tv The Contenders George Mc Govern CSPAN October 22, 2020 3:41pm-5:47pm EDT
>> weeknights this month on american history tv we're featuring the contenders, our series that looks at 14 presidential candidates who lost the election, but had a lasting effect on u.s. politics. tonight, we feature former texas businessman ross perot who was an independent candidate in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections. that starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy american history tv this week and every weekend on c-span3. ♪ >> you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. c-span3, created by america's cable television company as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. ♪ >> in 1968 many americans thought they were voting to
bring our sons home from vietnam in peace and since then 20,000 of our sons have come home in coffins. i have no secret plan for peace. i have a public plan, and as one whose heart has ached for the past ten years over the agony of vietnam, i will halt the senseless bombing of indochina on inaugural day. >> it was 1972, 2:30 in the morning when then presidential am in me george mcgovern delivered his acceptance speech. a few months later he would lose badly to president richard nixon. tonight on contenders, the presidency and legacy of george mcgovern. we are from south dakota and joining us from there is scott ferris. it's t2:30 in the morning when e
delivers this acceptance speech. why? >> thank you. the reason it was emblematic of the whole campaign which meant it was an insurgent campaign run against the establishment. what had happened is as you heard senator mcgovern there he was very, very strong on the issue of vietnam, and i think one of the things that's drawn me to writing about mcgovern and was not successful is he adopted the vietnam issue and he did two things. one he spoke about that war in ways that no presidential candidate had ever spoke ben war before and it was in language as you heard and that was fairly mild for what he said during the campaign, in very strong language that unsettled a lot of americans and caused them to worry about how he would end the war, and so it pitted the insurgent campaign to end the war against the established democrats and there was a lot of conflict there that eventually
led to the convention and there were some floor fights. there were some issues over seating the florida delegation and issues over who he would select for the running mate and so the lech got out of hand and when it was time it was 2:30. instead of speaking before 75 million americans in prime time and he only spoke to 15 million people, they were either insomniacs or fell asleep in front of the tv set. >> we will do a deep dive into the '78 campaign. joining us from our stud yios i the columnist and author who covered the campaign in 1972 for "the los angeles times" featured prominently in "the boys on the bus" about the media coverage of that campaign. so mr. witcover, tell us what
was the atmosphere at the convention in 1972? >> exhaustion. >> exhaustion. >> one of the reasons that mcgovern gave the speech so late was that fights continued to go on over various issues in the platform including obviously the war in vietnam even though the platform had been adopted. and it played out also the next morning when the staff met to choose a vice president or to decide who should be asked to be vice president, and it was done in a very hurried and unsettling way to the point that the confusion that i'm sure we'll get to in this discussion. >> yeah. >> led to what was probably the most disastrous part of the mcgovern campaign which was the selection of a vice presidential
nominee who didn't stand up. >> but in the convention hall that night, i mean, are the people with him? are they still there? it's 2:30 in the morning. >> oh, yeah, because the mcgovern followers at the con vepgd. many of them had never been to an election before because as new rules and a selection of america mcgovern oims on a convention, and there were people there that had been involved much in politics before then and so it was a great experience for them and -- at any convention staying up until 2:00 in the morning is unusual and mcgovern was forced to give that very important speech so early in the morning. >> right. we will talk about the reforms this led to the convention.
let me go back to you in mitchell, south dakota, in the mcgovern museum there. what happening is in our country at this time in 1972 that leads to the triumph of an anti-war candidate to win the nomination of the democratic policy george mcgovern changed the democratic party. the democrat his built their base around what was the new deal coalition and it was an amalgam of southern white populists and organized labor, but by 1968 and '72 because of the divisions that were sort of exposed by this division over vietnam, senator mcgovern was one of those in the democratic party who thought the party badly needed to reform or else he was going to die and he saw the party was losing southern white populists over the issue of civil rights. he saw that urban ethnics were moving to the suburbs and he saw
organized labor was shrinking in influence and size and he looked out into the political landscape and saw there were opportunities for growth by reaching out to groups that had beeni ignored b both parties who had reached out in the republican side, by reaching out to the youth vote in 1972 because of the 26th amendment was the first time 18-year-olds would get to vote in the united states and he put out the new politician coalition to meld the new deal coalition and create this ruling democratic majority and so coming out of the '68 convention, as mr. witcover mentioned he chaired a commission on reform and changing the delegate selection process that was proactive in trying to bring women, minorities and the young into the party and of course, when the winners are also losers and there are elements of the democratic party and particularly organized labor resented that their influence was going to diminish. it was a wild ride, but because
of the retomorrows that the senor was able to put through the party as a commission, he had an establishment or the ones that had been considered the favorite and caught the establishment off guard and as his success built up it caused a lot of tension with the democratic regulars and so it was a very tumultuous year in 1972 even as the republicans were solidifying around richard nixon and nixon's presidency and probably the high point of the nixon presidency was 1972 and that was the year he famously went to china among other things. >> we'll talk about that as well later on in the program, but 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? & what they're doing at their convention which is being held shortly after the democrats also in miami. take a look. >> we -- we have had our fury
and our frustrations in these past months and at this convention, but frankly, i welcome the contrast with the smug and dull and and dull and empty event which will take place here in miami next month. we chose this struggle, we reformed our party, and we let the people in. and so we stand today not as a collection of backroom st strategists or any other special interests. >> scott farris, it's -- george mcgovern 1972 says we let the people in. take us back to that -- to the 1968 convention when hubert
humphrey gets the nomination and draw a connection between the '68 convention and mcgovern winning in 1972. >> let's go back to 1967 because this is when the antiwar movement is starting to pick up steam. and so they start the antiwar activists start to -- shopping for an alternative to johnson, somebody who will challenge johnson in the primaries. it's impressive. when you think back in american history, the other time where a party tried to challenge a sitting president was 1912 where you had theodore challenging a sitting president. but they wanted to pressure johnson to try to quickly end the war and de-escalate in vietnam. they search for a number of people. they approached senator mcgovern
and he declined. but senator mccarthy decided to run as an antiwar candidate. when he entered the new hampshire primary, he had a strong showing against president johnson. he got enough of the vote that it made johnson aware he was going to have a tough time winning the nomination. and johnson decided to withdraw from the race. in the meantime, senator robert kennedy also entered the presidential contest and they were both going after it and of course vice president hubert humphrey decided to carry the standard for the johnson administration. vice president humphrey supported the policies of vice president johnson. it was, again, as the -- what -- senator kennedy was assassinated in june. that left only senator mccarthy to be the insurgent candidate. senator kennedy's followers urged senator mcgovern to enter a token candidacy towards the
end. there was a lot of bad blood between to the two forces. ultimately the nomination went to hubert humphrey which infuriated the antiwar movement. he hadn't entered a single primary. it was evidence to the reformers and antiwar insurgents that the democratic party was still being run by the big city bosses and political machines and they wanted to have the process more open to have underrepresented constituencies brought into the process. they wanted the entire process brought up so it wasn't in caucuses that were held secretly in people's home but were widely advertised where anyone could participate. it was the disillusionment with how hubert humphrey was selected in 1978. and the vice president decided to form a commission that we'll
talk more to suggest reforms to the party. it was the humphrey nomination that outraged them and caused them to demand fundamental change. >> what's happening in the hall and outside of the '68 campaign? >> it was chaos. it was a much more tumultuous convention than the '72 convention because the party itself was so divided over the war and personalities. that's the year in which riots in the street of chicago, the police department repressed to the point where it was called a police riot. there was a big fight over a vietnam plank that the antiwar forces lost, but generated tremendous heat. and it continued through the
