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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Passing of a Liberal Legend

Personal Reflections on the death of George McGovern
By Will Collette

George McGovern’s 1972 campaign for President was the first political campaign I really cared about. I was just barely old enough to vote in 1968 and cast my first ballot, without enthusiasm, for Hubert Humphrey, whom I felt was better than Richard Nixon, but hardly more than an extension of Lyndon Johnson on his policies on the Vietnam War.

But by 1972, the choice was clear – vote for Nixon and thousands more Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Americans and American allies would die in a war that, by then, was widely acknowledged to have little point.

So like so many other young people, I put my hope in McGovern as the solution to our national nightmare. I believed, I really did, that because the choice of McGovern was so clear and sensible that he would have no trouble winning.

Of course, running a competent campaign might have helped. Even without all the illegal actions and dirty tricks by the Nixon campaign, revealed later as the Watergate scandal unfolded, the McGovern campaign for President was a textbook example of how to lose.

Even though it was pretty awful to get whooped so badly, there were lots of lessons that came out of the 1972 campaign. One of the biggest ones, of course, was that being right is only a small part of mounting a winning campaign. Many professional operatives in the Democratic Party took that lesson to mean that you really don’t want to run candidates with strong moral convictions and should instead look to find politicians who can be marketed to voters like laundry detergent.

After McGovern, it seemed that Democrats were more interested in running candidates who would sell, not ones that were good. As the decades rolled on, it made me believe that I would never see a candidate run for high office in whom I could place all my trust and hope.

My own view was that you not only have to have rightness on your side, but you also have to run solid, effective campaigns. When you organize well and campaign effectively, having candidates with character and morals adds to the chances of winning. That’s been my approach to the 2012 election.

For many people, the choice for President has come down to choosing the lesser of two evils, or put less cynically, the one who is least objectionable.

But that’s not how George McGovern ran in 1972. He ran at a time when many people of my generation were looking for somebody just like him, a person we could trust who was willing to run on his beliefs, even though he probably knew he was going to get his ass kicked for it. As painful as that was for me, personally, I’m glad he did it. And for his valiant effort, George McGovern has earned his place in history.