tv The Contenders CSPAN December 4, 2011 10:30am-12:30pm EST
>> next, the cspan series, "vacant sanders." -- the contenders. today, the life of george mcgovern and then i house hearing on the proposed keystone pipeline project. and now, from mitchell, s.d.>> live from mitchell, south dakota, the life of george mcgovern profiled in the c-span series "the contenders." >> in 1968, many americans thought they were voting to bring our sons home from vietnam. since then, 20,000 of our sons have come home in coffins. i have no secret plan. i have a public plan and it is one whose heart has ached for the last 10 years for the agony of vietnam. i will halt the bombing of indochina on inaugural day.
[applause] >> it was 1972, 2:30 in the morning when george mcgovern delivered his acceptance speech. a few months later, he would lose badly to president richard nixon. tonight, the candidacy and legacy of george mcgovern. we are live from the mcgovern museum in mitchell, south dakota. joining us is presidential author scott farris. it was 2:30 when he delivered the acceptance speech in miami. why? >> it was emblematic of the whole mcgovern campaign, which was it was an insurgent campaign run against the establishment. what happened was, as you heard from senator mcgovern, he was very strong on the issue of vietnam. one of the things about senator mcgovern as one of the most influential who ran for the presidency who was not successful, he went after the vietnam issue.
he did two things. he spoke about that war in ways no presidential candidate had ever spoken about war before. it was strong language that unsettled lots of americans and caused them to worry about how he would win the war. it was an insurgent campaign to end the war against the democrats. there was a lot of conflict there that eventually lead over to the convention. there were some floor fights. there were some issues with the california delegation. there were issues with who he would choose for his widespread initial running mate. the convention got out of hand. when it was time to discuss his nomination, it was 2:30 in the morning. instead of speaking before 75 million americans during primetime, he only spoke to about 15 million americans in the middle of the night. he joked it was either insomniacs or people who fell asleep in front of the tv set.
>> we are going to do a deep dive into the 1972 campaign and the convention. joining us here from our studios in washington is jules witcover, a veteran political reporter who covered the mcgovern campaign for the "los angeles times," featured prominently in the book "the boys on the bus" about the media coverage of that campaign. what is the atmosphere at the convention in 1972? >> exhaustion. >> exhaustion. [laughter] >> mcgovern gave the speech so late because fights continued to go on over various issues on the platform including the war in vietnam even though the platform had been adopted. it actually played out the next morning when his staff met to
choose a vice president or to decide who should be vice president. it was done in an unsettling way. i am sure we get to it in this discussion. it led to probably the most disastrous part of the mcgovern campaign, which was the selection of the vice- presidential nominee. >> in the convention hall that night, are the people with him? are they still there? it is 2:30 in the morning. >> the mcgovern followers at the convention had never been to a convention before. as a result of new rules,the support was initiated by mcgovern himself on the
commission. a lot of people there had never been to any convention and had not been involved much in politics. it was a great experience for them. at any convention, staying up until 2:00 in the morning is not unusual. what is unusual is that he gave that very important speech so early in the morning. >> we will talk about the reforms that led to those people at the convention. let's go back to the mcgovern museum in mitchell, south dakota. what is happening in our country at this time that leads to the triumph of an anti-war candidate to win the nomination for the democratic party? >> the great political legacy of george mcgovern changed the complexion of the modern democratic party. before the senator, the democrats had built the "new deal coalition," an amalgam of urban catholics, jews, and
organized labor. by 1968-1972, because of divisions that were exposed by the division over vietnam, senator mcgovern was one of those in the democratic party who said the party needed to reform or else it would die. he saw the party was losing white populists to southern white republicans over civil rights. urban ethnics were moving to the suburbs. they saw the moving out to the suburbs and saw that organized labor was shrinking in influence and size. he looked over the political landscape and saw opportunities for growth by reaching out for minority groups that had been ignored by both parties. reaching out to hispanic- americans. reaching out to women. reaching out to the youth vote. 1972, because of the 26th amendment, was the first time 18-year-olds could vote in the united states. he put together the "new politics coalition" to create his ruling democratic majority. coming out of the 1968
convention, he chaired a commission on reform, changing the delegate selection process heavily. he was very pro-active in bringing women and minorities into the party. the winners are also losers. other elements of the democratic party, particularly organized labor resented that their influence was going to diminish. it was a very wild ride because of the reforms mcgovern was able to put through the party. he had the advantage of an insurgent. he was the first anti- establishment candidate to win political favor. it caught the establishment off- guard. as his success built up, it caught a lot of attention with the democrats. it was a very tumultuous year for the democratic party in 1972. the republicans were solidifying around richard nixon.
probably the high point of the nixon presidency was 1972 when he went to china among other things. >> we will talk more about that as well later on. part of senator mcgovern's acceptance speech on that night in 1972 was about reforming the democratic party. he also takes aim at the republican party and what they are doing at their convention, which is being held shortly after the democrats, also in miami. take a look. >> we have had our fury and frustrations this past month and at this convention. frankly, i welcome the contrast with the empty events which will undoubtedly take place in miami next month. [applause] we chose this struggle. we reformed our party. we let the people in. [applause]
so we stand today, not as a collection of backroom strategists, not as a tool of i.t.t. or any other special interest. [applause] >> scott farris, george mcgovern in 1972 saying "we let the people in." take us back to the 1968 convention when hubert humphrey gets the nomination. draw a clear connection for our viewers between the 1968 convention and mcgovern winning in 1972. >> let's go back to 1967. this is when the anti-war movement is starting to pick up steam. it was very frustrating to president lyndon johnson. he continued to believe america could achieve a victory in vietnam. the anti-war activists start shopping for an alternative to johnson, someone who could challenge johnson in the
primary, which is really unprecedented. when you think about prior to 1968 when a party tried to challenge a sitting president was 1912 with former president, theodore roosevelt. even a former president could not knock off a sitting president for the nomination. they wanted to pressure johnson to deescalate pressure in vietnam. they searched for a number of people. they approached senator mcgovern and he declined. senator mccarthy of minnesota decided to run as an anti-war candidate. when he entered the new hampshire primary in 1968, he had a very strong showing against president johnson. he did not win, but he got enough votes that it made johnson aware he would have a tough time getting the renomination. senator robert kennedy, president kennedy's brother, also entered the presidential contest. at that point, vice president
humphrey still supported the war policies of vice president johnson. senator kennedy, of course, was assassinated in june. that left only senator mccarthy to be the insurgent candidate. senator kennedy's followers expected mcgovern to enter as a token candidate at the end. mcgovern did run a token presidency. ultimately, the nomination went to hubert humphrey, which infuriated the anti-war movement. not only did he not want a single primary, he did not enter a single primary. the democratic party was still being run by the big city political bosses, by the political machine. they wanted to have the process more open, to have underrepresented constituencies
-- like minorities, like the young -- brought into the process. they wanted the process opened up so it was not secret caucuses in people's homes, but where anybody could participate. the disillusion with hubert humphrey who was selected in 1968 put pressure on the democratic party to reform. in trying to appease the insurgents, humphrey suggested reforms to the party. but with the background. it was the humphrey nomination that outraged the reformers and caused them to demand fundamental change. >> what is the mood like at the 1968 convention? what is happening in the hall and outside? >> it was a much more tumultuous convention than the 1972 convention because the party itself was so divided over the war and personalities.
