Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It will be a busy weekend in Mitchell.

The South Dakota Democratic Party has declared Saturday as McGovern Day. It hopes, during a day long celebration in Mitchell where McGovern once taught at Dakota Wesleyan University, to capture a bit of the spirit of the man who dominated South Dakota politics so significantly during the �50s, �60s, and �70s.

When McGovern�s political career was reaching its peak, I wasn�t mature enough to make a personal assessment of the man and what he stood for.

Today, I know he took some positions that I simply could never support. Like the guaranteed annual income he promised every American during his failed bid for the presidency in 1968.

He was elected to the U. S. House in 1956 but was defeated for the Senate in 1960. As a prot�g� of Sen. Hubert Humphrey, McGovern was appointed director of the Food for Peace Program by President Kennedy. He ran again for the Senate in 1962 and won.

McGovern reluctantly voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution that gave President Johnson authority to engage in military action in Indochina. But he quickly became an outspoken critic of Johnson�s decision to employ U. S. military forces to fight the war.

He soon became drawn into anti-war activities, although his principal legislative effort during the late 1960s was devoted to eliminating hunger and malnutrition in America. Though appalled by police violence at the 1968 Chicago nominating convention, he gave Vice President Humphrey his reluctant endorsement at the cost of antagonizing the anti-war forces.

In 1969, McGovern accepted with misgivings the chairmanship of the Democratic reform commission, whose recommendations were bound to please neither the party regulars nor the radicals. His position in the Democratic party now made him a natural contender for the 1972 presidential nomination, an effort he won in a series of primary victories.

McGovern�s presidential campaign got off to a bad start with the decision to drop his vice-presidential running mate Sen. Thomas Eagleton and to name Sargent Shriver in his place. When he came out in favor of a guaranteed annual income for each American family, many wage earners and middle-class voters saw it as a new form of �giveaway� for the benefit of those who would not work. The voters rallied to Richard Nixon�s promise to do whatever was necessary to vindicate America�s position in the world, and McGovern received 38 percent of the popular vote, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

He was reelected to the Senate in 1974, but in 1980 he lost his bid for reelection to Republican James Abdnor. In September 1983 he re-entered the presidential race, announcing his candidacy for the 1984 Democratic nomination.

Just about everyone who reviews McGovern�s political career, be they conservative or liberal, agree that many times the South Dakotan hit the mark.

McGovern called LBJ�s carpet bombing of North Vietnam �a policy of madness.� It was a political statement, but the Johnson tapes reveal that McGovern�s assessment of many of our military policies in the 1960s were correct.

What I�ve come to realize, as I watch the current political activities of our office-seekers, is that South Dakota was lucky to have a man like McGovern in Congress for so long.

It�s hard to explain, but McGovern had this innate ability to distinguish himself from practically every other politician on Capitol Hill. That�s why, I suppose, you either loved him, or you didn�t.

He set himself apart not so much from his actions. He transcended himself from carrying out the day-to-day business of politics. He politically defined himself not only to his home state, but to the nation and the world.

Maybe that�s what I miss about our current U.S. Senate race in South Dakota.

Stop and think about it. What really distinguishes Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson from his opponent, Republican Rep. John Thune other than their party affiliation?

If you carefully read the news releases cranked out by their Washington and their campaign offices, the two men seem to marching to the same drummer.

This week, for example, a Johnson press release outlines the benefits of the federal tax cut. Thune announces that he is working to lower our tax burden.

On April 12, Johnson announced that he is fighting to protect Lake Oahe�s water levels. Three days later, Thune revealed in a press release that he has contacted the Corps of Engineers demanding that it reevaluate it plan to allow water levels on Lake Oahe to drop.

What we have here are two men with practically the same world view seeking the same office. How are we to distinguish between the two?

I�m hoping that one of the candidates will have the courage to do what McGovern did. Sound bites and press releases don�t really tell us much.

We need a candidate who is not afraid to let his constituents get to know him on a more philosophical level.

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