Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2012/ 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5773
The long voyage of George McGovern
By Paul Greenberg
He had to have run the worst, most disorganized and demoralizing, indeed chaotic presidential campaign in recent history. It was a perfect, agonizing reflection of the jumbled times. A kind of microcosm of the Sixties as things fell apart in that mood-altering era -- before they congealed into the leisure-suited Seventies, when the utter mediocre could be delivered in flashy packaging. Think of that photograph of
Sen. McGovern's "victory" at his convention, along with how he had achieved it, and the muddled presidential campaign he waged afterward, would not only destabilize and dishearten his party but much of the country at a crucial time. He would end his bummer of a campaign with a different vice-presidential nominee than the one he'd started with. (Anybody outside
What had begun as a question about his running mate's history of mental instability soon morphed into questions about Sen. Eagleton's credibility, and how candid he had been with the top of the ticket. It would take the presidential candidate the longest, most indecisive time and embarrassing contortions to free himself of that incubus. He seemed a man who wanted to do right in the worst possible way, and did. But not until he had put it off as long as he could.
Readers of a certain age may have their own worst memories of the Democratic presidential campaign of 1972, which was really more of an extended fiasco. The result of the whole, awful thing was the re-election of a president who didn't deserve re-election -- on the basis of his own character defects alone. His corrupt ways started to become undeniable even before the campaign ended with his landslide victory. (Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. --Mencken,
Then the whole Nixon administration and gang -- president and top aides and attorney general and assorted fall guys and all -- would be swept away by the great scandal known by its catch-all title, Watergate. In short, a shame and disaster everywhere you looked. In the meantime, a long and bloody war was being lost and the government of
Yet as time unfolded, and perspective returned, maybe even a measure of wisdom,
As he grew into an elder statesman, he came across as someone who had been taught some valuable lessons by his earlier, ideological passions and the misjudgments they had led him into. Like so many of us. Lest we forget, he'd started out as a minister's son, and had been a college history teacher and decorated bomber pilot (DFC) in the Second World Calamity. There was much more to
Having begun as champion of the old isolationist temptation in foreign affairs and an advocate of an ever-expanding welfare state at home, he would wind up as a poster boy for free enterprise and freedom in general.
It seems he'd gone into a business of his own (a resort hotel) after ending his political career by popular demand. And learned quite a bit from the experience. For there's nothing like running a business to give a man a sense of reality. Which may be something to keep in mind as this election season draws to a merciful close. To quote just one of Mr. McGovern's latter-day observations:
"American institutions ... are in sad shape. Health care and education are so weak that a steady stream of disjointed reforms, a sure sign of desperation, almost seems like regular management. ... What is missing is human ingenuity and judgment. Up and down the levels of responsibility 'can do' has been replaced by 'can't do.' Failure has become the status quo ... because legal fear and bureaucracy have paralyzed decisions of teachers and doctors. ... To rejuvenate our common institutions, we must fix America's legal system." And so much else. A system and spirit that has been trussed and bound for so long needs to be freed, its genius allowed to flourish again.
The end of the story:
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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