convention. and even after the -- after the nomination of humphrey. i was there, i remember humphrey was a sad figure in his own celebrity toir moment because he knew what was going on out the street and on the floor of the convention. there was such criticism of him and of the continuing of the war. so that was -- in my experience, the most disruptive but also the most exciting convention in my time. >> yeah, and compare how humphrey was chosen as the nominee in '68 to four years later, the way mcgovern is chosen as the nominee. >> a lot had to do with the mcgovern reform rules because in 1968, delegates were largely selected as they had been for
years by appointment or party bosses, governors and if you were a party official, you got a free ticket not 1968 convention by nature of your influence or your official position as an office holder or as a party office holder. and in 19 -- in 1972, those people, in order to get to the convention had to actually run as delegates supporting one of primary candidates. a lot of them picked the wrong horse in 1972 because they supported ed muskie who was the establishment candidate and he had all those office holders pulling for him. when his campaign disintegrated, they were all left out of the convention hall. and so as i said before, there was so many new people who had never been to a convention before, they filled the seats of the high and mighty who went to the convention in 1968. >> covers the 1968, 1972
convention for the los angeles times. to help us uncover george mcgovern, our 13th contender in our 14-week center. back in south dakota is scott farris, presidential author, wrote about mcgovern's campaign in 1972 and they're going to be taking your questions and your comments as well tonight. we will get to your phone calls here in a little bit. eastern central time, if you live in that area, 202-737-0001, 202-737-0002. let me go back to the reforms that were headed up by george mcgovern. how did he get involved in the mcgovern frazier commission. >> it was chaos after 1968 and humphrey, despite all of that chaos, closed the gap quickly on
nixon towards the end of '68 and it was a close campaign. you had the regulars thinking, we came close in '68. if we hadn't had all of that agitation, we would have been fine. and so humphrey was anxious to try to unite the party. he decided to throw a bone to the insurgents by appointing this commission on selection reform. as they look to figure out who was the right guy for the chair, they needed to look for several equ qualifications? they wanted somebody who was loyal to the party, who had shown they could work with the regulars and mcgovern unlike mccarthy and harold hughes who you have been considered for this position, mcgovern had campaigned for humphrey. he was a loyal democrat and never broke from the party. the third thing they were looking for, they were worried people would view this as a way
for people to manipulate the election. and he seemed like the obvious choice because he couldn't manipulate the system to benefit his candidacy because his candidacy was such a long shot, it wasn't worth discussing. there were about two dozens members and people were say how were they able to push the reforms through? the people who would most likely be opposed to the reform, organized labor, boycotted the entire process. and so the reform commission was dominated by those who were intent of opening up the process while the old regulars, didn't think it was worth bothering with. >> what were the actual reforms? what did they say? >> well, the most significant thing was simply -- several things. first of all, they began the process encouraging most states to use primaries as opposed to caucuses and conventions to choose their delegates. then if you did have a caucus, you were required to make it
open and well publicized and publicly available. a lot of times, previously, again, if you were a party official, automatically got a chance to be a delegate and times those party officials could name others and there were practices where they would get proxy votes and sometimes the decision was made the year before the convention. they tried to open the process genuine generally. they also tried to do away with the winner take all for the of primaries and make it proportional, to give minority candidates a better chance to build steam and overtake an establishment candidate. and they decided on a passive approach of no discrimination against anybody who would like to be a delegate. they adopted a proactive that the delegations had to reflect the makeup of a state's party's by gender, by ethnicity, race,
by age. and they were trying to get more women, more minorities, more youth into the process. when mcgovern left, they said that the parties should strive for reasonable proportions, reasonable representation of those groups. after he left and a different chair took over, the commission actually adopted specific quotas that each delegation should be roughly 50% female and have representation by minority groups equal to whatever percentage that would be in the state's population. those were the basic gist of the reforms by the party. >> do those reforms stick today? >> they very much do. in fact, what's interesting, they were derived by conservatives and republicans as a quota system that the democrats were taking -- adding to quotas and it was affirmative action program. but both parties have adopted these reforms. primaries were preferred over caucuses. if there are caucuses, they're widely publicized. even though the republicans have
been less successful in reaching out to minority voters, if you go to our republican convention, 50% of the delegates are females. that was a radical idea back in 1968. to give us a couple of quick numbers to give a sense of how much things changed n the 1968 convention, 13% of the democratic delegates were women, in 1972, 40% were women. in 1972 convention, 12 to 13% were african-american. there were almost an instantaneous change. >> the impact today, is there a long-term impact? we're heading into 2012 presidential elections with the iowa caucus coming up very soon. >> indeed. in fact, i think it's ironic, what the reforms do, they help nonestablishment candidates get a foothold because it is an open process where if you have good ground game, a lot of dedicated
volunteers who will show up at caucuses, you can overcome your disadvantages in terms of endorsements and money. as the republicans have followed suit, barack obama doesn't look like he's going to get a challenger. but in the 2012 republican process, this year i believe it's the first year that the republicans will have no winner take all primaries. if one is able to get a leg up over the establishment candidate who has been mitt romney, the irony is that newt gingrich is benefitting by reforms first introduced by george mcgovern. but the reforms have stayed with us and involve both parties not just the democrats. >> all right, gary heart was george mcgovern's 1972 campaign manager. here's what he had to say about the senator's democratic primary reform efforts. >> i think the history of his life will show that he helped
save the democratic party in the period between 1968 and '72. not simply by chairing the mcgovern reform commission, but by his sinsistence on the democratic party truly becoming a democratic party. because of his efforts and the efforts of many of you, the convention in 1972 as interesting shall we say as it was helped save the democratic party and helped open the doors for young people, for women, for minorities, for people who had up to that time been shut out. it's fashionable, i know for people to say there's not much difference between the two parties, but there really is. and there is an a necessity for a democratic party and the kind of democratic party george mcgovern envisioned and helped
create. >> what's your reaction to hearing gary heart talk about the reforms? >> certainly correct that mcgovern's role was a critical role. i go back to well before 1968 and i can remember in 1960 when john kennedy was running, he and his aide and speech writer, just a two of them would get on an airport and fly around and visit governors and mayors who were so empowered that you could pick up the nomination that way, retail -- retail not with the people, but the officials and the politicians. >> jules witcover, for you covering these conventions, what was it like for you to see the new faces in 1972? >> it was very exciting.
because these people who were into it, more than some of the old pals had been to 20 or 30 conventions over their lifetime and they had the hands on the levers and they knew what was going to happen. there was an element of uncertainty that was injected by all of these new people. not only in voting for the nominee but in the platform committee hearings, credential committee hearings that preceded the selection of a presidential nominee. >> scott farris, let me ask you about the short-term impact of the reforms. let's go to the general election. real briefly, if he could, in '72, the reforms that he puts in place, does -- do they actually benefit him, though, when it comes to voter turnout to beat richard nixon? >> it helped him to get the nomination. he understood, again, because he chaired the reform commission and because he had several of
the staffers working on his campaign, he understood the new process. i don't think he tried to manipulate it, he was trying to be open and fair about it. he realized something had fundamentally campaigned in the selection process and was able to take advantage of it in terms of winning the nomination where as mus key akie were playing by old rules. senator mcgovern got 37.5% of the popular vote in the general election. it showed that the democrats hasn't yet won over women, they hadn't gotten the youth vote the way they have today. if you look at today's democratic party, you asked about the lasting impacts, if you look at the coalition, minorities, women, the young, that's exactly the coalition that gave barack obama the presidency with 53% of the vote in 2008. just as the barry goldwater candidacy in 1964 led to the
ronald reagan of 1980, i can you can give george mcgovern credit for the barack obama presidency. >> tonight's contender, george mcgovern, the democratic congressman and senator from south dakota and the 1972 democratic nominee for the president. let me get our viewers involved. first phone call is in mike. you're on the air. good evening. >> caller: good evening, hello. mcgovern, he became the head of the middle east policy council after decides not to run for the presidency again in 1992. and with this, he submitted a proposal to president clinton to protect access to araben oil. to president clinton accept the proposal and if so, what happened as an effect of it. >> pretty specific question of it.
