Jewish World Review July 27, 2004 / 9 Menachem-Av, 5764
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Still George McGovern
George McGovern is still a Big Government liberal -- and still proud of it.
Thirty-two years after being obliterated by Richard Nixon, 49 states to 1, the World War II war hero, ex-college professor and former U.S. senator of South Dakota has not moved one moderate inch off his spot on the left end of the political spectrum.
At 82, McGovern is still anti-war, still trying to dethrone a Republican president, and still pushing retro-New Deal programs such as "free" Medicare for all ages.
As the Democrats prepare to nominate Johns Kerry and Edwards in Boston next week, I called McGovern at his summer home near Missoula, Mont., to talk about the coming election and his new book, "The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition":
Q: Do you know John Kerry?
A: Yes. He was active in my '72 campaign.
Q: Do you remember meeting him back then?
A: Oh yes. I used to know him quite well in '72. He was head of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Q: Is there any major difference between your thinking and his?
A: Well, I was opposed to the war in Iraq before we went in. John says that he was misled into supporting it. But I was not misled. I thought the thing was a disaster when they first started talking about it. Iraq is no threat to the United States. And they never did anything against the United States. What justification is there for invading their country?
Q: Do you think there will be much excitement at the Democrats' convention?
A: I think there has never been a time when Democrats were so anxious to win as they are this year. It's hard to find a Democrat who isn't trying to figure out a way to make sure (President) Bush doesn't get another four years in the White House. So that adds a certain edge and excitement at the convention.
Q: Not like 1972?
A: 1972 was an exciting convention, but unfortunately, the country wasn't ready for a major change in '72. I think it is now.
Q: What is your assessment of the Bush-Kerry race right now, and how do you think it will end?
A: I think Kerry has a small margin on the plus side. The polls seem to indicate that, and I think he'll win in November. It will be close, but I don't think it will be as close as in 2000 with Al Gore.
Q: Is it going to hinge on Iraq?
A: I think that's the dominant issue. I also think Bush's tax cut for the rich is another big issue. Those seem to be the two biggies.
Q: What's your new book, "The Essential America," about?
A: It's a plea for us to revisit the Founding Fathers and look at their wisdom, both on domestic government and foreign policy. I'm saying that Jefferson, Washington, Madison and Hamilton all have much to give us in guiding us today, just as they did 225 years ago.
Q: What is your definition of the liberal tradition that the Founders gave us?
A: They didn't use words like "liberal" and "conservative." That came in much later. But they believed that government should be dedicated to the public interest, to the ordinary citizen. One of the things they feared was government dominated by special interests, especially by the rich and powerful. And that's what liberalism seeks to do: It seeks to put the government at the service of ordinary people.
Q: How does your definition square with the Founders' belief in a small, limited government?
A: Whether government is small or big is not the key question. The key question is, "Who does that government serve? Does it serve the rank-and-file citizenry or does it serve only the most powerful and wealthy?" The actual size of the government is secondary, in my opinion.
Q: You are very critical of the Bush administration in your book. What is its most grievous sin?
A: From the beginning until today, it has placed the power of the United States government at the service of the people who least need favors from the government without moving ahead on health insurance for (those) who don't have it, without doing anything significant to provide jobs for the unemployed, without a strong environmental or energy policy.
In short, it neglects those things that would help the greatest number of Americans, and it pushes hard for those things that would favor the people at the top of the income scale. I'm not against people being rich. I'm not even against the government helping them. But when that becomes the exclusive concern of the government and these other problems are neglected, that's when I go into action.
Q: How have your personal politics shifted or changed since 1972?
A: I suppose that I haven't changed in a fundamental way since '72, but I do have greater tolerance for honest-to-goodness conservatives than I might have had at an earlier time in my life. For example, Bob Dole and I have become very good friends since both of us left politics. I'm not sure that would have been as easy to happen 35 years ago as it is today.
Q: Someone mentioned to me that you tried to open up a bed-and-breakfast, and you ran into a lot of rules and regulations that made being a small businessman difficult. Can you talk about that?
A: I had a 140-room hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, for about three years, and it just didn't work. You know, the hotel business may be the most difficult place in the world to make a living unless you happen to own the Waldorf-Astoria. It was not a success.
I got sued a couple times by people who had accidents, one out in the parking lot of the hotel and one leaving the restaurant. I saw all the difficulties -- record-keeping, keeping track of the tax applications, paying the help. It gave me a new appreciation for the problems of small businesses.
Q: Someone like me would argue that many of those problems are a result of too many government rules, regulations, mandates.
A: It's possible that small business should be exempted from some of those things. Who can be against anything called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration? But maybe some of the requirements should be eased off a little bit.
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald