What's Up For Today?
Interview

 

Wendy R. Williams talks to Senator George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate and the subject of:

One Bright Shining Moment:
The Forgotten Summer of
George McGovern

(New York Cool Review)
Opened September 16th, 2005
Quad Cinema 34 West 13th Street NY, NY www.quadcinema.com
Photograph by Mary Blanco


Senator George McGovern - Photo Mary Blanco

“I just want to be inspired.” - Dorothy Boyd in Cameron Crowe’s film Jerry McGuire.

Why Senator George McGovern? Why is McGovern as relevant today as he was as the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee who took on Richard Nixon? And was defeated by “The Butcher from Whittier,” in the worst landslide (mudslide?) in presidential history? And why would I (Wendy R. Williams) and photographer Mary Blanco be thrilled to haul ourselves and some heavy camera bags (Mary) all the way from the Lower East Side to City College at 138th Street and Convent Avenue on a hot humid September evening?

I am probably the only writer for www.newyorkcool.com who is old enough to have voted for Senator McGovern, and I have vivid memories of the hope we (Democrats) had back then that the world could be a better place. The country was embroiled in a conflagration in Vietnam (approximately 50,000 American soldiers and over 3,000,000 Asians were killed), a war that we had entered into under false pretenses and could not win. And we were collectively reeling from the horror of the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert (Bobby) Kennedy and Malcolm X. I was very young then and really wanted to be able to believe in a presidential candidate, someone who was honest, and someone who in his heart-of-hearts would want to do the right thing. And instead of McGovern, we were treated to Richard Nixon and Watergate and the resulting cynicism regarding whether or not government could ever be a government for good.

Another reason that had Mary and me jumping on trains (in ninety degrees of pure humidity) was the realization that McGovern was both old enough and far enough removed from public office that he needn’t couch anything in politico speak. Senator McGovern had always been an honest man but now there was no need for subtlety, either.

I really wanted to know what he thought about our current state of affairs. What did he think about President George Bush (the 2005 embodiment of Han Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes)? A great stateman needs to have the imagination of a great chess player. He needs the intellect and vision to be able to see the entire board, and the skills and strategy to know that if he makes a certain move, his opponent will make a predicted countermove, and so forth. In elementary terms (where was Mr. Bush anyway, when elementary school convened?) it’s called cause and effect. But here we are today with leadership that lacks the forsight of a good fire company – i.e., if an entire city floods, the city governement (being under water) will not be able to “organize the first response” and the Feds had damn well better turn on the sirens and be the heroes they are supposed to be. And what about a “great” leader who lacks the savvy of a great general – e.g., if I send troops into Iraq, occupy the same and capture Saddam Husssein, what will the people of Iraq think about that? Will they welcome us with open arms and “play nice” or will they do everything they can to kill both each other and us? (I guess I just told you what I think.)

So what did Senator McGovern think about the war in Iraq, the Katrina disaster, Judge John Roberts, Senator Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, President Jimmy Carter… and who does he think will take the Democratic nomination in 2008? Senator McGovern has always been a student of history; he has a M.A. and Ph.D. degree in American history and government from Northwestern University in Chicago. And we all need to be students of history because we need to know where we have been before we can figure out where we need to go. As Eugene O’Neill so aptly put it, "There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now."

The Speech at City College
September 14, 2005

Senator McGovern spoke at the Great Hall of City College, a magnificent Gothic Cathedral style building at 138th and Convent Avenue. Stephen Vittoria, the director of the film, spoke briefly and then showed a twenty-minute segment of his film. Villoria then introduced Senator McGovern.


Documentary Director Steven Vittoria - Photo Mary Blanco

Senator McGovern started his speech by stating that he was “not as saintly as the film makes me out to be. During my campaign I was criticized as being too nice to be president but no one asked Nixon if he was too nice.” He then told us that he (Senator McGovern) has been married for sixty-two years to the same girl (his wife Eleanor).

