Mitt Romney and the Legacy of George McGovern

George McGovern, the anti-war stalwart from South Dakota who suffered a historic defeat at the hands of Richard M. Nixon, said the following in his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1972:

“National strength includes the credibility of our system in the eyes of our own people as well as the credibility of our deterrent in the eyes of others abroad.”

George McGovern in 1972

Mitt Romney has thus far opted not to heed this advice from the senator, who died on Sunday at age 90. Rather, the Republican nominee’s heavy reliance on cynical, duplicitous talking points indicates that he seeks not to speak with candor about sensitive subjects, but rather to improve his own electoral prospects. It is simply false, as Romney alleges, that the current commander-in-chief went around the world on an “Apology Tour.” President Obama was correct to recommend viewers consult the many media fact-checks available on this issue, because they are virtually unanimous in denouncing Romney’s accusation as wrong. The governor should produce evidence for his claim instead of merely asserting it, which he has done repeatedly.

More damaging to American credibility abroad is the refusal of the Republican nominee to acknowledge the foreign policy failures of the previous Republican administration. Remarkably, the governor has taken it a step further by surrounding himself with the most notorious Bush-era actors — John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, Dan Senor, Liz Cheney, et. al — which demonstrates a strong commitment to the Bush-era foreign policy vision. Romney expresses no remorse about supporting the decision to preemptively invade Iraq on false pretenses; he instead has declared our partial withdrawal to be the real “tragedy.”

“Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations,” Romney stated Monday night. “We have freed other nations from dictators.”

Is Mitt Romney arguing that America has not supported dictators in other nations? If so, this suggests an ignorance of basic U.S. history. George McGovern could have taught the governor a lesson or two — perhaps Romney is unaware of American policies with respect to, for example, Chile, Indonesia, Saddam Hussein, and Egypt.

In further contravention of McGovern’s advice, Romney sullies our image overseas when he addresses Iran and Syria with such unnecessarily bellicose rhetoric. “We need to indict Ahmadinejad,” he proclaimed during Monday night’s debate. Romney also characterized the situation in Syria as “an opportunity for us,” which seems like an odd thing to say about a conflict that has killed tens of thousands. He then pledged to “organize” parties there deemed friendly, thereby calling for increased American involvement in the Syrian sectarian conflict. This seems sure to further destabilize the conflict.

“When I entered the U.S. Senate in 1963, the defense budget was $51 billion,” George McGovern wrote about one year before his death. “This was at a time when our military experts felt it necessary to have the means to win a war against the combined powers of Russia and China. Today we have a military budget of over $700 billion, and yet neither Russia nor China threatens us, if indeed they ever did. Nor does any other nation.”

More good advice for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who favor a dramatic increase in defense spending. During the debate Romney again reiterated his displeasure with the president’s supposed policy to “cut back on our military capabilities,” including reducing the size of naval fleets. (It was Paul Ryan and the House Republican caucus, we should recall, who cut a deal in summer 2011 mandating these sequestration cuts to the defense budget.) Romney seems to not have a clear understanding of Pentagon finances nor its policies.

Conversely, George McGovern took serious interest in foreign policy, embarking on many trips to tumultuous regions and meeting with leaders, like Fidel Castro, who were widely deemed “enemies” of America. At the debate, Romney mocked Obama for expressing desire to conduct diplomatic relations with purportedly hostile nations. “He said he would meet with all the world’s worst actors in his first year,” Romney barbed, “he’d sit down with Chavez and Kim Jong-il, with Castro and President Ahmadinejad of Iran.”

Does Romney’s insult here suggest a dedication to prudence in the management of foreign relations? It seems he instead takes every available opportunity to score cheap political points. John McCain, for all his many faults, evinced a sincere appreciation for the complexities of American diplomacy. The Romney worldview, by contrast, amounts to a mélange of ill-founded memes and talking points.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Dfg52

    Hey guys, did you realize that Romney is an inferior candidate, even in ways not related to religion?  Just thought you should know.

  • Heidi

    But it is true that Romney went on an “Insult the World” tour. Because he’s classy that way.

  • Momma J

    Hey, did you know that Obama has lied to us all multiple times concerning the attack of our consulate in Libya. CNN just released copies of the e-mails that were sent out to the state department. Within hours, there was a terrorist group claiming responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, it took his administration 8 days before they would say so with any kind of assurance. 

    But don’t worry guys, the details were sketchy and they didn’t know for sure if it was a random protesting mob. (sarcasm)Last time I checked, random mobs don’t make threats ahead of time and then claim responsibility for an attack afterwards. 

