McGovern’s Legacy

On Sunday, Democratic icon George McGovern, who served the state of South Dakota for more than twenty years in the House and Senate, passed away at the age of 90. Despite an accomplished record of service during WWll that included 35 combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross, McGovern was best known for his anti-war stance with regard to Vietnam, and his overwhelming defeat in the 1972 presidential election. Since his passing, McGovern has been rightly eulogized for his personal affability and agreeableness, but what must not be airbrushed over is the true nature of his influence on the political landscape. As unfortunate as it is, McGovern helped lead the transformation of the Democratic Party into a coalition of leftists distinct from the previous generation of liberals in the Kennedy mold. As a result, the country has never been the same.

It was McGovern himself who planted the seeds of that divisiveness. As the New York Times notes in its obituary, McGovern “became the chairman of a Democratic Party commission on delegate selection, created after the fractious 1968 national convention to give the rank and file more say in picking a presidential nominee.” As a result, the McGovern-Fraser Commission “rewrote party rules to ensure that more women, young people and members of minorities were included in delegations. The influence of party leaders was curtailed. More states began choosing delegates on the basis of primary elections. And the party’s center of gravity shifted decidedly leftward.”

“Leftward” is somewhat inaccurate. Democrats established a de facto quota system informed by identity politics, where people were encouraged to first think of themselves as members of sub-groups identified by race, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Nothing has changed to this day, as California’s 2012 Delegate Selection Plan, for example, reveals. Goals for representation at the Charlotte convention included dividing Californians into six subgroups with the “proper” percentages relative to the general population–as in 16 percent African-American, 29 percent Latino, 1 percent Native American, 10 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders, 12 percent LGBT, 10 percent Disabled Persons, and 18 percent Youth-Under 30.

In 1972, the Democrat convention in Miami turned into a circus. When party activists offered up selections such as migrant-worker organizer Cesar Chavez, Yippee Jerry Rubin, anti-corporate crusader Ralph Nader, Communist dictator Mao Zedong, and sitcom character Archie Bunker for Vice President, all the shenanigans did was push McGovern’s acceptance speech well into the next morning. Furthermore, the party platform with which Democrats emerged was anathema to middle America. Aside from the staunch anti-war position, they advocated amnesty for war resisters, the abolition of the draft, deep cuts to the military, a $1,000 grant to every American, a guaranteed family income well above the poverty line, prisoners’ rights, federal funding for local food cooperatives, the adoption of an Ethnic Studies curriculum bill, and a host of other leftist initiatives.

Yet it was McGovern’s opposition to Vietnam that resonated the most with his supporters. “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,” he said at the convention.

The convention turned out to be the high point of McGovern’s campaign. Soon after, it was revealed that McGovern’s running mate, Senator Thomas F. Eagleton (D-MO), had been hospitalized for nervous exhaustion and undergone electroshock therapy. Despite McGovern’s promise to back Eagleton “1000 percent,” he was replaced by Kennedy in-law R. Sargent Shriver. The election was a rout. McGovern carried Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, earning 17 electoral votes, while Nixon carried 49 states and won 520 electoral votes.

McGovern reflected on that defeat as recently as a month before he died in a piece for the Washington Post. “The loss is there, an old wound never fully healed,” he wrote. “My disappointment was certainly personal, made deeper by the awareness that many thousands of young Americans, and far more Vietnamese and other Asian citizens, were going to and did lose their lives with the Nixon administration’s continuation of the war.”

For McGovern, like so many liberals, the war in Vietnam remains a one-sided telling of history to this day. It was another liberal icon, JFK, who escalated America’s presence in Vietnam, because he believed in the Domino Theory: if Vietnam fell to Communism, the entire Southeast Asian Peninsula would follow. In fact, that’s exactly what happened, and 2-3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians were slaughtered in the ensuing bloodbath. It was a bloodbath caused not only by our troop withdrawal, but the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 by a Democratically controlled Congress, cutting off all aid to Saigon. One year later, Communists gained control of the entire country. That leftists calculatingly omit these details when trumpeting the success of the anti-war movement is nothing short of appalling.

That 1974 vote arguably marked the point where the New Left effectively took control of the Democrat Party. The classical centrist Democrat liberals who had vigorously opposed Communist totalitarianism would thereafter become rarer and rarer within the party. Add the emergence of identity politics to the mix, and the resultant party was no longer “liberal,” but leftist.

It is a leftism that has polarized America. That polarization is best explained by the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto. While conceding the prevailing meme promoted by leftist obituaries that McGovern was above all else a “decent man,” he challenges New Republic writer Rick Perlstein, who laments that McGovern’s death reminds us of  “this space between the longing for unapologetic good-government liberalism and its decimation in a fallen political world–in which the decent and honorable simply get crushed.” Taranto contends that leftists labor under the delusion “that left-wing politics and decency are one and the same thing.” “This moral vanity leads the left to excuse, or even not to notice, indecent behavior on the part of their own. It is the reason Obama’s re-election campaign has been less McGovernite than McCarthyite (and we don’t mean Gene),” Taranto concludes.

That vanity also explains the evolution of Democrats since 1972, and why that evolution is so detrimental to bipartisanship: there is a great deal of difference between challenging conservative ideology on the basis of political or intellectual differences, and completely dismissing it as fundamentally indecent–as well as unworthy of serious rebuttal. It is telling that a substantial portion of leftist rebuttal can be reduced to single words like “racist,” “misogynistic,” “nativist,” and “homophobic” or simple catch-alls, such as “cruel” and “uncaring.”

