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What It Means to Be a Democrat Hardcover – November 10, 2011
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"[McGovern] remains one of the country's most decent and thoughtful public servants."
- Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation
"In a book that is far more serious-minded than some of those written by actual 2012 presidential candidates, McGovern lays out a series of ideas aimed at fixing the nation's job crisis, improving health care and education and reducing the widening gap between the rich and everyone else."
- Star Tribune
About the Author
George McGovern is an iconic political figure who helped shape the modern Democratic party. During his twenty-two years as a U.S. Congressman, he fought for the rights of rural Americans and became a staunch critic of the Vietnam War. After his 1972 run for president against Richard Nixon, McGovern went on to serve as the United Nations global ambassador on hunger.
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Senator McGovern is a decorated war hero (a bomber pilot who survived dozens of missions in WWII), a member of the Kennedy Administration, and by his own account a "stand-in" presidential candidate who ran against Nixon after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. He draws on his rich personal knowledge of 65 years of American politics to place the current radical-right GOP in historical perspective as one of the worst political developments ever to happen in America. "We are," he reminds us, "a nation in which fear and paranoia run deep. Since the Pilgrims made landfall in 1620, we have burned so-called witches at the stake, hauled Japanese-Americans to internment camps, and blacklisted people who we labeled Communists." In postwar history, it is the Republicans who "have fomented popular fears to their best advantage." The GOP is the party of demagoguery and playing dirty: McCarthyism, the "southern white strategy," Willie Horton, ginned-up WMDs and specters of mushroom clouds in Iraq, Swiftboating, and the Socialist-Muslim-Kenyan nonsense.
When Republicans are elected to public office, they overreach, ignore facts and common sense, and run roughshod over the country. The Patriot Act invades our privacy. The Homeland Security department is a bloated "behemoth that now has more than 200,000 employees and a $42 billion budget." It upsets McGovern to "see an elderly woman trying her darnedest to comply with these ridiculous rules, as if she could possibly be harboring an explosive in her toothpaste." The Republicans deregulated the financial industry, ran up huge deficits on unpaid-for wars, and caused a near-collapse of the nation's economy, and then not only refuse to take responsibility, but want even more of the same. "I am sickened," he says, "by the idea that instead of working alongside President Obama to solve [these] problems in a bipartisan way, congressional Republicans are trying to . . . unseat him . . . regardless of the cost."
McGovern ridiules the GOP obsession with tax cuts and the claim that lower taxes mean higher growth: "[During the Eisenhower period], the tax rate on the wealthiest was 91 percent--and GDP grew by 3.67 percent. Under Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of tax cutting and the Republican Party, GDP grew by only 3.47 percent. If a tax rate as high as 91 percent didn't stall the economy, why would a 36 percent rate do so?
He was opposed to both the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and points out that the techniques of false patriotism were identical among those who supported these wars: "[A] lot of people who beat their chests have never been near a military plane or a battlefield; they've never heard a bullet pass an inch above their skulls. They've never seen a buddy in arms gasping his way to death. Sometime in the late 1960s, as I had the floor trying to make the case against our continuance in Vietnam, a fellow senator stood up and said, 'I stand with our troops.' I said, 'You're not standing with our troops. They're in Vietnam. You're in the Senate, with air-conditioning, mahogany paneling, and pages to run your errands for you.' " McGovern has watched our government send almost exclusively working-class kids off to die in wars, "while the kids who have enjoyed the most from our society are the least likely to serve," and suggests that "if upper-middle-class kids were being drafted out of Harvard and Smith we might never enter unwise wars like those we're in now or were in for so many years in Vietnam."
"What it Means to be a Democrat" is not a heavily-footnoted academic analysis, a journalistic work based on hundreds of sources, or an ideological tract. It is the final salute of a 89-year-old who knows firsthand that our nation has been gravely damaged by the radical right, and who wants to remind us to return to our true ideals.
"Above all, being a Democrat means having compassion for others. It means putting government to work to help the people who need it. It means using all available tools to provide good health care and education, job opportunities, safe neighborhoods, a healthy environment, a promising future. It means standing up for people who have been kept down, whether they are Native Americans or African Americans, women, immigrants, or the homeless. It means taking care of the mentally ill, of seniors, of vulnerable children, of veterans --- and making sure all people are treated with respect and dignity."
The remainder of the book is spent explaining how a Democrat's views of government and its role are manifest with respect to compassion, defense spending, the purpose of government, food/hunger, immigration, education, employment, energy/environment, the Middle East, health care, and addiction. He draws sharp contrasts with the Republican party to emphasize his points and, admirably, keeps his criticisms aboveboard, although he does single out the Tea Party as a major contributor to the increasing acrimony on Capitol Hill. Senator McGovern is clearly proud to be a Democrat and the federal programs they've conceived and created since World War II --- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamp Program, Voting Rights Act, Head Start, Peace Corps, Nat'l School Lunch Program, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, collective bargaining laws, Fair Labor Standards Act, State Children's Health Insurance Program, Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (pp. 231-2) --- although his commitment to our nation, to being an American, transcends his allegiance to the Democratic Party.
This is an easy and clearly-written book by a remarkable man. Highly recommended.