Is it an honor to have lost the presidency to that old crook, Richard Nixon?
The only person alive who could answer that question, former Sen. George McGovern, came to town Wednesday night to honor ACT, the liberal political organization formed out of his quixotic 1972 political campaign, as it celebrates 35 years.
And he didnt answer it, exactly. But ACT co-founder Ralph Hurtado, in his introduction of McGovern, recalled the South Dakotan saying, Its true that I lost to Richard Nixon by a wide margin. But that wasnt my fault it was the fault of the voters.
McGovern ramrod-straight and graying well at 85, dapper in a pinstriped suit charmed the crowd of aging progressives at Molly Munger and Steve Englishs Arroyo-side house with his anecdotes of the past and thoughts on the present.
ACT leaders including Hurtado and Jon Fuhrman recalled how the Pasadena area was a solid GOP bet for decades before and for some years after the McGovern campaign in fact, parts of it were represented by Nixon when he was in Congress.
Carlos Moorhead was in the House, one of the handful of holdouts against impeachment after the smoking gun tape was made public. The state Senate and Assembly were safe for Republicans.
The Pasadena City Council and virtually every council in these parts found Democrats to be the exception.
Decades on, its Republicans who are the exception, in Congress, in the Legislature and on many councils and school boards as well.
ACT, considered a dinosaur now by younger political operatives, very much had to do with that, along with a changing demographic. Its volunteers invented the concept of targeting high-propensity voters with direct mail. At first, their candidates still lost. And then they won and won and won, and became the establishment they sought for so long to displace.
McGovern thanked ACT for its work back then. Though he of course failed to carry even his home state of South Dakota, winning only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., Pasadenas was one of three Los Angeles County congressional districts McGovern did carry. While the Vietnam War, opposition to which was the biggest plank in McGoverns platform, was unpopular, the Nixon campaigns assertion that a vote for the Dems was one for acid, amnesty and abortion was brilliant nationwide.
McGovern was a World War II bomber pilot awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for leading 35 missions over enemy territory in Italy and North Africa. But he had come to believe that the Vietnam War was immoral, and he still cant believe his crusade didnt resonate with more Americans.
I walk around that black wall of the Vietnam Memorial commemorating the 58,000 Americans who died there, McGovern said Wednesday. (Former Defense Secretary) Bob McNamara wrote a book saying not only was it a mistake it was a tragic mistake, Vietnam. I dont denigrate John McCains experience in that war. But hes running 36 years later, a time when we are again in a tragic war. Neither country was a threat to the United States.
He quoted Jefferson: When I consider that God is just, I tremble for my country.
And, while declining to endorse either Clinton or Obama, he said with a smile: If Hillary and Barack end up in a tie, Im available.