he doesn't know how to answer that quite right. scott farris, his legacy? >> he certainly was very understood in the middle east affairs. he met with yasser arafat. president clinton did not accept that early on, but of course president clinton at the end of his presidency tried to make that palestinian/israeli please. but he used -- he was a very strong supporter of israel but he also was very outspoken in american politics in terms of palestinian rights as well. >> we are going to be talking more about mcgovern's post '72 convention life, his legacy and his efforts across the world, specifically on hundrger. but first, let's hear from gordon. >> caller: later on hearing the
things on the nixon groups and their dirty tricks, i saw a program where donald claimed that they chose mcgovern as the weakest link and discredited the other candidates making it easier for mcgovern to get the nomination and he felt the republicans chose him. have you ever studied that? >> it was true that in the 1972 change he was involved in a number of dirty terrific that is were aimed at muskie. mcgovern at the beginning of that year was such a long shot that it would have been really requiring claire voience on the part of the nixon people to make him the nominee. it was more that the nixon
people wanted to get rid of muskie. they thought he was the toughest candidate and they did a number of things including spreading word in -- in new hampshire which had a heavy french canadian population, he would use certain slur words, slurring the french canadians and also they had another scheme, they had a number of black voters call in new york accents urging people to vote for muskie these things all came out but they really weren't the reason that muskie didn't get the nomination because muskie's own campaign had problems that were just as
troublesome for him as were mcgovern's. >> we'll talk more about muskie coming up during the primary of 1971 and then the general election in 1972. first, we need to peel back a little bit and talk first about why george mcgovern would run in the first place. scott farris, what makes him decide to run for if presidency in 1972? >> it goes back to 1968 when he was the standard-bearer for kennedy's delegates. he participated in a debate before the california delegation between hubert humphrey and gene mccarthy and himself and everyone thought that mcgovern tended to have won that debate. he said at that moment, he realized that he had presidential aspirations because he had gone on a national stage against two of the leading democrats in his country. he began considering a run at that point and announced --
decided in 1969 that he would be a candidate. he felt he was the right person to bring together these old -- the old regulars with the new insurgence and create a democratic majority. he also personally despised richard nixon. he really detested red baiters. he ran against a guy in south dakota who was a well-known anticommunist. and he despised nixon for how he had ran in '52 and '56. he relished the fight as well and it was a great incentive for him to run. >> in vietnam, what's happening on that issue during that time? >> of course, nixon had said in 1968 he had, quote, a secret plan to end the war in vietnam and that turned out to be escalating the war. in 1970 by having u.s. troops invade cambodia to disrupt
supply lines. so early in the nixon presidency, the war was escalating and seemed to be expanding, not winding down and this really outraged the antiwar movement and gave mcgovern more impetus to want to run. he needed going through the process of the vooimtizatiietnaf the war. as mcgovern was making the decision to run, he thought nixon was escalating the war and not winding it down. >> 1971 the pentagon papers are first published. what's the impact of this? >> actually, the pentagon papers were not as revealing as it was said to be because a lot of the pentagon papers were known, but it gave for credibility to what
was at the time a very mixed public feeling about the protest against the vietnam war. i think the oppression now is that the country was totally in an uproar against the war in vietnam in the late 1960s. it wasn't. it was very much split. >> but you had the 1970 antiwar protests, that sort of thing. >> yes, but before that, you had very strong protests that 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 and strange clothes that offended main street america, or mainstream
america. and so the war -- the war was particularly effective in dealing with the democratic situation because it was a rallying point for voters and activists but nixon also made great use of the reaction to the war by making very slanderous remarks about the people who demonstrated and so on. and he was -- he ran in '68 and again in '72 on a law and order agenda. he was going to protect the american people from these rowdies who were starting fires and having rallies in the streets. so the -- that's why the war has been painted down that the vietnam war built the protests
and it did do that. but it also solidified our opposition to the war to the advantage of richard nixon. >> scott farris, all of this and the impact of the war on mcgovern, what does it do? >> well, i think it caused him to lose his perspective a little bit, to be honest. he was so horrified by the war and thought it was such a terrible mistake and made several trips to vietnam and seen soldiers who had lost limbs and been crippled for life as well as the tens of thousands who had died. and he spoke about the war in terms that were strong and harsh. he gave a speech before the u.s. senate in 1970 in which he said this chamber reeks of blood. when you use that language, it's going to get people's attention and it's going to energize the antiwar folks but it disquiets a lot of voters who thought he was going to withdraw america without any honor and not be
worrying about what was going to happen to the prisoners of war there. he was so passionate about the war, he used strongest possible language to describe it and he also wanted to give the american people a sense that they had ownership of this war. this wasn't just the fault of the president and the generals, this was a problem with the american society that we couldn't see what america was doing wrong in vietnam. and so politically, ultimately, i think it hurt him and certainly in the general election because americans don't really want to hear the country and the military spoken about in that way and, of course, it gave the democrats this image of being, quote, antimilitary that they've been trying to shake for the last several decades. >> this is his motivation for running for president? >> absolutely. his desire to end the war is absolutely at the very most important thing to him. when he did lose, he said, you know, i feel so strongly about this war, i would say this, if we brought peace one day closer, then every bone-crushing hour of
this campaign was worth it. and what was ironic, of course, he was a war hero himself. he had served in world war ii as a bomber pilot. he was no passivist. he felt vietnam was a mistake. and the united states had misread it as a war against communist expansion which he didn't think was true. >> and that's where we want to go next and talk about the early life of george mcgovern before we talk about the '72 campaign. the mcgovern campaign hired a documentary filmmaker to produce a series of short films about the candidate. as we turn to tell the story of young mcgovern, here is a look at the films. >> he was george stanley mcgovern, birthplace, avon, south dakota. he grew up in mitchell and started school there. but the more lessons were learned at home. from his mother, a gentle
spirit. and from his father, christian principles and hard work. his father had spent his boyhood in the illinois coal country where the 14-hour days were measured out at 10 cents a bucket. but he found time to read the scriptures and decided to abandon the mine for the pulpit. revenue mcgovern built his last church in mitchell when george was 5. 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 remain with him all of his life. >> scott farris, back in mitchell, south dakota, at the mcgovern museum, tell us about george mcgovern. through his life starting early
on what influences him, defines him? >> first of all, i think it's important to recall that his father was a minister in the methodist denomination. it discouraged drinking and dancing and going to movies. what he got from his father was a strong sense of what's right and wrong to the point that he was often been accused of being moralistic and sometimes a little bit self-righteous. he got that from his father, very, very strongly and this notion, first of all, that there's right and wrong and doing good. he read a lot about the social goss gospel about how you apply christianity to public affairs so you can feed the hungry. he was a shy child which later would influence him because he had some teachers who at first thought he had a learning disabilities and was kind of slow. but a couple of teachers
realized he was intelligent but very shy. when we got to high school, he had an influential teacher who was the history and the social studies teacher as well as the debate coach and he convinced george mcgovern to go out for debate and it turned out mcgovern was an exceptional debater. he won a scholarship as a debater. and in college he won national competitions. that formed him in terms of publicing a public figured who was a good communicator, speaker, made good arguments, but who cared about moral principles and public policy. >> world war ii. >> yes, he had another teacher who had an influence in a different way in world war ii. he had a gym teacher who one time directed mcgovern to jump over a vaulting horse and he couldn't bring himself to do the somersault and the pe teacher,
you're a physical coward. and that really stung him. when he was in college, a classmate said, i would like you to take flying lessons. he was afraid of flying but remembered what the gym teacher said and decided to take the lessons. they drove down to omaha and enlisted in the army air corps and became a pilot of b-24 bombers. he flew 35 combat missions. he was an exceptionally skilled pilot. he was very much admired by his crew of ten. the b-24 was a hard plane to fly. he had emergency landings on three occasions where it was very risky. but he brought he and his crew
safely and he was a war hero. after he developed a friendship with the historian stevanbros, wrote "the wild blue" as a way to highlight the air war during world war ii. >> how does his early political career define his presidential candidacy? >> he thought he would be a teacher. he was going to become a history -- first, excuse me, he thought he was going to be a minister. after he came back from the war and completed his undergraduate education, he entered seminary. he discovered that the only thing he liked was giving the sermons. he found the parish visits and other things weren't up his alley. he switched to historian. he's one of only two men who have ph.d.s who have been nominated for president. he was given background with
regard to eastern europe that led him to believe that the soviet union wasn't attempting world domination but was protecting the sphere of influence that it had done when it was imperial russia. he got very active in the stevenson campaign here in south dakota. started writing letters to the editor and guest editorials. 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 sad, sad shape. there were 110 legislators in south dakota and 2 were democrats. mcgovern thought about it and decided it was a challenge worth taking. he built up the democratic party. he recruited candidates, raised money, wrote platforms and speeches. the democrats got 24 seats in
