Tuesday, March 11, 2008

George McGovern on The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert's guest on last night's Colbert Report (Comedy Central) was former Senator George McGovern (D–SD), the Democrats' 1972 Presidential candidate. McGovern managed to win only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, a worse record than 1988's dismal campaign by Michael Dukakis, and only narrowly eclipsed by Walter Mondale in 1984. (Mondale won only DC and Minnesota, which has fewer electoral votes than Mass.) McGovern was also deeply involved in the bitter feud that tore deeply into the Democratic Party in the 1968 election, so his experiences can certainly shed some light on this year's contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

You can watch the show segments here:

Embedded video copyright ©2008 Comedy Central/Comedy Partners, all rights reserved


[Colbert intro, reminiscing about "Crushing Democratic Disappointments," specifically focusing on 1972.]

Stephen Colbert: '72, I remember that: the year the Democrats spurned establishment candidate Hubert Humphrey and gave the Presidential nomination to anti-war populist George McGovern. Sound familiar? Well, tonight we take a look back, in a Colbert Réport "Special ReporT": The 1972 Democrats — Alone Again, Naturally.

[Colbert goes on to give a pop culture snapshot of the time: cartoons, rock stars, and...]

Colbert: Democratic politics were more radical than ever, thanks to South Dakota Senator and long-haired hippie freak, George McGovern. Listen to him spew his anti-Vietnam hate:
McGovern: We do not understand why it was necessary to continue the war over the past 4 years, but whatever their motives, if the [Nixon] Administration can bring off a settlement of this war, they'll have my full support and cooperation in any effort that can lead to peace. [1972]
Colbert: Allow me to summarize: Viet Cong, take our daughters. McGovern had run previously in 1968, but the party establishment gave the nomination to Hubert Humphrey, even though Humphrey had not won one single primary.
Hubert Humphrey: I proudly accept the nomination of our party. [August 1968]
Colbert: "Aaand I accept having my ass handed to me by Richard Nixon." You see, the infighting at the 1968 Chicago convention had fractured the Democratic Party, along with a lot of hippies' skulls. But in 1972, thanks to campaign reforms led by wild-eyed bomb thrower Senator George McGovern, all it took to win the Democratic nomination was to be the voters' favorite candidate, and that's exactly what McGovern did. Leapfrogging establishment candidates Ed Muskie and Hubert Humphrey, just because more people liked him. What kind of people?
Archie Bunker: What are you gonna do with your around about $200?

Meathead: Well, that I'd like to use for something really important.

Archie: Like what?

Meathead: Like giving it to the McGovern campaign.
[All in the Family, CBS, 1972]
Colbert: Now, if Meathead had sensibly invested that $200 in U.S. Savings Bonds in 1972, today he'd have $250. McGovern was on the wrong side of progress: the progressive side. He was pro-Civil Rights, pro-Women's Rights, pro-Gay Rights, and pro-Seniors' Rights. But at a time when you could buy technology like this [photo of early L.E.D. digital watch] for only $2,000, anything seemed possible. So this "free love acid freak" used his flaming rhetoric to exploit his supporters' sick fetish for not getting killed in Southeast Asia.
McGovern: We've taken all these risks on the side of war, and it's accomplished two things: it's killed more of our people, and the other side has taken more of our prisoners. [1972-05-30, NBC]
Colbert: Two accomplishments, Senator? What about Rambo?? [mouths and gestures "Three."] Luckily, some patriotic Democrats stabbed him in the back. Humphrey said McGovern would destroy America's military, and launched a fight at the convention that left McGovern only 48 hours to find a running mate, so McGovern chose Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, who, it was revealed two weeks later, had undergone electric shock treatment for depression. McGovern might as well've picked this guy. President Nixon was able to campaign against McGovern, using the exact same charges Humphrey and other Democrats had used, and on election day, McGovern won Massachusetts, but all the American states were won by Richard Nixon. And Nixon was re-elected to an historic 1½-year term. McGovern had been stopped; America was safe.