that is the year in which there were riots in the streets of chicago. the police department repressed them to the point that it was called a police riot. there was a big fight that the antiwar forces lost that generated tremendous heat. it continued through the convention. even after the nomination of humphrey -- i remember i was there. humphrey was a very sad figure at his own celebratory moment. he knew he was going out on the floor of the convention. there was such criticism of him over the continuation of the war. that was my experience of the
most destructive, but also the most exciting convention in my time. >> compare how humphrey was chosen at the nominee in 1968 to four years later the way mcgovern is chosen. >> a lot of it had to do with the reform rules. in 1968, they were selected as they had been for years by appointment, party bosses, or governors. if you were a party official, you got a free ticket to the 1968 convention by nature of your influence or as an officeholder. in 1972, those people who wanted to go to the convention had to run as delegates, supporting one of the primary candidates. a lot of them picked the wrong
horse because some supported ed muskie, the establishment candidate, and he had all of those officeholders pulling for him. when his campaign disintegrated, he left out of the convention hall. so many new people had never been to a convention. they filled the seats of the high and mighty who went to the convention in 1968. >> jules witcover, covering the 1968 and 1972 conventions for the "los angeles times." we are uncovering george mcgovern, our 13th contender in our 14-week series. back at the mcgovern museum is scott farris, presidential author. he wrote about roosevelt's campaign in 1972. they will take your questions and comments. we will get your phone calls in a little bit. eastern-central time, call 202-
737-0001. mountain-pacific time, call 202-737-0002. scott farris, let me go back to the reforms headed up by george mcgovern. how did he get involved in the mcgovern-frazier convention? >> despite all the chaos, humphrey closed the gap on nixon in 1968. it was a very close campaign. a lot of regulars said they had come very close in 1968. "without the agitation, we would have been fine." the insurgents said this was the last gasp of a dying political machine. humphrey was trying to unite the party. he decided to throw a bone to the insurgents by appointing a commission on delegate selection reform. they needed to look for several qualifications. one, did they have credibility
with the insurgents? they also wanted somebody who was loyal to the party, who would make it worth it for the regulars. mcgovern, unlike mccarthy, had also been concerned -- mcgovern had actually campaigned for humphrey. he never broke from the party. the third thing they were looking for is they were worried that the people would look at this as a way to manipulate the process to ensure the nomination. everyone was so sure george mcgovern would not be a viable candidate in 1972, he seemed like an obvious choice. he could not manipulate the system because his candidacy was a long-shot. he was appointed to the commission to be the chair. there were about two dozen members. people say how were they able to push these reforms through? the people who would most likely be opposed to reform, particularly organized labor, were cut out of the process. the commission was dominated by
those who intended to open up the process while the old regulars did not think it was worth bothering with, they did not think anything would come of it. >> what were the actual reforms? what did they say? >> the most sifnificant thing -- they encouraged most states to use primaries instead of caucuses. if you did have a caucus, you were required to make it open and well-publicized and publicly available. a lot of times previously if you were a party official, you automatically have a chance to be a delegate. a lot of time those party delegates would name others. they would pick whomever they wanted to take. sometimes the decision was made a year before the convention. they tried to open up the process to make it more voter- responsive. they also tried to do away with the winner-take-all format of primaries and the tip
proportional to give insurgent candidates a better chance to build teams and overtake an establishment candidate. most controversially, i suppose, is they decided on a passive approach of no discrimination against anybody who would like to be a delegate. they adopted a very proactive -- delegations had to reflect the makeup of the state's party by gender, ethnicity, race, age. it tried to get more women, minorities, and youth into the process. the party was striving for reasonable representation of those groups. after mcgovern left and a different chair took over, the commission adopted a significant quota that the representation should be equal to the state's population. that was the basic gist of reforms by the commission.
>> do the reforms stick today? >> they very much do. they were derided by conservatives and republicans as a quota system -- democrats were adding this quota as an affirmative action program. alternately, both parties have adopted these reforms. primaries are now referred to as caucuses and they are widely publicized. even though the republicans have been less successful in reaching out to minority voters, if you go to a republican convention, 50% of the delegates are going to be female. that was a radical idea back in 1968. let me give you a couple of quick numbers to give you a sense of how things changed. in 1968, only 20% of the democratic delegates were women. in 1972, 40% were women. in 1972, 12%-13% were african- americans.
there was a change in what the party looks like and it was very dramatic. >> scott farris, the impact today -- is there a long-term impact? we are heading into the 2012 presidential election with the iowa caucus coming up soon. >> reforms help non- establishment candidates get a foothold. if you have good ground and a lot of dedicated volunteers will show up at the caucuses and primaries, you can overcome the disadvantages. as republicans have followed suit, i believe this is the first year that republicans will have no winner-take-all primaries. if an insurgent candidate, newt gingrich is filling the role of the insurgent candidate this year. the establishment candidate is mitt romney.
the irony is newt gingrich is benefiting from reforms first initiated by george mcgovern back in 1972. these reforms have broadened participation. they have stayed with us in both parties, much as the democrats. >> gary hart was george mcgovern's 1972 campaign manager. here is what he had to say about the democratic primary reform efforts. >> i think history will show that he helped save the democratic party simply by chairing the mcgovern reform commission, by his insistence on the democratic party truly becoming a democratic party. because of his efforts and the efforts of many of you, the convention of 1972, as interesting as it was, helped save the democratic party and
helped open the doors for young people, women, minorities, and people who had, up to that time, been shut out. it is fashionable for people to say there is not much difference between the parties, but there really is. there is a necessity for a democratic party and the kind of democratic party george mcgovern envisioned and helped create. >> what is your reaction, jules witcover? to seeing gary hart talk about the reforms? >> mcgovern's role was a critical role. i go back to before 1968. i can remember in 1960 when john kennedy was running. he, his aide, and speech writer would get on an airplane, fly around, and visit governors and
mayors who were so empowered that you could pick up the nomination that way. not with the people, but with the officials and politicians. >> jules witcover, what was it like to see these new faces in 1972 and going forward at the conventions? >> it was very exciting. these people were into it more than some of the ones who had been to 20-30 conventions over their lifetime. they have their hands on the leaders and a new was born to happen. there was a level of uncertainty that was injected by these new people, not only in voting for the nominee but the platform committee hearings that preceded the actual selection of the provincial nominee.
>> scott farris, let me ask you about the short-term impact of these reforms. let's go to the general election. real briefly, if we could, in 1972, the reforms that he puts in place -- do they actually benefit him when it comes to voter turnout to beat richard nixon? >> it helped him get the nomination. he understood the new process because he chaired the reform. i do not think he tried to manipulate it to his benefit, he tried to be open and fair about it. he understood that something had fundamentally changed in the process and he was able to take advantage of that in terms of winning the nomination. some of the others were playing with the older rules. they were caught off guard. his constituency still had not matured. senator mcgovern only got 37.5% of the popular vote in the election. democrats had not yet won over
women. they had not gotten the youth vote the way they have today. if you look at today's democratic party, it has had a lasting impact. if you look at the coalition that mcgovern put together in 1972, highly educated voters. that is the coalition that gave barack obama the presidency in 2008. this is the barry goldwater candidacy that led to the ronald reagan presidency in 1980. you can give george mcgovern quite a bit of credit for the barack obama presidency in 2008. it took a little bit longer for that constituency to meld. the constituency just wasn't ready in 1972. >> tonight's "contender," george mcgovern, the congressman and senator from south dakota, and the democratic nominee party president in 1972. let's get our viewers involved. our first call is from mike in new york. >> mcgovern became the head of
the middle east policy council after deciding not to run for president again in 1992. he submitted a proposal for president clinton calling on the united states to protect access to middle east oil. did president clinton accept the proposal? if so, what happened as it affects others? >> a pretty specific question. scott farris and jules witcover are here shaking their heads. i do not know if they know how to answer that question. scott farris, his legacy? >> he certainly was very interested in middle east affairs. he met with president arafat. he was always interested in helping with the peace agreements. president clinton did not accept that early on. of course, persident clinton at the end of his presidency made a herculean effort to try to make that happen.
