It may shock some people that one of the political figures in history that I admire the most is former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern. While McGovern is lazily characterized as one of the most liberal presidential candidates of our time, there is more to him. To a constitutional conservative, to even a libertarian, McGovern's small-town prairie populism is endearing. His run for president in 1972 was a tremendous failure, but it was a success of grassroots politics. What McGovern did in 1972 is the same thing as what Barry Goldwater did in 1964. The man was a true American hero who was against war because he had lived and fought war.
McGovern has to be one of the very few politicians in America who when their career was over could look in the mirror and know he had not sold out. McGovern understood that the power in our politics was not a battle between left and right, and in fact the Old Right and New Left have something in common. Both are looking to purify politics in their own way. Both understand the dangers of Establishment consensus. Consensus is what got us into Vietnam.
It is weird to some that the two politicians I admire the most are McGovern and Barry Goldwater, but consider this excerpt from a profile of McGovern back in 2006:
Look: George McGovern was a liberal Democrat. He voted for social-welfare programs of every shape and size; his philosophy then and now was a product, he says, of the Social Gospel movement, which translates Christianity into an interventionist welfare state.
But at its not-frequent-enough best, McGovernism combined New Left participatory democracy with the small-town populism of the Upper Midwest. In a couple of April 1972 speeches, he seemed to second Barry Goldwater’s 1968 remark to aide Karl Hess that “When the histories are written, I’ll bet that the Old Right and the New Left are put down as having a lot in common and that the people in the middle will be the enemy.”
“[M]ost Americans see the establishment center as an empty, decaying void that commands neither their confidence nor their love,” McGovern asserted in one of the great unknown campaign speeches in American history. “It is the establishment center that has led us into the stupidest and cruelest war in all history. That war is a moral and political disaster—a terrible cancer eating away the soul of the nation. … It was not the American worker who designed the Vietnam war or our military machine. It was the establishment wise men, the academicians of the center. As Walter Lippmann once observed, ‘There is nothing worse than a belligerent professor.’”
RIP to George McGovern, a politician we should aspire to represent us.