By: George S. McGovern
Date: July 14, 1972
Source: McGovern, George S. "Text of Address by McGovern Accepting the Democratic Presidential Nomination." The New York Times, July 14, 1972, 11.
About the Author: George S. McGovern (1922–) briefly pursued an academic career before winning a Congressional seat from South Dakota in 1956. The Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, and he remained in that body until his retirement from politics in 1980. In 1972, he won the Democratic nomination for the presidency, but was defeated by President Richard R. Nixon (served 1969–1974) in the election. McGovern remained a respected public figure in his retirement in the 1990s, serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies on Food and Agriculture, where he was recognized as one of the world's leading experts on the issue of world hunger.
The Democrats had hoped to retain the White House in 1968 with the presidential candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, who appealed to both traditional Democratic bases and younger voters. After Kennedy's assassination in June 1968, the party's nomination went to Hubert Humphrey, who lost the election by a half-million votes to Republican Richard M. Nixon. Nixon's appeal to the "silent majority" of voters shocked by antiwar protests and urban riots, as well as the third-party campaign of George C. Wallace, a Democrat from Alabama who gained fame as a segregationist, left Humphrey without enough support to win the White House.
In 1972, Humphrey once again hoped to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Nixon. This time, however, the party's left wing—dominated by antiwar sentiments and frustrated by the party's "old guard" that Humphrey represented—worked to deliver the nomination to South Dakota Senator, George McGovern. McGovern had served in Congress as a representative and senator since 1956, but he was hardly a nationally known name as he launched his presidential bid. Through a series of contested primaries, however, McGovern slowly built enough support to win his party's nomination. Crucial to his success was the support of his party's more liberal-minded members: feminists, Civil Rights activists, and young people, who were attracted to McGovern's candidacy for his unflagging opposition to the Vietnam War (1964–1975). McGovern's antiwar stance became the best-known plank in his platform, which otherwise mostly adhered to the traditional Democratic agenda.
Although reports of White House ties to a break in at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building surfaced in the final weeks of the 1972 presidential race, the media paid more attention to the problems of McGovern's running mate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton. After it was reported that Eagleton had suffered from a nervous breakdown and received electroshock therapy several years earlier, McGovern replaced Eagleton with R. Sargent Shriver as his vicepresidential running mate. The move did little to enhance McGovern's reputation for leadership, as he at first insisted that Eagleton would remain on the ticket.
If McGovern's nomination to lead his party in the presidential race represented liberalism's triumph in the Democratic Party, his defeat in November showed the limits of liberal political candidates in the two-party system. McGovern carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in the Electoral College, and he won just 37.5 percent of the popular vote. Nixon, campaigning on a platform of "Vietnamization" to end America's involvement in the war, combined with his renewed promise to restore law and order on the nation's streets, resulted in a victory for the Republican.
In the wake of McGovern's dismal showing at the polls, Democrats were put on notice that the liberal agenda of Civil Rights, women's rights, social welfare programs, and stringent antiwar measures no longer had the broad base of support they had seemingly enjoyed in the 1960s. As the party's leaders struggled to retain their traditional bases of support while courting middle-of-the-road voters, a new generation of "moderate Democrats" came to the party's front ranks. Typified by Jimmy Carter (served 1977–1981) and later Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton (served 1993–2001), these moderate Democrats tried to steer clear of controversial social issues, while promising to practice fiscal responsibility in office.
Nixon's astounding margin of victory in the 1972 election turned out to be a short-lived triumph. The president resigned in disgrace in 1974 after a dogged, two-year media and Senate inquiry into Watergate. McGovern continued his political career and retained his Senate seat until he retired from politics in 1980. Despite his historic election defeat, McGovern emerged as one of the country's most respected statesmen, particularly for his work to end world hunger as an ambassador to the United Nations Agencies on Food and Agriculture.
Primary Source: "Text of Address by McGovern Accepting the Democratic Presidential Nomination"
SYNOPSIS: McGovern's triumph in the Democratic primaries signaled the ascent of the liberal wing of the party over its more moderate and conservative elements, many of whom had defected to support the segregationist, third-party candidacy of former Alabama Governor, George C. Wallace. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, McGovern highlighted the themes that resonated with his party's younger members, particularly ending the war in Vietnam. Although McGovern also tried to hold on to the support of his party's traditional supporters, his failure to do so dealt him a crushing loss on election day to Richard M. Nixon.
With a full heart, I accept your nomination.
And this afternoon, I crossed the wide Missouri to recommend a running mate of wide vision and deep compassion—Tom Eagleton.
