George McGovern, I hardly knew you

I was just 19 when George McGovern ran for President in 1972. He lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon. It was my first election and I voted for Nixon probably because Nixon was pursuing peace with honor in Vietnam and improved relations with the Chi-Coms.


My folks broke with voting for Democrats that year as well. They liked Humphrey in 1968 and voted against Nixon, but by 1972 had enough of Vietnam to stay the course with Nixon, despite the Watergate issue. Apparently most of the country felt the same way because McGovern lost the popular vote by one of the largest margins ever. If memory serves me right McGovern also lost so heavily because he was perceived to be the “hippie” candidate and people preferred Nixon as the law and order candidate, ironic, considering the Watergate mess.

Hippies 1972

I didn’t know much about either candidate then and only found out this past week some interesting things about George McGovern.

For example, he was a B-24 Liberator pilot in WW2 flying 35 missions.The name of his airplane was Dakota Queen and he was shot down once crash-landing his plane on an island in the Adriatic Sea.

Most Presidents and most presidential candidates have had military service. It was almost a prerequisite that they served in the military. I think that in this year’s election it is the first time  since 1944 that neither candidate served in the military.

I don’t think military service is a necessary prerequisite to be President but I do think it strengthens a candidate’s hand especially if they were involved in combat situations like McGovern was.

Here McGovern discusses morality and religion with Cal Thomas in 1999.

I think there are a great many take away lines in the interview but here area few that got my attention:

McGovern: My own view is that we work toward the kingdom of God, not necessarily by trying to capture control of Congress through a certain political agenda — although I have participated in those efforts and will probably continue to do so. But it’s unlikely that you’re going to achieve it by capturing the Congress or capturing a moral majority or capturing those on the left or the right who think that they have a special formula that’s going to transform society.

There are way too many on both the left and right that look to politics as a substitute Savior for what ails mankind. For the left the secret formula seems to be a skewed, mostly unbiblical view of social justice. For the right, the secret formula seems to be a type of “moral majority” and if we could just get people to be a more moral society that would turn the country around. Both views see the salvation of the country through the lens of “being good”  whatever that means and ” good works.” While morality and works are related to the gospel, they are not the gospel.

Thomas questions McGovern as to what he thinks about Christ, eternity and what the gospel means. Here’s an edited version of the exchange:

THOMAS: One of the slanders against you in the ’70s was that because you were a liberal you must be godless. Just tell me straight up what you believe about God, about Christ, about eternal life, about salvation.

SEN. MCGOVERN: Well, I’m primarily a believer in what is called “the social gospel.” But don’t forget that that includes the word “gospel” as well as “social” I believe in the teachings of Christ that the central commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors. The second is likened to it: love our neighbors as we love ourselves. At a later point Jesus said, “How can you love God, whom you have not seen, if you can’t love your fellow (humans), whom you have seen?” I take that as an invitation to make sure that we love our fellow human beings first and foremost. I think that may help lead us to an understanding of God.

I skipped a number of paragraphs here to get to this.

THOMAS: Now, it sounds as if you’ve elevated the second commandment to the first. Jesus said you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

SEN. MCGOVERN: I suppose I’ve taken the excuse that Jesus is saying you can’t love God, whom you haven’t seen, if you don’t love your neighbors, whom you have seen. A person confronted him late in life and thought he had screwed up everything and didn’t serve God very well, and Jesus said to him, “No, inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me.” You may not have known it, but when you fed the hungry, cared for the sick, ministered to the homeless and those in prison, you were actually serving me. I take that on a leap of faith to mean that if I live a life that’s humane and loving, with concern for other people, maybe if there is a judgment out there someday, I can stand up and say, “Well, God, I wasn’t quite sure what you were like, or how best to communicate with you, but I’ve tried to be a decent human being, I’ve tried to be honest and loving and compassionate to my fellow humans, and sometimes I have been, and so I stand here with that as my only recommendation.”

THOMAS: You have just described salvation by works, yet Scripture says that salvation comes not by works, because man’s righteousness before God is as “filthy rags” and we are saved only by grace through faith and not by works, “lest any man should boast.” You are correct that there is a social application to the gospel, but it comes as a result of faith and, by itself, does not qualify one for heaven. So let me ask you a bottom-line question. The apostle Paul said that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Your father would want me to ask you, George, whether you can make that confession?

SEN. MCGOVERN: Yes, I can. I believe that.

Taken at face value McGovern’s commitment to the social gospel was driven by his commitment to Christ and relying on Christ alone for his salvation. ( Cal Thomas is quoting Isa. 64:6, Eph. 2:8-9 and Romans 10:9-10.)