1954, then in 1956, mcgovern took this party he had helped build up and ran for congress and defeated a two-term republican. he won again in 1958 when he defeated a former south dakota governor and then in 1960 he made his first bid for the united states senate. lost to a longtime senator in california. john kennedy felt that perhaps his candidacy had brought mcgovern down in south dakota and he had offered mcgovern the position to run the food for peace program in the kennedy administration. >> and so we're talking about george mcgovern's legacy, his candidacy. we're going to delve into the primary run that he made in 1971. before we do that, let's get in curt in akron, ohio, as part of the conversation. go ahead, curt. >> caller: thank you and good evening, c-span. thank you for this wonderful series of "the contenders." i hope someday you'll do one
about the cabinet too. anyway, my comment and my question is, i heard somewhere, and i don't know what the truth is behind this, but just moments before senator robert. if kennedy was assassinated in 1968 after winning the california primary, senator mcgovern was actually participating in a phone conversation with senator kennedy and i just wondered if it's now been revealed what that conversation was about and if you know nianything about that phone conversation? >> i never heard that. i happen to be in the hotel kitchen at the time robert kennedy was assassinated. i spent a great deal of time then and since then exploring all of the details of the time leading up to robert kennedy's death. i never came across that story. but i do know that in his hotel
room he did make calls to a number of people to look forward to -- or what he expected to be the next phase of the campaign which was to go to new york and campaign for delegates there. he did -- he did talk to many people. he may well have talked to senator mcgovern as well because there was also a primary in south dakota the same night. i hadn't heard that he talked to him, but it's very possible. >> mike in california, good evening to you. thanks for joining us. >> caller: hello. just a few things i want to throw out. the best book about watergate says that dirty tricks were essential to the narrative about who the nominee would be. i think nixon ran a white
backlash campaign rather than so-called law and order and a little historical footnote. unfortunately the only state mcgovern carried was massachusetts. i'm from there and at the time we probably fest tooned our cars with bumper stickers saying don't blame me, i'm from massachusetts. that's all i have to say. >> scott farris? >> senator mcgovern resented the implication he won the nomination because richard nixon became involved with the dirty tricks. mcgovern said he thought muskie was a weak front-runner. he didn't have the fire in the belly and he clearly didn't understand that the rules had change because of the reformed commission. the notion that muskie lost the nomination because of nixon's dirty tricks, senator mcgovern thought that was bunk. but he acknowledged that the nixon campaign were doing little
things, the mcgovern campaign had plenty of stories where they found out their buses had been canceled right before a rally and they seemed to have somebody at a mcgovern rally behind him holding up a flag of the soviet union which they assumed was a nixon plant. there were the dirty tricks involved. but he did not believe that is why he won the nomination. >> john from virginia. >> caller: i several years ago read "the wild blue" and then only learned about mcgovern's war record. and i remember the 1972 campaign, it was the first time i could vote, but i don't recall mcgovern mentioning his war record and i think it would have given his antiwar stance for credibility if he had. >> yeah. >> can you comment on that? >> before our guests comment on that, i want to show you and
others what george mcgovern had to say about his experience as a world war ii bomber pilot. c-span sat down with him recently at his offices in mitchell, south dakota. here he is in his own words on that. >> i flew 35 missions in a b-24 bomber, which is the biggest one we had at that time. that was before the b-52 and the b-1 and 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've got a little scotch blood and i knew those planes cost about $300,000, that's nothing by today's standards where you have a b-1 that costs a billion for one plane. so i kept nursing those crippled
planes back to home base. and for that, i got the distinguished flying cross. >> and there it is, the distinguished flying cross in mitchell, south dakota, at the mcgovern museum. we're live from there for our contenders series tonight on george mcgovern. scott farris, how does a war hero become an antiwar presidential candidate and why does he not talk about it? >> it was a subject of a lot of debate during the campaign about how much he should emphasize his war record. he did mention it from time to time. he never completely ignored it but he specifically was encouraged by his staff to exclude it from his nomination acceptance speech. that was the rational why he doesn't emphasize it more.
it would have been to his benefit had he talked about it a little bit more because people got the mistake that he was the passivist who believed in never using the armed forces for my purpose. he was not a passivist but it was a decision that they felt in congress to mention the war record and the context of being the antiwar candidate. >> jules witcover, as a reporter covering this, was it talked about? >> not very much until near the end of the campaign. he had a slogan in his speech late in the campaign about leaving the war behind and coming home. and he -- that was one of his slogans was come home, america. and it was in the context of that that there was so much references to his wartime experience. >> here is -- actually, before we talk a little bit more about george mcgovern's primary run, let me get this phone call in
from jill in brockton, massachusetts. jill, you're on the air. >> caller: thank you. i recall watching senator mcgovern and robert woodward and i think bob schieffer at the time of president ford's funeral and they were entering senator mcgovern and talking about it and his friendship with president ford. and he said, well, in the end that he had voted for ford in '76. he said he discussed it with his family afterwards and he had found they had as well. i about fell off of my chair because i'm a strong democrat. i wonder if that has come into the mix of information about senator mcgovern ever? >> scott farris? >> he did have great affection for gerald ford. i don't know that he voted for him. he had problems with president carter. a couple of reasons. president carter had not been very supportive of him back in
1972 and then even though president carter is kind of basically borrowed the mcgovern strategy to get his nomination and he was a little hurt. the magnitude of senator mcgovernor's loss, he wasn't given a starring role at the next convention. i don't know that he voted for president ford. he and bob dole partnered for almost an entire lifetime on the issue of ending hunger in the world. he was cable of working across the aisle. he wasn't an ideal log who never worked across the aisle. >> george mcgovern, 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. here is a piece of a campaign
film put together 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. and if we begin now to match our policies with our ideals, 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 wanted to be and that together we have made it. that is my hope, that is my reason for seeking the presidency of the united states.
>> and jules witcover, what is mcgovern's chances heading into the primary in 1971? >> considered very slim. he was -- he was not a really dynamic personality. he was a very calm man, very so soft-spoken, lacked fire, really, except when he talked about the war in vietnam. >> was he considered dull? >> some considered him5"s
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 is running and how do they compare to george mcgovern? >> other senators perched by and fred harris of oklahoma and -- but they were all bunched up together and it was considered -- it was muskie's nomination to lose. some of the things that happened in new hampshire that your other guests have mentioned including appearing to cry at a furious
moment outside the local newspaper for things that had been printed about his wife. there was some dispute about whether actually he was crying or not. because it was snowing at the time and muskie himself to me denied very strenuously that he wasn't crying. but that was the impression. but there were other reasons that his candidacy collapsed -- organ or began to collapse because one of the things was his position on vietnam. mcgovern had left no doubt where he stood on the war. and another point i should make is, mcgovern was genuinely against the war, but he was be littled as a peace stick as the
expression went in those days. there were so many other people who didn't see it that way and they would never dream of voting for george mcgovern. >> charles filmed the film. he's a little bit of that conversation. >> you love the country, and yet you're about halfway mad at it too, aren't you? >> believe me, when you lose the control of your bowel, your bladder, when the possibility of you ever walking again is cut off for the rest of your life, you're 23 years old, you don't want to be a burden on your family, you know where you go from here, to a nursing home and you stay there until you rot. why isn't there places like this that the government can set up. nobody thinks of a disabled
veteran or anybody than a disabled person. if you fall off your wheelchair, you know, who is the first person who gives you help is a guy in a wheelchair. not somebody who is walking. >> people who are desperately in need of help that can't qualify for it under the present system. >> to stay alive. >> that's right. >> i love the united states, but i love it enough so i want to see some changes made. the american people want to believe in their government. they want to believe in their country. and i would like to be one of those that provides the kind of leadership that would help restore that kind of faith. i don't say i can do it alone. of course i can. but the president can set a new tone in this country. he can help raise the vision and the faith and the hope of the american people and that's what i would like to try to do. >> scott farris, the impact of
george mcgovern's tone in that campaign film and its impact on his primary run. >> well, it turns out the tone, one of the things i go back to is that how many times -- america is often involved in some sort of military conflict as we are today over the last decade in iraq and afghanistan. how often do you hear politicians talking that candidly about the cost of war? very seldom, if ever. i think, again, that was startling to a lot of american people. after the election and mcgovern had lost, he said he was in the senate cloak room and he overheard a senator talking, and he said, let me tell you why george lost that election, america is a great country, it has plenty of faults, but george acted like he was angry at the country and you can't preach day and night against america and expect to get elected. his feeling was, as a patriot, you point out your nation's faults and try to improve them.
