By Doug Draper
It is hard not to think about George McGovern, the former U.S. senator and presidential candidate who died at age 90 this October 21, without also giving a passing thought to Watergate.
Not that a politician as decent and honest as McGovern was, according to virtually everyone who spent more than a few moments with him, deserves to have his name indelibly linked to a scandal as vast and damaging to the country he served so courageously both in times of war (as a bomber pilot during the Second World War) and in times of fighting for peace as Watergate.
Yet there is no escaping the fact that the Watergate scandal began with a 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. when McGovern was running as the Democratic candidate for presidency against then Republican incumbent Richard Nixon, and ended with Nixon’s resignation – the first time in the then two century history of the United States that one of that country’s presidents was forced to resign from office.
As much as it looked like Nixon was going to defeat McGovern anyway, which he ultimately did in that 1972 election in a landslide, it turned out that Nixon’s White House had direct links in the Watergate break-in for reasons that may, according to McGovern and others, had something to do with terminally paranoid Nixon thinking that the Democratic National Committee might have had some information on his shenanigans in its files from his past
The Watergate break-in occurred in the months leading up to the 1972 election and the media – beginning with two young, dogged reporters from the Washington Post named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – were not able to make the link (hardly their fault, for their work remains heroic in all of this) until after the election. That left the American people living through another year and a half of agonizing revelations about sleazy, slimy political tricks and other attacks on the country’s democracy before Nixon was finally forced to hop on a helicopter as the only American president to date forced to resign from office.
During the U.S. Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, my parents and sister Nancy visited Washington, D.C. and attended a day or two of those historic hearings presided over by the late great Senator Sam Ervin. Those hearings led to the revelations of the infamous Watergate tapes, made in the Oval Office, that ultimately sunk Nixon.At any rate, it was during the few days my parents and sister spent in Washington, D.C. that they just happened to cross paths with George McGovern walking out of the Capital Building. He was kind enough to stop and talk to them for five or 10 minutes while my dad said to him that it looked like he got a bad deal. As he recalls, and as have so many other interviews with McGovern during that period have confirmed, he showed no sign of anger or bitterness, even though he lost the “brass ring” of politics in his country, which is the presidency.
Instead, he expressed worry for the country he has served and the political corruption that had seemed to carpet bomb the principles of democracy it has always claimed to stand for. This administration (the one under Nixon) was the most corrupt government he had experienced in his lifetime, this Second World War veteran, born in 1922, told my parents and sister.
Later and likely even then, McGovern would tell others how much he regretted that his failed presidential candidacy, built on a promise to immediately end the bloody war in Vietnam, also failed to save the lives of possibly thousands of young Americans and Vietnamese that went on dying for at least two more years in what most of us know now was an unnecessary war.
Years later, looking back on his 1972 presidential run during an interview with America’s National Public Radio, McGovern said; “I though the program I spelled out (during that election) was the truth. I thought it was the best for America and I’ll go to my grave believing America would be better off had I been elected.”
America very well would have been better had this decent advocate for peace and social justice been elected. One more time, God bless George McGovern and may the principles of democracy that advocate for the best for all live on.
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Thanks for sharing this and the great photo.
McGovern was a decent man. He was a REAL war hero and flew over 30 missions saving his entire crew at least once by an emergency landing with severe damage to his bomber. This was unlike “AWOL” Dubya and his dad (who bailed out leaving his crew to die against all rules of combat) or McCain whose main achievement (excepting his true POW courage) was crashing planes. In spite of this, McGovern wouldn’t even think of using his war record as a trump card. He HATED war and actively campaigned against Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Unbelievable that the electorate swept Tricky Dick into power, a sociopath and nut case in my opinion, if there ever was one. He was also a “crook” despite his denials.
McGovern was a true social advocate and worked for organizations feeding the poor and for social justice for all Americans. How different the US and the world would be had he won the Presidency. Instead they got “Tricky Dick” and things have gone down the toilet ever since. Today he would have been labelled a “pussy” by the big mouth, bigoted hawks in the US or a freak like Kucinich and Nader (in spite of their accomplishments) and driven out of public life, which he essentially was. Carter was also decent and, while not a good President per se, has done much good in his post presidency. It seems in the US, if you’re decent and stand up for the right things you’re vilified and mocked.
Unfortunately, I fear many in the US will forget or have already forgotten this great man (on the View the other day 2 out of 5 panelists didn’t know who he was) and he may be relegated to a footnote in US history. Sad indeed.
Though I liked what you wrote up to a point I felt you became hawkish in your own right. Re; freak like Kucinich and Nader. Both of these men were/are also honest and loved their country and they spoke out against those who would hurl comments like a Nixon and or a Bush. Many still think Kucinich was the “Best” of the Candidates in previous elections and Nader well he once said
It matter not which party one votes for Democrat or Republican they are both Corporate entities and will bow to the wishes of their sponsors, Corporate America”
Joseph, I said he would have been labelled a freak like (they labelled) Kucinich and Nader. I was trying to express my admiration for them both. You misinterpreted what I wrote. I completely agree that they are both good, honest, hard-working and progressive men.
He was the greatest presidential candidate in my lifetime and his losing was indeed a bitter defeat for the world. Let’s also remember that, just a week before the ’72 election, the Nixon regime announced a peace plan that had been negotiated with North Vietnam. The landslide ensued.