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Tribute: Sen. George McGovern on the Presidency From Lincoln to Obama

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Posted on Nov 6, 2009
Collage of photos taken by Alexander Gardner / Truthdig / Pete Souza

After the former U.S. senator’s death on Sunday morning, we look back at a 2009 conversation between him and Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer.

George McGovern has been a witness to history, as both a scholar and one of the first senators to oppose the Vietnam War. At a recent Truthdig event, he shared his insight into past and current events, from Lincoln’s greatest accomplishment to the war in Afghanistan.

The following material was recorded in Los Angeles on Nov. 1, 2009 at the Truthdig salon “Sen. George McGovern on the American Presidency: From Lincoln to Obama.”

Videography and video editing by Brian Rudloff.

A full transcript begins on Page 2, following the video clips below.
See also the summary article by Narda Zacchino, McGovern: Get Out of Afghanistan.

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Part 1 of 9 - Introduction

Part 2 of 9 - War Hero

Part 3 of 9 - Abraham Lincoln, “a good man speaking well”

Part 4 of 9 - A Bitter Lesson

Part 5 of 9 - Where Are the Great Leaders?

Part 6 of 9 - Landslide

Part 7 of 9 - Afghanistan

Part 8 of 9 - The Guy on the Airplane

Part 9 of 9 - Questions

Transcript begins on Page 2.


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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, November 15, 2009 at 2:56 pm Link to this comment

«What is revealing is not that McGovern didn’t use his war record during the ‘68 campaign ...»

I fear, Claire, that you’re confounding Senator McGovern with Vice-President Humphrey….

Henri

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By wearnoevil, November 14, 2009 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment

What is revealing is not that McGovern didn’t use his war record during the ‘68
campaign, but that Nixon knew how to take advantage of McGovern’s sense of
what is “unseemly.”  Nixon defines contemporary political bad behavior.

Report this

By Ray Duray, November 10, 2009 at 12:40 am Link to this comment

doubledementia,

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8339647.stm

Of course we’re grumpy. Who wouldn’t be if they paid attention?

But the difference between people of your ilk and the honest among us is that you are a fraud. Apparently this is in high regard in certain circles. Perhaps you are a fellow Ayn Rand acolyte along with Alan Greenspan who has recently been outed as a criminal of the first order:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/warning/etc/script.html

JOE NOCERA: He said something to the effect that, “Well, Brooksley, we’re never going to agree on fraud.” And she said, “Well, what do you mean?” And he said, “`You probably think there should be rules against it.” And she said, “Well, yes, I do.” He said, you know, “I think the market will figure it out and take care of the fraudsters.”

INTERVIEWER: The Alan Greenspan lunch did it actually happen? Where he says

BROOKSLEY BORN: I’m not going to talk about it. I’m not going to talk about it on camera.

NARRATOR: Born is reluctant to speak about her meetings with Greenspan or others in the Clinton administration. Greenspan refused to speak to FRONTLINE at all. But Born’s advisers did.

MICHAEL GREENBERGER: Greenspan didn’t believe that fraud was something that needed to be enforced, and he assumed she probably did. And of course, she did. I’ve never met a financial regulator who didn’t feel that fraud was part of their mission.

MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA: And this is an absolute stunner for the new head of this tiny agency who is charged with making sure people don’t commit fraud.

NANCY DUFF CAMPBELL: Well, I think she was taken aback about how far he would go towards deregulation, that even the notion that we should police fraudulent activity he didn’t think was something that was a given.

MICHAEL GREENBERGER: That was her introduction to Alan Greenspan.

NARRATOR: The clash with Greenspan didn’t intimidate Born.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, November 9, 2009 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The cynicism of much of the left blogosphere is
appalling.  I have to tune out for long periods. 
Several recent studies have shown that people who pay
attention to the news every day suffer from depression
at nearly double the rate of those who don’t.  I
suspect that that number is even higher for people of
leftist persuasion - they work at it so much harder.

Report this

By Ray Duray, November 8, 2009 at 11:07 pm Link to this comment

doublethink/bafflegab,

You wrote: “You had to have been there, I guess.”

Sigh…

I was there. Saw an entirely different reality from the one you soliloquize about.

Amy Goodman has a good reprise on the film “One Bright Shining Moment”. Most of us remember the more common “One Brief Shining Moment” which was a rhapsody in blues about John Kennedy’s magical moment. The First Run Film title is either an homage or a clever rip-off. I’m leaning toward the latter.