he got a lot of grief for saying certain phrases. mcgovern was a very strong supporter of israel, but was very outspoken on palestinian rights. >> we will be speaking more about mcgovern's post-72 convention life, his legacy, and efforts across the world, specifically on hunger. first, let's hear from gordon in illinois. >> i was a college student and voted for mcgovern as a 20-year- old. later on, hearing things of the nixon groups and their dirty tricks, i saw a program where someone claimed that they chose mcgovern as the weakest link for their dirty tricks, and made it easier to predict for mcgovern to get the nomination. have you ever studied that? >> jules witcover, do you want to weigh in on that? >> in the 1972 campaign, there were a lot of dirty tricks aimed at muskie.
he was the front-runner at the time. it was not so much setting it up for mcgovern because he was such a long-shot that it would have been really requiring clairvoyance on the part of people to set a policy. it was more that they wanted to get rid of muskie. they thought he was the toughest candidate. they did a number of things, including spreading word in new hampshire, which had a very heavy french-canadian population, that he used certain words slurring the french-canadians. they had another situation
they had another situation where a number of black voters called, urging people to vote for muskie, assuming that would backfire. there would be a backlash against muskie. these things all came out, but they really were not the reason ed muskie did not get the nomination. muskie's own campaigns had problems that were just as troublesome to him as were mcgovern's. >> we will talk more about ed muskie coming up during the primary of 1971 butfirst, we need to talk about why george mcgovern would run in the first place. scott farris, what makes him decide to run for the presidency in 1972? >> it goes back to 1968 when he filled in for bobby kennedy and
was the standard bearer for his deligates because they wanted him to be a stand-in for kennedy. he participated in a debate between humphrey and gene mccarthy. everyone thought mcgovern had won that debate. it was that moment that he realized he had presidential aspirations because he had gone on a national stage between two of the leading democrats in the country and more than held his own. he began considering a run at that point and decided fairly early in 1969 that he would be a candidate. he felt he was the right person to bring together these old irregulars and the new insurgents and create a democratic majority. also, he personally despised richard nixon. mcgovern rejected the construct of the cold war. he ran against a well-known anti- communist in south dakota. he had always despised him for how he had run against adlai stevenson in 1952 and 1956. he relished the fight and it was
a great incentive for him to run. >> in vietnam -- what is happening between 1968-1972 on that issue? >> nixon said in 1968 he had a secret plan to end the war in vietnam. he ended up escalating the war in 1969 and 1970 by having u.s. troops invade cambodia and trying to disrupt supply lines from north vietnam. early in the nixon presidency, the war seemed to be expanding, not winding down. this outraged the anti-war movement and gave mcgovern more emphasis to run against nixon. later, as it came closer to the election, nixon understood he needed to start disengaging american troops so that by 1972, there were only a couple hundred thousand combat troops in vietnam. as mcgovern was making the decision to run, he thought nixon was escalating the war, not winding it down.
>> 1971, the pentagon papers are first published. what is the impact of this? >> the pentagon papers were not as revealing as they were said to be. a lot of things in the pentagon papers were known. it gave more credibility to what was, at the time, mixed public feelings about protesting the vietnam war. the impression now is that the country was totally in uproar against the war in vietnam in the late 1960's. it really was not. it was split. >> you have the 1970 anti-war protests, the kent state shootings, those kinds of things.
>> these are things nixon very effectively played on. there were just as many people who deplored the mess in the streets, the pictures of these wild-looking young people with their long hair, strange clothes. they offended mainstream america. the war was particularly effective with dealing with the democratic situation. it was a rallying point for voters and activists. nixon also made great use of the war by making slanderous remarks against people who demonstrated. he ran in 1968 and again in 1972 on a law-and-order agenda.
he was going to protect the american people from these rallies who were starting fires and having rallies in the streets. that is why it is painted now that the vietnam war really built the protest. it did do that, but it also solidified opposition to the war to the advantage of richard nixon. >> scott farris, all of this and the impact of the war on mcgovern -- what did it do? >> it caused him to lose
perspective a little bit, to be honest. he thought the war was a terrible mistake. he made several trips to vietnam and saw soldiers who had lost limbs and been crippled for life. he spoke again about the war in terms that were very strong, harsh, and uncompromising. he gave a speech before the u.s. senate in 1970 and said "this chamber reeks of blood." when you use that language, it will energize the anti-war folks, but it disquiets a lot of voters who thought that he would withdraw american without any honor and maybe not worry about what would happen to the prisoners of war there. he was so passionate about war, he used language to describe it. he also wanted to give the american people the sense that they have ownership of this war. they were partly culpable. this was a problem with american society that they could not see what america was doing wrong in vietnam. politically, ultimately, i think it hurt him, certainly in the general election because americans really do not want to hear the country and the military spoken about in that
way. it gave the democrat's image of being "anti military" is one they have tried to shake for several decades. >> was this is motivation for running for president? >> his desire to win the war was the most important thing for him. when he did lose he said, "i feel so strongly about this war that we brought peace that much closer, this campaign was worth it." he felt very passionately that this was the wrong war. what was ironic, he was a war hero himself. he served as a bomber pilot in world war ii. he was not a pacifist. he thought vietnam was a mistake. he thought it was an anti- colonial war. he thought the u.s. had misunderstood it as a war of communist expansion. he did not think that was true. >> we want to talk about the early life of george mcgovern before we talk about the 1972 campaign.
the mcgovern campaign hired a documentary filmmaker, charles guggenheim, to create a series of short films about the candidate. as we turn to tell the story about young george mcgovern, here is a brief look at the guggenheim film. >> he was christened george stanley mcgovern. birthplace, avon, south dakota. he grew up in mitchell and went to school there. but the most important lessons were learned at home. from his mother, a gentle spirit. from his father, christian principles and hard work. his father had spent his boyhood in the illinois coal country where 14 hour days were measured out at 10 cents a bucket. but he found time to read the scriptures and decided to abandon the mines for the pulpit. in 1899, he was ordained a minister. reverend mcgovern built his last church in mitchell when george was five.
as a boy, george had his father's love of history, but he would not be spared the troubles of his own time. the memory would live with him his whole life. >> we are at the mcgovern museum. scott farris, tell us about george mcgovern. what through his life, starting early on, influenced him? defines him? >> it is important to remember his father was a minister in the wesleyan methodist denomination. it is a strict demonimation. it prohibited drinking, dancing, and going to movies. what george mcgovern got from his father was a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong to the point that he is often accused of not being moral, but moralistic.
he got that from his father. he got the notion of right and wrong and the notion of doing good. he wrote a lot about the social gospel -- how to apply christianity to social affairs. feeding the hungry, etc. he was a shy child, which would later influence him. he perhaps even had a learning disability and was slow. when a couple of teachers realized he was very shy, they forced him to read aloud in class when he was in high school. he had a history teacher and debate coach. they encouraged mcgovern to be a debater. he was exceptional as a debater. he won a number of debates and won a scholarship to go to wesleyan. he and his team won some national competitions. that early childhood formed him in terms of becoming a public figure.
he cared a lot -- he was a good communicator, a good speaker, made good arguments, but also cared a lot about principles and public policy. >> world war ii. >> he had another teacher in world war ii. he had a gym teacher that told mcgovern to jump over a vaulting horse. mcgovern could not bring himself to do it. the teacher said he was a physical coward. that really stung mcgovern. he thought about it for a number of years. at dakota wesleyan, a classmate said he would like him to take flying lessons. mcgovern said he was afraid to fly, but he remembered what the gym teacher had said years before and decided to take pilot lessons. he became a pilot. when japan bombed pearl harbor, mcgovern and his friends drove down to omaha and enlisted in the army air corps.
