Favorite

This year's McGovern 

Every four years, or at least when the Democrats are out of power, a rising Democratic candidate for president gets to be the George McGovern clone, an unfavorable comparison with the luckless Democratic nominee who lost every state but Massachusetts to Richard Nixon in 1972. Even Bill Clinton, the ultimate centrist, endured the label for a while in 1992 for he had indeed been one of the youthful idealists who had toiled in that quixotic cause. This year, Howard Dean wears the McGovern mantle, though not especially well. The New York Times has so far carried 33 articles drawing the comparison. A nationwide search with the Google search engine for articles carrying the names of Dean and McGovern lists 58,000 hits the past two years. Being labeled "another George McGovern" is supposed to mean that you hold views so extreme or principles so lofty that you have no chance of winning the general election. The purpose of the comparison is to persuade Democratic voters that they should vote with their minds instead of their hearts and nominate a more centrist and thus electable candidate. In a better world, comparison to George McGovern would be a tribute, not a slander. An acknowledgement that he deserved to be mentioned in the same breath with McGovern would be enough to assure Dean's nomination and election. You need only to ask how much better the country would have been if in 1972 it had elected the better man, the principled patriot rather than the crook. History has left no doubt about the error of the electorate and the terrible legacy that the democracy bore us on that day. "McGovernized" is a transitive verb that was born in that campaign. It is to do to a candidate what Nixon and his dirty-tricks apparatus did to George McGovern. Senator McGovern, a South Dakota history teacher and former director of the Food for Peace program, opposed the Vietnam war, and legions of young people made common cause, giving the campaign the feel of a crusade of the flower children. The Nixon people called it the campaign of "amnesty, acid and abortion," suggesting that McGovern was far outside the mainstream of American values and a sissy as well. He was considered a radical and perhaps even unpatriotic for proposing a negative income tax. Nixon would embrace the idea himself when his own adviser, Pat Moynihan, proposed it. It now takes the form of the earned income tax credit. They implied that McGovern was not patriotic, that indeed he had been a coward in World War II, ducking out of dangerous missions. The truth was exactly the opposite. While Nixon's connections got him a naval commission so that he could spend the war playing poker as an operations officer, McGovern was piloting B-24s over Germany, maybe the most harrowing mission of the European war. Stephen Ambrose, the great historian of the war, chronicled McGovern's heroic deeds in "The Wild Blue: the Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany 1944-45." The 22-year-old McGovern flew 25 nighttime missions over Germany, often in temperatures at 50 below zero, taking antiaircraft fire and flak, and always hitting his target. On one successful bombing run, with two of his four engines blown away, he wrestled his plane, the Dakota Queen, to a landing on a tiny island in the Adriatic Sea, saving his men. Ambrose called McGovern "one of the greatest patriots I know." Robert Novak, the conservative columnist and commentator and an acid critic of McGovern in 1972, would say of him after reading "The Wild Blue," "I can never think of George McGovern again in the same way. Of course he was a genuine hero and a great leader." But few voters ever knew any of that. McGovern refused to profane the memory and honor of his fellow soldiers by exploiting their valor or his own for political advantage. What an odd duck he seems today. McGovern would never cheapen the sacrifice of warriors by staging political stunts at their expense, such as flying into Baghdad at night to be filmed serving up a fake turkey to troops or donning a flight suit to be filmed on deck with sailors a few yards off the U.S. shore with a backdrop carefully crafted by White House media operations. Mark Shields, the media man in the McGovern campaign, told years later of the desperate attempts by campaign advisers to counter the image created by the Nixon men and their frustration with McGovern's peculiar sense of decency. Shields proposed TV commercials of McGovern's crew recounting his deeds and his extraordinary compassion for his men. McGovern wouldn't have it. Winning wasn't worth such dishonorable tactics. No one holds such quaint principles anymore and none has proved worthy of comparison. The country is worse for that void.
Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Inhuman America

    Our history has included some evil passages — slavery and white supremacy, the forced removal of Native Americans from their homes, the imprisonment and dispossession of Japanese Americans during World War II, the torture of prisoners in latter-day wars — but it is also a part of our history that we came to officially regard them all with shame, as offenses to the human rights that were our original values.
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Legislative boodlers

    Which sounds like the best use of your taxpayer dollars: helping pay for medical care for unemployed people, or bribing and lobbying legislators and other government officials to bestow millions of your tax dollars on a corrupt organization that claims it helps poor people who have drug problems or disabilities?
    • Jun 14, 2018
  • Scary Granny Pelosi

    Nancy Pelosi has replaced Barack Obama as the all-purpose bete noir of Republican politicians, including Arkansas's, but will she be as potent as the black president?
    • Jun 7, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • Shrugging off sulfides

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a shocker on its front page Sunday. The rotten-egg odor from the Koch brothers' sprawling paper plant at Crossett is still making people sick, but the state's pollution control agency is unaware of the problem.
    • Mar 29, 2018

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Inhuman America

    Our history has included some evil passages — slavery and white supremacy, the forced removal of Native Americans from their homes, the imprisonment and dispossession of Japanese Americans during World War II, the torture of prisoners in latter-day wars — but it is also a part of our history that we came to officially regard them all with shame, as offenses to the human rights that were our original values.
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Legislative boodlers

    Which sounds like the best use of your taxpayer dollars: helping pay for medical care for unemployed people, or bribing and lobbying legislators and other government officials to bestow millions of your tax dollars on a corrupt organization that claims it helps poor people who have drug problems or disabilities?
    • Jun 14, 2018
  • Scary Granny Pelosi

    Nancy Pelosi has replaced Barack Obama as the all-purpose bete noir of Republican politicians, including Arkansas's, but will she be as potent as the black president?
    • Jun 7, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The cult of Trump

    • That isn't what I said, and you know that pretty well, Oaf. Just lies and…

    • on June 23, 2018
  • Re: The cult of Trump

    • Rabbi, you probably don't know Steven. He's the head Kool-Aid taster for the Trump cult…

    • on June 22, 2018
  • Re: The cult of Trump

    • Those traits sound like most any politician in DC, mostly the Dims.

    • on June 22, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation