Rick Perlstein: George McGovern, 1922-2012: Is Decency in Politics Always Doomed?





Rick Perlstein is the author of "Nixonland."

To understand how deeply the moment of George McGovern's efflorescence differs from our own, pick up the biography McGovern authorized a young Time magazine staffer to write as he began his 1972 presidential campaign. The author, Robert Sam Anson, had been taken prisoner in 1970 by Communists guerrillas in Cambodia who put a gun to his head and made him dig his own grave. Anson dedicated the book to these guards! Then, in his preface, he wrote of their profound admiration for George McGovern as a reason why he should be President of the United States.

The logic was a relic of the time. With the lying Richard Nixon following the lying Lyndon Johnson in the White House, the call for open, honest government associated with ascendent Baby Boomers -- and those same voters' longing for a quick end to the Vietnam War, even their suspicion we had picked the wrong side in that War -- seemed to suggest a candidate like McGovern, who had overseen the process of opening the Democratic Party's ossified boss-ridden nominating system, and pledged as president to remove all American forces from Southeast Asia within sixty days, was the Democratic future....



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