Then on to Katrina: “I recently visited the Astrodome; there were a fairly high percentage of poor people sheltered there. I asked someone why he did not flee before the storm and the man told me that he did not own a car, he only had six dollars in his pocket and payday was two weeks away. And this man had a family to take with him and no one sent a car or a bus or a truck and he did not know where to go.”

Senator McGovern went on to say that President Bush has finally admitted it was a foul up and that according to McGovern, “Presidents set the tone and he dropped the ball. And why is it just now time to collect the bodies?”

McGovern went on to say that “I want Bush to bring the National Guard and the Army Reserve home. We need them. If you could have seen the looks on people’s faces [the Katrina victims] when they saw the National Guard. The National Guard and the Army Reserve are 40% of the troops we have over there. We can then work on getting the other 60% home.”




J. Fred Reynolds, City College Dean Division of Humanities & the Arts
and Senator McGovern - Photo Mary Blanco

And then McGovern said, “The bill to rebuild New Orleans is estimated to be over 100 billion – more then the Federal Budget in 1962.”

McGovern had three major points to make in his speech:

1. Bring the troops home;
2. Cancel the tax cut;
3. Create a WPA to rebuild the Katrina affected areas with most of the jobs going to the people who were affected by the storm.

On rebuilding New Orleans: “Take a page out of history – go back to the Depression – WPA – those people in the Astrodome need jobs – hire them first.”

“These are all conservative ideas,” said Senator McGovern. “Bush has run the debt up to astronomical numbers. And we need to reduce the Federal Debt. We cannot afford to give tax cuts to the richest Americans when the debt is so high.” (Note: Taxpayers will pay about $208 billion for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 simply to cover interest costs on that debt http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002500866_
katcost17.html).


Senator McGovern at the book signing - Photo Mary Blanco

Questions and answers at the City College Great Hall Speech

(Note: I could not hear most of the questions so I can only report the answers.)

Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War: “Lyndon Johnson was great on domestic issues. When he was in the Senate he did not think he knew enough about foreign policy and relied on senators like Senator Fulbright to advise him. When he had to take over the Presidency after Kennedy was assassinated, he then relied on Dean Rusk.”

Left wing Press: “The left wing press is really a right wing press. I respect the intellect of print journalists; when I was campaigning I really enjoyed talking to them on the plane. But most TV networks, newspaper and radio stations are owned by conservative Republicans.”

President George W Bush: “….not sure Bush won either election. The election commissioners in both Florida and Ohio were Bush campaign managers. There were not enough voting machines in Ohio and the ones they had were put in the higher income areas so poor people were forced to wait in line for hours and had to leave to go to work.”

President Jimmy Carter: “Great Ex-President – got better as he went along. [His accomplishments included] the Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel and the Panama Canal treaty for which he was widely criticized but was the right thing to do. He was the first to talk about the need for a national energy policy. President Carter won the Nobel Peace prize in 2002 but I think he should have gotten it earlier for Camp David.”

Barack Obama (the Junior Senator from Illinois): “Gave an amazing speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston... In eight to ten years he will be ready. I expect Obama will win the White House.”

Question on the Red and Blue States: “South Dakota is a Red [Republican] state and I am from South Dakota. We need to abolish the Electoral College; the founding fathers were afraid of the people and built in all sorts of checks and balances and the Electoral College was one of them.”

Democrats being weak on Defense: “I was a fighter pilot and flew over thirty-five combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe. [earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, http://www.mcgovernlibrary.com/george.htm]. Over half of my unit did not make it back. Once, the plane that took off in front of mine stalled and everyone was killed. I had just been eating breakfast and joking with those guys.”

Importance of Education: “Bush Jr. went to Yale – don’t know how he got out. Obviously education is not everything in life.” McGovern went on to add that, “Education is supremely important and that the students of City College, NYU and Columbia have amazing opportunities to study in New York City.”

