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Opening Arguments

RIP, George McGovern

We automatically think of George McGovern as an unwavering liberal progressive, but some consider him a libertarian hero, too:

Yet when you take a longer view of his career -- especially after he got bounced from the Senate in 1980 during the Republican landslide he helped create -- what emerges is a rare public figure whose policy positions shifted to an increasingly libertarian stance in response to a world that’s far more complicated than most politicians can ever allow.

[. . .]

That emphasis on lived reality -- and the failure of government interventions to make the world stand at attention to the desires of politicians -- later turned McGovern to libertarian positions on more than foreign policy. He scandalized liberals in a 1992 letter to the Wall Street Journal, detailing his travails as the proprietor of a Connecticut hotel.

Having sunk most of his savings into the venture, it went belly up, he said, partly because of a bad economy but also due to “federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc.”

Lamenting his lack of business experience while he was a legislator and presidential contender, McGovern concluded that “ ‘one-size-fits-all’ rules for business ignored the reality of the marketplace.”

Just to show you how people can change, I actually voted for McGovern in his run against Nixon. I guess it was partly because of his "Come home from Vietnam now" stance -- he was the most unapologetic anti-war presidential candidate I've ever seen. I was newly home from the place myself and enrolled at Ball State very much in the "veterans for peace" mode. But part of it, too, was my desire to shake up the status quo and try something markedly different. Supporting Romney today accomplishes the same thing -- yes? -- despite the philosophical distance I've covered.

McGovern and my political journeys are not remarkable. Starting out liberal and moving gradually to the right is a much-commented on, very natural phenomenon. But there's more than one place on the right. I ended up a libertarian-conservative mixture, McGovern more of a  libertarian.