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Rejecting the McGovern Complex

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The psychology of the middle-aged, self-described partisan/media political "expert" is something of a puzzle to me. Strip away all the bloviating, all the self-importance, all the haughtiness, and you'll find a deeply-rooted hatred of all things relating to George McGovern. The storyline, which Mark Schmitt notes is evident in the Lieberman-Lamont primary, goes something like this: McGovern, a B-24 bombing pilot in World War II, ran for president in 1972 on a platform opposing the Vietnam War, and supposedly because of this reason and this reason alone, he was deservedly crushed in his campaign against Richard Nixon. Therefore, the story goes, no Democratic candidate for any office in America can ever publicly say they believe wars in general - or a specific war - is anything other than a totally desirable objective. Unless a Democrat publicly salivates at the thought of indiscriminately maiming and killing foreigners, Mr. Middle Aged Political "Expert" will sternly remind them that they are supposedly going to be the next George McGovern. That is, the next national laughingstock.

I'll say up front: I wasn't alive when George McGovern ran in 1972. In my lifetime, George McGovern has been known for his international anti-poverty work at the United Nations. So, I'll admit - the disparaging of George McGovern as the Biggest Most Pathetic Loser In Human History is something that I have no firsthand experience with - I've only heard it regurgitated by Mr. Middle-Aged Political "Expert" ad nauseum. Nonetheless, even though I didn't live through McGovern's 1972 campaign, it seems clear the continued obsession with McGovern-loathing a third of a century after he ran for president is the psychotic behavior of people who have serious mental problems.

For instance, here are some questions in hindsight: Are we really supposed to believe that, in hindsight, George McGovern was so totally, completely, disgustingly wrong? Do media/party political "experts" - most of whom did everything they could to avoid serving in the war McGovern railed against - think it would have been a winning strategy to advocate remaining in Vietnam indefinitely? Do these "experts," who liken everything that happens today to the McGovern campaign, think the American people now believe we should have remained in Vietnam indefinitely? Do these "strategists" think the American public still believes it was great that Nixon won, and then dragged the country through Watergate, arguably the worst constitutional crisis in history? Do these "experts" think McGovern lost only because of his opposition to the war, and not because of, say, Richard Nixon's deft use of the racist "southern strategy?"

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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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