you don't sugar coat it. he was trying -- he was fulfilling the highest order of patriotism. but many people interpreted that he was tearing down the united states by talking about the cost of war and questioning our conduct there and even why we were there in the first place. >> as jules witcover said, scott farris, this was muskie's race to lose. how does george mcgovern overcome this and then -- and win the nomination? >> well, again, i think it was a bit of a political savant. he understood what it would take to win. it was talked about what a good guy he was. but he was intensely ambition as well. he tells the story about a friend who said, you're the most modest self-effacing ego maniac i know. he had the fire in the belly to
be president. a he would go for the jugular if that's what he needed to do. he worked hard but he had a concept of how to win that involved all of these activists, insurgents who would organize, flood these early primary states and sort of get him out of the lower depths of the candidacy where he was polling at 1% or 3% at the beginning of the campaign. he pulled off a strong second place showing in the iowa caucus, a strong second place showing in new hampshire. it showed that muskie was vulnerable and it caused other people to get into the race. he won some key primaries in wisconsin. he nearly won ohio. he went to california which we'll talk a little bit more. he had a better organization. he worked harder and he had the devotion of these antiwar insurgents at his disposal which
none of the other candidates had. >> what was the media making of this strategy at the time, this grassroots strategy? were you paying attention to it? >> obviously, but i think that -- we paid more attention to muskie because muskie was supposed to be the winner. muskie made a -- one of muskie's staff made a terrible mistake in new hampshire when one of his leading campaign people predicted that muskie, if muskie, as you said, if ed muskie doesn't win 50% of the vote, i'll leave my hat. he won 46% of the vote. against that prediction, it was written really that mcgovern was essentially the winner of the new hampshire primary and muskie didn't recover from that. i think if muskie hadn't stumbled, mcgovern, knowing the game, which he had invented with
the new delegate selection rules, probably would have won anyway. but the fact that muskie had this string of mistakes and bad luck, certainly, provide the opening for mcgovern. >> and george wallace, the role of him in this primary? >> wallace was a spoiler or tried to be a spoiler. and he damaged -- he damaged muskie in florida because of wallace -- wallace won the florida primary and muskie, if i'm not mistaken, finished fourth. that was the last name in muskie's coffin. >> so, scott farris, muskie stumbled, but did mcgovern make any mistakes in this primary? >> he would later. he got a little complacent. he was the insurgent and came from 200-1 odds to win the nomination. but he had -- he stumbled the most badly in california.
he came into california. he was riding all of these sudden victories and it was down to he and hubert humphrey because other candidates had dropped out, and it came down to the california primary and suddenly they were fat and happy. they didn't work quite as hard and they took humphrey for granted and i think the news media too, they liked underdogs. and he received a lot of press early on. and so now humphrey was that underdog and he started getting the positive press. and so they misplayed the same expectations game that muskie lost in new hampshire, mcgovern lost in california. everyone assumed he was going to win in a blowout in california and it was the last big bump in the role that derailed his nomination. >> we're going to get into that a little bit more. i want to first talk about dirty tricks. a couple of callers have brought that up. what's happening in the campaign? what are some of the dirty trick
that is are happening? >> most of the dirty tricks were in new hampshire. we've already talked about the things that were done to muskie. but through the -- throughout the campaign, the dirty tricks were to nixon's strategy. not simply because they were afraid of muskie, but that's 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, was to just decimate the opposition. not take any chances. and it led to the exits that we saw soon after in watergate
break-in. >> scott farris, where does this tag line of amnesty, asset and abortion come from. where does it come from? >> well, remarkically it came from his future running mate according to his memoirs. eagleton told novak, no, he can't possibly. he favors abortion, amnesty and legalization of marijuana and that got changed to acid. that was painted on mcgovern. it was unfair, first of all, he didn't support legalization of marijuana. he would go to college campuses and say, you've heard i'm the candidate who is supposed to legalize pot and the college audiences would go wild and they would say, that's not true. i don't think we should have jail penalties for marijuana possession. in terms of amnesty, he favored a limited amnesty.
he favored it for people who were consciousness objectors and on abortion he actually really displeased his supporters by believing that abortion should remain a decision made at the state level and wade which was a federal matter. all those labels really applied to him but they sort of, as he mentioned, they captured the hippy image his opponents were trying to put on mcgovern. >> i wouldn't categorize that line, asset, amnesty and abortion as a dirty trick. that's just so common place in politics and has always been, particularly more so now. but we talk about dirty tricks and are talking about active actions taken by one side to sabotage the other side. >> right. right. what, at the time, when you heard that tag line covering these primaries, what did you
make of it? >> not much. >> you didn't write about it? >> i don't remember what i wrote about it, but i have no reason to not write about it, but i wouldn't have put it in the category of being a dirty trick. it was just sort of a mud-slinging that would go on both sides back and forth and always has been and probably will continue to do. >> all right. william in pennsylvania, you're on the air with our two guests. we are talking about george mcgovern, the 13th contender here in the 14-week series. go ahead. >> caller: i was a 17-year-old college student at the time and volunteered for the mcgovern campaign then, 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 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 the sinister aspects of a break-in may have been a factor, very effective factor and reason for people not to re-elect nixon. and i would like to conclude lastly that mr. mcgovern appears to be the only living contender who is available. and i was wondering if he was invited to participate in your program tonight. >> you know what? he was invited to participate, and we had planned that he would join us. unfortunately he took a spill earlier this evening, and he won't be able to make it. he's doing fine, but regrettably he won't be able to make it with us this evening. let's talk the caller's comments about nixon and watergate break-in and the role it plays. why doesn't mcgovern make more of it? >> mcgovern certainly tried but at the time -- it was interesting that the watergate story didn't take off the way it
should have, the way you would expect it to. one of the reasons is the inside journalism story. a lot of newspapers, including my old newspaper at the time, "los angeles times," some editors felt that the story was unprovable or hasn't been proved and that "the washington post" was hanging out there by itself and that was fine with the other newspapers. so they didn't always jump in on it. and mcgovern himself, to his credit, hammered away at it but it didn't catch on with the press the way you would have expected it to. >> and were the american people paying attention? >> they were reading about it. but you have to remember most of the destructive discriminating aspects of the watergate
campaign were revealed when 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. so a lot of that stuff came out too late for it to be of any benefit to mcgovern, but he certainly did try. >> all right. we discussed the primary, let's go up to the convention. here's director mcgovern at the convention in miami joking about giving his speech at 2:30 in the morning. >> chairman o'brien, tara romenburg, senator kennedy, senator eagleton and my fellow citizens, i'm 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 that my choice for vice president was challenged by only 39 other nominees. >> and we are back live from mitchell, south dakota, at the museum in mitchell, south dakota, the mcgovern museum there. scott farris, a presidential author, it's taking place, mcgovern gives his speech at 2:30 in the morning. tie that back to something you touched on briefly before we heard from mcgovern there, and that is hubert humphrey's challenge to mcgovern in the state of california.
how does that impact the convention and the late-night speech? >> okay. so what happened in california was that the mcgovern commission as i mentioned earlier decided to do away with winner take all primaries. they granted an exception to california. and they did that at the anti-war insurgents and that there was a lot of strong insurgent feeling in california. that would been fit hoover the insurgent candidate turned out to be if california remained a winner-take-all state. those were the rules adopted and everybody understood that. so they went to the california primary, the last big primary before the convention. by now the race narrowed down between mcgovern and humphrey. mcgovern was thought to have a huge win but humphrey came close. at that point, said why does california have to be winner take all? talked about displacements, i should get half because he was trying to stop mcgovern. they were good friends, next door neighbors. humphrey had been born in south
dakota before moving to north dakota, both history professors. they had a lot in common. mcgovern was shocked he went to such lengths to deny it, that would not deny the nomination, he had already locked up other delegates from caucus states. this went all the way to the convention floor where he proposed an alternative delegati delegation, half mcgovern supporters, the other half his supporters. tuesday of the convention, wednesday was the day mcgovern was supposed to submit his vice presidential nominee. as mr. witcover mentioned, people were exhausted having a fight over this delegate
question out of california. so when they got up the next morning, they didn't have a short list of vp nominees. and in fairness, they generally didn't name the vice presidential nominee until the convention, except when mcgovern picked eagleton, now you see vice presidential nominees are picked well ahead of the convention to be vetted. it took all day to pick somebody willing to run as george mcgovern's running made. came down to just a few minutes before the deadline. at that time he also -- a lot but he angered the feminist and they decided to put a woman candidate up, sissy farenthold. put up a bunch of nominees, a total of 39, some serious, some goofy. so by the time they got the ballots done and nominating eagleton, it was 2:30 in the morning.
who is on his short list of possible vp candidates? >> started out with quite a long list. the night after they were supposed to pick the nominee, that morning at the doral hotel in miami, he called together the staff. they sat around this big green covered table in the hotel and slips of paper were passed around to all of the staff members. this was some of the lowliest staff members in on the decision of who should be the vice president. they would write their names on a little piece of paper and be collected and then they would total them. at first they had about 20 different people no, ma'am natured, and then they narrowed it down to 10, and then they narrowed it down to six. i don't know if i can name all
the six. but among that group, in addition to eagleton, were obviously ted kennedy, who told the governor several times he didn't want to do it. larry o'brien, the campaign manager, the governor of connecticut, gaylord nelson, a senator from wisconsin, and there were two or three others. >> right. >> so they would take a ballot, take another one and take another one. finally when they got down to two people, they were eagleton and kevin white, the mayor of boston at the time. after some more discussion, it was decided to -- it should be kevin white.