Getting into Politics: [You should] find a candidate you can believe in and volunteer to work on the campaign.”

Bill and Hillary Clinton: “Gary Hart [the 1972 Democratic campaign manager] told me about this guy who had just gotten out of law school and was incredibly smart and wanted to organize Arkansas for us, but he needed to be paid. He [Hart] thought he was so smart he would be wasted on Arkansas and sent him to Texas instead. We paid him maybe $50 a week. It was Bill Clinton. Clinton told us about this friend of his, a law student named Hillary Rodham and we hired her too.”

Democratic Candidate in 2008: “One to watch is Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois… terrific person and very charismatic.”

Government for Good: “People, who say that the Government can’t make a difference, just look at all the good that was done by the GI Bill. I went to school on the GI Bill and was able to get my doctorate, all on the GI Bill.” (Over 14,000,000 soldiers were given this opportunity to achieve higher education; according to statistics on http://www.gibill.va.gov/education/GI_Bill.htm, 2,230,000 of them attended college.)


New York Cool’s Interview with Senator McGovern

New York Cool: Would you please elaborate on the parallels between our going to war in Iraq to search for WMD and our declaring war on North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident (there is a rumor that it might have been a whale)?

Senator McGovern: “In both cases, Congress, the public and the press were misled. We don’t expect our Presidents to lie to us – there was no moral underpinning to our national leadership. We were deceived – Bush <also> tried to tell us that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 – Saddam was a big enough SOB without us pinning that on him.”

New York Cool: Would you please elaborate on what went wrong in New Orleans?

Senator McGovern: "What do you expect when you put the former Commissioner of Judges and Stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association in charge of FEMA? We were totally unprepared. Bush had appointed a political crony.”
(http://business.bostonherald.com/businessNews/view.bg?articleid=100857 for more details on Michael Brown.)

New York Cool: What do you think about Judge John Roberts and whether he will be confirmed?

Senator McGovern: “The committee is doing a good job of vetting him. Roberts will probably be confirmed. He is an affable and winsome fellow, which helps in confirmation proceedings. He will be around a long time because he looks healthy to me.”

New York Cool: Do you think it will be Hillary Clinton in 2008?

Senator McGovern: “Good chance she will run. I don’t have a horse in the race. Wesley Clark was my choice last time and I hope he runs again this time. Clark got in too late. Would be very surprised if John Kerry did not run again. Also, would expect John Edwards to run. The governor of Virginia (Mark Warner) looks promising. There is also the senior senator from Illinois – Dick Durbin.” (Senator Dick Durbin does seem to be the dark horse to watch.)

New York Cool: I was fascinated watching the Documentary to hear the criticism of how the Democratic delegates looked in 1968 and 1972. That was one battle we definitely won because everyone looks like those delegates today. No one dresses up for anything.

McGovern: ‘‘The Democrats were not radical, they were a cross section of America: women, blacks and Hispanics… Before it had always been middle class white males – the good old boys.”

New York Cool: President Clinton appointed you ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, and in 2001, you were appointed the first United Nations Global Ambassador on Hunger. You are also the son of a Methodist minister. I am the daughter of a Methodist minister and am very familiar with the fact that Methodist are taught that you are not simply forgiven, you must also do good works. Would you like to elaborate on what that means to you?

McGovern: “I want the US to lead the way at the UN to provide a free meal every day to every child in the world. The UN started a large pilot program in thirty-eight countries. It would cost eight to ten billion a year to give every school child in the world a free meal. Just think what that would mean. My father taught me the importance of service…. to be a clergyman, nurse, teacher, to perform some kind of service. I know that was a large part of the reason I entered public life, that desire to be of service.”

I would like to thank Senator McGovern for speaking to www.newyorkcool.com and for continuing to speak out about the issues he has believed in and supported all his life. Because, to quote Elie Wiesel: “Is silence the answer? It never was.”



For more information on Senator McGovern: http://www.mcgovernlibrary.com/george.htm



 

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