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When America called upon its sons and daughters to risk their lives to defend the country against Japan and Germany, where was George McGovern?  He was a student at Dakota Wesleyan, a small Methodist college, when he volunteered and was trained to pilot a B-24 bomber.  George named his plane the "Dakota Belle" in honor of his wife back home, and he took it and its crew on 35 missions over heavily defended Nazi targets.  His courage and skill won him a Distinguished Flying Cross and are remembered in Stephen Ambrose's Wild Blue.

Where's George now?  After the break...

When South Dakota's Democratic Party was buried in a state so Republican that it voted for Wendell Wilkie and Thomas Dewey over Franklin Roosevelt, where was George McGovern?  He was back teaching at Dakota Wesleyan after earning a Ph.D. in American history and government from Northwestern University until he heard Adlai Stevenson's speech accepting the 1952 Democratic nomination for President.  The next day he went to register as a Democrat and volunteer for the Stevenson campaign.   Three years later, he resigned his professorship at Dakota Wesleyan to devote his efforts full time to building a competitive Democratic Party in South Dakota, and was elected to the United States Congress in 1956.

When America was sinking deeper and deeper into a disastrous war under a powerful and ruthless Democratic President, where was George McGovern?  He was a first-term United States Senator from South Dakota, one of 98 who had voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August, 1964.  By early 1965, however, he was convinced that the war was wrong, and joined Senators Gruening and Morse, the only two Senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, along with fellow converts to the cause, Fulbright and Church, in opposing the war.  It was no half-hearted, cautious opposition, either.  After returning from a tour of Vietnam in early '65, McGovern announced he was ready,

"not merely to dissent, but to crusade - to join peace marches, sign petitions, lecture across the nation, appear on television, to do whatever might persuade the Congress and the American people to stop the horror.

Lyndon Johnson was unimpressed. Char Miller writes in the Texas Observer:

With equal masculine bravado, the president disdained those who challenged his actions in Vietnam; for him, doves were men who had to squat to pee. He would discover their potency soon enough. In early February 1965, for instance, Johnson cavalierly dismissed Senator George McGovern's early misgivings about Vietnam because he believed he was merely mouthing the ideas of another misguided senator, Idaho's Frank Church; neither should be taken seriously, he told McGeorge Bundy, because "neither one of them really fought in many wars."

McGovern was not intimidated.  When Johnson began to carpet bomb North Vietnam, McGovern stood up to his party's leader.  It's "a policy of madness," he said.

When the Democratic Party was in complete disarray in 1968 after Johnson's withdrawal from the race, Bobby Kennedy's assassination and the debacle of the '68 Convention, where was George McGovern?  He became the chairman of the McGovern Commission and led it to enact extraordinary reforms opening the party to minorities, women and the young.  Mark Stricherz reviewed the results of McGovern's work early in the 2004 Presidential election cycle:

Some conservative pundits have lately been chortling over the prospect of a McGovern-style debacle in 2004. But the point of the McGovern commission wasn't to win elections, but to transform the party. As McGovern himself says today of his commission's work, "I'm not saying we'd get a better presidential nominee. It just means that whoever we nominate would go through a democratic process. Democracy has always been a gamble, and if we make mistakes, at least they are our mistakes."

McGovernWhen Richard Nixon's 1968 promises of peace had produced four more years of war and ended hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese, Cambodian and American lives, where was George McGovern?  He was running as a no-compromise antiwar candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  The newly open nomination process and thousands of "McGovern Kids" helped propel him to the nomination which he accepted in a powerful speech centered on a theme borrowed from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I have no secret plan for peace. I have a public plan. And as one whose heart has ached for the past ten years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt the senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day.

There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools. There will be no more talk of bombing the dikes or the cities of the North.

And within 90 days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle and out of their cells and then home in America where they belong...

...From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America

From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America.

From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle hands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick -- come home, America.

Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.

Come home to the belief that we can seek a newer world, and let us be joyful in that homecoming, for this "is your land, this land is my land -- from California to New York island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters -- this land was made for you and me."

It was the high point of a campaign that was plagued by its own missteps, Nixonic manipulation, a complacent media and an uninformed public.  Ever since, "McGovern" and "McGovernite" have become pejorative terms employed by the Right to ridicule principled Democrats and by Democrats who urge politics over principle.  This cynical analysis ignores that for once in its history, America had a major political party that was committed to openness in its process and peace and justice in its policies, a "Bright Shining Moment" that lasted only briefly before politics as usual resumed.  The 1972 election had indeed been "Nixon 49, America 1," made even more so by the distorted understanding of it pushed by the panderers and the placaters.

