet dupe” and still be an “honorable man?” Seriously?

TeaPartyPatriot4ever | October 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Anyone who stand for, and fights for peace is a fine man. But in doing so, they must never lead that peace effort, from the position of weakness, but from the position of strength.

McGovern lost because he was for unconditional surrender, withdrawal, and appeasement to communism.

Richard Nixon did not start the Vietnam war, although he had to see it to it’s conclusion, which was trying to win the war once started, was essential in having a good outcome where Democracy and Freedom, let alone peace, were supposed to be the objectives and achievement in Vietnam.. for which Gerald Ford had to finish after Nixon resigned from Watergate.

George McGovern was part of the Democratic political problem that stemmed from LBJ’s hypocrisy of fighting a war in Vietnam, which the Democrats were supposed to be against in the first place. Had JFK not been assassinated and lived to have a second term, the Vietnam war might never have been, as JFK was going to pull out his advisers as indicated.

To add, Sen. George McGovern’s misguided liberal big govt. ideology, mentality, thus politics, was even questioned by his own self, which is ironically what’s now destroying the country currently in the form of Pres Obama, who has taken up McGovern’s mantle of big govt. that’s too big to fail, ie; too big period, not to mention ironically fighting another war from the position of weakness, not strength.. Amazing..