December 23, 2003


As Went Alf Landon, So Did McGovern- But How About Dean? (Ron Rosenbaum, Dec. 23, 2003, Jewish World Review)

Give George McGovern credit: He stuck to his anti-war message, he tried to make people care about Watergate, he stuck to his principles. The final crushing blow: Henry Kissinger's deceptive proclamation that, as a result of his secret diplomacy, "peace is at hand." Bye-bye, peace issue. It wasn't until after the election that it turned out peace was not really at hand at all. In fact, many more Americans and Vietnamese would die before the end. One can disagree with him on principle (and some of my thinking has changed). But was McGovern wrong to run a principled campaign on this issue? If you think so, you don't believe in the American democratic process.

Anyway, I was there for McGovern's final desperate cross-country dash, whose final leg— from Long Beach to a post-midnight landing in Sioux Falls— was a memorable debauch fueled by (among other things) wild delusory hope and the intimations of the landslide about to hit.

And then, less than two years later, I was there in Washington for the Nixon impeachment hearings, when the full truth about what was going on behind the scenes in that campaign from beginning (the phony letter that led to the demise of Ed Muskie's campaign) to end (the bagmen and the blackmail) finally emerged.

And I was there in the East Room of the White House as a weeping Richard Nixon left by the back door, disgraced.

That was the real end of the McGovern campaign. In some ways, you could say that ultimately he won. His opponent certainly lost. But even if McGovern was the Big Loser who eclipsed Alf Landon, he won my respect because he didn't lose his soul. He demonstrated that it was possible to run a campaign that focused the electorate's attention on the real issue of the day— Vietnam. I may disagree with Dean's supporters, but they have the right to have a candidate who expresses their views faithfully. Howard Dean won't break his supporters' hearts by losing the election; he'll break their hearts if he abandons his principles. Comparing Howard Dean to George McGovern shouldn't be an insult; it's something to live up to.

One can hardly condemn someone for clinging to the delusions of their youth, but need not take them seriously. What Mr. Rosenbaum is unable to face up to is that the real end of the McGovern campaign has not come yet for millions of people in Southeast Asia and that the principle he ran on was: Screw 'em.

Whatever else opposition to the Vietnam War entailed, its most obvious implication was that we should desert our South Vietnamese allies and leave them to be conquered by the Communist North. Removing Richard Nixon from office did indeed enable the McGovernites to do just that and the dictatorship and oppression and boat people that followed are all the bitter fruit of his "principles".

Now, it can be argued that he honestly didn't envision these results, that his principles were wrong, rather than genuinely evil. His obviously idiotic prediction about Cambodia's sunny future under the Khmer Rouge lend weight to this ignorance theory:

The growing hysteria of the administration's posture on Cambodia seems to me to reflect a determined refusal to consider what the fall of the existing government in Phnom Penh would actually mean.... We should be able to see that the kind of government which would succeed Lon Nol's forces would most likely be a government ... run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia.

But even if the truth of the matter is just that Mr. McGovern, Mr. Rosenbaum, and their ilk were shockingly naive about the nature of Communism, it seems cold comfort to the American nation they tore apart or to the Vietnamese and Cambodians they sentenced to death and misery that Mr. McGovern "didn't lose his soul." South Vietnam was too high a price to pay for the Senator's soul.

The Dean comparison then seems all too apt, because we can easily imagine him and his supporters cutting and running in the Middle East, preserving their own souls no matter the consequences for others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 23, 2003 10:10 AM

How is it that the "the best-educated, most able intellectuals" do the most damage?

It seems to me that we're very lucky that GWB is a moron!

Posted by: Uncle Bill at December 23, 2003 10:40 AM

Forget about any foreigners - Dean has already indicated that he would drop the elderly, the blacks, the military, and other "groups" within America itself. In that respect, he is no different than Bill Clinton.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 23, 2003 11:32 AM

McGovern came across in 1972 as an out-of-his-league candidate, who in the same way as Henry Wallace's supporters in 1948 was moved along by the furthest left in political spectrum towards a presidential bid without every really seeming to be in total control of their own campaign. Dean's the reverse -- he's got the politics of McGovern but the attitude and personality of Nixon. It's a combination that only works because much of the Democratic Party seems to be vying with the Palestinians, the French and Kim Il Jong to see who can end 2003 the furthest off in Fantasyland.

Rosenbaum is one of those people who was staunchly liberal until 9/11/01, at which time his poltics shifted, at least on the foreign policy side of the equasion. He's written some good articles since that time, but it's hard to completely repudiate everything you've stood for over the past 35 years, and this story indicates he's hoping to at least keep Dean from completely disgracing the party Rosenbaum has supported for all these years.

Posted by: John at December 23, 2003 3:55 PM

I think it was in the '80s, when McGovern was running a country inn or B&B or some such, that he said he really hadn't realized the burdens of taxes and regulations on small businesses. I gave him points for the admission, as late as it was.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 23, 2003 5:01 PM

McGovern also admitted, sometime around 1976 or 1977, that Cambodia was in a nightmare that was created primarily by American abandonment. Way too little, way too late.

John is right about Rosenbaum - the most savage attacks I saw on Gore came from his pen.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 23, 2003 5:48 PM