Tag Archives: George McGovern

First election was a heartbreaker

Forty-nine years ago on this very day I cast my first vote for president.

Within minutes of the networks opening their election-night broadcasts, my heart broke into a million little pieces.

Sen. George McGovern ran for president in 1972 against Richard Nixon, the incumbent who sought re-election amid the Vietnam War (which was drawing to a close, even as protesters marched on our streets) and a burgeoning scandal, Watergate, that eventually would bring Nixon’s presidency to a premature close.

I was a young college student. I had just returned from that war, confused and as uncertain about our mission in Vietnam as I was when I landed in-country in March 1969.

I was newly married, too. The first of our sons would be born in just a few weeks, but I had gotten totally involved in politics. I worked to register college students to vote in that election at the college I attended in East Multnomah County, Ore. I was looking for budding Democrats to help defeat President Nixon.

I was a flaming lefty back then. I have moderated my views since then, but at the age of 23 I thought I knew all there was to know.

Well, Nov. 7 dawned that day and I actually had a thought in my noggin that we might be able to pull off a miracle, that Sen. McGovern somehow would prevail in his fight against President Nixon.

What in the world was I thinking? The polls wouldn’t close until 8 p.m. in Oregon. Wouldn’t you know it? Sometime shortly after the polls closed on the East Coast the networks called it: Nixon would win re-election.

Boy, did he ever. He finished with a 40-state landslide, a 23-percentage point victory in the balloting; the Electoral College total ended up 520 for the president, 17 for the senator (with one of the electors voting for a third candidate).

I was — to put it plainly — crushed! That would be the final election in which I ever would become an active participant. I had started my journalism career in 1976, so volunteering for voter-registration drives was out of the question.

Hey, but here’s a bit of cheer: Sen. McGovern carried Multnomah County, Ore., by just a little; he would lose Oregon to the president by double digits.

It was a game-changer for me. It whetted my appetite for covering and commenting on politics and politicians throughout my journalism career.

I am happy to report that my eternal optimism perhaps flickered a bit that evening, but it didn’t die.


Anxiety settles in

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

We have arrived at Election Eve 2020.

I am about to tell you what I am feeling at this moment. I am feeling as anxious and as downright giddy as I did when I voted for the very first time for president of the United States.

That was in 1972. The contest between President Richard Nixon and Sen. George McGovern didn’t turn out the way I wanted. You know how it went: Nixon won a 49-state landslide.

I was not quite 23 years of age then. The voting age had been set at 18 in 1971 with ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so I was ineligible to vote in 1968. Instead, I was inducted into the U.S. Army and spent some time in Vietnam in 1969.

I came home in 1970 confused about the Vietnam War. The 1972 election featured two men with vastly different views on matters of war and peace. President Nixon vowed to stay the course and continue a gradual withdrawal; Sen. McGovern wanted to pull out immediately. I sided with McGovern, given my own confusion about the war.

I was giddy then because I did not foresee the drubbing my candidate would suffer. However, casting my first vote for president was a big deal for me then.

Here we are in the present day. Casting my most recent vote for president feels every bit as big now as it did then. The reasons differ.

I was horrified four years ago by the election of Donald Trump. I am hopeful in the extreme that I can be part of what I hope is a serious course correction. Without that correction, I fear for the direction that Trump might drag this nation. I voted with extreme enthusiasm for Joe Biden.

The nation needs to rescue itself from the mistake it made when it allowed Trump to score a fluky Electoral College victory. You know the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Oh, man, my hope on Election Eve is that we won’t shame ourselves a second time. I am anxious tonight. I also am hoping I can get a good night’s sleep.

‘Energy’ doesn’t always equal ‘votes’

The nation’s political punditry is telling us about all that “energy” that emanates from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rallies.

The independent senator’s supporters are all in with Bernie. You can feel it, man! They’re going to carry the 78-year-old democratic socialist to victory against Donald John Trump in the fall, presuming of course that he gets the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

But … will he? Does that energy translate to votes?

I was part of an earlier “revolution” back in 1972. We thought we had “energy,” too, as we backed the candidacy of the late Sen. George McGovern.

I had returned home from the Army in 1970 after serving for a time in Vietnam. I was all in on McGovern’s stated intention to end the war. I enrolled in college. I became a political activist. I registered voters at the campus where I attended classes. We signed up a lot of new Democrats.

We went to rallies. We cheered loudly. We filled a downtown Portland, Ore., square when Sen. McGovern came to exhort the thousands of followers.

Hey, we had “energy.” We wanted to kick butt … by golly.

Then came the election. The networks called it almost immediately after the first polling stations closed on the East Coast.

It was over.

We were crushed under the weight of a 49-state landslide.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I want there to be enough energy to carry over that defeats Donald Trump this fall. I don’t know if Bernie Sanders is the guy to ignite the flame.

I just remain dubious of the pundit class’ penchant for hailing all the energy it feels from these Bernie Sanders rallies.

Are Democrats flirting with a 1972 repeat?

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster writing an essay for The Hill newspaper, poses a serious question that Democrats need to take seriously.

Are they flirting with a re-run of an electoral disaster by nominating a “democratic socialist” to run for president of the United States?

Penn writes about Sen. Bernie Sanders, the current Democratic frontrunner for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination: Sanders is an avowed democratic socialist whose “free college” mantra has captured the party’s youth vote, despite his having turned 78 years old. For decades he has lectured against the problems of big banks, an economy that works for the few and the need for revolutionary change. It is odd — in a time of such great prosperity, low unemployment and rising wages — that his message would resonate.

Yikes, man!

He seems to suggest in his essay that Democrats could face a blowout similar to what befell them when they nominated Sen. George McGovern in 1972 to run against President Nixon. McGovern lost 49 of 50 states to Nixon. I was a college student at the time. I was dedicated to electing George McGovern to be president. I was deflated quickly after the first polls closed on Election Night 1972; the networks called it almost immediately.

I am not willing to believe Donald Trump is going to blow Sanders out the way Nixon pummeled McGovern. I fear, though, that the president would cruise to re-election, which is an outcome I sincerely do not want to happen.

If Democrats are sincere in their belief that their nominee must be the most electable person they can find, they surely can do better than to elect someone such as Sanders. He isn’t a Democrat; his Senate career has produced next to zero legislative accomplishment; he talks a good game but doesn’t deliver the goods in the form of responsible legislation.

Sure, Sanders is drawing big, boisterous crowds. So did Sen. McGovern. The 1972 crowds cheered themselves hoarse urging McGovern to go after President Nixon. He tried. He failed … badly.

Check out Penn’s essay here.

Then ask yourself, if you are as devoted to Donald Trump’s defeat as I am: Is this the candidate who can actually win this most consequential election?

Waiting for the candidate who can wipe out Trump

Critics of this blog — at least some of them — have made some incorrect presumptions about me. They seem to believe I am some sort of far-left socialist who wants to redistribute wealth. That’s the vibe I get from a few of ’em.

I am a patriotic American, a veteran who went to war for my country, someone who’s been married to one woman for 48 years, has reared two sons watched them become two of the finest men on Earth. I pay my taxes without complaining.  I attend church most Sundays. I revere the principles for which our flag flies and I get choked up at military parades.

Accordingly, I do not want to see some far-left socialist nominated by the Democratic Party to run against Donald J. Trump. I favor a more moderate approach to good government. Who is that candidate? Who should carry the torch forward into political battle against a president who has zero business holding the office to which he was elected? I do not yet know.

I merely want to endorse the candidate who embodies moderation but one who can take the fight directly to Trump and his minions.

I had the distinct pleasure this week of attending a Trump rally in downtown Dallas. I went as an observer. I told a couple from Rockwall I meant about my intent in being there. They got it, even as they wore their Trump gear while waiting to get into the arena.

I met a lot of nice people. I had half-expected to see my share of wild-eyed wackos. I didn’t see them. Instead, I saw thousands of committed Trump supporters whose enthusiasm for their candidate was as fervent as any I have seen since, oh, 1972, when I got involved politically for the first time. My guy at that time was progressive U.S. Sen. George McGovern, a Democrat from South Dakota who campaigned on a pledge to end our involvement in the Vietnam War.

I had just returned from Vietnam and I wanted Sen. McGovern to win in the worst way. Instead, he lost in the worst way, losing 49 states to President Nixon. We were committed, too. Our crowds were huge and enthusiastic, too. We lost big.

My point is this: Fringe candidates do not win national elections. Trump is no extremist. He is, as best I can tell, a complete anomaly. He has no ideological base. He doesn’t stand on principle. He brought zero public service credentials, let alone interest, into the office he won in what I consider to be the Mother of All Political Flukes.

He has disgraced his office. He has embarrassed me as an American patriot. I want him banished from the White House. I want the next president to represent the sensible center of American life.

