Monday, October 22, 2012
Reflections on George McGovern -- and Voting
The best -- well, most effective -- people on the other side of the Great Corporate American War and Greed Machine are cynical pragmatists. People like the late George McGovern, who proudly called himself a liberal, and who spoke what he believed, not what he thought his audience wanted to hear, had no chance in the dogfight pit of American politics.
Thus his obituaries all stressed that he was on the wrong side of the greatest landslide in presidential election history. With the exception of the piece by my dear friend, the late David Rosenbaum, in the New York Times, the obit writers largely ignored the probability that Sen. McGoven was absolutely right on all the great issues of his political era.
George McGovern was a good man. That will never be written about Richard Nixon, the man who won that landslide, then left the White House in disgrace to avoid impeachment.
As the brilliant social critic Chris Hedges wrote the other day, George McGovern never sold his soul.
Today, alas, our only real electoral choice is between two men who have sold their souls.
In its remarkable endorsement of Barack Obama to retain his presidency, the Salt Lake Tribune, largest newspaper in Mormon Utah, laments this very fact about Mitt Romney, whom it once idolized. "Romney. . . is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words, they would trade their votes to hear," the Tribune wrote.
Every true liberal left in the land laments the sell-out by Mr. Obama, who is now owned by Wall Street, the Military-Industrial Complex, Big Oil, Big Coal and every other Big Nasty in our part of the universe.
Sen. McGovern, as recently as three years ago, held out the hope that Mr. Obama would be a good, possibly even a great, president. This came at a Nation Institute symposium during which, in his role as a historian, McGovern discussed the humanity, wisdom and moral standing of former Presidents Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Adams and others.
Among the others was Lyndon Johnson, who, Sen. McGovern pointed out, "hated" the Vietnam war but could not figure out how to end our involvement in it. Johnson, McGovern recalled, once consulted Georgia Sen. Dick Russell about the question, and all they could come up with was a Machiavellian scheme to finance an assassination and coup that would establish a new regime that would invite us to leave. It never occurred to them that we could simply withdraw, on the ground that we were doing no good there. That, McGovern mused, would have been politically suicidal, as the opposite strategy of staying the course ultimately proved also to be.
Sen. McGovern implied that Iraq and Afghanistan are Obama's Vietnam, and advocated withdrawal on the ground that we are doing no good there. "Most people around the world don’t look like you and me, they look like him," McGovern said. "And I think that our standing worldwide is much better, all across Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America." This was still true three years ago, but has changed now, because Obama's worst moral sell-out has been the wars, overt and covert, that are the core of his foreign policy. The people his drones are slaying willy-nilly do not look like George McGovern and me, they look like him.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to end the Vietnam war that Lyndon Johnson could not bring himself to end, declared the other day that, with no illusions of better government to result, he was urging voters in swing states to support Obama because a sold-out Obama is still less bad than a sold-out Mitt Romney. The Salt Lake Tribune's cogent editorial reached essentially the same conclusion from a completely different starting point.
I have long argued that the only morally defensible position for me is to support Jill Stein, the Green Party's candidate, whose positions on the important issues of our time are closest to mine (and Sen. McGovern's). Now, mulling the meaning of George McGovern's life and beliefs, I'm less certain.
Tomorrow I will vote early. I hope the nation will re-elect Barack Obama, and somehow survive another four years of his morally bankrupt reign. I hope in the meantime some new leader arises from among the people, a leader whose soul cannot be bought, a leader who can win the presidency in another four years and begin the nearly impossible task of rebuilding the American Dream.
I will mark my ballot for Mr. Obama. With self-loathing for selling my own soul. Begging but not deserving the forgiveness of the families of young Americans slain in illegal wars; of the tortured, the imprisoned and the damned in our black holes around the world; of the elderly and the sick who will suffer and die because they still cannot afford proper medical care in the richest nation in the world; of those Americans who live in abject poverty and whose numbers are growing by the day; of the millions of jobless who have no hope of ever finding employment again, even though they are educated, capable and desperate for work; of the women whose most sacred privacy is violated by obscene government laws and regulations; of the women who are lucky enough still to have jobs, but for which they are paid less than men in comparable work; of the students who thought they were climbing the American ladder of success but now languish deep in debt to usurers; of the civilian men, women and children called "collateral damage" who have been slain, maimed and shamed by our endless wars; of the foreclosed, the homeless, the broken paupers who once were part of an American middle class; of those Americans who look more like Barack Obama than like me, but who bleed, sweat and weep with equal opportunity in an America rigged against them; of the land itself, and the planet, for the orgy of crimes against the very envelope of life that sustains us.
I will mark my ballot, and go off alone into the desert, and weep in shame for myself and my country.