American Culture

Sen. George McGovern, 1922-2012: a liberal sorely missed

I voted for George McGovern. After his astonishingly lopsided defeat at hands of Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon in 1972, I got the bumper sticker, too: Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts. Two years later, Nixon waved goodbye to his corrupted presidency from the open door of a plane, a man ironically liberal by today’s Republican standards.

No one could accuse McGovern of being unpatriotic in his profession of liberalism and progressivism. He knew the horror of being shot at: He flew dozens of missions over enemy territory in a B-24 Liberator during World War II. He knew the blood and treasure cost of war — any war. That deeply informed his opposition to the Vietnam War, the beginning of a series of American tragedies of undeclared, costly, and divisive wars of choice.

In today’s New York Times, David Rosenbaum reflected on McGovern’s liberalism.

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.

McGovern’s only 17 electoral college votes came from my home state. And we’re proud of it. Notes Joseph Kahn of The Boston Globe:

We may not always pick a presidential winner or put forth a candidate (Dukakis, Kerry) capable of taking the Electoral College by storm (Romney gets his chance next month). But we’re as maverick-y as any when it comes to voting the courage of our convictions. And to seeing through the political chicanery of a candidate like Nixon, who’d barely deigned to speak McGovern’s name during that campaign and who would resign in disgrace two years later.

George McGovern was an irreplaceable, progressive American politician. I can only imagine the sadness with which he must have viewed the decades-long descent of American politics into rancor and empty rhetoric.

If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, Senator McGovern, please hurry back.

2 replies »

  1. “If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, Senator McGovern, please hurry back.” I second that. He was the first person I ever voted for.

  2. I voted for McGovern, too, in my first presidential election – and was so disgusted at what America did to him in that election I didn’t vote in another until 1992 when I voted for Clinton (who made me think he was a progressive). McGovern was a truly tragic and heroic figure – a man of principle who lost an election to a man without any principles – and who, while standing for those admirable principles throughout the rest of his life, had to watch the systematic deconstruction of the America of opportunity and fairness that he believed in and worked for….