Here’s Amy’s take: http://www.democracynow.org/2006/7/19/one_bright_shining_moment_the_forgotten

For those who really give any kind of a bowel movement about what’s going on, however… I strongly recommend this emetic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYIC0eZYEtI&NR=1

Among the crowd that I was part of in 1972, we were already so cynical, so convinced that the American political system was hopelessly controlled by a corporate cabal of fascist lunatics that the candidacy of George McGovern appeared to us to be so goofy, so quixotic and so

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, November 8, 2009 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You had to have been there, I guess.  “One Bright
Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George
McGovern”  A great documentary film about the election
of 1972 narrated by Amy Goodman with commentary by Gore
Vidal, Howard Zinn, Ron Kovic, Gloria Steinem, and
others.  You can see the trailer here:
http://www.firstrunfeatures.com/trailers_onebright.html

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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, November 8, 2009 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment

Interestingly enough, there exists a parallel to the opposition by Senators Gruening and Morse to the infamous Tonkin Gulf Resolution, in which the US Congress abdicated - as it was again to do in a similar situation 38 years later - from its constitutional responsibility to determine war or peace. I’m thinking of the so-called «spot resolutions» introduced by Abraham Lincoln in the House of Representatives on 22 December 1847, which requested President James K Polk to provide the Congress with the exact location upon which blood had been spilt on American soil (Polk’s ostensible reason for requesting the Congress to declare war on Mexico). Pity that in the above article, neither Mr Scheer nor Senator McGovern, despite their no doubt profound knowledge concerning Lincoln, saw fit to compare the latter’s resolutions questioning the rationale behind one jingoistic war, with the Senator’s refusal to stand up and be counted along with his two colleagues in opposition to another in 1964….

Henri

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By Ray Duray, November 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment

dihey,

You wrote: “If General Powell knew that he was forced to lie to the world he should have resigned, should he not? If he willingly chose to lie his act at the UN was much worse than that.”

You might want to take a look at Powell’s early rise through the ranks in the Army. While in Viet Nam he served with the Americal Division which was exposed by Seymour Hersh among others for the My Lai Massacre and a number of other such brutal incidents. Major Powell was less than forthright about the war crimes of his Division.

Reporter David Corn has more here:
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20010514/corn20010502

My point is that professional dissembling has been a hallmark of Gen. Powell’s succesful rise through the ranks.

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By anyfool, November 8, 2009 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

I think both McGovern and you are great. However this is really,really poor on both your parts: McGovern saying ” It would have been unseemly” (like from Etiquette by Emily Post or Miss Manners ) and you saying ” it was the best answer I ever got from any politician to any question I ever asked”.

McGovern being concerned about being “unseemly” so we had Nixon with 58,000 of our forces killed and several millions of Vietnamese killed not to mention the injured on both sides. Scheer’s best answer means he hasn’t bothered to think through the results of concern with being unseemly.
______
And I asked Sen. McGovern, I said: “How come you didn’t bring up your war record in response to this and talk about your own personal heroism, which was considerable?” And George McGovern gave me an answer—it was the best answer I ever got from any politician to any question I ever asked—he said, “It would have been unseemly.”

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By dihey, November 8, 2009 at 5:35 am Link to this comment

If General Powell knew that he was forced to lie to the world he should have resigned, should he not? If he willingly chose to lie his act at the UN was much worse than that. If his was not intellectual laziness to get well informed it was much worse than that namely moral turpitude/intellectual cowardice.
Thanks for correcting me!

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, November 8, 2009 at 3:55 am Link to this comment

Ray Duray, November 8 at 3:58 am #
dihey,

You wrote: “Time and again the world has suffered
death and destruction due to intellectual laziness
(Iraq; General Powell!!!). McGovern’s vote on Tonkin
without demanding a thorough investigation in what
really happened prior to voting is absolutely
inexcusable.”
=================================================

I read dihey’s comment as “NOT” excluding Powell from
being guilty of intellectual laziness and, as you
say, blatant lies.

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, November 8, 2009 at 1:47 am Link to this comment

john crandell, November 8 at 3:47 am #
“I’ve gradually disabused myself of all of these
romantic notions of Lincoln’s America. Let it go, I
say. Give it up. “
=============================================
Feels good, doesn’t it?

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By Ray Duray, November 7, 2009 at 11:58 pm Link to this comment

dihey,

You wrote: “Time and again the world has suffered death and destruction due to intellectual laziness (Iraq; General Powell!!!). McGovern’s vote on Tonkin without demanding a thorough investigation in what really happened prior to voting is absolutely inexcusable.”

I agree 100% that McGovern has a record of acquiescing to the lies of Lyndon Johnson on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

I disagree with you about Colin Powell. Within one day of his Feb. 5, 2003 liefest in the UN Security Council chambers there was a posting on the Internet from one of my altie websites citing 38 specific lies that Powell told and had to be perfectly cognizant that he was telling. For one example, Powell deliberately lied about “mobile biological warfare” trailers which the U.S. intel community knew full well to be hydrogen generators for weather balloons. Powell had to know this. There is some evidence to the effect that Powell tried to fight against Abe Shulsky and Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans and the propaganda that they wanted Powell to hurl like feces at the Security Council presentation. Powell did remove the most egregiously ridiculous propaganda from his presentation, but he will go down in history as an ignominious yes man who willfully lied to the world on that day.