    They are both lying and are trying to tell you what they think (or rather what their campaign managers think) we want to hear :/ 

  • Glasofruix

     Wasn’t this thing debunked like two weeks ago or something? As usuall you are a bit too late with your pathetic attempts at lying…

  • Bryan
  • keddaw

    “Hey, did you know that Obama has lied to us all multiple times concerning”…
    Gitmo, the PATRIOT Act, NDAA, punishing war crimes, ending foreign wars, sping on US citizens, having a single payer health care system covering all Americans, stopping torture, stopping indefinite detention, scaling back the drug war, punishing Wall Street lawbreakers, upholding the Constitution of the United States of America (he actually swore an oath to that one!)

    Jeez, if you’re gonna insult the guy don’t go for the idiotic Republican talking points, go for the lies he told regarding shit that the Republicans will also do!

  • Tom in Raleigh

    Actually, on the last go round, Mcain was talking about leaving the United nations to team with people that have the same viewpoints as us.

  • billybobbibb

    This liberal diatribe has nothing to do with atheism or religion.  While you’re certainly entitled to your political opinion, I think this is a poor choice of venue to espouse your political propaganda.  Not all atheists are liberal, some are libertarian, others are even fiscal conservatives.  I have no problem criticizing Romney on his Mormon faith or Obama, either; those would be appropriate topics in this venue.  Or look at it this way: do you think it would be appropriate to post an article here that castigates Obama and highlights Romney’s strengths, thus supporting a Romney Presidency?  Yeah, I thought not…

  • machintelligence

    Entirely appropriate. It’s his blog, he can say what he wants.

    I also appreciated McGoverns “concession” speech (paraphrasing here) : I thank those who voted for me. Those who voted for my opponent should have their heads candled, but don’t worry, you will get the government you deserve.

  • Michael Harrison

     Except he’s not arguing from a philosophical or political stance, but one of promoting truth and fact-checking. Though I will offer that a demonstration of deceit by both candidates would probably have been more appropriate.

  • Coyotenose

     Atheism —> Skepticism —> Examining ideas for truth —> Calling out false ideas —> Romney is a serial liar.

    Even relative to other politicians.

  • JAlanKatz

     Exactly!  Gary Johnson exists, by the way.

  • Parth Choksi

     I have to agree with billybobbibb. And it’s really not just this post, but several previous posts (e.g. the post on if the world voted, Obama would win -> seriously, what was the point of that?).

    Although it is his blog, this blog is suppose to discuss things related to atheism/separation of church and state. Billy is just pointing out this post is not relevant to the overall theme of the blog.

    ” Atheism —> Skepticism —> Examining ideas for truth —> Calling out false ideas —> Romney is a serial liar.”

    That’s an extremely far stretch. Is this blog planning on calling out false ideas in every area or by every person now then?  I get calling out people on spreading religious lies, lies about atheists or even lies on science (creationism is very much a religious issue). I understand posts explaining where candidates stand on religious issues or why it should matter.

    By the way, I’m pretty liberal, but honestly I really don’t think analyzing politicians’ talking points on foreign policy have a place here.

  • Deven Kale

     If you really have any kids, I’m sure you know that people claim responsibility for things that they had nothing to do with all the time. Eight days seems like a reasonable amount of time to me to confirm whether they really are responsible.

  • Coyotenose

     “Is this blog planning on calling out false ideas in every area or by every person now then?”

    I feel that you’re arguing that if FA doesn’t post refutations of everything, it shouldn’t have refutations of anything.

    While it’s far from universal, atheism is usually linked to skepticism. Skeptics learn over time to apply skepticism habitually to many things. Politics is a natural outcropping.

    As well, everything is related, religion and politics being no exception. The creation of Israel was founded in belief in Revelations, and much of its current support exists for that reason. (lots of people don’t know that, but they’ve been influenced by it nonetheless.) Major elements of the Cold War, which Romney is bizarrely trying to reanimate, were based in religion. Look at his other claims and stances; more often than not, they come from that evil brew made of religious idolatry of American myths, Christianity, and jingoism.

  • Coyotenose


    *ducks, grinning*

  • Parth Choksi

     I agree that those particular issues are relevant to atheism/skepticism. However the author did not touch at all on for example the religious bases of support for Israel or other foreign policy issues. Rather he simply laments that Romney lied.

    Obviously you’re right that FA should have a choice in what lies it wants to refute. Although I do think those lies should pertain to religion/atheism/etc. In that sense I was arguing against the argument that atheism leads to calling out false ideas, since ‘calling out false ideas’ does not distinguish between different types of lies. So I don’t agree that atheism -> calling out lies -> calling out Romney is a valid reason for why this post belongs on FA. I was merely pointing out that that argument can be used to call out lies of any kind while I believe FA should focus on those related to religion.