UP NOLAN CREEK: Losers?
Monday, 12 November 2012 by Wayne Carpenter
It has been a long time since I first cast a ballot in a major election. Over the years I have voted for many candidates, both winners and losers, all decent people with good intentions. A fair percentage of those I voted for never got elected, and of those who did, many of their stated good intentions were never realized. A few of those I voted for were disappointments, and I sometimes wonder if our current system of government is in danger of becoming unworkable regardless of who is president. Working together for the common good has too often been replaced by a system based on just how much "democracy" can you afford?
In 1972, when I was still young and idealistic about politics and politicians, I was excited to attend the state Democratic convention held in San Antonio. There were basically three types of delegates attending the convention. The largest group was the establishment Democrats, mostly conservatives and moderates, who supported former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the man who had lost the 1968 election to Nixon. The most extreme conservative delegates supported George Wallace of Alabama, who had also been a candidate in 1968 and was later injured in an assassination attempt while campaigning. Finally, there were the mostly young and somewhat rag-tag supporters of Senator George McGovern, the liberal candidate whose key issue was opposition to the war in Vietnam. McGovern delegates came in all shapes, colors, and persuasions. Some with long hair and beards were not all that popular with local police officers, many of whom wore large Wallace buttons. Most of the expensive hotels along the Riverwalk were booked by the staffs of Humphrey and Wallace and their delegates. The majority of us McGovern supporters shared blocks of rooms in a fleabag hotel, which was so old and dilapidated Santa Ana and his troops may well have stayed there while he was visiting the Alamo.
Despite his best efforts, Senator McGovern was perceived as being too liberal for most voters, and he suffered a humiliating defeat, winning only one state, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia. The incumbent, Richard Nixon, swept over 65 percent of the popular vote nationwide. Unfortunately, voters had no idea of the level of dirty tricks Nixon and his staff, which included bugging the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building, were involved in during the campaign. President Nixon would be forced to resign in disgrace in August of 1974, only two years into his second term.
Another "failed" candidate, Bob Dole, who lost the 1996 presidential election to Bill Clinton, was a close personal friend of Senator McGovern. Both Dole and McGovern were decorated war heroes. Dole received two purple hearts and suffered a lasting injury in WWII while serving in the Army's Italian campaign. McGovern flew over 30 missions as a B24 bomber pilot and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for landing his plane safely despite extreme damage to his plane from enemy fire. Despite their political differences, the men developed a personal bond while serving in the Senate.
Later they worked together to create the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. The program continues to use surplus American commodities to provide food and educational programs about nutrition to mothers and children in developing countries around the world. Over 22 million meals have been provided in dozens of nations since 2002 as a result of their efforts. Both men have said one doesn't easily overcome a defeat for the highest job in the nation, especially when beaten as soundly as McGovern, but they also noted there are worse things than losing an election. Dole was quoted recently as saying "the greatest of life's blessings cannot be counted in electoral votes."
After his death last week, even those like Dole, who disagreed with Senator McGovern on policy issues, praised him for always standing strongly for what he believed. Whether it was ending the war in Vietnam, working to provide for those less fortunate, or more recently, opposing the rush to war in Iraq, he never wavered from his principals. In an era when many politicians adopt new positions based on the latest polls, George McGovern's example of standing strong for peace and justice for all Americans continues to inspire me, 40 years after he was deemed a loser.