All of this plays into president Obama’s current campaign, where the focus has been far more on demonizing his opponent than laying out a vision for America. Yet even when Obama lays out a vision, it is marinated in a stew of “us against them” grievances that can be traced back to the radicalism that has been mainstreamed into the Democratic Party of today.

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  • EthanP

    He was a "liberal/progressive". I know you know that all of those politicians lionized by the media as "giants" are ALWAYS from the left.

  • PaulRevereNow

    McGovern was the catalyst by which the voices of reason were eventually driven out of the Democratic party; resulting in today's toxic stew of demagogues, race hustlers, and their moonbat followers. This process also played out via the hippie movement of the 1960's, beginning with their 1962 Port Huron statement. The closing of the public mind–America is a lot poorer because of it.

    • Chezwick


  • Alex Kovnat

    If Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson had been nominated in 1972, he would have had a good chance against Richard Nixon. What a shame that Senator Jackson died at the relatively young age of 71, shortly after the Soviet Union shot down a Korean jetliner that strayed off course.

  • Stephen_Brady

    The last true Democrat "centrist" to be nominated for the Presidency was Hubert Humphrey. Even Clinton moved to the center only because it was the only way he could govern, after the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994.

    McGovern was the reason for this, and the DEMs have never been the same, since his nomination.

  • amused

    McGovern on his worst ay far exceeded in honesty all of the Republicans including Romney and most Democrats . He stuck to his principles until his last day . Yes it cost him an election , but he never lied , Republicans should tke a lesson from his life . He called the Vietnam war what it was , from the PHONY Gulf of Tonkin incident which McNamara waited until he was in his 80's to finally admit .
    Upon reading of his passing I knew it would only be a matter of time brefore the wretches here on FPM would start taking CHEAPSHOTS at a deadman . Most of you dolts don't even know what you're talking about , just join in lockstep with the rest of the hatemongers in condemning a GOOD MAN .
    What a pathetic lot !

    • Choi

      You NEGLET to mention that JFK started our Military Involvement in SE ASIA beginning ,in a limited way ,in LAOS and LBJ took it ALL THE WAY to 500K Plus GI's in VIETNAM.
      The OLD Democratic Party was ,correctly,Anti-Communist.

      • amused

        you "neglect " or just don't know- A) our involvement started with Eisenhower – B) Dems & Republicans were GUNG-HO for Vietnam -C ) you conveniently left out Nixon and tghe bombings of Hanoi and Cambodia- D ) McGovern was against the war from the getgo and never swayed from his position . He was an honest man and a straightshooter . And it is pathetic that you peole are besmirching his name as he's not even cold yet in his grave . And – E ) A republican administration facilitated the Kmer Rouge which not too much laer descended into genocide .

    • JoJoJams

      And yet……he was still resoundly defeated in his election bid. For all his "Honesty" – or, at least, standing for his "convictions", the American people were against the things that he, as head of the democratic party, espoused. At least you ad the "and most democrats" in to the mix. I'll give you that. But you're still off track. There is a reason McGovern was resoundly defeated. The American people did not agree with him and his ideology. I won't include you in that – I do know that while you and I disagree on much, you at least see the threat in islam. Amused, one cold accurately state that Hitler was an "honest" man – and didn't lie – and he was!! And he certainly stuck by his convictions! But that still doesn't make him or his ideology "right". Can you see that? McGovern lost by such a huge margin for very valid reasons….

      • amused

        Of course I can see that , but it's a rather odd analogy , dont you think ? Considering HOW Hitler came to power and HOW he eliminated the opposition . So going back to REALITY , just because McGovern lost the election does not make him evil nor wrong . The American People were LIED to by the CIA , Gen.Westmoreland, LBJ, AND Nixon .Unfortunately we STILL trusted our Government Officials , so Americans at the time DID have as their primary issue in that election -The War in Vietnam . After the Ellsburgh Papers and Watergate , that trust eroded , as did the situation in Vietnam . At the time the Dominoe Theory prevailed ,and pulling out of Vietam without a clear victory was unaceptable to many Americans . That didn't make McGovern wrong , but it did make him an outsider from the mainstream even amongst his own Party .

        • JoJoJams

          Fair and true enough. I still think he was "wrong", and pulling out the way we did, and cutting off funding to our allies, resulted in the death of millions. Certainly Vietnam is a hugely debatable fiasco, but regarding McGovern – He was wrong, in my opinion, even if "the other side" had their own "wrongs" (eg: "the war industry" etc.). Two wrongs never make a right. And hey, while others may slam you here, I think you've come a long way in tempering your posts, and there are times that I may partially agree with you on some things. I'll give you a kudos for that.



      Now mcgovern is a good socialist.

  • Choi

    The EXACT moment the Democratic Party was first HIJACKED was when Mayor Daley I 's ELECTED UNCOMMITTED ILLINOIS DELEGATION was REFUSED SEATING in favor of a LEFTY QUOTAS DELEGATION CO-CHAIRED by Jesse Jackson.,at the 1972 DNC in Miami.

  • Mary Sue

    what, no mention at all of McGovern's segregationalism?

    • amused

      I suggest you get your histiory correct Mary Sue .McGovern was against segregation , perhaps you read the word wrong , McGovern was for desegregation . . If your confusing the fact that Gov.Wallace was also a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1972 along with others including of course McGovern , then that would be a valid excuse for your statement . Otherwise you don't know what you're talking about .

      • Mary Sue

        Yeah I think maybe I confused the two in my mind.

      • Mary Sue

        (wallace with mcgovern)

  • Frank Livingston

    Love it when communist go to hell!

  • amused

    Oh look another facebook SCHMUCK .