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George McGovern: R.I.P.

Look no further for what was wrong with the late George McGovern’s politics than this tribute to him by the liberal columnist Eleanor Clift. Clift concludes her tribute this way: 

Much of what McGovern stands for is summed up in the slogan of his ’72 campaign, “Come Home America.” Ridiculed by critics at the time, it enjoys renewed resonance today in a country weary of wars that in McGovern’s view are “just as silly as the war in Vietnam. We shouldn’t be in countries we don’t know anything about.”

In fact, the slogan posited a return to the old isolationism shared by both the Old and New Left and the Old Right and their present-day paleoconservative activists. Rather than have resonance today, a move towards right- or left-wing isolationism would all but guarantee a retreat on our nation’s part that would assure the eventual dominance of the West’s major enemies -- whether it was the Soviet Union in the recent past or the mullahs of Iran and the Islamists today.

In the New York Times, the late David Rosenbaum’s obituary, prepared for the paper before its author himself passed away, made this point:

The Republicans portrayed Mr. McGovern as a cowardly left-winger, a threat to the military and the free-market economy and someone outside the mainstream of American thought. Whether those charges were fair or not, Mr. McGovern never lived down the image of a liberal loser, and many Democrats long accused him of leading the party astray.

McGovern may not have been the candidate of “abortion, amnesty, and acid” as Nixon proclaimed he was in the election that led to the senator’s devastating defeat, but in fact McGovern was not simply the Western prairie liberal described by Rosenbaum and other obituary writers. In fact, he was a left-wing labor historian with a Ph.D. about The Great Coalfield War , the story of the same Ludlow Massacre of 1913 which Woody Guthrie put to music.

He also was a war hero and patriot. He flew scores of major bombing raids over Italy, Austria, and Germany during World War II for which he received a Distinguished Flying Cross. McGovern often said he would fly over Auschwitz, and was horrified that he and his comrades never received an order to bomb the railroad tracks used to transport Jews being brought to the gas chambers. Later, McGovern would say his own experience of raining death and destruction on civilians hit by the bombs he dropped turned him into a fierce opponent of all military action.