he became a pilot of b-24 bombers. he was stationed in italy. he flew 35 combat missions, which is what you were required to fly before you could go home. he was a skilled pilot. he was admired by his crew of 10. the b-24 was a hard plane to fly. he had emergency landings that were very risky, but every time he brought he and his crew home safely. for that he won the distinguished flying cross and was a war hero. later in life, after he developed a friendship with historian stephen ambrose, ambrose wrote "wild blue" which highlighted the air war during war ii. >> how does his early political career define his presidential candidacy? >> he initially had thought he would be a teacher. he initially thought he would be a minister.
when he came back from the war, he entered the seminary to follow in his father's footsteps. he discovered the only thing he liked about the ministry was giving sermons. he thought everything else was not up his alley. he switched to history and got a doctorate degree in history. he is only one of two men who had a ph.d. nominated for president. he had a background in eastern europe that led him to believe the cold war concept was all wrong. the soviet union was not attempting world domination. it was simply protecting the traditional fear of influence. he was born to be a professor, but he was also very interested in politics. he got active in the 1952 stevenson campaign in south dakota. he started writing letters to the editor. he caught the eye of state democrats who asked if he would be interested in becoming the
executive secretary of the south dakota democratic party. the democrats in south dakota at that point were in bad shape. there were 110 legislators in south dakota in 1953 -- two were democrats. it was quite a challenge. mcgovern thought it was a challenge worth taking. he slowly built up the democratic party. he recruited party workers, candidates, raised money, wrote speeches. the democrats got 24 seats in 1954. in 1956, mcgovern took the party he helped build up and ran for congress. he won again in 1958 when he defeated a former south dakota governor. in 1960, he made his first bid for the united states senate. he lost to a longtime senator from south dakota. john kennedy felt that perhaps his candidacy had brought mcgovern down, so he offered mcgovern a position to run a program in the kennedy administration.
>> we are talking about george mcgovern's legacy, his candidacy. we are going to delve into the primary run he made in 1971. before we do that, let's go to akron, ohio. go ahead. >> thank you, and good evening c-span. thank-you for this wonderful series. i only hope some day you will do one about the cabinet. anyway, my comment and my question is i heard somewhere -- i do not know what the truth is behind this -- but moments before senator robert f. kennedy was assassinated in 1968 after winning the california primary, senator mcgovern was actually participating in a phone conversation with senator kennedy. i wondered if it has been
revealed what the conversation was about and if you know anything about that phone conversation? >> jules witcover? >> i have never heard that. i was in the hotel kitchen at the time robert kennedy was assassinated. i spent a great deal of time since then exploring all of the details of the time leading up to robert kennedy's death. i have never run across that story. i do know that in his hotel room, he made a call to a number of people to look forward to the next phase of the campaign. he was going to new york to campaign for delegates there. he did talk to many people. he may well have talked to senator mcgovern as well. there was a primary in south dakota the same night. i have not heard he actually talked to him, but it is possible.
>> mike in california, thanks for joining us. >> hello. just a few things i want to throw out. anthony lucas in "nightmare" said dirty tricks were central to the narrative of the campaign. i think nixon ran a backlash campaign rather than a law-and- order. unfortunately, the only state mcgovern carried was massachusetts. i am from there. at the time we proudly festooned our cars with bumper stickers saying "do not blame me, i am from massachusetts." that is all i have to say. >> george mcgovern always resented the implication that he won the nomination because richard nixon became involved with the dirty tricks against
muskie. mcgovern said he always thought ed muskie was a weak front runner. he did not have the fire in the belly. he clearly did not understand that the rules had changed because of the reform commission. the notion that muskie lost the nomination simply because of nixon's dirty tricks, senator mcgovern always thought that was bunk. the nixon campaign was always doing little things. they had plenty of stories. they would find that the buses had been canceled before rallies and they could not get people to and from. they would see somebody at a mcgovern rally holding up the hammer and sickle flag of the soviet union flag. they always assumed that was a nixon plant. there were dirty tricks involved, but he did not believe that was why he won the nomination. >> john in virginia. >> i read "wild blue" and only then learned about mcgovern's
war record. i remember the 1972 campaign. it was the first time i could vote. but i do not recall mcgovern ever mentioning his war record. i think it would have given his anti-war stance more credibility if he had. can you comment on that? >> before our guests comment on that, i want to show what george mcgovern had to say about his experience as a world war ii bomber pilot. c-span sat down with him recently in his office in mitchell, south dakota. here he is in his own words and then we'll come back and talk about it. >> i flew 35 missions in a b-24 bomber, which was the biggest one we had at that time. it was before the b-52.
we were hitting the most heavily defended targets in europe. they shot us to pieces on some of those missions. i wanted to bail out and i wanted my crew to bail out, but i have a little scotch blood and i knew the planes cost about $300,000. that is nothing by today's standards. we have a b-1 that costs $1 billion, but it was a lot of money then. i started bringing those planes back to home base. for that, i got a distinguished flying cross. >> there it is at the mcgovern museum. we are live for our contenders series on george mcgovern. how does a war hero become an anti-war presidential candidate? why did he not talk about his military service?
>> it was the subject of a lot of debate about how much he should emphasize his war record. he did mention it from time to time. he never just completely ignored it, but he was specifically encouraged by his staff to exclude it from his nomination acceptance speech. the rationale was that they could not be antiwar and discuss his war record. it would have been to his benefit if he had talked about it a little bit more because people got the mistaken idea that he was a pacifist who did not believe in using the armed services for any purpose. he endorsed the use of force in kosovo. he was not a pacifist, but it was a decision they felt he should not mention being an anti-war candidate. >> was his war hero status talked about? >> he had a duty to the campaign.
he had a slogan when he wound up his speeches late in the campaign about leaving war behind and coming home. another one of his slogans was "come home america." it is in the context of that that there were some references to his wartime experience. >> before we talk a little bit more about george mcgovern's primary run, let's take this phone call from massachusetts. jill, you are on the air. >> i recall watching senator mcgovern and robert woodbridge at the time of president ford's funeral. they were interviewing george mcgovern. talking about his friendship with president ford. he said in the end he had voted for ford in 1976. he said he discussed it with his family afterwards and found they had done that as well.
i about fell off my chair because i am a strong democrat. i wonder if that has come into the midst of information about senator mcgovern -- ever? >> scott farris? >> he did have great affection for gerald ford. i do not know that he actually voted for him, but he had problems with carter. a couple of reasons. president carter had not been very supportive of him in 1972 even though president carter basically borrowed the mcgovern strategy to get his nomination in 1976. he was also a little hurt that the magnitude of senator mcgovern's loss was he was a bit of a pariah in democratic circles. he was not given a starring role in the next convention. i am sure there were some hurt feelings. he worked with a number of republicans. he and bob dole partnered for almost an entire lifetime on the issue of ending hunger in the
world. he was capable of working across the aisle. he was not an ideologue who never worked in a bipartisan manner. >> george mcgovern, the world war ii hero, the congressman from south dakota, the senator from there decides to make a run for the presidency. having decided to run, mcgovern announces his candidacy from sioux falls, south dakota on january 18, 1971. here is a piece of the campaign film put together by charles guggenheim on mcgovern's decision to make that presidential run. >> this country was conceived by men who had a dream of human dignity and justice and concern for each other. if we begin now to match our policies with our ideas, then i believe it is yet possible that
we will come to admire this country, not simply because we were born here, but because of the kind of great and good land that you and i want it to be and that, together, we have made. that is my hope. that is my reason for seeking the presidency of the united states. [applause] >> jules witcover, what are mcgovern's chances heading into the primary in 1971? >> considered very slim. he was not a really dynamic personality. he was a very calm man. very soft-spoken. he lacked fire except when he talked about the war in vietnam.