When new madmen had been installed in the White House--as McGovern says, another set of "old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in"--where was George McGovern?  He was speaking out against the Iraq invasion in March, 2003 when many fellow Democrats were falling over themselves to praise it--and he was warning that things would even get worse:

The chance of Iraq attacking the U.S. is about the same as attack from Mars," McGovern said. "Everybody knows Osama bin Laden was the man who conceived the 9-11 attack, but by harping on this, (the Bush administration) has gradually convinced 51 percent of the American people that Saddam was behind it...Even now, [additional] wars [against Iran and North Korea] are being planned by the current administration," McGovern said. "I'm positive, based on conversations with people close to the White House, that plans are in place for the next invasions."

One of those "next invasions" is just around the corner and has the potential to be even more catastrophic than Vietnam or Iraq.  Where is George McGovern?  He's still speaking out against the Bush administration and its war-mongering.  This week on Wednesday, it was in a debate against J.C. Watts in California:

Not only does McGovern think troops should be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible, he is certain that sending more troops to "finish the job" there would result in only more U.S. military loss from sectarian bombings.

"Every time things got rough there, we sent more troops," McGovern argued. "The more we sent, the more the Viet Cong recruited. And we saw more than 58,000 casualties. It was a losing proposition."

I was 18 and full of hope when I first canvassed for George McGovern in the 1972 Massachusetts Democratic primary.  Political events in the United States have left me jaded to the point that I gave up on the country after 2004 and left.  But not George McGovern.  After all that he has been through, all the ridicule and scorn he has endured even from his own party, he is still that same man who returned from Vietnam in 1965 to proclaim he was ready:

not merely to dissent, but to crusade - to join peace marches, sign petitions, lecture across the nation, appear on television, to do whatever might persuade the Congress and the American people to stop the horror.

McGovernSome will say that since I have left the country, I have no right to offer my opinion on American politics.  But surely, no one will say that by emigrating I have forfeited my right to dream.  In these times that are so perilous not just for the United States but for the whole world, my wish is that the people of South Dakota had been wise enough to continue sending George McGovern to the U. S. Senate until this very day.  We need George McGovern, not just speaking on college campuses and writing for progressive journals, but in the Senate chamber, rising with that unique combination of humility and strength that he has, and leading--if necessary shaming--his fellow Democrats to once again make the Democratic Party the party of peace.

UPDATE: Thanks to SusanG for the recommend. For those interested in learning more about McGovern and how the modern Democratic Party came to be, check out today's diary, "'With George McGovern as President': Dem History 101"

Originally posted to goinsouth on Sat May 06, 2006 at 04:47 AM PDT.


Which of today's Democratic Senators is most like McGovern?

48%83 votes
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4%8 votes
3%6 votes
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35%61 votes

| 170 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  who voted for Obama? LOL (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thor, Subterranean

    sorry, but sofar he has proven to be an appeasement democrat, hardly an anti-war maverick.. or any kind of maverick for that matter.

  •  McGovern: The best man that wasn't elected (4+ / 0-)

    I voted for McGovern in '72, it was the first time I could vote. Ive never regretted it and never again voted for anyone with such enthusiasm.
    I also shook his hand on the campaign circuit and listened to him speak.
    He is a great man, a great American, and the scumbag who beat him met a sorry end.


    by exlrrp on Sat May 06, 2006 at 05:29:22 AM PDT

    •  Me too. (0+ / 0-)

      For many years, I wore as a badge of honor the fact that the only major-party Presidential candidate I had ever voted for lost by the then-largest landslide in American history.

      It's been 34 years now--you can tell me:  who was "Democrats for Nixon", aside from that turncoat John Connelly?

      We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both - Louis Brandeis

      by dsteffen on Sat May 06, 2006 at 09:00:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  'Dems for Nixon' (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        was a long, long list.  Nearly all the establishment Dems outside of the two coasts openly opposed McGovern or sat on their hands.  It was to their shame.

        •  I can personally attest to that (0+ / 0-)

          I was a pollwatcher for McGovern in Philadelphia, and I know first hand how the local Democratic Party cut the top of the ticket.  Because the McGovern team suspected this already, they had arranged for our pollwatcher credentials to come from a very minor local party, The Constitutional Party, because the local Democratic machine was actively rooting for Nixon.  I was ejected from my voting place 5 times that day, for objecting to rampant vote fraud, and for documenting same. Spent the next two years as a witness for the DA's vote fraud cases, which dragged out long enough for a Democratic DA to take the office, and drop all the prosecutions. During those two years, every few months I'd get a subpoena, and without fail,  about a week before I was to appear in court, the windshield on my car would get broken, or my tires would be slashed, and I never got to testify because my deposition was not challenged, nor could I even sit in the courtroom, because that might prejudice my unrequested testimony.  I think I was subpoena'ed 9 times in those 2 years, each time losing a day's work, and a windshield or a couple of tires, in exchange for doing my civic duty and an $8 witness fee.  It took me 10 years to get over that, and to vote again.

