George McGovern, R.I.P.

George McGovern in the Oval Office with JFK.

The Democratic Party’s 1972 Presidential nomineeGeorge McGovern has died at the age of 90. The despicable campaign against him by Tricky Dick and CREEP created the template for future GOP campaigns. McGovern was demonized, characitured and slandered in a race that Nixon would have won anyway. McGovern was a decorated bomber pilot in World War, who was accused of treason over his opposition to our stupid war in Vietnam by GOPers whose own standard bearer spent WWII in uniform but safely out of the combat zone. Sound familiar?

McGovern spent 3 terms in the Senate, and along with Bob Dole, was one of the creators of the food stamp program, which was aimed at helping farmers as much as poor folks. That aspect of the program has been forgotten, alas.

The 1972 election was the first one I was old enough to pay attention to. It was a horror for Democrats as not only did we lose but we looked horrible doing so. It wasn’t just Trick Dick and the ratfuckers: McGovern’s disastrous pick of Tom Eagleton and the serial turn downs by his top replacement choices sealed his fate. BUT his primary campaign was a classic, it was essentially the model for most subsequent nomination candidacies. Yup, it wrote the template. 1972 was a big template year.

Ron Rosenbaum, who covered the ’72 McGovern campaign, wrote a great piece about it at Slate and I’ll give him the last word:

I do feel that McGovern had a case
that he shouldn’t be portrayed as a loser, but a victim. Not even a
noble loser because that sends a message that all morally driven
politics is destined to fail nobly. He was the victim of a crook and
liar covering up an illegal war killing our own people and countless
innocent Asian peasants. He was the misfortune of competing against a
man who had no regard for the Constitution he had sworn to defend.

Looking back now on my phone conversation with McGovern, I think I
thought at the time he was being unrealistic. If so, I was wrong.

I think George McGovern deserves to be remembered as a winner.

5 thoughts on “George McGovern, R.I.P.

  1. Under the “Best Possible Timing” category, the State of Minnesota finally pulled its head out of its ass and put a statue for him up at the capitol this summer. At least he was alive to see it and what his contemporaries, including Bill Clinton, Al Franken and others (who all spoke) thought of him and his work.
    I saw him in Madison about two decades ago when he was doing a book reading at the Union. He did a full look at the topic of alcoholism and how it hit his family, particularly his daughter Wendy. It was a hell of a speech and showed a side of the man that made me think we would have been better with him running the show.

  2. The real serial turn-downs didn’t come for Eagleton’s replacement. Eagleton was way down the first VP selection list.
    McGovern’s version of events in his autobiography “Grassroots” was that the month-long intra-party battle over the nomination in which direct competitors like Humphrey and Muskie, and up-and-comers like Jimmy Carter fought to prevent McGovern claiming the all-or-nothing delegate win in California (which should have locked up the nomination) meant that prior to his actually being named the nominee, not a lot of energy was available to select and vet a VP candidate.
    McGovern’s first pick after the convention finally accepted him was Ted Kennedy, but Kennedy—four years after RFK’s assassination and three years after Chappaquiddick—turned him down. Walter Mondale was asked next but didn’t want to jeopardize his re-election to the Senate. Boston Mayor Kevin White (suggested by campaign manager Gary Hart) was a third choice of McGovern’s, but Kennedy said he had reservations about White and didn’t feel he could campaign as actively for a ticket including him. At that point, they had 90 minutes before the filing deadline.
    Florida Gov. Reubin Askew and Conn. Sen. Abe Ribicoff had been on the list but were unavailable. Sen. Frank Church was considered but rejected in part because he was from Idaho, which combined with McGovern’s home state of South Dakota had a total of 7 electoral votes. Arkansas Sen. Wilbur Mills was struck because his economic policies were at a distant remove from McGovern’s. Sergeant Shriver was in the Soviet Union and unreachable.
    Some of McGovern’s staff had pushed Eagleton but McGovern didn’t know him well. He asked his friend Sen. Gaylord Nelson to accept the position, then, when Nelson said no, asked his opinion of Eagleton. Nelson said he knew Eagleton wanted the job, which is kind of ironic, because—as Robert “Prince of Darkness” Novak wrote thirty-five years later in his autobiography—during the primary campaign, Eagleton had been the source of the “candidate of amnesty, acid, and abortion” slur Novak wrote about McGovern.
    Post-Eagleton, Shriver quipped that he was the “seventh choice” for a replacement, but Eagleton wasn’t even close to seventh on the initial list.

  3. As you say, it was a transition to a new era in politics.
    Dirty tricks without reason. No need to swift-boat him, but they still slandered him for speaking against Nam even though he was a war hero. Yet today, they take a McCain with a very questionable military career and paint him as some soft of Captain America (well, unless it fits their purpose to sink him by robocalls in SC). Reportedly, Nixon was angry about the Watergate break-in as a pointless risk.
    And while politics ebbs and flows in partisanship, it was the falling in an era where pols would listen to persons of different opinions.

  4. I was referring to what happened at Allen Ellender’s funeral in Houma, LA at which McG asked 4 or 5 fellow Senators to join the ticket and was refused each time.
    Btw, there was no selection process or even a list in 1972. McG always took responsibility for the whole mess.

  5. And goddammit, I screwed that up. McGovern was speaking AT a statue dedication to Humphrey in Minny this summer. The reason why I screwed it up was that so many people went out of their way to praise McGovern, that you probably would have thought the statue was his.
    My bad.

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