but -- they actually -- mcgovern actually called kevin white and offered him the nomination and he said he would take it. but then kenneth galbreath, prominent economist and member of the massachusetts delegation called mcgovern and said you can't take kevin white. massachusetts delegates will walk out. it was also suggested that ted kennedy would object. so he had to back off and de-nominate kevin white, and that left eagleton. i have a little story about that meeting. another reporter and i named todd from the st. louis post dispatch 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 these little pieces of paper. most of them torn up. so we meticulously got them all together and spent about two
hours patching them together so we could try to determine who it was going to be. and there were so many names and so many little pieces finally we wasted our time, there was never -- never solved the problem. >> no consensus on the staff. >> they had decided by that time that it would be eagleton by default almost. but all these pieces of paper were there, and we didn't know they had made a decision. so we wasted about two hours playing detectives trying to figure out who it was. >> scott farris, why do all these potential vp running mates say no. when he does choose eagleton, eagleton accepts, who does that appeal to? >> well, most of them said no because they thought he was going to lose. even though senator mcgovern thought he had very good cases to make and good reasons he thought he was going to win, most people didn't think it was going to happen. so nobody wanted to be associated with a losing campaign.
senator mcgovern's tactic, he was sure he could convince ted kennedy to be his running mate. what he wanted to do is he represented the insurgent wing of the party and the same problem that hubert humphrey had in '68. he wanted to unify the democrats. he was looking for somebody who would be acceptable to labor, urban, ethnic, catholic, that's why kevin white was considered. so frank, who was senator mcgovern's communication director, called senator eagleton and said is there anything in your past that we should know about that would disqualify you? and he said no, no there wasn't. >> we'll talk more about the eagleton decision and the fallout from it. first let me go ahead ed in on the conversation. he's in moorestown, new jersey. go ahead. >> caller: good evening. senator mcgovern took up robert kennedy's banner in 1968.
how much support did he receive from the mcgovern forces after he got the nomination and added the kennedy family members you're about to discuss to the ticket. >> scott farris, want to take that one? >> yes, i'd be glad to. they campaigned enthusiastically for him. ted kennedy was very good about it. the whole kennedy family campaigned aggressively for him. of course when eagleton was dropped from the ticket, senator shriver, mattered to -- married to eunice this vooifer, he had a strong running mate. strong support from the kennedy family. they had strong affection for mcgovern, strong ally. high regard for george mcgovern, called him the most decent man in the u.s. senate so kennedy family was behind him 100%. >> michael in warren, ohio, you're next. >> caller: yes, this talk about the vice president's pick is just 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. only four years earlier had a very close election with president nixon and why they wouldn't have backed him all along, instead of him just becoming another person trying to run for office. >> all right. mr. witcover. >> well, one reason was that humphrey had been a presidential candidate before that and hadn't made it. and muskie, as we said before, muskie was so strong that -- also you have to remember that nixon -- not nixon but that lbj
was a standard a standard bearer in '68 until he decided to drop out and humphrey didn't get into that race until after lbj dropped out. so he didn't have the apparatus to go on. but i think he probably would have been a good candidate. >> leadville, colorado, bud, you're on the air. >> caller: yes. it is leadville. >> sorry about that. >> caller: thanks for taking my call and thank you very much for doing this series. we're talking about one of my favorite americans, the very first campaign i was ever involved in.
i have always been rather amazed at how much this country dismissed senator mcgovern and was willing to re-elect richard nixon. i read mr. witcover's book the year it came out while i was in college. and that book and several others, i still just couldn't quite get it. but i think that the senator has proven himself over decades to be a very great american, and i'm really grateful for c-span presenting this program. >> all right. jules witcover. >> i want to agree with the caller that mcgovern was an underrated and underappreciated candidate. it's unfortunate that he ran
into a candidacy that was very aggressive and disruptive and that he made some serious mistakes in his own campaign that did him in. but i doubt -- without the other conflicts of the campaign, dirty tricks and so on, whether mcgovern could have won that election. >> let's get into that. let's get into nixon's role in the general election and mistakes made by mcgovern. but first we need to talk about the eagleton choice and the fallout from that. here is mcgovern's former campaign aide explaining the eagleton choice. >> the problem there, of course, was that we had a very tough road to the nomination. it wasn't clear until the second day of the convention because of an ugly credentials fight that concerned the california delegation, it wasn't clear that
george mcgovern had the clear sailing to the nomination we thought he had. had to win that fight and that took a lot of effort, delegates, time and concentration. it got kind of chaotic. there were three or four days there in which to choose a vice president. two days, really. two days, two nights. we all got together and talked and talked about names and asked a few people and threw some names around. but tom eagleton was by all standard measurements a good candidate. george mcgovern was the son of a protestant minister from small agriculture state in the north and eagleton was a strong catholic with strong ties to labor. on the key issues, he was certainly in agreement with mcgovern. it looked like a pretty good fit.
you have to understand we didn't have any fbi, we didn't have any security agencies available to check anybody out. we assumed tom eagleton had run statewide and won four or five times, as he had, if there were anything that could be used against him it would have been used against him. >> so jules witcover, the eagleton choice, what are you being told about it from the campaign? >> there was no chatter about it. because there was no indication there was anything wrong with it. vetting candidates was a very casual sort of thing at the time. as frank mankiewicz said in the clip, there wasn't much time to do anything, or any reason, really, not to take eagleton's word for it that he had nothing that would damage the campaign. >> so you were in sioux falls.
you go from sioux falls, after the convention you're in sioux falls. what's happening? what's your story there about eagleton? >> well, i was not out there at the time that eagleton went to -- went out there and met with mcgovern. mcgovern had first was satisfied -- when word came eagleton had mental problems and had taken shock therapy twice. mcgovern at first was satisfied with eagleton's explanation and stood up for him and said, you know, said he would support him, but when there was questions coming back at him, he said he was for him 1,000%. it was hard to back away from that when they realized from the reaction they were getting that
this was closure of -- the disclosure of eagleton's problems was going to really damage the campaign. >> so scott, what happens next? >> well, what happened next was that they had -- they were trying to find a delicate way out of it and unable to do that. a couple things that happened. one thing was, once the rumors came out or the truth came out about senator eagleton's treatment for depression, which is what he was diagnosed with, some other reports came out that he was a drunk and arrested on drunk driving. those were false and those came out of jack anderson's column and he had to print an apology. so it seemed like people were picking on him. there was a lot of sympathy for people who had mental illness and there was a feeling he was cured. if he said he was fine, maybe he is fine. why shouldn't he stay on the ticket?
so senator eagleton began to think that was true, too. so the initial idea he could quietly resign and go away. but senator eagleton wasn't feeling that way. he felt his reputation was damaged. he was thinking how to quietly get eagleton off the ticket. essentially what happened was senator eagleton wrote out the statement that senator mcgovern would make, and there would be no reference to these allegedmental health problems. that was the only condition in which he would resign. now this campaign was facing an uphill climb and is now saddled with a big alba tros. the struggle to find replacement for eagleton took a long time. it was very embarrassing to senator mcgovern. senator muskie called a news conference to announce he had
declined to be the fill-in nominee. eventually they turned to sergeant sh li shriver if you talk to gary hart, they'll tell you that while they never won in 1972, if it hadn't been for the eagleton mess, they believe mcgovern would have won 45% of the vote, not 37%. >> how do americans view that decision? >> the interesting thing was, remember that senator mcgovern felt one of the great advantages he had over nixon was on the question of character. he believed nixon was basically a knockoff of joe mccarthy and never understood how middle america embraced richard nixon.
and yet because he had waffled and sort of gone back and forth and seemed to be indecisive and maybe not totally honest about the eagleton fiasco, the question of character worked in nixon's favor. that hurt him very deeply. he was very, very sad about that and realized that now the question was about his character, not nixon's. and further, the eagleton story made watergate was one of the factors that kept watergate from being a big story. people couldn't put watergate in the context initially. why break into the democratic national head quarters? nobody knew it was part of this broader strategy of sabotaging opponent's campaigns. so the big political story in the fall of 1972, was the eagleton affair, not watergate. that's one of the reasons mcgovern couldn't capitalize on watergate. >> so we'll come back and talk what's happening with nixon, but first, a couple of campaign ads from this period.