>> was he considered dull? >> some considered him dull. his niceness was sometimes ridiculed, but it was genuine. when he ran in the first primaries, he was regarded basically as a weak replacement for robert kennedy because robert kennedy was so dynamic as a candidate. it was also because there is a certain uncertainty to be the nominee at that time. humphrey had been very impressive as the nominee in 1968. he was also a rather soft-spoken man most of the time, but he had a terrible temper that sometimes came through. that seldom happened with george mcgovern.
>> who else was running and how do they compare to george mcgovern? >> fred harris of oklahoma. >> they were all bunched up together. it was muskie's nomination to lose. some of the things that happened in new hampshire, including appearing to cry in a furious moment outside the local newspapers for things that had been printed about his wife. there was some dispute about whether he was actually crying or not. it was snowing at the time and muskie, himself, said he was not
crying. that was the impression, nevertheless. the only reason his candidacy collapsed in new hampshire was because of his position on vietnam. he could not make up his mind where he stood on vietnam. mcgovern left no doubt where he stood on the war. another point, mcgovern was genuinely against the war, but he was belittled in those days. although he was revered by the people who were against the war in vietnam, there were other people who did not see it that way. they would not dream of voting for george mcgovern. >> charles guggenheim filmed part of the campaign, including the senators speaking to a group of vietnam war veterans at a hospital. here is a little bit of that conversation. >> they love their country, there is no question about that.
you are about halfway mad at it, are you not? >> when you lose control of your bowels, your bladder, your sterility where you cannot father a child, you'll never walk again for the rest of your life, you are 23-years old, you do not want to be a burden for your family -- do you know where you go from here? a nursing home. and you stay there until you rot. nobody thinks of a disabled veteran or a disabled anybody except another disabled person. if you fall out of your wheelchair, do you know who is the first person to come to be some help? a guy in a wheelchair, not somebody who is walking. >> one of the unconscionable facts of this day is what you just said -- people who are desperately in need of help cannot qualify for it under the present system. i love the united states, but i love it enough that i want to
see some changes made. the american people want to believe in the government and their country. i want to provide the kind of leadership that would help restore that kind of faith. i do not think i can do it alone. of course i cannot. but the president can help set a new tone in this country. he can help raise the hope of the american people. that is what i am trying to do. >> scott farris, the impact of george mcgovern's tone in that campaign film and the impact on his primary run. >> how often do you hear politicians talking that candidly about the price of war? very seldomly, if ever. one person said, let me tell you why george lost the election. america is a great country.
it has faults, but george acted like he was angry at the country. you cannot talk about the nation's faults and expected to be elected. that shocked mcgovern. george thought that was not true. he thought that patriotism was pointing out the country's false and trying to improve them. many people interpreted it as him tearing down the united states by talking so graphically about the cost of war, our conduct their, and even why we were there in the first place. >> so, how does george mcgovern overcome this and then win the nomination? >> again, he was a bit of a
political savant. he was an organizational genius. he understood what it would take to win. we talk about what a good guy he was, and that is true. we should not overlook the fact that he was intensely ambitious as well. he tells the story of himself sometimes. a friend said to him, george, you are the most lauded, self effacing egomaniac i know. and that was true. he had what it tuck in terms of becoming president by putting in the long hours. gary hart's campaign manager said that muskie would go for the jugular if that is what it took. he had a concept of how to win that involved all of these
insurgents who would organize, flood the early caucus states and story of get him out of these places he was polling at only 1% or 2% and organize. he pulled off a very strong second place showing in the iowa caucus, a very strong second place showing in new hampshire. it showed that muskie was vulnerable. it caused hubert humphrey to get into the race. he nearly won ohio. we will talk about california a little bit more. he had better organization. he worked harder and he had the devotion of the anti-war insurgents that nobody else really had. >> jules witcover, what was the media making of this grassroots strategy at the time? were you paying attention to it? >> we were paying more attention to muskie, because muskie was supposed to be the winner. his staff made a terrible mistake in new hampshire. one of his leading campaign people predicted that -- she said, if ed muskie does not win 50% of the vote, i will eat my hat.
he won 46% of the vote, but against that prediction, mcgovern was essentially the winner of the new hampshire primary and muskie did not recover from that. if muskie had not stumbled -- mcgovern knowing the game, which he invented, the delegate selection rules, probably would have won anyway, but the fact that muskie had this string of mistakes and bad luck certainly provided the opening for mcgovern. >> and george wallace? the role of him in this primary? >> well, wallace was a spoiler. he tried to be a spoiler. he got past muskie in florida.
wallace won the florida primary and muskie finished fourth. that was kind of the last nail in muskie's coffin and another thing that opened up the way for mcgovern. >> so, muskie stumbled, but did mcgovern make any mistakes in this primary? >> he would later. he got a little complacent, oddly enough. he came from 100-1 odds to win the nomination, but he stumbled badly in california. he came into california riding all of these sudden victories. it came down to him and hubert humphrey. it came down to the california primary. george mcgovern got a lot of good press early on because he was the underdog. but he lost in california. everyone assumed he was going to win in a blowout, but it turned out to be very close. it nearly derailed his
nomination. >>we are going to get into that a little bit more, but i want to first talk about dirty tricks. a couple of callers have brought that up. what were some of the dirty tricks happening in the campaign? >> most of them are in new hampshire. we have already talked about the thing that was done to muskie, but throughout the campaign, dirty tricks were integral to nixon's strategy because that is the way they did business. the whole watergate break-in was a manifestation of their desire not only to win, but to destroy the whole campaign, which was
really personified by nixon himself. it was to decimate the opposition, not to take chances. it led to the exits we saw soon after the watergate break-in. >> where does the tag line of amnesty after an abortion come from? explain what it is and where it comes from. >> remarkably, it came from his future running mate, at least according to bob novak in his posthumous memoirs. they were purblished just a little while ago. eagleton allegedly said he could not possibly have a chance because he favors
amnesty, abortion and marijuana. that was later changed to acid just for added value. that was a little unfair. he did not support legalization of marijuana. he would go to college campuses and say, you have heard in the candidate who is supposed to legalize pot. the college campuses would go wild, and he would say, that is not true. the crowds would sit on their hands. he did not favor amnesty for deserters. he did favor for conscientious objectors. and for some of those who avoided the draft in other ways. as for abortion, he believed abortion should remain a decision made at the state level, not the federal level. had he been asked about roe v wade, he would have opposed the
basic construct, because it was a federal matter. people were trying to put a peacenik, hippie image on him. >> the line about amnesty, abortion and marijuana was a dirty trick, but it is so common in politics, even now. one side takes action to sabotage the other side. >> at the time that you heard that line, what did you make of it? >> not much. >> did you write about it? >> i do not remember what i wrote about it, but i would not have put it in the category of being a dirty trick. it is the sort of thing that would go on both sides come back and forth, always has done, and probably will continue to do. georgee talking about mcgovern, our 13th contender in our 14-week series. go ahead.
