The unmaking of the president

In his most recent column Jack Kelly follows up on a thought I have had since 2008. It is not the central point of his column, but Kelly compares Obama 2012 with George McGovern 1972.

I’d begin the comparison with the Democratic field of 2008. McGovern was the leftwardmost viable candidate in the Democratic field in 1972, as Obama was in 2008. McGovern vowed that he would crawl on his knees to Hanoi if necessary to bring the American prisoners-of-war home. We found it hard to overcome our distaste for that. In office, Obama has actually bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan. We haven’t much noticed, but we’ve got other things on our mind.

Those with a long memory will recall that Senator Tom Eagleton of Missouri was McGovern’s first pick for vice president. Eagleton had to step down from the ticket when it was revealed that he had twice undergone electroshock therapy to treat “nervous exhaustion.” By contrast, Obama’s first pick for vice president got to stay on the ticket. He only talks like someone whose brain has been messed with.

The comparison can only take you so far. After leaving office and going into business, McGovern actually learned something from the experience. Reflecting on his experience in a 1993 column, he posited a salient question that should be applied to regulatory statutes: “What are the real economic and social gains of the legislation when compared with the costs and competitive handicaps it imposes on businesspeople?” A light had dawned.

McGovern’s small business venture ended unhappily. McGovern concluded his column with a timely observation:

I’m lucky. I can recover eventually from the loss of the Stratford Inn because I’m still able to generate income from lectures and other services. But what about the 60 people who worked for me in Stratford? While running my struggling hotel, I never once missed a payroll. What happens to the people who counted on that, and to their families and community, when an owner goes under? Those questions worry me, and they ought to worry all of us who love this country as a land of promise and opportunity.

Obama doesn’t think or talk like that, and it’s not just a function of age and experience. It’s hard for someone who thinks he knows it all to learn from experience.

The country has changed a lot since 1972. It has changed a lot since 1988. The Democrats could nominate Caligula’s horse for president and he (or she) would carry New York, California, and Illinois. McGovern only carried Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

UPDATE: A friend reminds me that Biden’s brain has been messed with too. One more note: Steve Hayward’s first Reagan book includes an excellent appreciation of McGovern.

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