Friday, November 2, 2012

Barry Goldwater and George McGovern: Two Significant Senators

George McGovern passed last week at the age of 92. He joins Barry Goldwater as the two most significant, but not necessarily the most powerful Senators of the 20th century. The two served side by side in the Senate for years.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was, by far, the most powerful Senator of the 20th Century, but his greatest accomplishments came as President of the United States. Ted Kennedy was the Lion of the Senate, the liberal icon. He pursued and protected the liberal agenda, but he did not change the American political system.

Senators McGovern and Goldwater were agents of change, moving their parties to the extreme. Both were highly principled. Neither changed their positions to win the election, unlike many politicians.

Both were prophets, who like Moses, could see the promise land, but could not lead their parties into it.

Senator Goldwater in 1964 wrestled the Republican Party away from the traditional Wall Street oriented moderate Republicans of the East and oriented it to the Main Street of the West and South. He defeated Governors Rockefeller and Scranton to win the Republican nomination.

He became the “Father of Modern Conservatism.”

President Johnson decisively defeated Senator Goldwater, propelling the Democrats to large majorities in the House and Senate. LBJ was then able to enact The Great Society.

Senator Goldwater won only Arizona and 5 southern states in the general election, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Richard Nixon looked at Senator Goldwater’s southern “success” and adopted the “Southern Strategy,” which has turned the once-solid Democratic South into a near solid Republican South today.

The Senator’s heir was Ronald Reagan who led the GOP to a landslide victory in 1980, and moved the Republican Party right to the South and West.

Senator Goldwater's greatest contribution to America came in 1974 in the Watergate Scandal. He led a Congressional delegation of Republicans to see President Nixon. The Senator advised the President that if the House of representatives voted to impeach the President, which they would, then the senate would vote to convict. Senator Goldwater informed the President that he wasn't sure that even 10 Republicans would vote in the President's favor. President Nixon resigned the next day.

Senator McGovern was asked to chair a commission that would redraft the nominating process in the Democratic Party after LBJ’s heavy-handed nomination of his Vice President, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, in 1968. The rules changes substantially reduced the power of party bosses, pushed the primary and caucus process, and opened up the process to minorities, women, and the youth.

The Republicans subsequently adopted many of his reforms.

Governor Jimmy “Jimmy Who?” Carter realized the potential of the Iowa Caucus in 1976. The Iowa Caucus now leads the nominating process in both parties.

Senator McGovern won the Democratic nomination in 1972, and was crushed by President Nixon, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. He was attacked as a “peacenit” eventhough he won the Distinguished Flying Cross with 35 B-24 flights over Europe (Senator Goldwater was also a military pilot during World War II). The Democratic Party moved left, far left, becoming an anti-Vietnam, anti-war, anti-military party, which turned its back on the politics of President Kennedy.

The Democratic Party nominated northern liberals (Vice President Mondale, Governor Dukakis, and Senator Kerry) after Senator McGovern, but only two moderate Southern governors, Carter and Clinton, won the Presidency until an unusual confluence of events resulted in the election of Senator Obama as President. President Obama fulfilled much of the traditional liberal agenda in his first two years in office.

Both Senators saw their names used as epithets – to wit “Goldwater Republican” as the predecessor to today’s Tea Party label and “McGovernite”

Senator McGovern was defeated for reelection in 1980, and bought a 150 room hotel in Stratford, Connecticut in 1988. It went bankrupt a few years later. The Senator had an epiphany, from which most of the current Democratic office holders could learn. He penned an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on June 1, 1992:

“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.”

He bemoaned the then high cost of healthcare for his employees, $150,000, stating “There would have been no reasonable way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.”

Today’s liberals, including the President, could learn from Senator McGovern. 

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