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George McGovern, Appreciated

A patriot, a war hero–during the Second World War, he flew 35 bombing missions, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for a safe landing after anti-aircraft fire had destroyed one of his B-24′s engines and engulfed a second engine in flames–and a figure altogether kind, gentle, and humane (for this assessment of McGovern’s character I rely on the testimony of William F. Buckley, Jr., who became close to the former senator from South Dakota during his own final years).  But, as I learned interviewing him for Uncommon Knowledge in 2003, George McGovern remained an unreconstructed liberal.  To wit:

Peter Robinson: Senator, you attribute the success of conservatives to “huge campaign war chests and clever propagandas.” You think then that the conservative ascendancy is primarily, in part–I’m looking for weights here–a result of superior control of the levers of politics. They’re just better at the technical aspects of it?

George McGovern: I think they’re better at the propaganda aspects of it and less constrained by ethics or by respect for historical tradition. Let me make clear, I don’t have any anger towards old-line conservatives. I got along fine with Goldwater and Bob Dole and always admired Eisenhower, people of that kind. I don’t like these conservatives who bash every single liberal idea, which has been happening over the last 30 years in American politics. If you were against the Vietnam War, you had to convince about half the electorate you weren’t sympathetic to communism. If you were for Civil Rights, you had to campaign in the South where that subject was political suicide. Republican conservatives and some Democratic conservatives orchestrated those fears, fears of communism, fears of the Civil Rights revolution.

Peter Robinson: So what you’re saying though is that the liberals lost the country.

George McGovern: I think they lost the propaganda war. My guess is that most Americans favor the liberal agenda. Can I just tick it off very quickly?

Peter Robinson: Of course.

George McGovern: Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, minimum wages, rural electrification, guaranteed bank deposits, I think that’s the liberal agenda and I think most Americans favor that agenda.

Thirty years after he lost the 1972 presidential election in a landslide, George McGovern was still talking as if Franklin Roosevelt had never died and Ronald Reagan had never been born.  The nation had simply passed him by.

Until today, when it pauses to remember that, even if obdurately and willfully mistaken, George McGovern was a good man.

  1. Mollie Hemingway
    C

    McGovern wrote a very interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal headlined:

    A Politician’s Dream Is a Businessman’s Nightmare: A 1992 column on the realities of running a business

    It began with a note about coming to learn something later in life.

  2. Anne R. Pierce
    C

    George McGovern meant what he said and said what he meant. A far cry from Democratic party leaders today. I agree- He was a good man. He genuinely cared about his fellow human beings and about human rights.

  3. Misthiocracy

    He’s a good illustration of the misconceptions that American liberals have about conservatism as a whole when he equates “fear of communism” with “opposition to civil rights”. The two aren’t mutually inclusive.

    After all, if he says he doesn’t like conservatives because they fear communism, doesn’t that imply that he likes liberals because they embrace communism?

  4. BlueAnt
    George McGovern: Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, minimum wages, rural electrification, guaranteed bank deposits, I think that’s the liberal agenda and I think most Americans favor that agenda.

    All due respect to the late Senator, that isn’t the modern liberal agenda to which conservatives object.  If that was all the Democrats were advocating, they would become merely another centrist wing of the Republican party.

    Liberals demand broadened, unreformed SS and Medicare.  They demand the expansion of the definition of civil rights to include groups and goodies never before imagined under the concept.  They demand an ever-increasing minimum wage targeted not at preventing abject poverty or a race to the bottom, but at raising incomes nearer to median levels.

    That leaves rural electrification and federally insured deposits, two leftover programs which have lived far beyond their projected lifespan and now cause wasteful spending and moral hazard, respectively.  Yet no Democrat is crusading for the implementation of either program, and no Republican (outside the libertarian wing) is actively trying to halt them.

    It is telling that McGovern’s liberalism involves preserving old guard institutions, while Obama’s liberalism involves radical new social and governmental institutions.

  5. EJHill

    So, the $64 Question is this: Will McGovern’s family ask that the President come to his funeral or ask him to stay away?

    And the $128 question, will politics highjack the event and create another “Wellstone moment?”

  6. EJHill
    Misthiocracy: After all, if he says he doesn’t like conservatives because they fear communism, doesn’t that imply that he likes liberals because they embrace communism? 

    No. The McGovernite wing of the Democratic Party didn’t embrace communism as much as they resigned themselves to living with it. Remember the Truman Doctrine was all about “containment.” That was official US policy from 1946 through 1980. Then on Jan. 20, 1981 official US policy* became, “We win, they lose.”

    *At least that was the President’s policy. The State Department is still fighting it.

  7. dittoheadadt

    When I learn that someone, no matter how utterly wrong were his political views, was ”…a war hero–during the Second World War, he flew 35 bombing missions, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for a safe landing after anti-aircraft fire had destroyed one of his B-24′s engines and engulfed a second engine in flames…” my opinion of him invariably softens. I like that it does.

  8. Redneck Desi

    These tender memories of McGovern are reminiscent of how the left remembers Goldwater…they both mellowed in their later years and were “pleasant” with the other side. The McGovern wing of the party is a direct line to the policies that are threatening our future in just about every way. Good men can be idiots too.