My nomination is all the more precious in that it is the gift of the most open political process in our national history. It is the sweet harvest cultivated by tens of thousands of tireless volunteers—old and young—and funded by literally hundreds of thousands of small contributors. Those who lingered on the edge of despair a brief time ago had been brought into this campaign—heart, hand, head and soul.
I have been the beneficiary of the most remarkable political organization in American history— an organization that gives dramatic proof to the power of love and to a faith that can move mountains.
As Yeats put it: "Count where man's glory most begins and ends, and say, my glory was I had such friends."
This is a nomination of the people and I hereby dedicate this campaign to the people.
And next January we will restore the government to the people. American politics will never be the same again.
We are entering a new period of important, hopeful change in America comparable to the political ferment released in the eras of Jefferson, Jackson and Roosevelt.
I treasure this nomination especially because it comes after vigorous competition with the ablest men and women our party can offer.
My old and treasured friend and neighbor, Hubert Humphrey; that gracious and good man from Maine, Ed Muskie; a tough fighter for his beliefs, Scoop Jackson; a brave and spirited woman, Shirley Chisholm; a wise and powerful lawmaker from Arkansas, Wilbur Mills; the man from North Carolina who opened new vistas in education and public excellence, Terry Sanford; the leader who in 1968 combined the travail and the hope of the American spirit, Gene McCarthy.
Help of Every Democrat
I was as moved as all of you by the appearance at this convention of the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, whose votes in the primary showed the depths of discontent in this country, and whose courage in the face of pain and adversity is the mark of a man of boundless will. We all depise the senseless act that disrupted his campaign. Governor, we pray for your speedy and full recovery, so you can stand up and speak out forcefully for all of those who see you as their champion.
In the months ahead, I covet the help of every Democrat and every Republican and independent who wants America to be the great and good land it can be.This is going to be a national campaign carried to every part of the nation—North, South, East and West. We are not conceding a single state to Richard Nixon. I want to say to my friend, Frank King, that Ohio may have passed a few times at this convention, but I'm not going to pass Ohio. Governor Gilligan, Ohio may be a little slow counting the votes, but when they come in this November, they are going to show a Democratic victory.
To anyone in this hall or beyond who doubts the ability of Democrats to join together in common cause, I say never underestimate the power of Richard Nixon to bring harmony to Democratic ranks. He is the unwitting unifier and the fundamental issue of this campaign. And all of us together are going to help him redeem the pledge he made 10 years ago. Next year you won't have Richard Nixon to kick around any more.
We have had our fury and our frustrations in these past months and at this convention.
Well, I frankly welcome the contrast with the smug, dull and empty event which will take place here in Miami next month. We chose this struggle. We reformed our party and let the people in.
A Million-Member Club
And we stand today not as a collection of back-room strategists, not as a tool of I.T.T. or any other special interest, but as a direct reflection of the public will.
So let our opponents stand on the status quo, while we seek to refresh the American spirit.
Let the opposition collect their $10 million in secret money from the privileged. And let us find one million ordinary Americans who will contribute $25 to this campaign—a McGovern "million-member club" with members who will expect not special favors for themselves but a better land for us all.
In Scripture and in the music of our children we are told: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven."
And for America, the time has come at last.
This is the time for truth, not falsehood.
In a democratic nation, no one likes to say that his inspiration came from secret arrangements behind closed doors. But in a sense that is how my candidacy began. I am here as your candidate tonight in large part because during four administrations of both parties, a terrible war has been charted behind closed doors.
I want those doors opened, and I want that war closed. And I make these pledges above all others—the doors of government will be open, and that brutal war will be closed.
Truth is a habit of integrity, not a strategy of politics. And if we nurture the habit of candor in this campaign, we will continue to be candid once we are in the White House. Let us say to Americans, as Woodrow Wilson said in his first campaign, "Let me inside [the government] and I will tell you everything that is going on in there."
And this is a time not for death, but for life.
In 1968, Americans voted to bring our sons home from Vietnam in peace—and since then, 20,000 have come home in coffins.
I have no secret plan for peace. I have a public plan.
As one whose heart has ached for 10 years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt the senseless bombing of Indochina on Inauguration Day.
There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools.
There will be no more talk of bombing the dikes or the cities of the North.
Within 90 days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle and out of their cells and back home in America where they belong.
Resolution on War
And then let us resolve that never again will we shed the precious young blood of this nation to perpetuate an unrepresentative client abroad.
Let us choose life, not death, this is the time.
This is also the time to turn away from excessive preoccupation overseas to rebuilding our own nation.
America must be restored to her proper role in the world. But we can do that only through the recovery of confidence in ourselves. The greatest contribution America can make to our fellow mortals is to heal our own great but deeply troubled land. We must respond to the ancient command: "Physician, heal thyself."