          Most people can't kill one bird with two stones!

          by HandyAndy on Sun May 07, 2006 at 07:37:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  McGovern was the first vote I cast, (0+ / 0-)

        .. in a long line of losers.  When I split my vote in local elections,as I usually do, whatever candidate of either party I voted for lost, until Bill Clinton broke my losing streak. Since Clinton though, I'm back on a losing streak.

        Most people can't kill one bird with two stones!

        by HandyAndy on Sun May 07, 2006 at 07:46:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  In 1972, I was in second grade. (0+ / 0-)

    We had a mock election in class.  I voted for McGovern.  My parents were both Republicans, and supported Nixon, so maybe I was simply rebelling.  Maybe I flipped a coin.  Maybe, somehow, on some level, I knew.

    "I know I'm mad. I've always been mad." Pink Floyd

    by fezzik on Sat May 06, 2006 at 05:42:39 AM PDT

  •  I worked for McGovern in Colorado (3+ / 0-)

    in 1972, met Gary Hart in the process and worked on his Senate campaign in 1974.

    I loved McGovern but he lost, badly. His 1972 campaign had to be one of the worst run in modern history. His first VP choice, Eagleston was a disaster, and his second, Shriver wasn't much better. McGovern ended up giving his acceptance speech at something like 2 am in the morning. No one saw it. And from there, it just all went down hill. I can still remember that criminal Kissinger coming back from Paris with his false hope for a peace agreement in late-October.

    Having the right ideas are important but they don't matter for squat if you can't articulate them in a way that is compelling for a majority of the voters. McGovern failed terribly by that standard.  Unfortunately it has not been a lesson that Democrats have been able to learn from.

    Thirty years later I read the book 'Wild Blue Yonder' about McGovern in WWII and was amazed at the courage of the man and wondered why he never used his war experiences in any of his campaigns.  The man has class. I am not sure someone like that could ever get elected President, I am surprised he made it to the US Senate.

    •  McGovern and Ambrose talk about the war record... (3+ / 0-)

      ...and its (non)use in the campaign in a PBS interview here.

      McGovern joked about the hour as he opened that speech (for which I stayed up).  He said he had really demonstrated control of the convention since only 39 people were nominated for Vice President.

      When we criticize the campaign, I think two things should be remembered.  First, it was a remarkable accomplishment that Hart and Stearns et al. pulled off just to win the nomination.  Second, it may just be possible that one can gather in America a coalition of greedy capitalists, crusading fundamentalists, racists, xenophobes and authoritatians that will usually outvote those who stand for peace and social justice while a near-majority look on passively.  I would hasten to add that McGovern would probably be the first to disagree with my second suggestion and instead blame it one his own shortcomings.  

    •  Cudos for you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I read "Right from the Start" by Hart. Thank you for your work.

  •  It's strange (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In 1972 my first grade class in Indiana held a mock presidential election. I was the only one in my class to vote for McGovern.

    I was seven years old. I have no idea why I voted for McGovern. Perhaps it was just because of an innate distate for Nixon. I don't know.

    For years I was kind of embarrassed by my choice in '72 -- even though I didn't know shit about politics then, or for many years after. All I knew was: McGovern lost huge and I voted for the loser.

    As I grew older, I learned more and more about McGovern, and I became more proud of my symbolic vote back in '72. And after I read Wild Blue a few years ago, I became even more proud of my vote.

    George McGovern is an American hero. He should not be ignored. But, alas, he is. Unfortunately, his name is synonymous with defeat (much like Mondale). It's a pity, really.

  •  Thanks for a great diary (0+ / 0-)

    It's too bad that Americans couldn't see why McGovern was right.  I tend to see 1968-1972 as the defining moment in modern American politics, the time when the military-industrial complex siezed power.

    "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty..." ~Thomas Jefferson

    by Subterranean on Sat May 06, 2006 at 10:15:00 PM PDT

  •  Where are you George McGovern? (0+ / 0-)

    Well George McGovern is right here in Stevensville, Montana where he lives part time near one of his daughters, who runs a bookstore.

    Although McGovern's 1972 campaign was my first active presidential campaign, I did not get a chance to meet him until the summer of 2003, when McGovern hosted a fundraiser for then gubanatorial candidate Brian Schweitzer. McGovern gave a fanatastic speech to a packed house of over two hundred people.

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