first is george mcgovern's followed by a nixon ad. >> one of the reasons i'm stured by the president's $10 million secret election fund, there's something there he is afraid to 'tis close. what are they hiding? i'm willing to publish the name of every dollar skribcontribute my campaign. it's that kind of thing that puts a damper on the moral tone of the whole nation. >> mcgovern, democrat, for the people. >> i would just like to say, i'm a democrat for president nixon and his re-election. i can only say the thing that motivated by change was a year of just collecting pure, unaffected facts. >> four more years! >> i want to make this pledge to sammy, i want to make it to everybody here, whether you're
black or white, young or old and all of those who are listening. i believe in the american dream. sammy davis believes in it. we believe in it because we have seen it come true in our own lives. this is your first vote you and years from now i hope you can look back and say it was one of your best votes. thank you. >> jules witcover, 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 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 just campaigned day -- from dawn to dusk. as a result of that, he looked terrible. we call that debate he had with john f. kennedy, he looked like he was going to expire. so as a result of that, he and his brain trust decided the best way to run against richard nixon was to limit what he did and only show him at his best. it happened in '68 and happened again in '72. >> what was it like for you to cover the mcgovern campaign versus the nixon campaign? how were they different? >> i covered them both, and the one was that mcgovern was running desperately. he knew they weren't catching on. they traveled widely.
just as humphrey had done when he lost to nixon the first time in 1968, campaigning too much. one of the secrets of nixon's success in both '68 and '72 was that his people realized if you gave -- if you gave television just one piece to use on the evening news, make it the best you could and only do that one piece and would do some other trivial campaigning otherwise, whereas humphrey campaigned, as i said earlier, from dawn to dusk. he made a lot of mistakes. he made some good choices. but the networks would always pick the most controversial thing. so nine times out of ten, ask
humphrey would look bad and nixon would look good. the same thing applied in '72 with mcgovern and with nixon. >> so scott farris, what is the nixon campaign doing to try to weaken mcgovern? >> well, again, they're sort of hitting him as a radical as somebody without of touch with america, far too extreme to be acceptable to the american main stream. again, sort of staying above the fray, talking about the accomplishments of the nixon administration. let me talk quickly about why mcgovern thought he had a chance to win. he had a number of assumptions that on the face of it looked pretty reasonable and rational reasons. again, he thought nixon was unpopular because of his personality but also because of his first couple years had been controversial. he expanded the war in vietnam, and domestically, he instituted wage and price controls. the economy was not doing well in '71. inflation was a real concern. nixon then did some things to sort of try to reduce the inflation rate.
he also directed government agencies to spend a ton of money at the end of '71, early '72 to give a boost to the economy. he then began the de-americanization of the war in vietnam, increasingly relying on vietnamese troops, bringing more american troops home to try and quell the anti-war demonstration. then he also tried to counter his own image as a quote warmonger by going to china and establishing normal diplomatic relations with communist china which of all people the great anti-communist richard nixon was quite a shock and surprise. he sort of managed to orchestrate events so that his presidency kind of reached its peak in 1972. his greatest accomplishment occurred in 1972 and took away a lot of mcgovern's arguments about why nixon shouldn't be supported. two other quick things about misjudgments mcgovern made. he thought george wallace was going to run again at a third-party candidate and would siphon votes not only in the south but this the industrial northeast that would make those states easier for mcgovern to carry. of course, wallace was the victim of an assassination
attempt right before the maryland primary and was paralyzed and wasn't able to continue the race. the other thing misjudgment mcgovern made was significant he thought the youth vote would come out en masse and in his favor especially with the passage of the 26th amendment that allowed 18-year-olds to vote. surprisingly, mcgovern barely won the 18 to 21-year-old demographic and lost the 21 to 25-year-old demographic to nixon which showed that despite all the attention given to anti-war students on college campuses, a lot of joining americans were still very conservative. >> we know how the story ends. mcgovern loses in one of the worst landslide defeats in american history. what is the mood of his campaign of the country at the end of this election headed into november? >> well, a lot of them, you know, when you're on a campaign plane and you're in this tomb where you're flying around the country and you don't know what's going on in the rest of the country, the people who are
on that campaign day in and day out, many of them believe that they were going to win or at least that they could win. the dimensions of the defeat was obviously crushing 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 mcgovern's concession speech. and then you'll hear a secret white house recording of a phone conversation between president nixon and then at the time special assistant for national security, henry kissinger. >> we project president nixon will come out of this a winner with about 60% of the popular vote. and somewhere between 450 and 500 or more electoral votes. >> congratulations on your victory. 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. >> mr. president, i've talked to dr. kissinger and senator humphrey. it will be a few moments before we can get him. i have dr. kissinger. dr. kissinger, go ahead, please. >> mr. president. >> how are you? >> i wanted to extend my warmest congratulations. we all know it was going to happen. >> we got our 60%. >> every state except massachusetts and maybe minnesota, although i think we got that, too. >> it's an extraordinary tribute. he was very gracious in the
beginning. >> he sent me a wire saying i look forward to working with you and your supporters of peace in the years ahead. i said hell, no, i'm not going to send him that sort of a wire. wouldn't you agree? >> absolutely. >> i said he doesn't have the right sense of this sort of thing. you probably know i responded in a very decent way to him. as far as i could tell, i'm if -- not going to say much to him. >> you're looking at one of the cue cards of mcgovern's speech where he said we do not rally to the support of policies we deplore, but we do love the nation. and later on, the nation will be better because we never once gave up in the long battle to
renew its oldest ideals and to redirect its current energies along more human and hopeful paths. jules witcover, was his concession speech viewed by others as ungracious? >> i don't think so. i think it took a paranoid personality like nixon to take it that way. >> and scott farris, your reaction? >> well, i think actually pretty gracious. nixon's telegram to mcgovern wasn't particularly warm and fuzzy either. they both knew they didn't like each other. most people have not gone back and read all the concession speeches in american history. i did that as part of my book. mcgovern's is a little more petulant than the typical one. apparently when you get beaten in a landslide, you're not feeling quite as good as when you lose closely. part of it is when had you lose close, you figure you may get another shot four years down the road. you don't want to burn any bridges. what happened later was more interesting on the date of
nixon's inauguration in '73, his second inaugural, mcgovern was in england and gave a speech at oxford in which he was extremely critical of nixon and said that they had more revelations to come out about watergate. america was in danger than at any point in history. i think that generally was in the realm of what is expected of losing presidential candidates, but the speech he gave in '73 caused a lot of people to criticize mcgovern for saying those things, especially to a foreign audience. >> we're going to move on to the legacy of mcgovern, what he did after he ran for president in 1972. put first, let me get ed in here in ohio. ed, good evening. ed, turn your television down quickly. go ahead. >> caller: yes, good evening.
there's an important article that mcgovern wrote. it was published in "the wall street journal." it's my advice to obama. this was when -- it's when obama was elected. and he went on to say first, when i order all u.s. troops out of iraq and afghanistan by thanksgiving. >> ed, i'm going to leave it there because we're getting a lot of feedback. got to turn that television down. let's talk to scott farris, pick up that point about mcgovern and his impact on president obama, his anti-war views. >> two things about president obama. again, i mentioned earlier, he created the coalition, the democratic coalition that represents the modern democratic party as the coalition that did elect barack obama in 2008.
