So I’ve gotten a couple of emails asking me to say something about the death of McGovern.
There has been a lot of conservative commentary about his basic decency and class. He was a gentleman and eventually even a fine businessman. The man is not to be confused with the general looniness of 1972. I notice that the AMERICAN CONSERVATIVES have embraced his “come home” message as one for our time. McGovern’s point that—whatever the strategic imperatives—the Vietnam War was screwing up our country at home too much they apply to Iraq etc. McGovern, though, wasn’t a pacifist, served his country in the armed forces, and was inclined to leave abortion (as a difficult issue on which both sides had powerful cases) to the states. Taking acid was the furthest thing from his inquiring mind.
In discussing the feckless failure that was McGovern’s general election campaign in 1972, experts have forgotten the astuteness that got him the nomination.
My first vote for president was actually for McGovern. Nixon was up 67-30 in the polls, and anyone could see that guy couldn’t be trusted with that kind of mandate. I never thought McGovern was actually right for president. And I laughed at my idealistic professors who thought that his victory would give us some kind of fundamental transformation.
I have to admit that my memories of Gene McCarthy, a charming passive-agressive intellectual who spoke and wrote with elegance, are also good. Conservatives might remember with a cringe that Russell Kirk actually endorsed his bizarre third-party candidacy, because he felt attuned to Gene’s “bohemian Tory” inclinations.
There’s something to the thought that McGovern did a lot to ruin the Democratic Party, but that wasn’t his intention. He wanted, in his Midwestern progressive way, to take power away from the bosses and give it to the people (led by the professors).
It is, in retrospect, amazing that the party was decadent enough to be ruined by such a nice guy.