George McGovern, RIP

When I was young the upper Midwest was full of idealistic Democratic senators; Gene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and from my own state, Nelson and Proxmire.  Today that seems like a completely different world.

And let’s not even talk about how the GOP has changed.

McGovern had an interesting post-politics career:

In 1988, I invested most of the earnings from this lecture circuit acquiring the leasehold on Connecticut’s Stratford Inn. Hotels, inns and restaurants have always held a special fascination for me. The Stratford Inn promised the realization of a longtime dream to own a combination hotel, restaurant and public conference facility — complete with an experienced manager and staff.

In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business, especially during a recession of the kind that hit New England just as I was acquiring the inn’s 43-year leasehold. I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.

Today we are much closer to a general acknowledgment that government must encourage business to expand and grow. Bill Clinton, Paul Tsongas, Bob Kerrey and others have, I believe, changed the debate of our party. We intuitively know that to create job opportunities we need entrepreneurs who will risk their capital against an expected payoff. Too often, however, public policy does not consider whether we are choking off those opportunities.

My own business perspective has been limited to that small hotel and restaurant in Stratford, Conn., with an especially difficult lease and a severe recession. But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: “Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape.” It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators.

For example, the papers today are filled with stories about businesses dropping health coverage for employees. We provided a substantial package for our staff at the Stratford Inn. However, were we operating today, those costs would exceed $150,000 a year for health care on top of salaries and other benefits. There would have been no reasonable way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.

Some of the escalation in the cost of health care is attributed to patients suing doctors. While one cannot assess the merit of all these claims, I’ve also witnessed firsthand the explosion in blame-shifting and scapegoating for every negative experience in life.

Today, despite bankruptcy, we are still dealing with litigation from individuals who fell in or near our restaurant. Despite these injuries, not every misstep is the fault of someone else. Not every such incident should be viewed as a lawsuit instead of an unfortunate accident. And while the business owner may prevail in the end, the endless exposure to frivolous claims and high legal fees is frightening.

.   .   .

In short, “one-size-fits-all” rules for business ignore the reality of the marketplace. And setting thresholds for regulatory guidelines at artificial levels — e.g., 50 employees or more, $500,000 in sales — takes no account of other realities, such as profit margins, labor intensive vs. capital intensive businesses, and local market economics.

The problem we face as legislators is: Where do we set the bar 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.

Mr. McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, died Sunday at age 90.

In 1972 one of the most decent men to ever run for president of the US ran against one of the least decent.  The fact that I had a rather low opinion of McGovern at the time tells you much more about my flaws than his.


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20 Responses to “George McGovern, RIP”

  1. Gravatar of marcus nunes marcus nunes
    21. October 2012 at 11:56

    It´s the sort of job you have to be ruthless to get. Most, like the least decent, remain ruthless after getting it.

  2. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    21. October 2012 at 11:57

    Don’t be so hard on yourself Scott. You weren’t voting for a son-in-law. And McGovern’s more enlightened views on regulation had yet to be developed.

  3. Gravatar of Jonasch Wiaderny Jonasch Wiaderny
    21. October 2012 at 12:21

    Marcus, I agree here with you, although this is not the only qualification one needs to get it, and surely not the only job that requires this attribute.

  4. Gravatar of Essayist-Lawyer Essayist-Lawyer
    21. October 2012 at 14:01

    Someone old enough to remember the 1972 election please explain Watergate to me. Nixon’s team believed that McGovern was a dangerous radical, and that defeating him was not just a matter of political gain, but of national security, so the usual rules of fairplay did not apply. Okay, I get that.

    Here is what I don’t get. The American people obviously agreed that McGovern was a dangerous radical, as evidenced by giving Nixon a landslide of about 65%-35% of the vote. It seems a safe assumption that people did not vote for Nixon because they liked him. They could only have given him such a landslide out of fear that the Democrats had lost their senses.

    But a 30 point lead has to be showing up in the polls ahead of time. Dirty tricks are what you do when you are behind and running scared. When you are that far ahead in the game, you can afford to be gracious. So why did Nixon feel the need to resort to dirty tricks to win an election he already had in the bag? Talk about senseless self-destruction!

  5. Gravatar of marcus nunes marcus nunes
    21. October 2012 at 14:44

    E-L, you´re right. Nixon was obsessed with defeat since 1960. Remember how he goaded Burns ahead of the 1972 election not to let unemployment rise. No stone should remain unturned. Any perceived by him threat was to be strongly dealt with.
    Some of that became very clear in his 1974 interview to David Frost (who became instantly famous for getting Nixon to say to the nation:”I´m sorry”!)

  6. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    21. October 2012 at 15:11

    Nixon also personally wanted to win by a huge margin.

    In fact, I’ve always heard that lots of Republican operatives were annoyed by the Nixon campaign targeting GOTV efforts at blue collar Old Left types to get them to come to vote against McGovern and for Nixon– but also for their local Democratic Representatives and Senators.