It is necessary in an age of nuclear power and hostile ideology that we be militarily strong. America must never become a second-rate nation. As one who has tasted the bitter fruits of our weakness before Pearl Harbor, 1941, I give you my sacred pledge that if I become President of the United States, America will keep its defenses alert and fully sufficient to meet any danger. We will do that not only for ourselves, but for those who deserve and need the shield of our strength—our old allies in Europe, and elsewhere, including the people of Israel, who will always have our help to hold their promised land.
Yet we know that for 30 years we have been so absorbed with fear and danger from abroad that we have permitted our own house to fall into disarray. We must now show that peace and prosperity can exist side by side—indeed, each now depends on the other.
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.
National security includes schools for our children as well as silos for our missiles, the health of our families as much as the size of our bombs, the safety of our streets and the condition of our cities and not just the engines of war.
And if we some day choke on the pollution of our own air, there will be little consolation in leaving behind a dying continent ringed with steel.
Let us protect ourselves abroad and perfect ourselves at home.
This is the time.
And we must make this a time of justice and jobs for all.
For more than three years, we have tolerated stagnation and a rising level of joblessness, with more than five million of our best workers unemployed. Surely this is the most false and wasteful economics.
Our deep need is not for idleness but for new housing and hospitals, for facilities to combat pollution and take us home from work, for products better able to compete on vigorous work markets.
A Job Guarantee
The highest domestic priority of my Administration will be to ensure that every American able to work has a job to do. This job guarantee will and must depend upon a reinvigorated private economy, freed at last from the uncertainties and burdens of war.
But it is our commitment that whatever employment the private sector does not provide, the Federal Government will either stimulate, or provide itself. Whatever it takes, this country is going back to work.
America cannot exist with most of our people working and paying taxes to support too many others mired in the demeaning, bureaucratic welfare system. Therefore, we intend to begin by putting millions back to work; and after that is done, we will assure to those unable to work an income sufficient to assure a decent life.
Beyond this, a program to put America back to work demands that work be properly rewarded. That means the end of a system of economic controls in which labor is depressed, but prices and corporate profits are the highest in history. It means a system of national health insurance, so that a worker can afford decent health care for himself and his family. It means real enforcement of the laws so that the drug racketeers are put behind bars for good and our streets are once again safe for our families.
Above all, honest work must be rewarded by a fair and just tax system. The tax system today does not reward hard work—it penalizes it. Inherited or invested wealth frequently multiplies itself while paying no taxes at all. But wages earned on the assembly line, or laying bricks, or picking fruit—these hard earned dollars are taxed to the last penny. There is a depletion allowance for oil wells, but no allowance for the depletion of a man's body in years of toil.
The Administration tells us that we should not discuss tax reform in an election year. They would prefer to keep all discussion of the tax code in closed committee rooms, where the Administration, its powerful friends and their paid lobbysts can turn every effort at reform into a new loophole for the rich. But an election year is the people's year to speak—and this year, the people are going to ensure that the tax system is changed so that work is rewarded and so that those who derive the highest benefits will pay their fair share, rather than slipping through the loopholes at the expense of the rest of us.
So let us stand for justice and jobs, and against special privilege. This is the time.
We are not content with things as they are. We reject the view of those who say: "America—love it or leave it." We reply: "Let us change it so we can love it the more."
And this is the time. It is the time for this land to become again a witness to the world for what is noble and just in human affairs. It is the time to live more with faith and less with fear—with an abiding confidence that can sweep away the strongest barriers between us and teach us that we truly are brothers and sisters.
So join with me in this campaign, lend me your strength and your support, give me your voice—and together, we will call America home to the founding ideals that nourished us in the beginning.
From secrecy and deception in high places, come home, America.
From a conflict in Indochina which maims our ideals as well as our soldiers, come home, America.
From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation, come home, America.
From the entrenchment of special privilege and tax favoritism, come home, America.
From the waste of idle hands to the joy of useful labor, come home, America.
From the prejudice of race and sex, come home, America.
From the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick, come home, America.
Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream.
Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.
Come home to the belief that we can seek a newer world.
This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest To the Gulfstream waters,
This land was made for you and me.
May God grant us the wisdom to cherish this good land to meet the great challenge that beckons us home.
Blum, John Morton. Years of Discord: American Politics and Society, 1961–1974. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.
McGovern, George. Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern. New York: Random House, 1977.
——. Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism. New York: Villard, 1976.
——. The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
White, Theodore H. The Making of the President, 1972. New York: Atheneum, 1973.
Wicker, Tom. One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream. New York: Random House, 1991.