  9. Stephen Acciani

    I support McGovern’s liberal agenda:

    “ Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, minimum wages, rural electrification, guaranteed bank deposits, I think that’s the liberal agenda and I think most Americans favor that agenda.”

    It is when they added abortion that I switched parties and began the path to becoming a conservative.

  10. James Gawron

    Peter,

    I don’t wish to speak ill of such a man nor come off as Mr. Negative.  However, do you think Obama will ever change?  Jimmy Carter doubled down on the whole pacifist marxist-symp mentality after he left office.  The facts of the Cambodian genocide never entered his consciousness.  Reagan’s success with the economy and the end of Russian Communism didn’t phase Carter’s obsession with the America Always Wrong creed one bit.

    McGovern-Carter-Obama.  Borrowing from a phrase my dear departed father used on appropriate occasions.  “With friends like that you don’t need an enemy.”

    Regards,

    Jim

  11. Ghost

    McGovern’s war record deserves (and gets) my respect and gratitude. McGovern’s politics were horrific; witness where our country is now and where it’s very likely to be if Romney doesn’t win in November. I’m very glad McGovern lost in 1972 and I’m sorry he was ever elected to the Senate.

  12. William Laing

    Would McGovern have supported South Vietnam in the air and at sea,Congress betrayed SV in this. Absent Watergate, could or would McGovern have done this?

  13. HVTs
    James Gawron: Jimmy Carter doubled down on the whole pacifist marxist-symp mentality after he left office.  The facts of the Cambodian genocide never entered his consciousness. 

    Agree with the sentiment, but you’ll get some hairsplitting here . . . McGovern did famously decry the Cambodian genocide and, if I remember correctly, lack of US response/intervention.  Of course, when McGovern needed to understand the inevitability of just such a thing in SE Asia, he was obtuse.  When out of power and able to morally preen, he was suddenly all for taking action.

    You’ve got to love the way he downplays Democrat culpability: “Republican conservatives and some Democratic conservatives orchestrated those fears, fears of communism, fears of the Civil Rights revolution.”  Read Ann Coulter’s Mugged for a welcome, thorough, forceful refutation of the Left’s lies about Civil Rights. Democrats ran the apartheid South and fought Republican efforts to liberate it.  As for “orchestrating fears” of Communism … see JFK’s inauguration speech, his “missile gap” campaign lies and … well, the Cambodian genocide!  McGovern carried his cartoon version of history to the grave.

  14. Sweezle

    George McGovern’s military service will always have my respect. But as the WSJ reminded me, his biggest political contribution was realizing in the 1990′s (after running & losing a small business) that every politician should have the experience of running a business BEFORE they are elected to public office. 

  15. Robert Lux

    He became much less leftist in his last few years.  Wisdom of aging.  There was a rather shocking article he wrote in the WSJ on March 7, 2008. Excerpt:

    Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society. Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life. The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

    The article is behind a subscriber firewall, but John Ray (libertarian-conservative Aussie blogger) posted most of the article when it came out at his website Dissecting Leftism — archived here.   

  16. The Mugwump

    After he retired from politics George McGovern maintained an office on Connecticut Avenue in Washington.  The building was part of my delivery route, and I saw him frequently.  He was a genuinely sincere and kind man.  I recall him once holding the elevator for me.  When an impatient passenger complained, he snapped, “can’t you see this man has work to do?”  RIP    

  17. HVTs

    The man wrote a moving book about his alcoholic daughter (who died at age 45 from drinking) which I know has helped others recovering from that dreadful disease, including some I’m close to.  I can’t read the first few pages of it, when he tells his wife of fifty years about the loss of their daughter, without getting misty eyed.  God bless him for that book and his wartime service. RIP.

  18. RightinChicago
    This is an illustration of the sincerity of Ricochet.com. Had Pat Buchanan died, you would find not one kind word on a Left-wing sight. Yet here we have the death of an Uber-Liberal like McGovern given proper reverance and remembarance. We are truly better than the other side in every way. May God bless and keep George McGovern. May he bask in the light of a merciful God and Father.
  19. Peter Robinson
    C
    dittoheadadt: When I learn that someone, no matter how utterly wrong were his political views, was ”…a war hero–during the Second World War, he flew 35 bombing missions, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for a safe landing after anti-aircraft fire had destroyed one of his B-24′s engines and engulfed a second engine in flames…” my opinion of him invariably softens. I like that it does. · 1 hour ago

    You and me both.  When I interviewed McGovern a decade ago, I kept thinking, a) that the guy was wrong about almost everything, and, b) that if he asked me to shine his shoes, I’d consider it an honor.

  20. Peter Robinson
    C
    ~Paules: After he retired from politics George McGovern maintained an office on Connecticut Avenue in Washington.  The building was part of my delivery route, and I saw him frequently.  He was a genuinely sincere and kind man.  I recall him once holding the elevator for me.  When an impatient passenger complained, he snapped, “can’t you see this man has work to do?”  RIP     · 26 minutes ago

    A wonderful, and wonderfully revealing, story.

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