Whoever that person is, I am waiting for him or her to present themselves to Americans and to make the case in the strongest terms possible that they can — and will — restore dignity to the nation’s highest and most exalted office.

Get ready for the filthiest campaign in history

I am trying like the dickens to wrap my noggin around an impossible prospect.

That is, I am seeking to comprehend the level of filth that will sully the next campaign for the presidency of the United States. We are getting a whiff of the stench that already is filling the air around the 2020 campaign.

Donald J. Trump’s re-election campaign is getting set to run TV ads on the Fox News Channel that seek to tie Joe Biden, a potential 2020 opponent, to phony allegations of corruption involving the former VP and his son, Hunter, in business dealings in Ukraine.

Think about that for a moment. When have we seen an incumbent president seek to influence a primary outcome in the other political party? I am trying to remember. The closest parallel I can find is 1972, when Republicans sought to surreptitiously undermine Democratic frontrunner Edmund Muskie of Maine while greasing the skids for Democrats to nominate George McGovern of South Dakota. The difference between then and now is that President Nixon’s re-election team did it all under the table … not out front and in plain view of the entire world! The strategy worked: Nixon won re-election in a historic landslide, then got into serious trouble with that thing called “Watergate.”

Meanwhile, the current president is facing the real prospect of being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives over his admission that he is asking for foreign government help in his re-election effort, not to mention help in digging up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden.

My fellow Americans, welcome to the new age of American politics, where the president of the United States openly violates his oath of office and then seeks to smear a potential campaign opponent with the hope that the opposing party will nominate someone else.

I hope we all have the stomach for what we are about to witness.

Preferring a centrist/moderate to challenge Trump

The older I get the less radical my political thinking becomes.

I once considered myself a radical. In 1972, for instance, I got to cast my first vote for president of the United States. I voted proudly for Sen. George McGovern, who went on to lose 49 of 50 states against President Richard Nixon. It didn’t matter to me that I was backing a doomed candidate. I had just returned home from the Army, served some time in Vietnam, came home from that war wondering what in the world we were doing over there. I wanted the war to end; Sen. McGovern was going to end it.

I have learned over the years, now that I am a whole lot older, that radical politicians usually fare poorly at the ballot box.

To that end, I am leaning heavily toward a centrist/moderate Democrat to win the party’s nomination to run against Donald John Trump in November 2020.

The radical progressives running for POTUS this year tend to annoy me. I refer to the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Marianne Williamson, Bill DiBlasio for starters. Of the three I just mentioned, Sanders is the most annoying of all; he sings off a single page in his political hymn book, the one titled “income inequality.”

My tendency is to lean toward someone such as Joe Biden, the former vice president. I get that he has taken a lot of fire from many of his Democratic Party primary foes. Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, DiBlasio, Julian Castro and John Delaney have unloaded on him.

A large number of other Democratic candidates are likely to fade away. I am sorry to project that one of them might be Beto O’Rourke, the Texan who once captured the country’s imagination by giving Ted Cruz a serious scare in the 2018 midterm election for the U.S. Senate.

Is the former VP the man to beat Trump? Time will have to tell on that one. He hasn’t looked like it at these two Democratic joint appearances. However, it is still early, man.

There might be another moderate to emerge. If one does come forth, I intend to give that individual a careful look.

Radicalism doesn’t sell with me. I’m too old for that these days.

Watergate Day has arrived, heralding ‘most stupid scandal’ ever

Happy Watergate Break-in Day, ladies and gentlemen.

It was 47 years ago today that some burglars got caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C. It turned out eventually that the burglars were acting on behalf of the Committee to Re-Elect the President — aka the hilarious acronym “CREEP.”

The scandalous nature of the burglary took time to unfold before the nation. When it did, all hell broke loose. We learned about how President Nixon sought to, um, “obstruct justice” by seeking to stop the FBI investigation. There were those infamous tape recordings. The Senate seated a select committee to get to the bottom of it.

Once it did, then the House Judiciary Committee launched impeachment proceedings. Then it voted to impeach the president, with several Republican members joining their Democratic colleagues.

Nixon then quit the presidency.

Why is this remarkably pertinent today? Because another scandal is growing in Washington that well could result in another presidential impeachment. As stupid as the current troubles surrounding Donald Trump might seem, they fail the Stupid Test standard established by CREEP.

When the burglars broke into the DNC office on June 17, 1972, the Republican president already was headed toward a smashing re-election victory. The Democrats later that summer nominated Sen. George McGovern, who then went on to lose to Nixon in a landslide. Nixon carried 49 states, rolled up 521 electoral votes, trounced McGovern by 23 percent in the balloting.

