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Inside Politics

Five questions with George McGovern


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McGovern: "I left with a clear conscience" after 1972 defeat.
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George S. McGovern
America Votes 2004

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The Democratic Party's nominee for president in 1972, George McGovern served South Dakota in the U.S. Congress as a representative and senator for 22 years.

McGovern lost his bid for the presidency in a landslide defeat to President Richard Nixon. McGovern answered five questions for CNN.com at the Democratic National Convention.

CNN: You ran for president in a different time in this country.

McGOVERN: In that campaign, I and the people working for me said exactly what we believed was in the best interests of the country. We didn't have any focus groups. We didn't have any polls. We just got out there and said what we thought. Even though we lost the campaign, I left with a clear conscience. I never said one thing that I didn't believe deep in my soul.

CNN: Is what's good for the soul necessarily good for getting to the White House?

McGOVERN: Maybe not. Maybe we would have been better off if we had straddled some of the issues that were controversial.

CNN: What was the most controversial issue that you took a stand on?

McGOVERN: The Vietnam War. I came out against it as early as 1963. I was the first member of the United States Senate to say that war was a mistake.

CNN: What is the one question you would want to ask yourself about your legacy?

McGOVERN: Did I work hard enough to phrase my ideas in a way that didn't frighten people away? I think that -- without compromising my convictions -- there were ways that I could have presented my ideas that would have been more acceptable to rank-and-file voters.

For example, the welfare reform that I proposed that provided a cash guarantee of $1,000 for each American as a substitute for the existing welfare system was one that got ridiculed right and left, but it was actually a rather conservative proposal that was first put forth by Milton Friedman, a very conservative economist from the University of Chicago. I should have brought him in to endorse my ideas.

CNN: Would the allegations of the extramarital affair with model Donna Rice that caused your 1972 campaign manager, Gary Hart, to drop his own bid for the presidency in 1987, affect a similar candidate in a similar position today?

McGOVERN: Not as much. I think we have learned to separate the private lives of people from their public policies. President Clinton survived months and months of dogging him over the Monica Lewinsky business, and today he is as popular in America as any former president we've ever had.


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