Colbert: Some say McGovern's story in 1972 has parallels to the campaign today:
David Gergen: John McCain's going to go after Barack Obama as sort of the George McGovern of 1972. [Anderson Cooper 360°, CNN, 2008-02-27]

Bob Novak: He is a Leftist, he is another McGovern, he is far to the Left. [Hannity & Colmes, Fox "News", 2008-03-06]

Pat Buchanan: George McGovern got the youth vote, the sort of idealism, the passion, "all things can be done," and we know what happened to McGovern. [Hardball, MSNBC, 2008-02-05]
Colbert: It's true: the similarities are striking. [picture of McGovern, overlaid with Obama's tribal costume from his visit to Africa] When we return, my distinguished guest, extremist and possibly Muslim Senator, George McGovern. We'll be right back.

[commercial break]

Colbert: My guest tonight was a Presidential candidate in 1972. Good thing he lost to Nixon, or he would've been impeached for Watergate. Please welcome Senator George McGovern.

Colbert: Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

Senator George McGovern (D–SD): My pleasure.

Colbert: That kind of accolade, is that what you get when you accept the nomination for President? Does it feel like that?

McGovern: Well, you never get too much of it.

Colbert: You can't overdose on praise.

McGovern: You cannot overdose.

Colbert: Yeah, in punditry or politics. Now, before we go on, I want to offer my show as a forum. Would you care to confess anything about your involvement in a prostitution ring, before we go forward?

McGovern: I think I'll leave that to you.

Colbert: Okay, good. You have a book called Out of Iraq: A practical plan for withdrawal now. You are seen — certainly my memory of you is the ultimate "peace candidate": you were against the war in Vietnam, I assume from this [book] you're against the war in Iraq — unless it's out of Iraq and into Iran? No? Syria? Okay, just checking, just checking. Is there any kind of war you would support?

McGovern: Yes. When I was 19 years old, I volunteered to be a bomber pilot in World War II. I believed in that war then; I still do: Hitler was an incredible monster.

Colbert: Well, Hitler, yeah, I mean, that's easy. That's a gimme. You guys were so lucky to have World War II — it had Nazis in it! It was so obviously the right war!

McGovern: That's why I supported it.

Colbert: These days, we've got these tricky wars. We can't figure out why exactly we're in there, and we have to, you know, "stick by the President."

McGovern: Well, I think the President is wrong. I thought he was wrong to go in there. I opposed this war in Iraq before we went in. So did the President's father [George H.W. Bush-41], so did the President's father's Secretary of State [James Baker] and his National Security Advisor, General [Brent] Scowcroft — the whole team opposed it, except for the youngest son. [apparently intended as a reference to George W. Bush, although he is the oldest son, followed by Jeb, Neil, and Marvin, plus daughter Dorothy]

Colbert: But, you've said that, though you fought in World War II, that you do not believe the United States should be fighting in stupid and unnecessary wars.

McGovern: Yeah, like Vietnam, like Iraq. The one thing those two countries had in common with each other is that neither one was the slightest threat to the United States.

Colbert: Weapons of Mass Destruction, sir.

McGovern: There weren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Colbert: But we did not know that until we went in. We did not know.

McGovern: The international inspectors, who were in there for several years, were unable to find any.

Colbert: Right. They could not find the lack of them, because they could always have been hidden somewhere else. That's accepted wisdom, at this point.

McGovern: That could be true of any country.

Colbert: Exactly — I got my eye on ... Belgium. I guess my point is, if we don't fight stupid and unnecessary wars, isn't that going to cut down on most wars?

McGovern: I think it would. I think it would've eliminated most of the wars of the 20th century, with the exception of World War II: that was a war we had to fight.

Colbert: Now, a comparison is made between Barack Obama's call for us to get out of Iraq and him being perceived as the sort of idealist anti-war candidate, and your candidacy of 1972. Do you think that is in any way a fair comparison?

