(Also posted on Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)
In this weekend’s Hartford Courant, Patrick Scully, a media consultant, political blogger and former communications director for the Connecticut Senate Democrats wrote that I and other Governor Malloy critics are “hopelessly disconnected from the average Connecticut citizen and continue to wallow in the failed, far-left, now-fringe policies of 1970s.”
Mr. Scully’s piece can be found at: http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-scully-democrats-labor-malloy-f20110807,0,1171634.story
Scully’s premise is that “Good Democrats” support Dan Malloy that “Good Democrats” recognize that the Governor’s decision to shred the safety net and implement massive layoffs of state employees are actually the employees fault and that Malloy should not be held responsible for the damage these cuts and layoffs will be doing to Connecticut.
To back up his observation, Scully goes on to proclaim that supporting Connecticut’s public employees at this time is similar to supporting George McGovern and that “George McGovern is no longer relevant, nor are his policies” and that “today’s Democrats [himself included] are in the camp of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton Barak Obama and, yes, Dan Malloy.”
My response is rather long, but I hope you’ll take the time to read it in its entirety.
To start, readers who want to better understand why I’m so disappointed with Governor Malloy are welcome to read some of my blog posts at Wait, What? [http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/] where I’ve consistently tried to provide some perspective on what is going on in Hartford and articulate why I believe that Dan Malloy has, too often, pursued a path that has violated some of the fundamental principles and values we Democrats hold dear.
In addition to his poor handling of the state employee concession issue, I’ve been particularly critical of his tax policy that coddled the super-rich at the expense of the middle class, his decision to make the deepest cuts in state history to our public colleges and universities and his participation in undermining Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance law.
But what really intrigues me about Mr. Scully’s commentary piece is his conclusion that those of us who have criticized Governor Malloy are followers of failed politicians and failed policies of a bygone era.
It is that issue I’d like to address in more detail.
I’m not sure how old Mr. Scully is but we may have to excuse him for his lack of knowledge about George McGovern, his lack of understanding about the contributions McGovern made to the Democratic Party and our country or the connections between JFK, Bill Clinton and George McGovern.
In addition, I don’t want to let the irony go unmentioned – but the fact is – George McGovern’s 1972 campaign for president was the first campaign I was truly and deeply involved in. True I was only 11 at the time but it was in that campaign that I heard the call to a life of politics and political action. I not only traveled to hear and meet the candidate but I spent innumerable hours in the fall of 1972 at the Mansfield Democratic Party headquarters making phone calls. If I recall correctly my mother even managed to get the school bus to stop at HQ after school. My love/hate relationship with Persuasion, ID and GOTV calling began with that campaign experience (not to mention my understanding of the ins and outs of political organizing).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start, as the saying goes, at the beginning.
When calling someone a name, it is important to understand the actual meaning of the words you are hurling. Scully calls me (and other Malloy critics) “McGovernites” almost as if he was calling us Commies or Pinkos.
While it is true that George McGovern is best known today for his stunning 1972 defeat, he was not only an outspoken opponent to the Vietnam War and the Military-Industrial Complex but he used his career to make a signficant contribution to a more progressive America.
A decorated veteran in WWII (he flew bombers over Nazi Germany), McGovern returned to South Dakota after the War to pursue a college teaching career.
After hearing Adlai Stevenson’s presidential nominating speech in 1952 he spent the fall helping the Stevenson for President effort.
Although Stevenson’s campaign was unsuccessful, McGovern apparently realized that it was through political action that he could have the impact he desired so he shifted to a career in politics and a life dedicated to furthering, dare I say, a liberal agenda.
Following the Stevenson defeat, he left teaching to become the executive secretary of the South Dakota Democratic Party in 1953. For the next few years McGovern worked to help build the state Party’s operation including (interestingly) building what has been called one of the first centralized voter files in the United States. In his first election with the state Party the Democrats won 25 legislative seats, giving them 27 seats instead of the 2 that they had previously controlled in the South Dakota Legislature.
The national party was so impressed with the work he was doing that they added him to the DNC’s committee on political organizing.
In the next election cycle, McGovern ran for South Dakota’s 1st Congressional District. Using his hand-made voter file and a loan of $5,000 McGovern went on to beat a four-term incumbent.
Late in the campaign the Republicans tried to derail McGovern’s campaign by suggesting that he was a Communist. Why a Communist? Because it was 1954 and he was in favor of allowing China to join the United Nations and had previously supported the populist and socialist politician Henry Wallace.
As a Congressman, McGovern focused on supporting American farmers and was the driving force behind the United States’ role in using surplus crops to help feed the world.
The powerful chairman of the Agriculture Committees once said “I cannot recall a single member of Congress who has fought more vigorously or intelligently for American farmers than Congressman McGovern.”
Following an unsuccessful run for the US Senate in 1960, newly elected President John F. Kennedy picked McGovern to serve as a Special Assistant to the President and the nation’s first director of Kennedy’s Food for Peace Program.
In that role, McGovern was instrumental in pushing the United Nations to create the World Food Program. The UN’s Food Program has gone on to become the largest and most successful hunger and humanitarian effort in history.
As an aside, McGovern’s work to reduce world hunger continued long after he left elective office. In fact, in 2001 he was named the UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger by the World Food Program, the entity that he had helped create 40 years earlier.
In 1962, McGovern left the Kennedy Administration and returned to South Dakota to run again for the US Senate. This time he won by 597 votes.
