Editor’s Note: On the death of liberal populism

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Who's left and who's right? Congressman Robert Hurt and challenger General John Douglass debate the issues facing the 5th Congressional District in Warrenton. Photo: Adam Goings Who's left and who's right? Congressman Robert Hurt and challenger General John Douglass debate the issues facing the 5th Congressional District in Warrenton. Photo: Adam Goings

Josh Garrett-Davis, a young author and historian who read at The Bridge/ PAI last week, wrote a kind of personal eulogy for George McGovern that ran in the New York Times Monday and that could have been titled “Lefty’s Lament: The death of liberal populism.”

Garrett-Davis grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to hippie parents at a time when the state was a real battleground. McGovern, who ran against Richard Nixon in 1972 and against the Vietnam War, was their senator and “patron saint,” attempting to unify draft-dodgers, dirt farmers, and conscience-driven Christians into a party with a platform. You know the story. Nixon won historically, literally, and utterly, then rose and fell as fast as Lucifer. The green bud of the ’60s froze hard on the vine.

Flash to the present, and Graelyn Brashear’s cover story on the race for the 5th Congressional District of Virginia between Republican incumbent Robert Hurt and his Democratic challenger, General John Douglass. In a gerrymandered voting bloc that stretches from Danville to Warrenton, a handsome lawyer with a Southside political machine runs against a septuagenarian who worked in Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon. If you believe the ads, one’s a Beltway lobbyist and the other’s pushing for uranium mining.

Meanwhile, Obama For America (is that the same as Organizing for America?), the boots on the ground for the people’s party, isn’t working in that campaign, or commenting on it, for that matter. Dear leader, what kind of people’s party do we want to be?

Back to McGovern’s New York Times obit and his Democratic battle cry: “We are the party that believes we can’t let the strong kick aside the weak. Our party believes that poor children should be as well educated as those from wealthy families. We believe that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes and that everyone should have access to health care.” Sounds pretty good. Simple, too. But don’t let old George fool you. His campaign devolved because of fierce infighting over…wait for it…war, abortion, welfare, and desegregation.

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