McGovern: I don't think either Barack Obama or George McGovern are unreasonable idealists. I think we're realists who looked at the facts: a country that was causing us no trouble, there was no particular terrorism in Iraq, people weren't killing each other by the tens of thousands in Iraq. We had it fairly well contained; we should've left it alone.

Colbert: But the reality is, we did go to war, so if you say we shouldn't have gone to war, aren't you living in some sort of ideal world where we hadn't? Aren't you, by definition, an idealist?

McGovern: Well, I don't mind being called an idealist if you will concede that idealists can also be realistic.

Colbert: I will not concede anything. You're on the wrong show. Can an idealist win the Presidency? Who's the last idealist who got in?

McGovern: I would say that the two most famous ones are probably Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln — one a Democrat and one a Republican. I'm doing a book on Lincoln's Presidency, and if that man wasn't an idealist, I don't know what idealism means. He lived by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; to me, those are all ideals that are worthy of a great President.

Colbert: You were in a very protracted Democratic convention fight in '68 and again in '72; did that really harm you, and could it harm Hillary or Obama, if they attack back and forth?

McGovern: It really did harm us in '72, because all of the candidates that I had defeated, ganged up on me to try to take the California delegation away from us, and that hurt. We needed that time to get ready for the convention, to pick a running mate, with plenty of time to look at the various possibilities, and I think that really hurt us a lot. I think it helped deliver the election to Richard Nixon.

Colbert: Are you supporting anybody this time around?

McGovern: I endorsed Hillary last October. I've known her for 35 years; I think she'd be a good President. I want to quickly add, I didn't know Barack Obama at that time, but I've been very impressed with him as a candidate, and —

Colbert: Are you a superdelegate?

McGovern: No, I'm not a superdelegate.

Colbert: Aw, I was hoping to get one of those guys.

McGovern: I'm just a plain old citizen.

Colbert: Last question, sir, and I'm sure you've gotten this before: Are you on acid right now?

McGovern: Am I what?

Colbert: Are you, are you — [to audience:] no, no, I wanna get it right. Are you on acid right now?

McGovern: Well, you may think I need it, but I haven't had any.

Colbert: Senator McGovern, thank you so much. Senator George McGovern; the book is Out of Iraq. We'll be right back.
It seems to me that once again the Democratic Party is facing the choice of standing up and being Democrats and fighting for the principles that make us progressives and calling out the neocon Republicans on their slanders, or cowering in fear that "they might call us l-l-l-liberals!" The American people are opposed to the Iraq War. We understand that it was a mistake to go in, that it was an unprovoked war of aggression by the United States, that it has cost us far more blood and treasure than the Bush Administration ever hinted, and that it has reduced rather than enhanced our national security. We need a candidate who will stand up and say that patriotism is not about wearing a lapel pin, it is about fighting for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We need a candidate who will stand up and say that supporting our troops is about giving them body armor and hearing protection, caring for our wounded, and above all not sending our troops into the wrong war, not about mindlessly backing a wrong-headed mission with wrong-headed leadership. We need a candidate who will stand up and say that the United States cannot claim to have the best healthcare system in the world while leaving tens of millions of our citizens without access to routine medical services.

However, first and foremost, the Democratic Party must avoid the fratricidal (or sororicidal) attacks that so hamstrung the McGovern campaign in 1972. Claims that the Republican candidate is better qualified than your Democratic opponent, do not help the party, especially when in the same breath you say that the Republican is more qualified than you are. Pretending to be unsure whether or not your opponent is a Muslim, does not help the party. Throwing the kitchen sink at your opponent does not help the party. Yes, I'm throwing more blame at Hillary Clinton than at Barack Obama on this issue, because I believe that the record shows that she has engaged in quantitatively more and qualitatively worse attacks than Barack Obama has.

The 1972 campaign offers a tested and proven road map for the Democrats to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Let's hope they have the sense not to take that path.

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Embedded video clips and transcript below the fold...