Our View: McGovern had direct approach
Former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, was known for his liberalism.
But we also remember him for coming to appreciate business once he left office. He went into business himself and had to put up with myriad regulations and taxes, some of which he had helped impose while in office.
In World War II, he piloted a B-24 Liberator bomber in 35 missions over Germany. After a stint in the US House of Representatives, he won his Senate seat in 1962, holding it until 1980.
Coming from an agricultural state, he was especially fond of getting taxpayers to pay for farm subsidies. And as former Sen. Bob Dole, a Republican from Kansas, another farm state, reminisced in an article in the Washington Post, "As colleagues in the 1970s on the Senate Hunger and Human Needs Committee, we worked together to reform the Food Stamp Program, expand the domestic school lunch program and establish the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children."
There were three major problems with this and other liberal programs of that era. First, taxes had to be raised to pay for them. Second, the programs largely replaced less-bureaucratic aid to the poor from private charities and local governments, such as soup kitchens. Third, the programs caused dependency.
Decades later, dependency is still growing. Reported the Huffington Post, based on US Department of Agriculture data, "A record 46.7 million Americans — or roughly one in five adults — used food stamps in June. ... Food stamp benefits cost a record $71.81 billion in the 2011 fiscal year, up 43 percent from two years before."
But McGovern best will be remembered for his 1972 presidential bid, in which he won just one state, Massachusetts, while being overwhelmed by incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon. Sen. McGovern long had led opposition to the Vietnam War, and gave a rousing "Come home, America" nomination speech. But the economy was booming, and Nixon was winding down the war.
When he left the Senate in 1981, he bought a business in Connecticut, the Stratford Inn. It went bankrupt and closed. In 1992, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this first-hand experience about the difficulties business people face every day.
That knowledge would have made me a better US senator and a more understanding presidential contender.
"The problem we face as legislators is: Where do we set the bar (of regulations and taxes) so that it is not too high to clear? I don't have the answer. I do know that we need to start raising these questions more often." And we hope today's lawmakers heed his plea to learn about how easy it is for government to harm business.
Despite our many disagreements with Sen. McGovern, he was refreshingly direct.
And by all accounts, in his private life he was an exemplary husband, father and friend. In 1993, when he attended the funeral in Yorba Linda of Pat Nixon, the wife of his nemesis, Sen. McGovern was asked why he came.
He answered, "You can't keep on campaigning forever."