McGovern returned to Congress and continued his efforts to help farmers and fight hunger, both here at home and around the world.
His legislative legacy includes the creation of the food stamp program and the creation of nutritional guidelines for Americans.
A Congressional investigation he led produced the “McGovern Report” which recommended, among other things, that “Americans eat less fat, less cholesterol, less refined and processed sugars, and more complex carbohydrates and fiber.” Little by little those recommendations have been adopted over the past 45 years – often over the objections of the food industry.
And during all of those years he continued to work on world hunger. His 1964 book entitled War Against Want: America’s Food for Peace Program was part of his broader and eventually successful effort to dramatically expand the Food for Peace Program.
From the very beginning of his Senate career George McGovern was also a leader in the effort to get the Defense Budget in check.
In his freshman term as a Senator he proposed reducing the $53 billion defense budget by 10%. The next year he became the first member of Congress to speak out against the US role in Vietnam.
As the 1960s progressed, his role within the Democratic Party continued to rise.
Following the disastrous 1968 Democratic Convention, McGovern Co-chaired a the commission charged with restructuring the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process. The McGovern-Fraser Commission shifted the Democratic Party from one dominated by party elite to one based on caucuses and
primaries. The nominating process that we have today, the one that allowed Bill Clinton and Barak Obama to win the Democratic nomination for president is the direct result of McGovern’s rule changes.
But his standing and role within the Democratic Party went far beyond writing those reforms.
In 1968, South Dakota’s Democratic Primary was held on the same day as California’s. Robert Kennedy won the South Dakota primary and called McGovern moments before he headed downstairs to give his famous California acceptance speech. A few minutes later Kennedy was shot to death as he exited that California hotel.
Following the assassination, key Kennedy aides asked McGovern to announce for the Democratic nomination and promised the support of Kennedy’s delegates. Robert Kennedy’s team did not like Humphrey and resented that fact that Gene McCarthy might benefit from Kennedy’s assassination. However, McGovern held off and instead waited for Ted Kennedy to make a decision about whether he was going to run. By the time McGovern did announce it was too late and Hubert Humphrey went on to win the nomination.
McGovern returned to Washington and continued his effort to end the war. That strategy took him to Boston in October 1969 where he spoke to 100,000 and then on to Washington where he helped lead the 350,000 strong anti-war march and rally at the Washington Monument.
McGovern’s next strategy was to push a Congressional Resolution that would end the war by cutting off all funding for the war effort.
When the proponents of the resolution couldn’t get sufficient media coverage for the effort McGovern took out a second mortgage on his home to pay for a half-hour nationally televised discussion about the resolution.
That in turn brought in over $500,000 and they used those funds to pay for a broader public education campaign.
By the time the resolution came up for a vote, public opinion polls showed that a majority of American’s supported McGovern’s resolution and his approach to ending the war.
Although the resolution was defeated following an intensive lobbying effort by the Nixon White House, George McGovern’s speech on the floor of the Senate had a profound impact on the national debate.
Sadly, his words then are as meaningful, powerful and timely today. McGovern said;
“Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land – young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will someday curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution
places on us.”
McGovern’s anti-war stance propelled him even further into the national scene. By 1973 he was putting together a campaign for President. Gary Hart, who went on to become a United States Senator from Colorado, served as McGovern’s campaign manager and the two of them helped design the modern grass-roots form of campaigning that we utilize today. It was Gary Hart who is credited with using “social networking” in a more coordinated way although he called it the strategy of using people’s “concentric circles”.
In an interesting twist, Bill Clinton managed McGovern’s campaign in Texas. (Although I’m not sure that fact ever made Clinton’s presidential campaign bio).
Despite losing several key southern primaries to George Wallace, McGovern won enough delegates to get the Democratic nomination.
McGovern’s platform included a 37% reduction in defense spending and a massive welfare reform plan that would later become known as the Earned Income Tax Credit, a mechanism to support low-income working Americans and provide an incentive for people to work rather than rely on welfare.
The EITC was finally adopted under Presidents Ford, Reagan and Clinton. And, in the small world department, was one of Governor Malloy’s better initiatives this past year. Although watered down at the end, the Connecticut’s General Assembly finally adopted an EITC for Connecticut this year.
But, in the end, as with Adlai Stevenson before him, great ideas were not enough to propel McGovern to victory.
With the power of the presidency behind him, along with a variety of illegal activities that would eventually lead to Nixon’s resignation, the incumbent president won the 1972 election in a landslide.
McGovern returned to the Senate but never regained the prominence he once had.
And to end this little story, in 1980, George McGovern was one of the liberal senators targeted by the National Conservative Political Action Committee. Following a campaign which focused primarily on McGovern’s pro-choice record, George McGovern went down to defeat in the Reagan landslide.
So back to the present.
I appreciate Mr. Scully’s right to criticize me and others for our criticism of Dan Malloy and I certainly understand his concern that now is not the time to “wallow in the failed, far-left, now-fringe policies of 1970s.”
But that said, I’m pretty sure that fighting against a senseless war, preserving programs like food stamps, revamping the tax structure to support not punish working families and working to end hunger here and abroad don’t count as “failed, far-left, now fringe policies”.
I don’t doubt that there are “Good Democrats” who support both President Obama and Governor Malloy. I too consider myself a “Good Democrat” and in that capacity I believe we have an obligation to speak out when it appears that either of them have stumbled from the path that got them elected – or even more importantly – are failing to implement the most fundamental principles and values that we Democrats stand for.