Come Home America; Rest Ye, George McGovern

Decent. Public servant. A man who truly cared about all Americans.

George McGovern. Probably had no chance of being president. A good man who played by the rules up against a psychotic criminal.

Late — late — summer night in 1972. I’m driving back to Camp Ihduhapi west of Minneapolis after a night out. McGovern is giving his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention and I pull over on the dirt road into camp to listen. Democrats then were an unruly bunch, and reforms, led by McGovern, in how delegates were selected led to an excess of inclusiveness and a raucous convention that droned on and pushed McGovern’s speech way past prime time into the wee hours.

“Come home, America,” McGovern called out over the radio waves. 1968 had been chaos in Chicago and all over the world. Richard Nixon barely beat Hubert Humphrey and began a reign of lies and paranoia unmatched in our history. We didn’t know it that late night in 1972, but Nixon was deep in dirty tricks and cover-ups that would taint America for years and cost this dear country credibility and strain the faith of a generation. What Nixon did in the dark was matched by what he did in broad daylight. His secretary of state, war criminal Henry Kissinger, announced on the eve of the election that “Peace is at hand” in Vietnam. Utter bullshit and they knew it. Lying bastards.

McGovern was slaughtered in the election. He’d caught the presidential bug in the tumult of 1968 when he stood in for the assassinated Robert Kennedy at the convention. He felt he had to stand up to Nixon’s lies four years later.

George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale. Good, decent people from the Midwest, people of no great wealth and with no great lust for power. Trying to serve their country beyond what they’d done for their states and the nation in the U.S. Senate. None made it to the presidency. Perhaps too good, too decent.

McGovern was the last major candidate who seriously talked about the poor in America. Remember the poor? The poverty rate in America was about 12 percent when McGovern ran for president — it’s about 15 percent now. Sorry, George.

McGovern in his “Come home America” speech talked about his opponent getting secret money from the privileged few. Oh, George, 40 years later, how much more, how much more.

McGovern said, “I believe that the destiny of America is always safer in the hands of the people than in the conference rooms of any elite.” Ah, George, George meboy.

McGovern said, “As one whose heart has ached for the past ten years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt a 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. And then let us resolve that never again will we send the precious young blood of this country to die trying to prop up a corrupt military dictatorship abroad.”

George, George. We wish it were so, don’t we, George.

McGovern said that he and Thomas Eagleton, his vice presidential nominee and a favorite of Jon Austin, “Will call America home to the ideals that nourished us from the beginning. 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.”

His words blew away on the midnight Minnesota wind, and his campaign was beaten by mendacity. But he was a good man, with a dream, and he made a difference in the heart of this nation.

Bless you George McGovern. Dead now, but a living example of the kind of person we might choose as leaders.

– Bruce Benidt

(Photo of McGovern and Eagleton from pbs.org)

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15 Responses

  1. Wow!

    Rips to the very heart of things. Stirs the memory of where we were 40 years ago. McGovern had no chance then and so very, very sorry the sentiment, the heart, and dream he expressed has probably even less chance today.

    Powerful. Thank you.

  2. Nice hagiography.

    But i have to differ “…with no great lust for power.” Total BS. You do not run for President (nor for Senate) without a lust for power. Simply doesn’t happen. Now, I’d agree that McGovern wasn’t willing to go nearly as far as Nixon in order to obtain power, but that is simply a matter of morality–and a lust for power can co-exist with morality (although not, apparently, in Nixon).

    (I also remember that summer, being at a camp up near International Falls, and listening to the news that McGovern had selected Eagleton. Being from St. Louis, that stuck with me, although McGovern did not.

    I used to have one of those “Don’t Blame me, i voted for McGovern” bumper stickers (not on my car–I was too young to vote in 1972 and didn’t have a car)

    • Hey PM–You’re still the Man (or woman, never established of course)!

      I had to look up “hagiography”. Good one!

    • Depends on what the meaning of the word “lust” is, as Bill Clinton might have said. I’d say lust overwhelms good sense or moral beliefs, and McGovern didn’t have that. But maybe he lusted in his heart, as Jimmy Carter said.

      In NYTimes obit today another line from McGovern’s 3 a.m. acceptance speech is quoted: “We reject the view of those who say ‘America, love it or leave it.’ We reply, ‘Let us change it so we can love it more.’”

      Such divisive times, more than now. Criticism of the war, or of Nixon, was inflamed into the nonsensical idea that criticizing America meant you didn’t belong here. Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s tiny-souled criminal VP (he was accepting brown paper bags of payoff money in his White House office, payoffs still from his Maryland days) fanned those flames continually, spurring the split between those who believed in an administration that didn’t deserve to run a mosquito-control district and those who wanted something better for our country. I still wonder sometimes how there can even be a Republican Party after it put those two foul trolls in office.

      • OK, so some more self-disclosure (pay attention, Dennis):

        I used to work for a guy in DC who was one of Agnew’s bag men. He alslso did the same for Nixon, but he started with Agnew (helped get Agnew elected in MD). Was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Watergate investigation.

        He was actually a great guy–a professional Republican. By that i mean that I don’t think that he really gave a damn one way or another about ideology, but he saw politics as a team sport, and his team was the GOP–also his job. It was extremely important to him (and to his pocketbook) that his team win, and so he was willing to do what was necessary.

        It was a great experience. I once got to pour a drunk Bill Casey (at the time head of the CIA) into a Santa Claus suit for a Christmas party! And I was sitting next to Peggy Noonan at the same party! But the highlight of the whole thing was getting to meet Roy Cohn at a (different) party.

        But in any event, Bruce, i think that is the answer to your question. Politics is different to different people, and this applies as much to Democrats as it does to the GOP. For some it is all about the issues the politics the theory. For others it is a job, a business, how they put food on the table. And just as people will work for a Tom Petters or a Michael Millken or a Mitt Romney, so they will also work for a Richard Nixon or Spiro Agnew or LBJ.

        Personally, as interesting and fascinating as I found that aspect of DC, I really didn’t care for it–which is why I left. I can’t view politics in a simple, instrumental fashion. But a lot of people do. And, despite everything else, Nixon was the one to normalize relations with China…not to mention our only Quaker president!

        • PM–That is fascinating! Wonderful background. So, Princeton–Political Science (?)–to DC. Thanks for sharing and when Keliher organizes that soiree he promised a decade ago, like to hear more from this forum’s most consistently reliable, informed and anonymous contributor.

          But I digress.

  3. That was beautiful, Bruce. To think Nixon won in a landslide.

  4. There are so many things to say about McGovern, my fellow South Dakotan. This lesser known chapter of his life always sticks with me:

    A lot of people don’t know this, because George didn’t talk about it much, but this guy was a remarkable war hero. There is a great book by Stephen Ambrose, called Into the Blue, about it. He piloted 35 bombing missions under heavy flak, at at time with those lumbering B-24s were dropping like flies. Hair raising story after hair raising story. A jaw dropping read.

    What did McGovern do with that war record? Use it to beat the war drums and drag kids into unnecessary wars, like the chicken hawks did, and do. No, he fought for peace to make sure American kids didn’t needlessly need to go through the hell he had to go through.

    On so many levels, we just lost a great American hero.

  5. Bruce and Lori Sturdevant have a place in their hearts for old deceased Midwestern liberals, and there don’t seem to be any new ones to take their places. The new generation is represented by personally ambitious sleezebags like the Axelrods, Reids and Pelosi’s. Even I find that tragic.

    • Re: “old deceased Midwest liberals”

      Classless. Read “The Wild Blue” and show a little respect to an American hero.

      • Humphrey, McCarthy, Elmer Anderson and now George McGovern. How many are left of that cloth? Mondale is the only one I can think of.

  6. Newt, good for you for including Elmer Andersen. A fine governor and a committed newspaperman. And a Republican of the sort missing today.

    And PM, what great adventures in DC. Meeting Cohn is almost as cool as knowing an Agnew bagman. Do you, by chance, have Alger Hiss’s pumpkin?

    And Joe, the NYTimes obit mentioned McGovern’s reticence to talk about his war record. That generation just didn’t make a big deal of it — they just went out and saved the world. He was indeed a credit to your state and to the species.

    • GHW Bush was much the same wrt his war record. Clearly not a trait that necessarily runs in either political parties or families.

  7. Other notable prairie voices for consideration on a late-October day: Russell Means, who also died this week in South Dakota; and Paul and Sheila Wellstone, who passed 10 years ago, on the 25th. Lingering echoes, all—.

    Winter approaches.

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