Remembering George McGovern as the elections pass

  • Paul VanDevelder

    Paul VanDevelder
 

As the 2012 election recedes into the background, it's still time to play the post-election game called “What did it really mean?” or, in the case of this election, “What did we get for $2.6 billion?”

Pundits on the yak-yak circuit got the jump on the game when the election was quickly called for President Obama and the slew of Democratic senators elected from Red states. But it took conservatives such as Karl Rove quite a while to fully accept how the electorate voted, and some pundits predicted Florida would eventually go for Mitt Romney. It did not.

Let's just say the Republicans got voted off the island, or as Jon Stewart of The Daily Show put it this way in a tweet: "FLASH: Romney wins (most of) the Confederacy."  And Whoopi Goldberg tweeted: "Make no mistake, values won this election."

Republican billionaires ponied up $400 million to super PACs with names like American Crossroads to knock Obama out of the ring, yet they lost every battle they fought. It could be that the Republicans made a fatal error early in the campaign: They thought Mitt Romney was running against a failed Obama when actually he was running against a failed George Bush.  Exit polls found that 62 percent of the electorate still blames our economic meltdown on the Bush administration.

Amazingly, the voters of America were not fooled by all that money. The half-truths and shape shifting failed to work no matter how many poisonous television ads were aired. No post-mortem critic was more brutal than Jason Stanford, author of Cognitive Dissonance and Republican Logic: "Republicans are people," Stanford wrote, "who make fortunes sucking 'dinosaur juice' out of the ground, and on Sunday mornings worship in churches that tell them the world is 6,000 years old."

I finished canvassing at 7 o'clock on election night.  After dropping a few last ballots for people in the box at the courthouse – something we’re allowed to do in Oregon -- I rode off to campaign headquarters humming with anxiety. Would all of us have to weather another emotional pounding like the one we endured in 2000? I thought back to my first campaign as a volunteer for Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, in 1968, when I was still too young to vote. Life glowed with idealism back then, and it carried some of us four years later into the presidential and anti-war campaign of George McGovern, the “prairie populist.”

When McGovern died a few weeks before this election, the conservative writer David Brooks described the late senator as "the most decent politician in America." McGovern's vision of a diverse, environmentally sound and equitable America forged the political identity of millions of young people who now take their grandchildren out for ice cream on Sunday afternoons.  Some of my generation believed -- more fervently than we have believed in anything since -- that we could leave the world a better place than we found it. We believed we could make a better world for blacks, gays, Latinos, Asians, women and children; for the animals and trees, for rivers and oceans and whales and sparrows and the air we breathe. McGovern's defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon, in 1972, was a cruel awakening. A generation of idealists has worn that defeat as a badge of honor for 40 years.

As the returns rolled in on Tuesday night, and we cheered as each battleground state fell into the Democratic column, a few of us old-timers in election headquarters felt a certain tiny flame flicker back to life.

"The child is father of the man," wrote the poet William Wordsworth back in 1802. But this election was not like 1992, or 1996, or even 2008. No, the presidential election of 2012 felt like something special, a redemption. The young campaign workers cheered with enthusiasm, but for us grandparents, this was different.  As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it: In 2008, Obama lifted us up; in 2012, we lifted him up.

And as Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University commented the following morning on CNN, "The ‘60s culture wars won, and that's a legacy we're now seeing. Doing away with taboos about race, sexuality, drugs, and gender roles, especially marijuana and gay marriage...most of America, even the red states, moved in a more liberal direction last night."

America finally caught up to George McGovern. His vision of a pluralistic and diverse America is our path forward. It's the only sane path out of the political morass of the past four decades, and peril will befall any politician who ignores it. And that's what I'll remember.

Paul VanDevelder is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Corvallis, Oregon, and is the author of Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire Through Indian Territory

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATERSHED PROGRAMS COORDINATOR
    Are you looking for a positive and success oriented work environment, the opportunity to join a (small but) dynamic group of people supporting watershed activities...
  • BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL MANAGER
    Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...