>> i was a 17-year-old college student at the time and volunteered for the mcgovern campaign, but i was not able to vote in that election. but my question is, the break-in of the democratic headquarters at the watergate did not appear to be exploited and announced that much by the mcgovern campaign at the time. why was there so much caution with the campaign not to denounce the break-in? it seems to me that the sinister aspects of the break-in may have been a very effective factor and reason for people not to re-elect nixon.
i would like to conclude lastly that mr. mcgovern appears to be the only living contender who is available, and i wondered if he was invited to participate in your program tonight. >> he was invited to participate, and we had planned that he would join us. unfortunately, he took a spill earlier this evening and will not be able to make it. he is doing fine, but regrettably, will not be able to make it this evening. let's take the caller's comments about the watergate break-in. why did the governor not make more of it? >> he certainly tried. the watergate story did not take off the way it should have, the way we would have expected it to. one of the reasons is kind of an inside journalism story. a lot of newspapers including the los angeles times had editors who felt that the story was unprovable and that the washington post was hanging out there by themselves. they did not always jump in on it.
the governor himself had his way with it, but it did not catch on with the press the way he would have wanted it to. >> were the american people reading about it? >> you have to remember that the most discriminating aspects of watergate were revealed after the campaign was over, when the trial began and one of the defendants told the judge that there was more to the story than had come out. a lot of the stuff that came out was too late for it to be of any benefit to mcgovern, but he certainly did try. >> we have discussed the primary. let's go up to the convention.
here is george mcgovern at the convention in miami, joking about giving his speech at 2:30 a.m. >> chairman o'brien, chairman byrd, senator kennedy, senator eagleton and my fellow citizens, i am happy to join you for this benediction of our friday sunrise service. [applause] i assume that everyone here is impressed with my control of this convention and with my choice for vice president, challenged only by 39 other nominees.
>> we are back live from mitchell south dakota at the george mcgovern and museum. scott farris, a presidential author, george mcgovern is this speech at 2:30 a.m. >> they had tried to do away with winner take all primaries, but they granted an exception for california. they realize there was a strong in certain feeling in california that would benefit who ever the insurgent candidate turned out to be.
those were the rules adopted and everybody understood that. they went to the california primary, the last primary before the convention, and now the race had narrowed down to mcgovern and humphrey. mcgovern was expected to win big. humphrey actually came within five points. at that point, humphrey then said, why should california be winner take all? the commission had talked about a proportional displacement of delegates. why should california be different? i should get half of the delegates from california, because he was trying to stop george mcgovern. they were actually good friends. they had a lot in common. and george mcgovern was shocked that humphrey was going to such lengths to change california. this went all the way to the
convention floor where humphrey had proposed an alternative delegation that were half humphrey supporters and half mcgovern supporters. mcgovern wad trying to beat that back. wednesday was the day they were supposed to submit their vice presidential nominees. people had been up all night. they were having a floor fight over the delegate convention. they did not have a short list of vice-presidential nominees. that was not wildly different than in the past. generally, they did not name the vice presidential nominee until the convention. because of the fiasco in 1972 when eagleton was picked, nominees are now picked well ahead of the convention so that
they can be vetted. it took down to where they could finally get somebody to run as the running mate. he finally submitted the name just a few minutes before the deadline. by that time, he had angered the feminists. they had put a woman nominee yet. that encouraged other people to put up a whole bunch of nominees, a total of 39, some goofy, some serious. by the time they got the balloting done and nominated his running mate, it was almost 3:00 in the morning. >> who was on the possible short list of vice-presidential candidates? >> it started out as a long list. the night that they were supposed to pick the nominee, that morning at the hotel in miami, he called together the staff, and they sat around this big green covered table in the hotel, and slips of paper were passed around to all of the
staff members. all of the staff members were in on the decision as to who should be the vice president. they would write their opinion on a piece of paper and then it would be collected and they would total them. about 20 different people were nominated, and then they narrowed it down to about 10. and then they narrowed it down to six. i do not think i could name all six, but among that group, in addition to eagleton, were ted kennedy, who had said several times he did not want to do it, o'brien, the campaign manager, rubikoff, the governor of connecticut, and two or three others.
they would take a ballot, take another one and another one, and finally they got down to two people. they were eagleton and kevin white, who was a mayor at the time. after some more discussion, they decided it should be kevin white. and they actually called kevin white and offered him the nomination, and he said he would take it. but an economist and member of the massachusetts delegation called the governor and said, you cannot take kevin white. the massachusetts delegation will walk out. ted kennedy will object.
he had to back off and de- nominate kevin white. that left eagleton. another reporter and i were hanging around outside this meeting for a couple of hours. when it finally broke up, we went into the room and found all the pieces of paper. they were torn up. we meticulously put them all together and spent about two hours patching them together to determine who it was going to be. there were so many names and so many little pieces, we wasted our time. >> there was no consensus among the staff. >> they had decided by that time that it would be eagleton, but all of those pieces of paper were there, and we did not know they had made a decision, so we
wasted about two hours playing detective, trying to figure out who it was. >> why did all of these potential running mates say no? when he does choose eagleton, eagleton except. who does that appeal to? >> most of them said no because they thought he was going to lose. even though senator mcgovern had some very good reasons why he thought he would win, nobody thought it would happen. nobody wanted to be associated with a losing campaign. his tactical error was that he thought he could convince senator kennedy to be his running mate. he spent way too much time trying to convince senator kennedy instead of trying to find someone else. what he wanted to do was represent the insurgent wing of the party. it was the same problem hubert humphrey had in 1968. he wanted to unify the democrats. he was looking for someone who would be acceptable to labor, and urban ethnic, a catholic. that is why kevin white was considered and eagleton fit the bill. eagleton had some presidential aspirations of his own.
the communications director and top strategist called senator eagleton and said, is there anything in your past we should know about? and senator eagleton said no, no there was not. >> we will talk more about that eagleton decision and the fallout from it, but first, let me speak to ed in morristown, new jersey. go ahead. >> senator mcgovern took of robert kennedy's banner in 1968. how much support did he receive from the kennedy forces after he received the nomination and added a kennedy member, as you are about to discuss, to the ticket? >> do you want to take that one? >> the campaign enthusiastically for him. the kennedy family campaigned enthusiastically for him. when eagleton was dropped from
the ticket, sargent shriver agreed to be his running mate. they had a great affection for senator mcgovern. he was viewed as a strong ally of robert kennedy. he called him the most decent man in the u.s. senate. the kennedy family was behind him 100%. >> michael in ohio. you are next. >> this talk about the vice president's pick and so on is an example of how messed up that whole scenario seemed to be. what i always wondered was how come the democratic party never stood behind hubert humphrey, who only four years earlier had a very close election with
president nixon, and why they would not have backed him all along instead of him just becoming another person trying to run for office? >> jules witcover. >> one reason was that humphrey had been a presidential candidate before that and had not made it. muskie was so strong, and also you have to remember that nixon -- not nixon, but lyndon b. johnson, was the standard bearer in 1968 until he decided to drop out. humphrey did not get into that race until lbj dropped out.
he did not have the apparatus to go on. i think he probably would have been a good candidate. >> colorado, bud. you are on the air. >> thank you for taking my call and thank you very much for doing this series. we're talking tonight about one of my very favorite americans. the very first campaign that i was ever involved in. i have always been rather amazed at how much this country dismissed senator mcgovern and was willing to reelect richard nixon. i read jules witcover's book of the year it came out, while i was in college. i could not quite get it. i think the senator has proven himself over decades to be a very great american, and i'm
really grateful for c-span presenting this program. >> jules witcover. >> i would agree with the caller that mcgovern was an underrated, under appreciated candidate. he was up against a candidacy, nixon's, that was very aggressive and destruction, and he made some mistakes in his own campaign. they did him in. without the conflicts of the campaign, the dirty tricks and so on, i wonder if he could have won the election. >> well, let's get into nixon's role and the mistakes mcgovern made.
but first, we need to talk about the choice of eagleton. here is the former campaign aide frank explaining the choice. >> the problem was that we had a very tough road to the nomination. it was not clear until the second day of the convention because of an ugly fight involving california, that george mcgovern would get the nomination. that took a lot of time and concentration. it got kind of chaotic. there were three or four days in which to choose a vice president, two days, really. two days, two nights. we all got together and talked. we named names, through some names around.
tom eagleton was, by all measurements, a good candidate. george mcgovern was from a small agricultural state in the north. tom eagleton was from a border state, a catholic with strong ties to labor. on key issues, he was in agreement with mcgovern. it looked like a pretty good fit. you have to remember that we did not have any fbi, any security agencies available to check anybody out. we assumed that tom eagleton who had run statewide and won four or five times as he had, if there was anything but could have come out about him, it would have come out. >> what were you being told about the candidate?