and the obama campaign in 2007 and 2008 also tended to mirror mcgovern's as an insurgent kanlddy -- candidacy against hillary clinton. and by doing the same things, grass-roots effort, net roots as well. so clearly president obama followed the mcgovern blueprint to a considered degree. in terms of the war thing, senator mcgovern said two things. one, he's taken heart that finally an anti-war candidate was elected because president obama had spoken strongly against the iraq war. he had also been disappointed that senator obama and president obama has escalated american involvement in afghanistan, and he has criticized that and suggested that afghanistan could become another vietnam, which is, of course, was the centerpiece of his campaign. he's provided a good political base for president obama and offered him a hot of praise put also expressed concerns as well. >> duncan in ohio, go ahead. >> caller: yes, thank you for having me. i was just curious if you had
ever heard of an organization calleded the builderbergs and whether or not george mcgovern had ever been to a conference before. thanks. >> scott farris? >> nope, i have not heard of that. >> okay. as we continue to talk about george mcgovern's legacy and his post-1972 career, i want to show you a little bit from former president bill clinton. speaking at the mcgovern center dedication ceremony in 2006, he actually ran the mcgovern campaign in texas as many of you know. after that we'll come back and talk a little bit more about that and this part of his legacy. >> think of just the highlights of his fascinating life. brave pilot, teacher, congressman, senator, first director of food for peace. author with senator dole of the food stamp program. courageous critic of the vietnam
war. the first and only person from south dakota so far to be nominated for president. the 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 agricultural organization. recipient of the medal of freedom, and with senator dole, the inspiration for the school funding program. george didn't tell you what happened with that $300 million. there are 130 million children in the world who have never darkened the schoolhouse door. their idea was to say to 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 pass that little bitty initiative in a trillion-dollar budget, school enrollment around the world the first year went up
by more than 6 million children. 6 million futures. george mcgovern helped to make. >> explain why mcgovern had a passion on this issue and its impact. >> two reasons. one, he is a generally compassionate man. he had seen hunger during the depression, in italy during the war and when he took overseas missions as a senator, he saw hunger around the world. so he understood the problem facing america and the world in terms of people going hungry. but as a senator from a farm state, he also understood how this was a marvelous program that matched the great american capacity to produce food with the world's need for that food. it was humanitarian but it also benefited him in politics and other farm state senators like dole saw the opportunity in this as well. but one of the things senator mcgovern did, he saw -- when the food for peace program was first
initiated under the eisenhower administration, it was a way to get rid of agricultural surpluses the government purchased in the commercial commodity credit corporation, i mangled that, but where they would buy surpluses to support prices. mcgovern found that offensive. really it's a humanitarian thing. it's about feeding the hungry, especially the children. so he took the feed for peace program which was a minor program under the eisenhower administration and dramatically increased its scope. in six months, he spent six times as much and distributed six times as much food as the eisenhower administration distributed in six years. that's a lot of sixes, i know. within six months of him taking over that program, 35 million children around the world got a school lunch and within another year, another 30 million did. it was probably -- it was probably the greatest humanitarian effort of the kennedy administration including the peace corps and it's really all due to george mcgovern. >> we have about ten minutes left here, 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 then join us. he's been flown to sioux falls, south dakota, for further medical attention. and so unfortunately, he couldn't be with us. and we wish him the best of health. jake in sioux falls, south dakota, go ahead. >> caller: good evening. it's actually jack. >> sorry about that. >> caller: excellent program tonight. my question is is whether george mcgovern was ever electable in 1972. was there any circumstances in which he could have beaten nixon had he avoided the eagleton debacle, the other problems of the convention, the late-night acceptance speech? >> sadly, i don't think so. i think that the conditions that we've talked about tonight were a mixed bag in the campaign, as i also indicated.
that for all the support that mcgovern got from protesters in the war, the war in vietnam, this were so many -- just as many people who didn't look at the war that way. they didn't think it was a disaster. and the attitudes were shaped by a president, president nixon, when played on their patriotism played on their emotions and turned the demonstrations that probably helped mcgovern into almost a national disgrace in a way that helped nixon. >> scott farris, was george mcgovern's political career over after 1972? >> no, he continued to serve the united states senate. in fact, he was re-elected in south dakota pretty handily in 1974 even though he had a strong republican challenger. by that time watergate had come about and nixon had resigned. certainly senator mcgovern felt
a bit of vindication. it was unfortunate that his defeat had been so total in 1972 that he wasn't mentioned as a candidate in 1976. in 1980, there was of course the big republican wave that brought ronald reagan into the presidency and swept a hot of lot of democrats out of office and in '80 mcgovern lost. but he continued to be active in public service. in 1984 he launched another bid for the presidency. at that point there was a tussle going on between campaign manager gary hart and former vice president walter mondale and senator mcgovern joined that race and got a lot of kudos trying to sale some of the wounds that were emerging. but he then announced if he couldn't fin or massachusetts, he would withdraw, and so he did.
he's maintained a very active life in public affairs going back to his issue on world hunger. probably hunger and nutrition remains his driving passion today as well as sort of reminding america about the benefits of liberal values and the place of liberalism in our american political system. >> let's hear from mitch next in st. augustine, florida. >> caller: good evening, ladies and gentlemen. thank you all very much. mr. farris, mr. witcover, i think you guys have done your studies. and the previous caller that wants to just remind everybody to remember george after quote, unquote, losing an election. i don't think that george lost. i think george moved on to do much greater things much like you folks were just talking about with the world hunger program. george has survived wars, being an anti-war person, yet willing to step up for our country. i think he's 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 up mcgovern's policies? who's the closest or best option that we have? >> mr. witcover? >> it's barack obama. i don't think that any of the republican candidates represent anything akin to things that george mcgovern run for president in 1972 or objectives that he's carried out the rest of his life. >> scott farris, what kind of president would george mcgovern have been? >> you know, i think he actual hi would have been a pretty good president i guess i base that on the food for peace program. one of the things you need to
bring to the presidency is a certain executive management skill. what he was able to do with the program that he didn't have a hot of money with, indicate once he has committed to a goal and had a program, he was able to carry it out. now, he would have become president under difficult circumstances. he would have had a difficult time completely getting us out of vietnam in a way that was acceptable to lot of the american people. i think ultimately, he would have been a fine president. of course, it's always difficult to speculate on the what if. i think he had the qualities of judgment and good will that i think americans want in their president. >> and the future of liberalism in this country? >> i think, again, he's outlined a map for the democratic party to be a major force in politics, maybe even return to its status as the majority party. the republican parties have been the majority over the last 30 plus years. it's a question of whether democrats will certainly get over the nostalgia for the new deal coalition. there's still a lot of people who 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. but i think senator mcgovern realized that they're more fertile grounds to work in for liberalism and for democrats. and i think as long as the democrats are able to appeal to minorities, to women, to the young and to continue to broaden their base and not exclude anybody who's from a different sort of category, i think that he's shown a way for them to be a viable force. maybe gary hart is right, without mcgovern's reforms, the democratic party would have ceased to exist. >> let me give this one to both of you. will there be another anty war candidate? >> this time around? >> in the future like a mcgovern, in the mold of a mcgovern. >> well, you know, i think the thing that differentiated mcgovern from other anti-war candidates, it was in his heart and his soul. he really was against that war and almost against all wars.
i think he might disagree with barack obama who said he's not against wars, he's just against dumb wars. mcgovern was not against all wars either because he fought courageously in one. but i think he's much more determined against wars, and i think if he had been elected, he would have gotten us out of vietnam as soon as he could. it would have been certainly a lot sooner than nixon did with the country's tail between its legs. >> and scott farris, you real quickly? >> i don't believe anybody will ever run as an anti-war candidate the way mcgovern did. i think one of his legacies is he showed the limits of what a presidential candidate can say about a war had america is involved in it. i think, again, people were very unsettled had he was so graphic and vehement and so uncompromising in his language. i think it's very indicative that ever since mcgovern, presidential nominees generally, democrats particularly, expressing calling for increased
defense spending et cetera because they don't want to be called as dukakis said in '88, i'm not another mcgovern in foreign affairs. i don't think we'll hear anybody talk about war the way mcgovern did in '72. >> we need to wrap up on that point. we want to thank the mcgovern center in mitchell, south dakota, ron simmons, rod brown, lori langland, kevin kengle, head librarian at the museum, also jack mortensen, paul ishofull, jay van took and senator mcgovern's daughter, ann, and thanks to jules witcover and scott farris. scott, can i just end with you, your final thoughts, if i could, since you're the presidential author here. what is the legacy of george mcgovern? >> well, again, he transformed the democratic party in ways that very few people in american politics have ever transformed a political party.
of course, his food for peace, the way his humanitarian efforts on behalf of the world and the nation's hungry may be his greatest legacy. who knows how many millions of people are alive today because of george mcgovern. one thing we forgot to mention, we saw a clip from one of his legacies, bill clinton was his texas coordinator. that campaign spawned a lot of young idealists who went into politics and made a name for themselves. for a man who lost, he probably had more influence on a lot of men who won the election. >> scott farris, jules witcover, thank you both. ♪ >> we are not content with things as they are. we reject the view of those who
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1972 democratic national convention in miami beach, florida. where senator mcgovern accepted the party's nomination. he lost to the incumbent president with richard nixon taking 49 states. our coverage is from the presidential library and museum. >> chairwoman burks, senator kennedy, senator eagleton, and my fellow citizens, i'm happy to join you for this benediction of our friday sun rise service. [ applause ] i assume everyone here is