    The Democrats gained two Senators in 1972 (one of which was Joe Biden beating an incumbent Senator by the slimmest of margins) and only lost a mere 12 seats, which would normally seem unusual in a landslide election.

    Of course, McGovern also said this:
    “The growing hysteria of the administration’s posture on Cambodia seems to me to reflect a determined refusal to consider what the fall of the existing government in Phnom Penh would actually mean…. We should be able to see that the kind of government which would succeed Lon Nol’s forces would most likely be a government … run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia.”

    Perhaps he felt he had to say that in order to be anti-war, rather than be anti-war even if the Cambodian result was awful. But when he lost by that margin anyway, I tend to doubt that theory, and think that that’s what he really thought.

    McGovern was also, like many of those Democrats of that age, extremely passionate about farm subsidies, as that, not his antiwar views, was what kept him getting reelected.

  7. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    21. October 2012 at 17:06

    ‘So why did Nixon feel the need to resort to dirty tricks to win an election he already had in the bag?’

    He didn’t. The Watergate break-in happened without Nixon’s knowledge. Nixon was one of the smartest people ever to be President (maybe smarter than Bill Clinton), he wouldn’t have condoned the break-in, because it was high risk, low reward.

    There is a very interesting story that John Dean was the instigator, looking to retrieve some embarrassing information about his wife. No one really knows what the truth was.

  8. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    21. October 2012 at 17:13

    ‘Nixon was obsessed with defeat since 1960.’

    Can’t blame him, he almost certainly won that election, but for fraud.

    Would have been better for the country if he had. I doubt he could have screwed up Vietnam as badly as JFK did. And, had he not been impeached, Vietnam wouldn’t have fallen to the Communists.

    When he left office South Vietnam had just repelled a massive invasion from the North. Once he was gone the Democrats cut off the South from any support at all, and the inevitable happened.

  9. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    22. October 2012 at 00:41

    I always say, I wish liberal Dems could spend a few years risking their own capital in an operating business, and conservative R’s could spend 10 years working as a cook, or cabbie.

    Yes, there was a day when people wore genuine ideals–whether Goldwater or McGovern–on their sleeves. Now, the GIOP is hopelessly corrupt, and the D-party may be worse.

  10. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    22. October 2012 at 01:17

    Benjamin Cole:

    I always say, I wish liberal Dems could spend a few years risking their own capital in an operating business, and conservative R’s could spend 10 years working as a cook, or cabbie.

    It’s amazing what you can see when you put aside prejudice. For example, there are liberal dems who risk their own capital and there are conservative republicans who work as cooks.

  11. Gravatar of Ritwik Ritwik
    22. October 2012 at 03:18

    Scott

    Off the topic, but since I referred to you a couple of times in a series published in the online edition of an online daily, thought I should thank you for making NGDPLT a big thing!

    http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/DsmstlsopWWTEWNl3AasJO/Tying-up-the-inflation-conundrum.html

    My hypothesis is that the Reserve Bank of India is living a ‘Sumnerian’ dream in terms of stable NGDP growth. Of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool ‘concrete steppe creditist’ I think it’s probably because they’re internally targeting/adjusting the thermostat for some credit aggregates, and that helps them achieve stable NGDP growth almost by default.

    Still, credit where credit is due. :)

  12. Gravatar of John John
    22. October 2012 at 10:16

    Ritwik,

    Do you really think that 10% inflation is a Sumnerian dream? Inflation that high doesn’t offer one single benefit and a whole slew of negative effects.

  13. Gravatar of Donald Pretari Donald Pretari
    22. October 2012 at 10:59

    In terms of liking and admiring as a human being George McGovern is my favotite politician of the last 40 years. That small list also includes Bob Dole and Mark Hatfield and Shirley Chisholm.

  14. Gravatar of Donald Pretari Donald Pretari
    22. October 2012 at 11:03

    Also…Russell Means just passed away. He was my candidate in 88.

  15. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    22. October 2012 at 15:38

    Essayist-Lawyer,

    Nixon wanted to win by a larger margin than Johnson. 64 was a landslide, but Nixon had hoped that he would be the nominee for 64 – it would broker a peace between the Goldwater and the Rockefeller republicans and it wouldn’t be a direct rematch of 1960 – but ultimately Goldwater was slaughtered. In fact, his margin was not as great as Johnson for they had no coattails. Some of this you can find if you listen to the Nixon tapes. There are some good books on the subject if you have the time.

    On a side tangent I love it when conservatives get all mushy on Nixon. Part of my thesis that there is only one type of conservative: the social conservative.

  16. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    22. October 2012 at 17:40

    Benny Lava,

    Actually I love it more when Democrats do so. On policy issues, it seems like the mainstream Democratic party member is basically Nixonian.

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    […] have the answer. I do know that we need to start raising these questions more often. That was George McGovern on his post political career. He freely admitted that he wished he would have known what it was […]

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