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George McGovern (1922-2012): A 'True' American Hero

A former Green Party candidate for Congress reflects back fondly on his first vote for president, when he cast his for George McGovern, one of history's biggest political 'losers.'

In 1972, when, for the first time, Americans from the ages of 18 to 20 could vote thanks to the 26th Amendment, this nineteen-year-old went off to proudly cast his for one of the biggest political  "losers" in our nation's history. Yes, that was the year that our incumbent president, Richard Nixon, swept 49 states and poor George McGovern was left with just one---Massachusetts--thanks, no doubt, to all the Kennedys there who voted for him.  

Less than two years later, of course, as impeachment closed in around him, you couldn't find anyone who'd voted for Nixon, and one of my all-time favorite bumper stickers began to appear: "Don't blame me. I voted for McGovern." Meanwhile, Mr. McGovern tried not to gloat, but couldn't resist mentioning a few times that he'd done his best to warn us that the Nixon White House was one of the most, perhaps the most corrupt in American history.  

But, as often happens when politicians try to tell Americans what they need to heard, rather than what they want to hear, for the most part his attempts to tell the truth fell on deaf ears. as millions rejected him, and instead handed Nixon a landslide. Yes, one of McGovern's biggest handicaps as a politician was his habit of telling the truth, but as we've seen time after time, telling the truth is often the "kiss of death" if you want to be president.    

For this nineteen-year-old, at least, it was an early and valuable lesson in a principle called "realpolitiks" which prepared me for what would come later. But, that year, I watched in amazement while my fellow Americans spurned the man who was clearly the honest one, and instead embraced the man who was clearly a crook. And what was even more amazing was that there were so many who hadn't been able to figure out Nixon at least twenty years earlier.  

In 1952, he'd delivered what has come to be known as the "Checkers Speech," which, among famous speeches, still holds the distinction of being perhaps the most disingenuous in the history of American politics, with the only other possible candidate for that "honor" being the one Ted Kennedy delivered in 1969 after his Chappaquiddick affair. Of course, my amazement at Americans' lack of discernment was only increased by the fact that two of the ones who'd bought Nixon's lies were my own parents.

Then, adding to the irony in 1972, was the way Nixon and McGovern were viewed in regards to the Vietnam War, using those two popular labels at the time: the "hawks" and the "doves," which were applied to those who were basically for or against our involvement. Nixon, of course, was the hawk, while McGovern, who'd come out against the war early, was the dove. Nixon stood for "strength," and, yes, "peace," but "with honor," while McGovern was seen as "cutting and running."   

But the irony is this: Nixon, the "hawk," had never seen combat in World War II. Although he did serve honorably in the Navy, he'd spent much of the war playing poker, while McGovern, the "dove," was in the thick of it, having piloted 35 extremely dangerous bomber missions over Italy, including the last one when he'd nursed his badly damaged plane home and saved his entire crew.  

In the years to come, we would see this hawk and dove "pattern" repeated over and over as the politicians who had actually seen combat or military service were painted as "weak," while those who'd stayed home were the ones who were "strong." We saw it with Reagan the "pro-military" president who'd never come closer to combat than a Hollywood back lot, all the way to George W. Bush who'd "served" in Texas during the Vietnam War, while John Kerry was the one who'd seen combat. Instead, W. emerged as the "war hero," who landed in full flight suit on an aircraft carrier during that phony photo op in May of 2003.  

Later that year, this "false hero" enthrallment was taken to new heights when millions of "Caulifornians" fell for the fake, "movie hero," Arnold Schwarzennegger, one of the biggest political and private-life phonies to ever run for an office. Now, this year, Romney was seen as "strong" on the military, and ready to go to war with Iran. But while he said he supported the Vietnam War, he chose instead to "serve" on a Mormon mission to France when he could have volunteered to die in a rice paddy.

Unlike these men, no doubt because he'd seen combat himself, McGovern knew what war was about, and was sick, as he once said, "of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in," and worked for the day when war is made obsolete. Not only that, but he also saw executions, like war, as immoral and unnecessary, despite the fact that he undoubtedly knew this opposition was yet another "kiss of death" for any American politician if he wants to be seen as "tough" on crime.  