>> the vetting candidates was a very casual sort of thing at that time. there was no indication that there was anything wrong with it. there was very little time, or any reason really, not to take his word for it that he had done nothing that would damage the campaign. >> after the convention, you go to sioux falls. what is happening? what is the story about eagleton? >> i was not there at the time that eagleton went there and met with mcgovern. word came that eagleton had had mental health problems and had
taken psychotherapy twice. mcgovern was satisfied with eagleton's explanation. there was not only support of him, but he made the mistake of saying he was for him 1000%. it was hard to back away from that when they realized the reaction they were getting after the disclosure of eagleton's problems. it was clearly going to damage the campaign. >> what happened next? >> there are trying to find a delicate way out of it and they were not able to do that. a couple of things happened. once the rumors -- or the truth came out about senator eagleton's treatment for depression, which is what he
had been diagnosed with. he was also accused of being a drunk driver, which turned out to be false. there was a sense that he was being picked on. a lot of people have mental and as. he said he was fine. why shouldn't he stay on the ticket? there was initially hoped he would quietly resign and go away, but senator eagleton was not feeling that way. he felt his reputation had been damaged. even though senator mcgovern said he was behind thomas eagleton 1000%, he was quietly trying to figure out how to get him off the ticket. there was a very long dance
trying to negotiate eagleton voluntarily resigning from the ticket. what happened was that eagleton essentially wrote out the statement that senator mcgovern would make, and there would be no reference to these mental health problems. that was the only condition under which he would resign. of course, this is now an albatross on the campaign. the struggle to replace eagleton took a very long time. senator muskie called a news conference to announce that he had declined being the nominee. eventually, he turned to sargent shriver, who had been one of the earlier choices but had been out of the country during the democratic nomination. now he was back. he said he would do it. he turned out to be an effective campaigner, but it was disastrous. the campaign was very hurt by the eagleton affair.
it is possible he still never would have won, but he may have carried 10 or 15 states and carried 47% of the vote instead of 37% of the vote. there was a question of character. many people believed richard nixon was a knockoff of joe mccarthy. they cannot understand how the appeal to middle america. but because senator mcgovern had gone back and forth and maybe not been totally honest about eagleton, nixon now seemed more trustworthy. that hurt him very deeply. he was very sad about that. he now realize that the question was about his character, not nixon's. that was one of the factors that kept water gate from being a big story.
people could not put watergate in context, initially. why would they break into democratic headquarters? nobody knew it was part of a broader strategy of sabotaging democratic campaigns. the bigger story was the eagleton affair, not watergate, and that is one of the reasons the democrats could not capitalize on watergate. >> we'll talk more about what is happening with nixon at this time, but first, let me show you a couple of campaign ads from this. >> one of the reasons i am disturbed by the president's $10 million secret election fund is that it indicates that there is something he is afraid to disclose. what are they hiding? i am perfectly willing to publish to be donated every single dollar to my campaign. but the president is covering it up. it is the sort of thing that puts the tarnish on the whole
nation. >> i can only say the thing that motivated my change was a year of collecting pure, unaffected facts. >> i want to make this pledge to sammy and everybody here. whether you're young, old, black, white, i believe in the american dream. sammy davis believes in it. we have seen it in our own lives. years from now, i hope you can look back and say this was one of your best votes. thank you.
>> what is happening with nixon at this point in the general election? how is he campaigning? >> nixon is coasting, basically. he had a very, very disciplined campaign. it was a carryover from his campaign in 1968, where everything was orchestrated, down to the finest detail. that caution came out of his defeat in 1960 when he made the mistake of pledging to go to every state, and campaigned dawn to dusk. as a result of that, he looked terrible. we will all recall the debate he had with john f. kennedy, where he looked like he was going to expire. so, he and his brain trust decided that the best way to run richard nixon was to limit what he did and always have him
at his best. it happened in 1968 and again in 1972. >> what was it like for you to cover the mcgovern campaign versus the nixon campaign? how were they different? >> i covered them both. one difference was that mcgovern was running desperately. they knew that they were not catching on. they traveled widely. it was one of the first campaigns were jet planes were used extensively and they could go back and forth across the country in a day. just as humphrey had done when he lost to nixon in 1968, campaigning too much. one of the successes for nixon in 1968 and 1972 was that the campaign realized that if you gave television just one face to use on the evening news, making it the best face you
could. only do that one piece. whereas humphrey campaigned, as i said earlier, from dawn to dusk. he made a lot of mistakes. he made some good choices. but the media will always pick the most controversial thing, so nine times out of 10, humphrey would look bad and nixon would look good. the same thing applied in 1972 with mcgovern and nixon. >> what is the nixon campaign doing to try to weaken mcgovern? >> again, they are trying to paint him as a radical, out of touch with the american mainstream. there also staying above the fray, talking about the accomplishments of the nixon administration. and we talk about why mcgovern
thought he had a chance to win. he had a number of accomplishments. nixon's first year in office was very controversial. he had expanded the war in vietnam, and domestically, he raised a lot of hackles by instituting wage control. there was inflation. he began the americanization of the war in vietnam, bringing troops home to try to quell the anti-war demonstrations. he tried to counter his image as a pro-warmonger by going to china and establishing relations. he managed to orchestrate events so that his presidency
reached its peak in 1972. his great accomplishments in office occurred in 1972 and took away a lot of the arguments about why he should not be supported. two other things about misjudgments he made. he thought george wallace was going to run again as a third- party candidate and siphon a lot of votes from nixon not only in the south but in the industrial northeast. of course wallace was the victim of an assassination attempt right before the maryland primary, was paralyzed, and was not able to continue the race. he also thought the youth vote would come out in mass in in his favor. surprisingly, he barely won the 18-20 year-old demographic, which showed that despite all of the attention given to anti- war activists, a lot of americans were still very conservative.
>> we know how this story ends. george mcgovern loses in one of the second worst landslides in american history. what is the mood of the campaign? campaignou're on the plane, and you're in this tube flying around the country, you do not know what is going on in the rest of the country. millions of people believed they were going to win and that they could win. the defeat was crashing to them. >> we need to, as we wrap up this discussion about the general election, we want to move on to the legacy of george mcgovern. but first, a little bit of the senator from his concession speech.
then you'll hear a secret white house recording of a phone conversation between president nixon and the special assistant for national security, henry kissinger. >> we suspect that president nixon will come out of this the winner with about 60% of the popular vote and somewhere between 450-500 or more electoral votes. >> i hope that in the next four years you will lead us to a time of peace abroad and justice at home. you have my full support in such efforts with best wishes to you and your gracious wife, pat. sincerely, george mcgovern. >> dr. kissinger and senator humphrey are speaking. it will be a few moments before we can get him. i have dr. kissinger. go ahead, please.
