Yesterday I was thinking about George McGovern's 1972 acceptance speech. The most memorable lines of that speech were his "come home America" statements. Here they are:
From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America
From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America.
From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle lands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick -- come home, America.
Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.
Come home to the belief that we can seek a newer world, and let us be joyful in that homecoming, for this "is your land, this land is my land -- from California to New York island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters -- this land was made for you and me."
So let us close on this note: May God grant each one of us the wisdom to cherish this good land and to meet the great challenge that beckons us home.
And now is the time to meet that challenge.
Good night, and Godspeed to you all.
This was primarily in the context of bringing home the troops from Viet Nam. But it also spoke to a larger issue of American post-War militarism and the "military industrial complex." It is as appropriate today is it was nearly 34 years ago.
A few years ago I spoke to a former aid of Senator McGovern. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from the aid that McGovern believed, as I do, that the Cold War was essentially a myth created by the "military industrial complex." Anyone who has read Gore Vidal's essays knows that this myth was started in 1950 by a now declassified document known as NSC-68. You can find the entire document on the Internet here. Unfortunately, the consequences economically, militarily, and politically are still with us today.
When George McGovern called for America to "come home" I also believe that he was speaking to the failed policies of NSC-68 that brought us into the Viet Nam war and created the so-called "domino theory." Instead of bringing our troops home voluntarily, the United States suffered the embarrassment and consequences of an inevitable defeat in 1975. And the "domino theory" myth did not come to pass, although our protracted presence in Viet Nam had many terrible consequences that could have been avoided had we "come home" in 1972.
The Democrats today must call for the same theme about Iraq that McGovern raised in 1972. Democrats must also stop buying into the "domino theory" about an early withdrawl from Iraq as we did in the Cold War. And I found that some conservatives are in agreement with this. In my research about the McGovern "come home, America" speech I found an article from the January 30, 2006 Issue of The American Conservative written by Bill Kauffman. Kauffman had recently interviewed McGovern and the article about him from this conservative magazine was surprisingly favorable. Here are some quotes that I found very interesting:
I asked if Iraq is yet in Vietnam's class as a foreign-policy disaster. "The casualty rate isn't nearly as high," he responds, "but the assumptions are just as misguided. Vietnam was a logical expression of the Cold War ideology that we operated under for half a century. If you accepted the view that we had to confront communism wherever it raised its head, Vietnam became perfectly logical." (McGovern quotes approvingly his pheasant-hunting friend, University of South Dakota history professor Herbert Schell, who told a reporter in 1972, "He is the only nominee of either major party since World War II who has not accepted the assumptions of the Cold War." Bob Taft would have been on the list, too, had he been the GOP nominee in 1948 or '52.)
Robert Sam Anson wrote in McGovern, his fine biography, "To the extent that his vision of life is bounded by certain, immutable values--the importance of family, the dependence on nature, the strength of community, the worth of living things--he is a conservative. He seeks not so much to change America as to restore it, to return it to the earliest days of the Republic, which he believes, naively or not, were fundamentally decent, humane, and just. Like the Populists, he is willing to gamble with radical means to accomplish his end. There remains in him, though, as it remained in the Populists, a lingering distrust of government, a suspicion of bigness in all its forms."
I read that to McGovern. Was there a "conservative" side to him that somehow people missed?
"Absolutely," he replies. "I remember that observation. I'm a confirmed liberal, but I think there's a conservative aspect to liberalism at its best": an awareness of limits, a respect for tradition, a love of the familiar. For instance, McGovern writes in his autobiography, "I prefer old houses or churches or public buildings that are built for the ages rather than modern-style structures that quickly deteriorate. I am uncomfortable with any translation of the Bible other than the magnificent King James version." He traces this "sense of stability and permanence" to his thrifty family of Dakota Methodists
At 83, George McGovern remains a voice for peace and freedom in a party that looks ready to nominate the militaristic schoolmarm Hillary Clinton as its next standard-bearer. Oh, how the Democrats could use a bracing shot of McGovernism.
It is interesting that this conservative author now stands in a position to support McGovern's ideas even though the nation rejected them in 1972 when McGovern suffered a landslide defeat to Nixon. It makes me think about how many Democrats have been indoctrinated by NSC-68 and that they are incapable of telling America to COME HOME as McGovern did in 1972. Perhaps they think that this is too extreme. However, I suggest that Democrats read Barry Goldwater's 1964 acceptance speech in which he said: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Goldwater also lost by a landslide. I guess America was not ready for them.