Thirty-five years after my vote for McGovern, it was executions that brought us together. In 2007, Death Penalty Focus, an anti-death penalty group I'd been active with for several years, announced that it would honor McGovern at their annual banquet in Los Angeles for his long-time stand against executions, and as soon as I found out he would be there, I knew I would be too. I'd always wanted to thank him personally for what he'd done to bring honesty and integrity into American politics, and tell him that I was still proud of my vote in 1972.  

When I approached him at the reception, he gave me almost five minutes of "face time," and after I'd told him about my vote in '72, I wasn't exactly surprised when he gave me a knowing smile, and said, yes, he had heard that a few times before, but still thanked me sincerely. I was also thankful that, at the age of 85, McGovern could hear the appreciation that night for his courageous opposition to executions, having had the "strength" to be seen by so many as a politician who was  "soft" on crime.

George McGovern's political career proves that the American people, despite their constant complaints to the contrary, have had a number of opportunities to vote for honest politicians, it's just that too often we don't. In 1972 we certainly didn't, and this on-going pattern perhaps explains, in part, why, some forty years later, we find our country in the shape it's now in.  

After McGovern was kicked to the curb, we did the same to politicians like Jimmy Carter, who tried to tell us the truth about our dependency on foreign oil, but instead turned to Reagan, who told us to stop worrying and ignore all that whining. Since then we've ignored politicians like Paul Tsongas, and congressmen Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, who warned us repeatedly that the Bush administration was lying about the need for a war with Iraq. Now soon Kucinich too will be gone.    

Finally, as Americans continue to die in Afghanistan, in yet another seemingly endless and unwinnable war against a "rag-tag army of insurgents" in a third-world country thousands of miles from our shores, the words of George McGovern, and what he said about Vietnam, ring out from the past. But, sadly, too many of us continue to ignore them, and now this war's gone on even longer.  

We need to listen. Although his voice has now been silenced, George McGovern, and the standard he set for telling the truth is needed now more than ever, and for that, I thank this "true" American hero.                               

