October 2012, Week 4


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Tue, 23 Oct 2012 22:25:14 -0400
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McGovern: A Defeat With Honor

By David McReynolds 

(EdgeLeft is an occasional column by David McReynolds)

October 22, 2012

Published by Portside

Forty years is a very long time - more than a generation in
the past. The year was 1972. Our nation was in turmoil from a
combination of the civil rights struggle, an emerging feminist
movement and, dramatically, the horrors of the Vietnam War.
George McGovern,  senator from South Dakota, surprised the
Democratic Party by winning its Presidential nomination. It
was a time which can be felt now (if at all) only in the
history books, or the memories of those of us who lived
through it.

The Republican nominee was, of course, Richard Nixon. Students
of history know McGovern was defeated by an overwhelming
margin. The catch, of course, was that Nixon's sweeping
victory would, long before his term was out, be erased by
Watergate.  Nixon fled the White House in a defeat far more
abject than the one McGovern has suffered.

It is McGovern that I salute. Only twice in my life have I
voted for a major party candidate for President. The first
time was 48 years ago - for Lyndon Baines Johnson. Viewed from
today, that vote is impossible to defend - the President who
escalated the Vietnam War, sending a half million young men
and women to kill and be killed in the jungles of Vietnam.
Those my age may understand. In 1964 the Civil Rights movement
had emerged as a major force which was tearing the country
apart - even seeming to suggest a new Civil War might break
out. Federal Marshals were sent into Southern States, various
national guards were called up. And the GOP had nominated
Barry Goldwater. I liked Goldwater personally, but he was the
candidate not only of the GOP but also the White Citizens
Councils,  the John Birch Society,  the Klan. He spoke lightly
of war with China. Like a great many others I saw in LBJ a
chance to "vote in a referendum" on racism and war. My vote
was in error. One reason I burned my draft card in 1965 was to
atone for ever having trusted LBJ. We had voted for peace and
he delivered war. Very small comfort to the dead, the wounded,
the widows, the orphans, here and in Vietnam, that Johnson's
escalation was also his downfall. He finished his term in

But McGovern was truly cut from a different fabric, fashioned
by the old forces of populism in the Midwest. He had been a
genuine war hero from WW II, flying a lumbering bomber on too
many missions over Germany. His taste of war was bitter, he
returned home to ponder theology, and ended in politics. He
was horrified by the Vietnam War and became a genuine peace
candidate. I was one of many radicals who rushed to endorse
him, who sought to enlist others in his, sadly, hopeless
crusade. We should not be blamed for how naive we were - we
were innocents who could not accept the possibility that the
nation, having lived four years under Nixon, would actually
return him to the White House. Our faith in our nation was
much greater than our sense of reality.

There was a sad back story to that campaign. As I learned in
Michael Harrington's partial autobiography, Fragments of a
Century, the one- time Trotskyist leader, Max Shachtman, was
privately backing Richard Nixon. (I think this helped break
Mike's heart and hastened his split with Shachtman, who had
been his mentor). "Official" labor, fearful of the forces
unleashed by the "new politics" which had taken charge of the
Democratic Party, also withheld their support. But for a brief
moment the McGovern campaign had given us the sight of
something new, not simply a decent man at the head of the
ticket, but a combination of social forces that made it seem
possible the Democratic Party might be reshaped.

It was not to be. McGovern, however, remained an honorable
man, serving in the US Senate until his defeat by the
increasingly conservative voters of South Dakota. I write this
very brief note because younger folks in the broad social
movement of which we are a part should know that George
McGovern loomed above his defeat. Even as Nixon smashed him in
the popular and electoral vote, we could take comfort that one
major party politician had the courage to stand against the
war before such a stand became politically necessary.


(A note to a couple of those on this EdgeLeft list who have
argued that the current GOP effort to limit voting through new
restrictions has  merit, I refer you to the current New
Yorker, October 29- November 5, with its article on "The Voter
Fraud Myth" by Jane Mayer).

[EdgeLeft is an occasional column by David McReynolds, who was
the Socialist Party Presidential candidate in 1980 and 2000,
and who served on the staff of War Resisters League for nearly
forth years. He is retired, and lives with two felines on
Manhattan's Lower East Side. He can be reached at:
davidmcreynolds7@gmail ]



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