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)