Last Sunday, George McGovern, former U.S. senator from South Dakota and Democratic candidate for president in 1972, passed away at the age of 90.
I was a McGovern campaign staff member during the spring and fall of 1972. I ran the door-to-door canvass in Atlantic County in the spring and summer, as well as a voter registration campaign at the University of Pennsylvania and at Temple University in the springand fall of 1972.
In the fall I split my time between the University of Pennsylvania campaign committee and working at the McGovern campaign headquarters in Philadelphia on our get out the vote actions.
Even though I had worked in our area's local politics, mostly for candidates whose campaigns my parents were involved with, working as a McGovern campaign staffer taught me a great deal about the mechanics of running a major political campaign, about money, or the lack of it,how to keep and use databases, personality clashes, and how to gently let a volunteer go after car crash number two. Much of the organizing skills I learned I was able to put to good use in working with the Coalition for Peace and Justice as the executive director.
George McGovern's 1972 presidential run was one of high-water marks for democratic liberalism. By the time the year 1976 and Jimmy Carter came around, the left, though we didn't realize it at the time, was in retreat.The Vietnam War was basically over, and opposition to that was the unifying factor for many groups on the left. Nixon's landslide win of every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia was the excuse that the middle- to right-wing Democrats needed to take back the reins of control from the left and liberals. Carter and Bill Clinton were DLCers,the centrist, business wing. So is Obama – a centrist, not a socialist.
McGovern's victories in the Democratic primary did lead to the opening up of the Democrat Party and Convention, thus lessening the influence that political bosses like Mayor Daley had in the party.
McGovern was a peace candidate, an anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons candidate. The nuclear disarmament and anti-war campaigns were bolstered by the McGovern campaign, ultimately leading to the formation of FREEZE, the campaign to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, and to the growth of SANE, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.
Glenn Klotz in his At the Beach blog wrote: "I sometimes wonder what America might look like today had McGovern won that year. Sadly, he lost and it has been downhill ever since. When he ran 40 years ago, America was a vastly different place than today. Back then America was a land of tens of thousands of factories and family farms, a place that made things and employed a vast workforce.”
In an 1972 interview with a Long Island newspaper, McGovern said that the Nixon administration was “dominated by big business and big oil and big utilities. It’s really a big business operation. They give them anything they want: tax concessions, wage-price controls that have no restraints on big business."
Nothing much has changed in 40 years.
McGovern was ahead of his time on so many issues, from peace to welfare to opposing nuclear power and oil drilling off our coast. After he was clobbered in the 1972 election, he stayed active, working on those issues he felt most passionate about. Among other projects, he wrote a book opposing the war in Iraq.
One running joke is that McGovern actually won the election, because few people will admit to voting for Nixon.
Let me close this column with two McGovern quotes: “The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher standard.”
The other: “I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die for." (goodreads.com)
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