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Gregory Brittain November 13, 2012 at 08:12 AM
Former (very liberal) Dem Senator George McGovern passed away last month. Of course everyone should offer condolences to his family and regardless of political differences, remember that McGovern served in WWII as bomber pilot. Here is something you may not know about your liberal hero. Please George McGovern’s article regarding his experience trying to run a business after being defeated and returning to the private sector, “What I Know Now: Nibbled to Death” http://www.inc.com/magazine/19931201/3809.html Some highlights, “If we don't stop suing one another for every possible misfortune or alleged negligence, we are going to undermine both the health of our economy and the quality of our society.”
Gregory Brittain November 13, 2012 at 08:12 AM
Re: McGovern part 2 “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.” “I'm for protecting the health and well-being of both workers and consumers. I'm for a clean environment and economic justice. But I'm convinced we can pursue those worthy goals and still cut down vastly on the incredible paperwork, the complicated tax forms, the number of minute regulations, and the seemingly endless reporting requirements that afflict American business. Many businesses, especially small independents such as the Stratford Inn, simply can't pass such costs on to their customers and remain competitive or profitable.” “I'm not expert enough after only two and a half years as a business owner to know the solutions to all those concerns. I do know that if I were back in the U.S. Senate or in the White House, I would ask a lot of questions before I voted for any more burdens on the thousands of struggling businesses across the nation.” Of course, the burden of government on business and job creators has increased even more since McGovern wrote this article in 1993.
Charles Ferrell November 15, 2012 at 03:02 AM
My first vote for President was George McGovern in 1972. I was too young to vote in the 1968 election, but I would have voted for Richard Nixon because I believed he had a plan to get America out of Vietnam, a war I blamed on the Democrats and the expansion of the war directly at President Lyndon Johnson. My actual vote ever, in 1970, was for Ronald Reagan for re-election as California Governor. I will always be most proud of that vote and the two other times I got to vote for Reagan again, the two times he ran for President and was elected each time. In 1968, I wouldn't have been eligible to vote for President, but would have strongly supported Bobby Kennedy, who I believed was in agreement with me and would have ended that terrible war in Vietnam. When he was gunned down, I was just a few miles away, on the I-10 Freeway having just left a Dodger game that night at Dodger Stadium. I was on my home to Calexico, with my friend Jim Rucker. We heard Bobby Kennedy say "Mayor Yorty says we have been here too long already, so it's on to Chicago and let's win there." We turned off the radio at that point and turned on the car stereo, and didn't find about the murder until nearly five hours when we got back home in Calexico. It was terrible. I didn't believe anybody in the Democrat Party would have ended the war, so I went with Nixon. When Nixon let me down, I turned to McGovern, a Democrat far from the Johnson war mongering crew that had killed so many Americans in the war.
Charles Ferrell November 16, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Just read the George McGovern quotes. He represented what liberalism was back in 1972. It wouldn't make any difference if I did or not, but I certainly do not forget that vote for him for President that year, my first vote for President. He was the better man between the two candidates for President. Those views he shared as a business owner would make him a moderate Republican by today's standards. That's what Republicans and conservatives who are taking over the Republican Party need to understand; there are plenty of other "Democrats," who, like George McGovern, don't fit the mold of today's extreme liberal/progressive. They can be convinced that it is in the best interest of the nation as a whole to support the conservative agenda. All Republicans have to do is get to work on a plan to help those who are living in America illegally find a way to become legal citizens and really realize their American dreams, stop pounding the abortion issue (we have a law, Roe v. Wade which permits abortion up to a point) as a political and let American women, especially single women, deal with the moral decision on their own terms, and do something (Lord knows what) to help our education system get out of the political business and into the education business again (Bill Gates recently noted this problem with higher education and its failures to prepare young people to become successful in business). Liberalism has mutated into something that is bad for America. That story must be told.
Clavell Jackson November 16, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Mr. Ferrell, I have to agree with you. But I am afraid the GOP has been taken over by neo fascists, who are to the right of Atilla the Hun. In order for what you suggest to happen, the party would have to conduct a purge of all the crazies. Good luck with that. The GOP has invested too much in race baiting to let it go just like that. How are you going muzzle people like Beck and Limbaugh?
Gregory Brittain November 16, 2012 at 04:33 AM
I can’t let that nonsense go unanswered. Dems divided and expressly and explicitly appeal to people based on race and ethnicity. Reps try to appeal to people based on principles and policies. Can you cite any examples of “race baiting” by Reps? One of the great slanders by the Left is that Nazis or fascists are just extreme Reps. One of the worst political lies of the left is that Nazis are just extreme Republicans. Nazis and fascists belong on the left not the right. Nazi is short for National Socialist Party in German. Lack of liberty. Government control of the economy. Mass murder of millions of people like the communists. Secret police like the communists. Government power unchecked by a constitution. Nazis and fascists should be seen as extreme Leftists. Attila the Hun and his army pillaged money and property from those who owned and earned it and tore down civilization. They terrorized the makers and producers. That sounds like Dems not Reps.
Gregory Brittain November 16, 2012 at 04:35 AM
