A few days ago, I watched the 2005 documentary One Bright Shining Moment about George McGovern’s run for the presidency in 1972. I was 13 turning 14 at the time and was excited about the possibility of a liberal antiwar candidate being elected president. I later heard a story that when New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael woke up the morning after the landslide victory for Nixon, she couldn’t believe it. She didn’t know a single person who voted for Nixon. That’s how I felt.
I pasted a bumper sticker for McGovern/Shriver on my mother’s pristine Rambler. (She made me clean it off after the election, of course.) My father took us to a rally at Richmond High School, where we got to see the vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver in person. And I handed out literature at the local market where we lived. I still believe now what I believed then. George McGovern wanted to turn this country towards compassion and away from greed and violence. His dramatic loss will be understood as a turning point in history. Roosevelt saved capitalism from itself, and the line of Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the Bushes will be seen as having let it choke itself to death. McGovern might have stopped this juggernaut.
|George McGovern visits Cesar Chavez |
in the hospital
The documentary itself is too long. As much as I love Gore Vidal, he becomes pedantic. But the film tells an important moment in American history that is worth understanding.
Barack Obama is not like George McGovern. For one thing, he got elected! He is master of a much better organized and well-fueled machine. His vice president is an old hand, who talks too much, but doesn’t suffer the stigma of mental illness that Tom Eagleton—McGovern’s first choice for vice president—did. In the age of Citizens United, Obama has to play to the corporate kingpins, as much as he may not like them. He advocates for an endless expansion of an economy that seems based on waste and pointless consumerism. He has not closed Guantanamo Bay, and apparently innocent people are still dying there. And then there are the drones. But he has tried to institute some kind of healthcare system that will help the middle class and the poor. He has come out for equal rights for gay people. When Ruth Ginsburg and other older Supreme Court justices retire, he will nominate justices who are not hateful or stupid. Whatever objections those on the left may have, we must reelect him. Romney and the Republicans have moved so far right that they will try to repeal civil rights and focus on what the last several Republicans have focused on—redistribution of the wealth to the one percent, using war as an excuse and oil as the catalyst. While this might speed what I see as an inevitable revolution, it will be bloody, and many innocent people will die. Make no mistake, Republicans are (light) brown shirts in white shirts and rep ties.
Even as we support Obama, we must continue to protest capitalism’s excesses. The Occupy movement showed that discontent is real and rising. I think that the violence that a few of the Occupy protestors exhibited was not so much revolutionary fervor as it was mental illness. The democratic nature of the movement and its willingness to feed anyone attracted a number of homeless and mentally ill people who had nowhere else to go. Another surprise gift to the left from the antigovernment, antitax, pro-rich Republicans. Eliminate services for the mentally ill, and be sure they go help the pro-democratic demonstrators!
|Richard Serra's print is part of a group of prints|
by Gemini GEL artists to raise money for Obama.
The truth is, Republicans actually love socialism. They see government as a source of funding for the private sector. As long as the spigot flows money upward, they have what they want. What we learned from Reagan was that “trickle down” really means “flow up.” Nobody loves government subsidy, aka corporate welfare, as much as the Republicans.
At this juncture, there are at least two related questions facing the country. First, can we tax the rich enough to provide a balance to their excesses, and will they retaliate? The type of police action we saw less than a mile from our home here in Oakland, Romney’s off-shore tax havens, and Apple’s hideous manufacturing practices in China (as I type this on a Mac) are all ways the one percent can react to challenges to their hegemony. Second, can this country begin to see that endless pursuit of profit is killing us? Profit in and of itself is just an updated version of trading beads. This intense focus on profit over service is an environmental and political disaster.
I wonder if there is a relationship between the growth of excess profit and the expansion of extremist brands of several faiths? Is this because so many people lack basic necessities, or because people are angry that what little they have will be taken from them? Talk about false prophets (see the late Christopher Hitchens on that!).
We may not see the end of capitalism in my lifetime. But we could see people begin to turn towards compassion and service as more important than profit. That was what George McGovern promised. And deep down, I think that is what Obama also wants.