Posts Tagged ‘George McGovern’

George McGovern and the path not taken

November 14, 2017

George McGovern in 1972 tried to unite the old New Deal liberalism and the New Left radicalism.

He courted African-Americans, feminists, college students, gays and lesbians, environmentalists and peace advocates, while at the same time promising to close tax loopholes for the rich and using the money to grant property tax relief for middle class Americans.

George McGovern in 1972

All the issues he campaigned on—especially economic inequality—have become every more relevant today.

Yet he went down to defeat, and all the Democratic candidates from then did their best to distance themselves from McGovernism.   He was supposedly the Democratic counterpart to Barry Goldwater.

But while Goldwater’s followers reacted to their defeat by doubling down on their beliefs and going on to elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, the Democratic leaders—Jimmy Carter, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama—have run away from the supposed taint of McGovernism.

I think the difference between the legacy of Goldwater and the legacy of McGovern is that Goldwater’s movement had the support of wealthy individuals and corporations, and McGovern’s didn’t.

McGovern at the start of 1972 was as little known as Bernie Sanders at the start of 2016.   Odds-makers gave him a 200 in 1 chance of winning the Democratic nomination.   When he did win, the Democratic Party as an institution did not support him.   President Nixon meanwhile stole the Democrats’ thunder, by creating the Environmental Protection Agency, calling for a guaranteed annual income and announcing that peace was at hand in Vietnam.

President Nixon discredited himself in the Watergate affair, and Democrats rebounded.   But the Democrats did not offer a credible alternative to Republican policies, and could not hold on to power.  Thus began a political cycle that continued ever since, of voters swinging back and forth between Republican and Democratic presidential candidates while the condition of the country grows worse.

The national figure today who comes closest to resembling George McGovern is Bernie Sanders—a Senator from a small state who seemingly came out of nowhere to lead a movement.

The top leaders of the Democratic Party are as hostile to Sanders’ followers as they were to McGovern’s 45 years ago, but the Sanders followers seem to have more staying power than their predecessors.

Even Bernie Sanders is not really a peace candidate, as George McGovern was.   That is the forgotten part of McGovern’s legacy that we need the most.


Will Hillary Clinton run as a conservative?

May 9, 2016

Back in 1972, Democratic voters nominated a candidate, George McGovern, who was unacceptable to the Democratic leadership.  Top Democrats such as Lyndon Johnson silently supported Richard Nixon, who won in one of the biggest landslides in American history.

GettyImages-480679428.0Hillary Clinton seems to be basing her campaign on the top that the same thing will happen in reverse—that the top Republicans and also upscale Republican voters will support her, or remain neutral, because they can’t support Donald Trump and she is a sensible conservative

This would be bad for the nation.  It also would be a disaster for the Democratic Party.

Trying to out-Republican the Republicans was the strategy of her husband, Bill Clinton, in the 1990s.  He stole the Republicans’ thunder by balancing the budget, cutting back welfare, support mass incarceration and deregulating finance.

Barack Obama used the same strategy.  His legislative program consisted of asking Republicans in Congress to enact their own past policy proposals.  The Republican responded by simply everything Obama proposed regardless of merit—except, of course, pro-corporate trade deals, military intervention and shielding Wall Street from prosecution.

From the standpoint of political expediency, this strategy worked to the extent that Clinton and Obama won re-election, the first Democrats to do so since Franklin Roosevelt.  The strategy failed to the extent that, during both their administrations, Democrats lost control of Congress.


Obama: McGovern’s coalition and Nixon’s policies

November 15, 2012

The McGovern political coalition of suburban white liberals, African-Americans, college students, feminists, and environmentalists, which went down to ignominious defeat to Richard M. Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election, delivered a majority vote to Barack Obama in 2008 and again this year.   But what they got is another Nixon administration—expanded war, warrant-less surveillance, prosecution of whistle-blowers, a war on drugs and disregard for the laws, the Constitution and the separation of powers.

McGovern72Senator George McGovern, the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1972, ran on a platform of peace in Vietnam, universal health care, a minimum guaranteed income for the poor and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.  He suffered one of the most overwhelming defeats in American history, losing the electoral vote 520 to 17 and the popular vote 60.7 percent to 37.5 percent.

Like Nixon, Obama inherited a losing war, and, like Nixon, chose to intensify the war before making a reluctant withdrawal.  Like Nixon, he does not support universal health care, but instead pushed through a substitute plan originally designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and later enacted in Massachusetts during the administration of Mitt Romney.  Like Nixon, he talks of the embattled middle class, but never of poor people.

Nixon is infamous for his abuses of power, but Obama goes further than Nixon did in covert action, surveillance without warrants, prosecution of whistle-blowers and assertion of the right to act outside due process of law and the American system of checks and balances.  So as is known Obama does not have a personal enemies list, but he has created the precedent of signing death warrants on his own unchecked authority, and who knows what a future President might do with that authority.

richard-nixon-1Nixon’s greatest positive accomplishment was in making peace with China, in defiance of the sentiments of most of his core supporters.   I don’t think Obama will go to Iran as Nixon went to China.   The way Obama has defied his core supporters has been in bailing out Wall Street and offering to gut Social Security.

Click on The Obama Realignment for conservative columnist Ross Douthat’s thoughts on the McGovern coalition.

Click on  In the Land of the Free for a British view of the U.S. Presidential election.

In praise of food stamps

January 24, 2012

The father of the today’s food stamp program was George McGovern, a liberal Democratic Senator from South Dakota who is remembered for running for President in 1972 in opposition to the Vietnam War, and being defeated in a landslide by Richard M. Nixon.  He and Senator Robert Dole, a conservative Republican Senator from Kansas, co-sponsored the Food Stamp Act of 1977, which establishes the food stamp program in its present form.

An experimental food stamp program existed during the Great Depression, and a food stamp program was revived during the Great Society era.  First the government gave away surplus food, such as cheese.  Then there was a program for poor people to buy their own food, using government stamps that could be bought for less than the face value.  The problem with that was that some Americans were too poor to afford food stamps.  Even with food stamps, malnutrition and even starvation existed in the United States.  This was addressed  by Senator McGovern’s and Dole’s bill, which gave the food stamps to any eligible family.   This is an achievement to be proud of.

I remember back in the 1990s when Newt Gingrich talked about “McGovernite” morality.  He and McGovern, make an interesting contrast.  George McGovern served his country bravely in wartime, married and was faithful to his college sweetheart, never took drugs and was respected even by his political opponents.  Newt Gingrich avoided military service, cheated on at least two of his three wives and was despised even by his political allies.  But Gingrich had the audacity to set himself up as an arbiter of morality, and there were people who took him seriously.

Click on Newt Gingrich’s Dodgy Attack on Food Stamps for comment from Business Week.