The death of George McGovern is something of a milestone for me. I cast my first presidential vote for him in November 1972. The voting age had been lowered to 18 that year in deference to the 18-year-olds who were being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Sen. McGovern opposed the continuation of the Vietnam War, which was the main reason I supported him. I agreed with most of the policies he advocated for on the domestic side, and in general I believed he was an honorable and decent man. Watching TV yesterday, I caught the last part of the movie “Primary Colors,” about the Clintons in 1992. There’s a scene in the kitchen with Libby (Kathy Bates) turning over the opposition research about Gov. Fred Picker (Larry Hagman) to Gov. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) and his wife Susan (Emma Thompson). Libby is distressed when Susan and Jack say they have to use the dirt that she dug up on Picker. Libby says she won’t allow it because “we don’t do that,” or words to that effect, and she reminds Jack that he told her it was going to be different with them—that they would win because their “ideas are better.” In the movie, that remembered conversation happens in 1972, when the characters were working in the McGovern presidential campaign.  It’s dizzying to think of all the twists and turns of idealism and cynicism and hypocrisy in that one short scene. Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Recall that Picker, in the movie, replaced Sen. Lawrence Harris (the Paul Tsongas character) who has withdrawn from the race due to illness. Stanton had been saying Harris was going to cut Medicare payments for the elderly. Clinton did attack Tsongas with ads in Florida claiming Tsongas would cut the budget in ways that would hurt senior citizens.

Another convergence with the news of Sen. McGovern’s death was when my fellow blogger Marie posted about the locally famous bumper sticker: “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts,” which began to be seen after the Watergate scandal blew up and Richard Nixon became the first president to resign from office. Skip ahead to the Clinton (Jack Stanton) presidency and the impeachment and eventual acquittal of Bill Clinton, which some observers said was partly a pay-back for the impeachment of President Nixon in 1974, leading to his resignation. And Sec. of State Hilary Clinton (Susan Stanton) had been a staff member on one of the committees investigating Nixon. What a tangled web, for sure.

The summer of 1972 was an intense political period in Lowell. Marie Sweeney was working for Helen Droney in the Democratic primary campaign for Congress; I was volunteering for a newcomer, the anti-Vietnam War candidate John F. Kerry. It seemed like every political-body and his brother or sister in Lowell and Lawrence was either running in that race or working for a candidate. That summer I had a job in the shipping-and-receiving department of Cherry & Webb’s women’s clothing store on Merrimack Street (corner of John and Merrimack). The store was full of Paul Sheehy supporters, so I got the evil eye from some employees as I made my rounds delivering coats and dresses. Skip ahead to the present, and long-time US Sen. John Kerry, unsuccessful Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2004, has been playing Gov Mitt Romney in debate preparation with President Obama.

On Oct. 2, 2007, an overflow crowd waited at Lowell Memorial Auditorium for Bill Clinton to arrive by car after his private plane had mechanical problems. The former President was due to speak on behalf of Niki Tsongas, who was running to be U.S. Representative from the Fifth Congressional District after Congressman Martin T. Meehan left office to assume the Chancellorship of UMass Lowell. An an ex-president, Clinton became one of the most popular political figures in America. Here’s the YouTube clip of the event.

The wheel turns and turns, and sometimes we are on it.


2 Responses to Politics

  1. Marie says:

    Paul – thanks for this post and a walk down memory lane. That time – 1972 – was so important in our lives – political and otherwise. The threads – however tangled – that carry through to this day are amazing as you so rightly laid them out. I think back on that time and on myself – a youngish mother, a teacher, an emerging political and civic activist looking for answers and role models. I certainly found them… and life changed and became entangled and re-entangled with the “characters” in that 1972 life-play.

  2. Steve says:

    Very interesting Paul. You could write a political memoir. I was not eligible to vote until 73. I agree that McGovern was a decent and honorable man. I believe he flew aircraft in WWII.

    I remember watching him on William Buckley’s Firing Line. Buckley said, “When you were embarrassed 1972…”
    McGovern interrupted him and said, “Excuse me, I was not embarrassed in 1972.”
    To which Buckley responded, “I’m sorry. It’s just that I looked up ’embarrassment’ in the dictionary and it said, ‘Noun. What George McGover suffered in 1972.'”

    I felt sorry for the guy.