>> hello, mr. president. i wanted to extend my warmest congratulations. >> we all knew it was going to happen. we got our 60%. >> one could not really be sure until we had seen. >> we got every state except massachusetts, and maybe minnesota. what a critic. did you hear that concession statement? he was very gracious at the beginning. he sent me a wire saying i look forward to working with you and your supporters for peace in the years ahead. i am not going to send in that kind of wire. would you agree? >> absolutely. he was not generous, unworthy. >> i responded in a decent way.
it was as far as i could go, but i am not going to spend much time on him. >> you are looking at one of the cue cards from george mcgovern's concession speech. jules witcover, was his concession speech reviewed by others as not gracious? >> i do not think so. it took a paranoid personality like richard nixon to take it that way. >> scott farris, your reaction? >> it was generally pretty gracious. nixon's telegram to george
mcgovern was not particularly warm and friendly either. they both knew that they did not like each other. most people have not gone back and read all of the concession speeches in american history. i actually did that for my book. george mcgovern does get a little more testy than some of the others. barry goldwater is another one. apparently, when you lose in a landslide you're not feeling that good. during nixon's second inaugural, george mcgovern was in england at oxford, and gave a speech in which he was very critical of nixon. that actually caused a lot more comments than the concession speech he gave. i think the concession speech was in the realm of what is expected of a losing candidate. but the speech in oxford in
1973, a lot of people criticized him for saying those things, especially to a foreign audience. >> we're going to move on to what george mcgovern did after he ran for president in 1972. but first we're going to get to ed in ohio. >> good evening. there is an important article that george mcgovern wrote that was in the washington journal. it is my advice to obama. he went on to say, first, i will order all troops out of iraq and afghanistan by thanksgiving.
>> ed, i am going to leave it there because we're getting a lot of feedback. you have to turn your television down. scott farris, pick it up there with george mcgovern and his impact on president obama. his antiwar views. >> he created a coalition that represents the modern democratic party, the party that elected barack obama in 2008. the obama campaign in 2007-2008 tended to mirror george mcgovern, an insurgent candidate against a more established candidate, hillary clinton. clearly, president obama followed the george mcgovern blueprint to a certain degree. in terms of the war, george mcgovern has said two things. first, he has been disappointed
that president obama has escalated american involvement in afghanistan. he has criticized that and suggested that afghanistan could become another vietnam, which of course was the centerpiece of his campaign. he has offered obama a lot of praise, but also expressed his concerns as well. >> duncan in ohio, go ahead. >> thank you for having me. i was just curious if you had ever heard of an organization called bildeberg, and whether george mcgovern had been to a meeting with them? >> i have not heard of that. >> we continue to talk about george mcgovern and his post- 1972 career. this is bill clinton, who
actually ran the george mcgovern campaign in texas, as many of you know. >> think of just the highlights of this fascinating life. pilot, a teacher, congressman, senator, first director of food for peace, author with senator dole of the food stamp program, courageous critic of the vietnam war, first and only person from south dakota so far to be nominated for president, united nations delegate under presidents ford and carter, advocate for disarmament and peace in the middle east. when i was president, united nations ambassador to the food and agriculture organization, recipient of the medal of freedom, and with senator dole, the inspiration for the school funding program. george did not tell you what
happened with the $300 million. there are 130 million children in this world who never darkened a schoolhouse door. their idea was to say to poor kids across the world and to their parents, you can have one good nutritious meal a day no matter how poor you are, but you have to come to school to get it. after we passed that little bit the initiative in a multi- trillion dollar budget, school enrollment around the world in the first year went up by more than 6 million children. >> scott farris, explain why george mcgovern had a passion on this issue and its impact. >> two reasons. one, he was a generally compassionate man. he saw hunger during the depression. he saw hunger during the war.
as a senator from a farm state, he also understood how this was a program with a marvelous capacity to produce food. other farm state senators like senator dole saw the opportunity in this as well. one of the things senator mcgovern did, when the food for peace program was first initiated under the eisenhower administration, it was seen as a way to get rid of agricultural surpluses that the government had purchased, a program from the new deal. george mcgovern said it is a humanitarian thing. it is about feeding the hungry, especially children. he took the food for peace
program, which was a minor program under eisenhower, and dramatically in creased its scope. in six months, he distributed six times as much food as the eisenhower administration had delivered in six years. millions of children around the world got a school lunch. it was probably the greatest humanitarian effort of the kennedy administration, including the peace corps. >> we have about 10 minutes left, talking about george mcgovern. as we told you earlier, we invited senator mcgovern to be on our program this evening. unfortunately, he took a spill earlier tonight and was unable to join us. he has been flown to sioux falls south dakota for further medical attention. unfortunately, he could not be with us. we wish him the best of health. jake in sioux falls, s.d., go ahead. >> excellent program tonight. my question is whether george
mcgovern was ever electable in 1972. could he have been elected if he had avoided eagleton debacle or the late-night speech? >> the conditions we have talked about at some length to night were a mixed bag in the campaign. for all this support that george mcgovern got from war protestors, there were just as many people who did not look at the war that way. they did not think it was a disaster. their attitudes were shaped by president nixon, who played on their patriotism and played on their emotions, and turned the demonstrations that helped
george mcgovern into almost a national disgrace in a way that helped nixon. >> was his political career over after 1972? >> he continued to serve in the united states senate. he was reelected in south dakota pretty handily in 1974. by that time, watergate had come about and president nixon had resigned. senator mcgovern felt a bit of vindication. it is unfortunate that his defeat was so total in 1972 that he was not mentioned as a candidate in 1976. in 1980, there was a big republican wave that brought ronald reagan into office. many democrats lost their seats in congress. in 1984, george mcgovern launched another quixotic bid for the presidency.
he was up against gary hart and former vice president walter mondale. george mcgovern got kudos for being a thoughtful presence. he got credit for trying to heal some of the wounds within the party. he maintained a very active life in public affairs, going back to this passion for addressing world hunger. with bill clinton, he helped work on the world food program, which helped to feed many people. hunger and nutrition remains his passion today, as well as reminding people of liberal values. >> thank you very much. i think you guys have done your
studies. i want to just remind everybody to remember george after "losing" and election. i do not think he lost. i think he moved on to be much better things, like you folks were just talking about with the world hunger program. george has survived wars, being in antiwar person yet willing to step up for our country. i think he is a great peacekeeper, and he understands world politics like we do not understand. my question is, for our country, who in 2012 is the closest candidate that can carry out george mcgovern's policies? who is the closest, best option that we have? >> it is barack obama.
i do not think that any of the republican candidates represent anything akin to the sorts of things that george mcgovern running for president in 1972 or the objectives he has carried out the rest of his life. >> what kind of president would george mcgovern have been? >> i actually think he would have been a pretty good president. i base that on the food for peace program. one of the things you need to bring to the presidency is certain executive management skills. what he did with the food for peace program, without a lot of money, indicates that he was able to carry things out. had he become president, he may have had a difficult time getting us out of vietnam in a way that would have been acceptable to people, but i think he would have been a fine president. i think he had the qualities of
judgment and good will that americans want in their president. >> and the future of liberalism in this country? >> again, he has outlined a map for the democratic party to be a major force in politics, to return to its status as the majority party. it is a question of whether the democrats will get over the nostalgia of the new deal coalition. a lot of people remember their parents and families growing up in urban america and would like to restore the democratic party to that urban, ethnic, labor union ideal. i think senator mcgovern realize that there are more fertile grounds for working with liberalism within the democratic party. there are ways to appeal to minorities, women, to the young, and to continue to broaden their base. he has shown the way for them to be a viable political force.
maybe gary hart is right. without george mcgovern, the democratic party might have ceased to exist as a viable party. >> then give this one to both of you. will there be another antiwar candidate? in the future, like a mcgovern? >> the thing the differentiated him from other anti-war candidate was in his heart, in his soul. i think he might disagree with barack obama, who said he is not against all wars. george mcgovern was not against all wars either because he fought courageously in one. but i think if he had been elected, he would have gone as elected, he would have gone as out of vietnam as soon as he