Monday, October 29, 2012

Something I didn't know about George McGovern - he voted for Jerry Ford for President in 1976!

I didn't believe this when I saw a reference to it in the Sioux Fall Argus-Leader in a timeline about the late George McGovern's life.

But he did say to Larry King just after President Ford's death that he had voted for him for President in 1976 against winning Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter!

George McGovern at the Nixon Libarary 08/26/2009

That was a real surprise to me. Below is the complete McGovern section from CNN Larry King Live, Farewell To President Ford 01/02/2007. He also relates a conversation he had with Barry Goldwater about the pardoning of Richard Nixon. I find it easier to believe that he favored a pardon of Nixon than that he voted for Gerald Ford.

KING: We're back. Joining us now for a few moments out of Miami is George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, author of a new book "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now." Senator McGovern, you lost your daughter Terri to alcoholism. Gerald Ford's support of his wife's anti-addiction efforts must have had a special meaning to you.

GEORGE MCGOVERN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely. And we did have a common bond there. I served in the House with President Ford when he was a congressman. I was just a freshman. He was emerging as the Republican leader in the House. But he always treated the lowliest freshman congressman the same way he treated everybody else.

I first came to really know him on the day we ended the war in Vietnam. That was April 30th, 1975, when he invited me to a small stag dinner at the White House. I was a little puzzled by it, because I didn't know him all that well.

And I arrived there. And here was King Hussein, the late Senator Fulbright, myself and one or two others.

And I told him that night, Mr. President, this is the first time I've been invited to the White House socially in 10 years, since I first began criticizing our involvement in Vietnam. He said, George, I know that. That's why you're here tonight. I never forgot that.

KING: Was he a good president?

MCGOVERN: Yes, I think he was. There's a consensus in the country that we've heard the last few days, from Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, those in the middle -- I think he perhaps now has earned the title unifier in chief. He's probably done a better job of pulling all the various elements of American politics together than any other person I know. And he deserves high marks for that.

KING: Are you surprised -- go ahead. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MCGOVERN: I have to tell you something I've never said before publicly. I voted for him in 1976.

KING: What?

MCGOVERN: When he -- yes, I did. And at Thanksgiving dinner that year, I never said anything about this to Eleanor or to her five children. But I told them at Thanksgiving time I had voted for President Ford, even though he lost. And I told them why, because I thought he had come in at a difficult time. I didn't know President Carter very well then. And I just felt more comfortable somehow with Gerry Ford. Whereupon my wife Eleanor said, so did I vote for him.

We went around that table -- this is hard to believe -- all five of my kids voted for him. So they get seven votes out of the McGovern family for President Ford and Senator Dole, my long-time Republican friend.

I voted for Carter again [sic] in 1980. So with my brand of political luck, I voted against Carter when he won, I voted for him when he lost. But I can justify both of those votes.

KING: What a great story. Thank you, George McGovern, on the occasion of the passing of Gerald Ford.

MCGOVERN: Could I also add one -- could I add one thing?

KING: Yes.

MCGOVERN: Larry, I supported the pardon for President Nixon. I suppose I was the person that suffered more from the cover-up of Watergate while I was running against Mr. Nixon than anyone else. But I supported that idea of a pardon even before President Ford granted it.

I called Barry Goldwater and asked him, at 6:00 one morning in the summer of '74, what would you think of you and I on a bipartisan basis calling for a pardon for President Nixon? He wasn't enthusiastic about it.

KING: I know.

MCGOVERN: I saw him after we both left the Senate many years later. And he says, George, I remember that call. This was out in Phoenix, where I was making a speech. But he said, you know, he lied to me, Nixon did. He lied to the Congress, he lied to the press, he lied to the American people. I want nothing more to do with him. I haven't spoken to him since. So that was Barry Goldwater. [my emphasis]
But in his 1977 book, Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, he had talked about his unhappiness with Carter as the Democratic candidate and even a personal grudge that he bore him. It's easy to overlook now, but Carter was seen in 1976 within the Democratic Party as a conservative choice. He's been a much more liberal ex-President than he was a President or Presidential candidate. Here's what McGovern wrote in 1977 about Carter's Presidential run:

I tried at first to stay free of involvement in the primaries. But I was convinced that among the early contenders, candidates such as Morris Udall, Sargent Shriver and Birch Bayh had a better grasp of the nation's problems than Carter. Indeed, much of what I knew about the former Georgia governor - which was little - disturbed me. I did not like his prolonged, almost bitter-end, endorsement of America's role in Vietnam. I could not be comfortable with any candidate who had supported the Vietnam madness as late as Carter had. Nor was I reassured about his views on arms control and military spending; the promise of a cut was too vague to be believed. It seemed to me that he was hedging his stands on virtually everything. On a personal level, I recalled that he had been an active promoter of the "Anybody but McGovern" strategy of 1972.

Dissatisfaction with Carter's policy among liberal Democrats and labor persisted. Ted Kennedy mounted a serious challenge against him in the 1980 primaries, as did Jerry Brown. He even disappointed Democrats on Election Day 1980, formally conceding to Ronald Reagan before the polls closed on the West Coast, thus risking reducing Democratic turnout and endangering down-ticket candidates.

McGovern's memory of his support for Ford's pardon of Nixon may have been colored by later reflection, or perhaps his wording by the occasion of Ford's passing. An AP report at the time of the pardon (quoted here from
Reaction splits on party lines Bangor Daily News 09/09/1974):

Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee whom Nixon defeated, said: "It has seemed to me that the central lesson Watergate should be that no one stands above the rule of law. It is difficult to understand granting immunity to Mr. Nixon while committing his subordinates to prison.

"On the other hand, the Constitution clearly does give President Ford authority to grant reprieves and pardons..."
In his 1977 autobiography, he wrote:

I was not prepared for the intensity of the anger and resentment which followed President Ford's pardon of Nixon. News of the pardon reached me at the conclusion of a Sunday-morning service which I was attending at the Methodist Church in Watertown, South Dakota. When I arrived at a city park a short time later to address a Democratic picnic crowd, I found people in an uproar. Although a predictable reaction at a Democratic gathering, I discovered the same sense of outrage as I campaigned in conservative Republican areas of the state.

I suspect that this combination of events - the discrediting of Nixon and the unpopular Ford pardon - aided my [1974 Senate] re-election campaign immeasurably. Nixon had gone out of his way to promote [McGovern's Republican opponent Col Leo] Thorsness politically and had presented the colonel with the Medal of Honor at the White House. Thorsness was identified with Nixon. The President's fall depreciated the colonel.
As the main target of the skulduggery in 1972 that we now know as part of "Watergate", it's easy to imagine that had McGovern been elected President in 1972, he himself would have pardoned the Watergate burglars as an act of generosity. (In fact, I recall a post-election article by his campaign biographer Robert Sam Anson speculating just that, but I haven't located the reference as of this writing.) However, the criminal actions continued well into 1973 and 1974 during the coverup.

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