What will transform society? The gospel, rightly understood. It is an inner transformation (kingdom of God within) that comes to bear on the kingdoms of man. Politics can change some things, but cannot change the heart of man. Only God can do that. (John 3:1-15)

I have an interest in politics as most of my readers know, but I have no illusions about either party being any kind of personal savior. Both parties are more concerned about what they see as the evil outside of themselves rather than the evil that resides in all of us. Ultimately, a right understanding of the gospel is the answer and our only hope. From that all else stems.

George, I hardly knew you. R.I. P.

2 comments on “George McGovern, I hardly knew you

  1. There is an Op-Ed piece by Daniel Finkelstein in today’s London Times titled ‘Blame Nixon & Co for today’s deadlocked US’ that blames the current polarisation of US politics on the two candidates in the 1972 Presidential Election. No link as it’s behind a Paywall.
    Finkelstein says that Rick Perlstein’s book ‘Nixonland’ argues that the Republicans effectively ran the Democratic presidential campaign in 1972. Candidates with a chance of beating Nixon were harassed in order to ‘encourage the Democrats to choose the least electable candidate.’ Watergate was part of this programme.
    McGovern was the unwitting beneficiary of this pland and suffered a heavy defeat in the General Election.

    • It’s always interesting to me to see the British pov on American politics. My few European blog friends tell me that most Europeans are still in the tank for Obama. I find that interesting and wonder why since many of us see him as the worst President since Carter and that’s saying something. But that is a point aside.

      I am not an expert on the 1972 election but do know McGovern was the “populist” candidate, hence the hippie vote and what that implied to most Americans including many Democrats who were more conservative (as a whole) than they are now. I suppose with some justification one could also argue the other way and say that Republicans were more liberal, as a whole, than they are now. In other words each party’s base was closer ideologically than now. Kennedy versus Nixon in 1960 and Humphrey versus Nixon in 1968 is what I’d point to. The Johnson-Goldwater contest in 1964 was won by Johnson largely on the perception that Goldwater was a far-right radical (and Johnson was like Kennedy, he was not). Goldwater’s pick of ex AF General Curtis “bomb the hec out of them” Lemay as VP pick probably helped the perception we were ready to nuke the Russians even though they’d nuke us back! (oh the days of bomb shelters in the basement, like that would have helped). (Mistake here, Lemay was the running mate of George Wallace, not Goldwater. Lemay and Wallace and Goldwater were all considered radical. Sorry bout that.)

      Humphrey inherited Johnson’s Vietnam and even by 1968 many conservatives wondered why the hec we were there if we were not going to win. All that to say, not having read the London Times I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say the Republicans controlled the Democrats in 1972. McGovern alienated power brokers within the Democratic party and they switched to Nixon even though Watergate was looming. And as I said, folks like my parents who usually went with the Democrats didn’t like McGovern’s association with the radical anti-war crowd. Nixon was drawing down the war anyway, so they probably didn’t see McGovern’s perceived radicalism in that regard as being helpful. Sheesh, what a mess!

      So, why are we so polarized today? Without over simplifying it’s the economy and our national debt. We’ve had three Democrat Presidents since McGovern ran in 1972. Carter was elected in 1976. His achievements with the Camp David accords were overshadowed by a “national malaise” in the economy and the botched Iran crisis. Americans will forgive much but a bad economy isn’t one of them. (so far)

      Clinton in 1992 won as a result of a faltering economy even though Bush Sr. was popular for “winning” the first war with Iraq. In his first two years the Clinton’s tried to move the needle on national health-toward your system actually and were roundly defeated. By 1994 there was a conservative revolt in Congress and Clinton moved to the center which won him a second term even though the Monica Lewinsky thing was big. As I said, American’s will forgive much but messing with the economy (nationalized health in this instance) isn’t one of them.

      You can see this again with the election of Obama and his successful campaign for Obamacare. Again there was a conservative revolt in 2010, a revolt that has not abated has the economy is stagnant and we run up a trillion dollars a year in national debt, most of which goes to the Chi-Coms!. What’s wrong with that picture?

      And it’s not that conservatives are against health reform. My goodness, it certainly needs it! But, government control is not the answer.

      The camps are polarized imo because of the increasing fiscal irresponsibility demonstrated by both parties, first Bush Jr, and 2nd Obama who has doubled down on debt and the majority of his party seems to think that fine. It would never have happened under Kennedy or Johnson or Humphrey had Humphrey won. Obama’s base is all for iy since it advances their progressive\socialist agenda and the Republican base has moved toward fiscal responsibility because fiscal irresponsibility is weakness, both nationally and globally.

      Probably more of an answer than you bargained for Martin but thanks for your comments. Very much appreciated.

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