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By Ray Duray, November 7, 2009 at 11:49 pm Link to this comment

doublestandards,

You wrote: “He said that he called for a complete withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam in a speech on the senate floor during the summer of 1963,”

I was a very well-read anti-war activist in the late 1960s. I spent a couple hundred hours actively working in the Eugene McCarthy campaign in 1968. I subscribed to Ramparts Magazine and I.F. Stone’s Weekly among other publications. I was keenly interested in the anti-war movement in the 1960s. Unless you can find the Federal Register citation for McGovern calling for withdrawl in 1963 I’m inclined to disbelieve both you and Sen. McGovern. I’ve never heard of such a speech before.

If McGovern did make such a speech, it is highly likely he did so during “morning business” in which Senators are at liberty to speak to an empty chamber and enter items “into the record”. From 1964 until the early 1970s George McGovern was essentially a nullity in the anti-war movement from what I could determine from the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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By john crandell, November 7, 2009 at 11:47 pm Link to this comment

To think that Obama’s viewing these videos would make a whit of difference, well, such is the height of naivete.

Over the past year I’ve come to feel that Obama is one savagely dispassionate cynic. ALL policy decisions are, must be based upon political calculation and necessity. That and NOTHING ELSE. I for one suspect that now, in the wake of the Fort Hood incident, there will be no announcement regards don’t ask, don’t tell.

Vietnam simply does not resonate with him. He is too young.

I had come home from my own Once Upon A War in 1970 and immediately joined VVAW. I helped in McGovern’s ‘72 campaign and was present among the small group of supporters who remained on election eve at Long Beach Airport, waited for forty five minutes while the plane could be fixed and prepared for the flight home to South Dakota. So George came out and waved to our motley group of die-hards. I later read that that brought many on the plane to tears.

Nothing has changed. After all of the horror of Vietnam and the corruption of the Nixon regime, the American public that year really showed it’s moxie, two plus years following Kent State, shortly after which a majority of polled Americans had said yes, that they felt that if it were their son or daughter who had been present at the Kent State protest, then they as well ought to have been shot down by the Ohio State Guardsmen.

That’s America for you. I’ve gradually disabused myself of all of these romantic notions of Lincoln’s America. Let it go, I say. Give it up. Imagine: The Pacific States of America, The Atlantic States of America and the North-Central States of America and all of the others can form a hideous constitution of their own and go their own way. Let’s be rid of them forever.

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 7, 2009 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment

An incredible interview, engaging…. even more engaging the second time it is read.

Quote: (Robert Scheer) “And I asked Sen. McGovern, I said: “How come you didn’t bring up your war record in response to this and talk about your own personal heroism, which was considerable?” And George McGovern gave me an answer—it was the best answer I ever got from any politician to any question I ever asked—he said, “It would have been unseemly.” And I thought to have a classy guy like that be president, what a gift. Now, some of us think maybe it’s happening, maybe it’s not happening right now, we’ll have a lively discussion about it. But when I look back on Sen. McGovern’s life, the key thing that stands out is integrity. A moral center.”

Absolutely, very much so.  Integrity is something that CONCRETELY can’t be bought.  Integrity is the bane of corruption, it is the voice of the other, it is empathetic, imperfect by ideological standards yet, overridingly integrity always cares, this is the REAL bottom line.

Article quote: (George McGovern)“Since I didn’t talk about it when it might have helped, maybe I might just take a couple of minutes to tell you why I volunteered to be a combat bomber pilot in World War II.” (pg. 2)

I would enamor that some might want to reread your experience and those of the many others who “went to war” and their sense of it…. then and now.

Article quote: “Scheer: Speaking of that, you got to be close to Sen. [Barry] Goldwater later in life.

McGovern: I did; I liked his bluntness,”

Bluntness, rightly or wrongly is genuine… this is the important factor.  The circumspect aspect of bluntness is found within the reality of its speaker, again… rightly or wrongly.

An excellent interview.

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By Milt Waxman, November 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think both McGovern and you are great. However this is really,really poor on both your parts: McGovern saying ” It would have been unseemly” (like from Etiquette by Emily Post or Miss Manners ) and you saying ” it was the best answer I ever got from any politician to any question I ever asked”.

McGovern being concerned about being “unseemly” so we had Nixon with 58,000 of our forces killed and several millions of Vietnamese killed not to mention the injured on both sides. Scheer’s saying it was the “best answer I ever got” means you haven’t bothered to think through the results of concern with being unseemly.
——-
And I asked Sen. McGovern, I said: “How come you didn’t bring up your war record in response to this and talk about your own personal heroism, which was considerable?” And George McGovern gave me an answer—it was the best answer I ever got from any politician to any question I ever asked—he said, “It would have been unseemly.”