Yet the CREEP moguls thought it was worth their time to rifle through the DNC files to look for additional dirt on the Democratic Party and on McGovern.

I cannot fathom a more stupidly conceived crime than the one concocted by CREEP and the Republican Party establishment.

There can be no way yet to determine how the Donald Trump drama is going to end up. I want him out of office at the earliest possible opportunity. Whether it’s through impeachment and conviction in a Senate trial or by the next presidential election that is still about 500-some days away, it makes no difference to me.

In the annals of stupid scandals, though, the stupidity standard was set 47 years ago when those bozos broke into the DNC, only to allow Richard Nixon’s penchant for paranoia to doom his presidency.

Big crowds don’t necessarily mean big vote totals

I must offer a word of caution to Beto O’Rourke’s fans who take great pride in the size of the crowds the U.S. senatorial candidate is drawing as he stumps his way across Texas.

The Democratic challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz has my vote. I want him to win in a big way. Cruz hasn’t distinguished himself as a champion for Texas causes and interests; he’s more fixated on his own ambition.

Having said that, Cruz must be considered the favorite to win re-election. Yes, polling indicates a close race. However, Texas is a Republican state. O’Rourke has to to overtake The Cruz Missile quickly and open up a bit of a spread between the two of them.

How does he do that? Well, he is drawing big crowds at rallies in rural Texas. Let me caution O’Rourke’s faithful followers: Big crowds don’t necessarily translate to a winning trajectory.

Example given: the 1972 presidential campaign of Sen. George McGovern.

I was a campus coordinator for Sen. McGovern in my native Oregon. I had returned from the Army in 1970. I was disillusioned about our Vietnam War policy. I spent some time in the war zone and came away confused and somewhat embittered.

I wanted Sen. McGovern to defeat President Nixon. He drew big crowds all across the nation as he campaigned for the presidency. They were vocal, boisterous, optimistic.

My task in college was to register new voters. We got a lot of new voters on the rolls that year. I was proud of my contribution.

On Election Night, it was over … just like that. The president was re-elected in a landslide. 520 electoral votes to 17. He won about 60 percent of the popular vote.

The big crowds, including a huge rally in the final days in downtown Portland, didn’t mean a damn thing!

Will history repeat itself in Texas in 2018? Oh, man, I hope not!

Recalling a great discussion among friends

This video is among my all-time favorite public television news broadcasts. It features a PBS NewsHour discussion with the late U.S. Sens. George McGovern and Barry Goldwater.

A liberal (McGovern) and a conservative (Goldwater) talked political differences between them and sought to put the 1988 presidential campaign into some sort of civil and proper perspective.

The moderator was Jim Lehrer, a fellow whose acquaintance I made while I was working in Beaumont many years ago. More on that perhaps at another time.

What Sens. McGovern and Goldwater sought to do in this discussion is delineate the differences between their respective philosophies. What is so remarkable is how much common ground these two old men had found and how they believed they found it when they served together in the U.S. Senate.

How did they manage such commonality? Well, they didn’t talk about it in their PBS interview, but I have a theory.

Their common respect was forged in their common history and their shared sacrifice during a time of dire peril for the United States.

McGovern and Goldwater served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. They both served heroically during that conflict. They brought their commonality together when they ended up in the Senate together. McGovern represented South Dakota, Goldwater represented Arizona.

They were far from the only two men of disparate philosophies to forge friendships in the Congress during their time together. I think often of how Sen. Bob Dole developed a unbreakable bond with Sen. Daniel Inouye; Dole is a Kansas conservative, Inouye was a Hawaii liberal. They, too, became brothers in arms in World War II, both suffering grievous battlefield injuries and going through rehab together. Their common suffering became their bond and it overrode whatever political differences they had while serving in the Senate.

Vietnam produced similar friendships that transcended partisan politics. I’ll cite two examples: Sens. John McCain and John Kerry both served with valor and distinction during the Vietnam War. McCain is a Republican; Kerry is a Democrat. They both worked in tandem to allow the United States and Vietnam to establish diplomatic ties long after the end of that terrible and divisive conflict.

These men all knew the meaning of sacrifice for the sake of the country they all loved.

As George McGovern told Barry Goldwater during that 15-minute PBS discussion, they have much more in common now than they did in the old days. Yes, but the common experience they brought with them to their shared public service taught them to respect the other’s point of view, that the “enemy” didn’t sit in the same legislative chamber.