What is “crazy”? How about perpetual trillion dollar deficits? How about continuing to pursue economic policies that produced the slowest economic growth of any recovery since WWII? GDP growth in the 12 quarters after a recession Average since WWII 15.2% Ronald Reagan 18.5% Obama 6.7% http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444813104578016873186217796.html?mod=opinion_newsreel How about continuing to pursue economic policies that produced declining incomes and, in fact, produced more declines incomes during the “recovery” than during the recession? How about trying to have 150+ agencies, boards and commissions of Federal bureaucrats try to control the health care systems representing 1/6 of the national economy? How about referring to the murder of our soldiers at Ft. Hood, where the crazed Muslim killer shouted “Allah Akbar” before opening fire as “work place violence”? How about promising Russia more flexibility after he is reelected? How about refusing to provide security to our diplomats in Benghazi, despite repeated requests, repeated terrorist attacks there, and despite knowing Al Qaeda is active there?
Gregory Brittain November 16, 2012 at 05:01 AM
It requires no thought or knowledge to repeat Leftist talking points like Reps are “fascists” “Nazis” “crazy” “racist” etc. It is harder to say, for example, Glen Beck said “X Y Z.” Mr. Beck is factually wrong and here are links to my evidence and/or I disagree with Mr. Beck’s opinion or conclusion because _____________.
Clavell Jackson November 16, 2012 at 05:27 AM
Glenn Beck racist statements http://newsone.com/1087485/glenn-beck-racist-quotes/ Glenn Beck lies: http://www.politifact.com/personalities/glenn-beck/statements/ I didn't say Reps are all racists, but they have a racist wing, and they do have a fascist wing. Fascism is the blending of corporations and government. That is the definition of what the GOP wants. Nazi may have stood for national socialists, but they actually governed like fascists. Glenn Beck is a raving loon, who is so crazy even FOX got rid of him. So if you want to follow him off a cliff, like a lemming go ahead. He is in it for the money, and is laughing all the way to the bank, while angry working class white people making him rich.
Clavell Jackson November 16, 2012 at 05:45 AM
Bobby Jindal Takes On GOP On CNN: ‘We Don’t Win Elections By Insulting Voters’ http://www.mediaite.com/tv/bobby-jindal-takes-on-gop-on-cnn-we-dont-win-elections-by-insulting-voters/
Gregory Brittain November 17, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Preliminarily, Beck is not one of my standard sources. He does good work on subjects other conservative media don’t address as much such as George Soros and Agenda 21. The more extraordinary the claim, the better proof from multiple sources I require. For example, I am confident of the numbers I posted on the October deficit because if they were wrong, that would be easy to show, and no one refuted the data in my post. Of course, we all more readily believe things that fit with our existing beliefs. For example, if you claim a drug cartel is smuggling drugs and killing people, I would tend to believe that more readily than for example the plot in one of the stories in Cloud Atlas that an oil company was murdering people including blowing up an airliner to kill one person all in order to stage a nuclear accident to kill even more people to so everyone will keep using oil. But there are probably people who would readily believe the later. Second, preliminary point, by addressing Beck, we are diverting from the main topic, the bad effects of Obama’s and the Dems’ policies. I read the allegedly racist statements by Glen Beck. Assuming for this post that all of the quotes are genuine, most of them are not remotely racist whether you agree with his opinion or not.
Gregory Brittain November 17, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Glen Beck Continued… I don’t have time to write on all of them. #1. “This president, I think, has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture… I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.” We’re speculating on what Obama thinks, but saying Obama is a racist is not racist anymore than accusing Beck of racism is racist. #3. “They put [the Three-Fifths Clause] in there {the Constitution} because if slaves in the South were counted as full human beings, they could never abolish slavery.” One could argue the free states should have stood on principle and insisted on abolishing slavery in 1787. Without the compromise on slavery, the states with slavery would not have joined the union. There would not have been a United States of America, or there would have been two, one with slavery and one without. Beck’s statement, whether right or wrong about the intent of the founders in agreeing to the compromise, the statement is not racist. I don’t know Beck’s reasoning, but if he means by bringing the slave states into the union, they free states would eventually be able to eliminate slavery, I think you could make a good case for that. BTW, in 1807, the U.S. abolished the slave trade and the slave states were bound by that. If the slave states had not been part of the union, would the slave trade have continued?
Gregory Brittain November 17, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Beck continued… #5. A mock radio jingle for a species of fish formerly known as the “jewfish”. The jingle contains the lyrics, “Close your eyes and try to picture a great big friendly jewfish — That is, unless you’re Jewish. Oh yeah, and that reminds us: Jewfish get real stinky of you leave them in the car.” This one has me perplexed. Beck is a very strong supporter of Israel. He did his “Restoring Courage” rally in Israel. It would be totally out of character to make anti Semitic statements. We have heard or read anti Semitic statements, e.g. Jews are _______, ______, ______. The line makes no sense. It may be a parody of what someone else said. For example, in 2007 or 2008, an LA Times column called Obama “the magic negro.” Rush then did a parody song “Barack the Magic Negro” to the tune from “Puff the Magic Dragon.” I do not consider Rush’s parody song racist in any way. I do not know what Beck was doing with the parody song, but it may have been similar.
Gregory Brittain November 17, 2012 at 07:49 PM
As I said previously, the Dems are the real racists. They expressly and explicitly appeal to and divide people based on race and ethnicity. We try to appeal to people based on principles and policies.
Clavell Jackson November 17, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Mr. Brittain, you like most Republicans, you use double speak, where you say the exact opposite of what you mean. Your description sounds like what the GOP is doing. Yes, it was the Dems who said that Obama won by promising blacks and Latinos free stuff. http://prospect.org/article/romney-says-he-lost-because-obama-gave-gifts-blacks-and-latinos It was the Dems, who won by saying that too many black people voted in Maine. http://americablog.com/2012/11/maine-gop-alleges-vote-fraud-as-dozens-of-black-people-show-up-to-vote.html It was Dems who said that said they want to keep black people off welfare: http://crooksandliars.com/diane-sweet/santorum-i-didnt-say-black-people-i-sa Keep believing that and you will lose 2014 and 2016. Thanks for the laugh.

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