Obama–Romney debate and George McGovern’s words of a preacher

War has bankrupt America, military spending has given America a massive debt. Consider that in 2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States accounted for 41% of worldwide military expenditures. The USA spent more than all the other countries in the top 10 list combined, and five times more than China, the No. 2 spender.

So you would think that Monday’s debate on foreign policy would bring out some pointed debate on military spending, perhaps envision a major shift in budgeting for the Pentagon.  Well, not really. You may give the nod to Obama for leaning toward cuts over the next decade. Romney, on the other hand, will build a military so powerful no one without a maniacal bent will want to test it.

But still, when you scan the transcripts, you’ll find that it wasn’t so much a debate as a living room dispute over some minor points. No mention that foreign misadventures are to blame for the massive national deficit. No change in Middle East policy, same unquestioned support for Israel, prolonged withdrawal from Afghanistan, more drones, more of the same huge defence establishment.

I was reminded of an article I read by Chris Hedges, in memory of George McGovern. In contrast to the atmosphere of this debate and the climate of America’s current foreign policy, consider McGovern: who in 1970 proposed an amendment to a military procurement bill (McGovern-Hatfield Amendment), which would have required, through a cut-off of funding, as Hedges outlines, a withdrawal of all American forces from Indochina. The amendment did not pass and so the war trundled on.

Later McGovern addressed the politicians on the senate floor this way: 

Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage…all across our land—young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

Hedges writes, "We instantly understood the words he spoke. They were the words of a preacher."

American foreign policy effects the globe, and that’s why it’s sad to note that there is no real difference between Obama and Romney. That there will be no change in direction.

Again, contrast this to the election in 1972 between McGovern and Nixon, hear McGovern’s nomination speech:

From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America. From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America. From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle lands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; 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.

George McGovern went on to suffer the worst electoral loss in American history.


  1. Nixon and Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam War to help Nixon get re-elected. And we, the American people, were stupid enough to fall for the stunt. “You can ever underestimate the stupidity of the general public” (Scott Adams). I voted for McGovern, and I don’t think I ever entirely got over the outcome of that election. Maybe the rest of the world hasn’t, either. Very good post. Thank you.

  2. The American people are a fascinating lot. As the most powerfull nation in the world, they are nevertheless still tremendously fear-driven. The overt peace-maker presidents don’t last. Example: Jimmy Carter. I remember talking to some American friends during his presidency who talked about being afraid. Presidents need to talk tough. Example: Ronald Reagan – “Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” One of Obama’s bragging points is, “We got Bin Laden.” We Canadians live in their shadow and share in the fear.

  3. Ya, and wasn’t it hedges who said Nixon was the last truly liberal president?! We live in different times… Or was it Chomsky who said that?! Maybe it was Chomsky.. Or maybe I should HEDGE my bet… Hello?! Anybody?! Is this thing on?!

    I like to think of Obama as the lesser of two evils, but I also recognize that part of me which loves the theater of it all, and by extension needs someone to root for ya know?!


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