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By dihey, November 7, 2009 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment

What makes you conclude that I question McGovern’s integrity? Whatever he said before the vote on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution are speeches. He voted for the resolution which was an action. In my book actions trump speeches. I question his vote which he obviously believed to be correct/necessary at that moment. I question his intellectual laziness at the time in the light of Morse and Gruening’s questions. Time and again the world has suffered death and destruction due to intellectual laziness (Iraq; General Powell!!!). McGovern’s vote on Tonkin without demanding a thorough investigation in what really happened prior to voting is absolutely inexcusable.

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, November 7, 2009 at 6:03 am Link to this comment

When all is said and done; this is merely a paean to
McGovern and of little real value today. Sorry but, it
just rings hollow.

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, November 7, 2009 at 12:31 am Link to this comment

dihey, November 6 at 5:39 pm #

I remember well; my parents were ardent Morse
supporters and I was a H.S. senior in 1963 facing the
prospect of being drafted. My parents were willing to
take me to Canada to avoid going to Viet Nam. Bad times
and bad juju.

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, November 7, 2009 at 12:26 am Link to this comment

dihey, November 6 at 11:53 am #

Thanks, that smacked me hard as well. I lived in Oregon
during that time. Morse was one of the last great
senators.

Report this

By doublestandards/glasshouses, November 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Those of you who are questioning McGovern’s integrity
should actually watch the video.  He said that he
called for a complete withdrawal of American forces
from Vietnam in a speech on the senate floor during the
summer of 1963, more than a year before the Tonkin gulf
episode.  This is a matter of public record.

Report this

By dihey, November 6, 2009 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment

Senators Morse and Gruening did not merely oppose the resolution; they demanded that the ship’s log be provided to the Senate before the voting on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution because they had information that led them to suspect that the ship had been in the territorial waters of North Vietnam when the “attack” occurred. They even doubted that an attack had actually occurred and said so publicly. Senator McGovern had plenty of opportunity to join them before voting aye or nay. He was not “misled” he simply refused to become better informed. Today we know that Morse and Gruening were correct on both counts.

Redhound: there is no difference between the Senators who voted for the Iraq resolution and those who voted for the Bay of Tonkin resolution. Once the war machine gets rolling no amount of remorse will stop it as we have learned from Vietnam and Iraq. Let us recall that candidate Obama and his blind followers pilloried Hillary Clinton for having voted aye on the Iraq resolution. If any of you participated in that rounding on Hillary you are a hypocrite if you defend Senator McGovern today.

The huge lesson is: Congresspersons and Presidents: read/research/question/think before you act because you may save lives.

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By Ray Duray, November 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment

To the Truthdig Editors,

The following statement that George McGovern was “the first senator to oppose the Vietnam War” is at best a distortion and at worst an outright lie.

As another commenter stated, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was not opposed by Senator McGovern.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_Resolution

Please correct yourselves, lest you lose credibility.

And then remove this comment. Thank you.

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By redhound, November 6, 2009 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

McGovern voted in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and he soon expressed his remorse for authorizing LBJ unlimited power. He knew it was a mistake and owned up to it. I would like to see the senators who authorized Bush to go into Iraq and Afghanistan would express their lack of good judgement. Alas our Senate is still made up of chicken hawks.

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By mick koz, November 6, 2009 at 9:58 am Link to this comment

Thank you Bob…a brilliant interview..as always, you know how to get out of the way…to allow the true essence of the man to be revealed.

George McGovern is and always will be the quintessential American patriot and hero…a national treasure…Lincolnesque in his bearing…humble yet noble…plainspoken yet eloquent…

This transcript should be required reading for President Obama…please find someway for him to have access to it.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, November 6, 2009 at 9:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

McGovern had some great ideas in that ‘72 campaign
including a guaranteed minimum income for all citizens
and universal health care.  Of course the republicans
and conservative democrats became hysterical about
“government give-aways” but hey, giving a couple
trillion to wall street bankers - nothing wrong with
that.  He was the best either party has had to offer
for potus in my lifetime.

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By surfnow, November 6, 2009 at 8:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good point,dihey. I’m sure like so many other politicians he is especially well endowed with the psychological defense mechanism of rationalization- enough so that like Hillary in 2003 regarding the Invasion of Iraq, he too always claim that"he was misled.”

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By dihey, November 6, 2009 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

Why do you give us wrong information? The Gulf of Tonkin resolution which gave President Johnson carte blanche in Vietnam was opposed by Senators Morse and Gruening only. Where was your hero McGovern on that day? Where was he? He became a US Senator in 1963. So, where was your hero in August 1964? On his farm in South Dakota? If he was in the Senate, how did he vote?

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