Photo by Noah Wulf/Wikimedia Commons.
This column is personal.
This month marks the 50e anniversary of Senator George McGovern’s candidacy for President as a Democratic nominee. I was his “body man”, almost always with the candidate and serving as a point of contact with the others. I traveled the world with him.
This year also marks the anniversary of my appointment to the so-called “List of enemiesfrom people who opposed his re-election. His aides sent the list to the IRS so we could be harassed with audits, possibly exposed as cheaters, and subject to penalties.
The McGovern campaign was primarily aimed at ending the Vietnam War, which divided the country and produced a bloody confrontation. We made major mistakes and McGovern lost hard. The war lasted three years and caused lasting damage to the country.
The list of enemies, like the Nixon campaign robbery of the Democratic National Committee Watergate headquarters, exploded on the president. The IRS refused to audit the haters. The Watergate scandal and attempted cover-up forced Nixon to resign as he faced the certainty of impeachment and conviction.
McGovern’s patriotic and hopeful candidacy and Nixon’s illegal and destructive response still resonate, albeit somewhat hollow, over the decades.
The theme of McGovern’s candidacy was “Come home, America.” In accepting the Democratic nomination, he urged, “Go home with the affirmation that we have a dream. Go home with the conviction that we can move our country forward.
McGovern believed that Americans shared a dream. Regardless of their differences on the role of government in achieving the common aspirations of the Nation, all Americans agree to strive to live in a society “with liberty and justice for all.”
For him and his supporters, the Vietnam War during which tens of thousands of Americans and Vietnamese would die distanced the country from this shared dream. Fighting North Vietnam could stop the spread of communism, its opponents have said. We cannot win this war on Asian battlefields, he said.
In the end, North Vietnam prevailed. Communism did not spread from this country. Now the United States wants to stimulate trade with Vietnam. Yet despite the shift in US policy toward Vietnam, McGovern’s call for the country to come home is still being ignored as the United States is further divided.
Perhaps the saddest part of the legacy of that campaign from long ago is that America has not come home. He left the house.
Even at the time of McGovern’s most bitter attack on the Vietnam War, senators on the other side respected him. He was a decorated World War II bomber pilot and had earned the right to oppose an American war.
Such respect barely exists in the country that former President Donald Trump tried to shape. His loyalists, people who enjoy his enthusiastic endorsements, know no bounds to their attacks and outright hatred of those who have a different view of the role of government. They lean towards an authoritarian regime, the exact opposite of the original American dream.
In many states, Trump’s Republicans are trying to do it harder for people to vote. The GOP exploits the broadly stated principles of the Constitution to ensure that a minority party can retain power by any means possible.
McGovern, the son of a Methodist minister, was not in favor of aligning the political system with a single set of religious beliefs. This would be contrary to the opinion expressed by the Founders of the Nation. But in many places, starting with the Supreme Courtthat’s what happens.
The partisan divide permeates the public debate. Maybe trying to look fair, the New York Times naively revealed that it was statistically possible for the IRS to randomly select for scrutiny the tax returns of two former FBI directors whom Trump had labeled as criminals. The newspaper looked more gullible than fair.
Can a rational person believe there was no politics, just statistical luck, when Trump’s haters were subject to rare IRS audits? I can’t.
When my time came to be audited, someone decided that the White House request went too far, that it violated American values. Was anyone still aware when the supposedly random audits by FBI officials surfaced?
Democrats issue pious reminders of the need for Americans to honor their shared values. Where are those values when a president applauds an insurrection on Capitol Hill, fails to condemn threats to the life of his vice president, and, in my opinion, unleashes the IRS on his designated enemies?
If America were to come home, what would our home look like? Finding the will of the people on this issue is the biggest problem.
As for my family, we didn’t like the system in Washington that put personal and partisan agendas ahead of the national interest, so half a century ago we went home. In Maine.