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Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald , Published October 22 2012

Ryan Bakken: A vote for McGovern

GRAND FORKS - The first presidential candidate I voted for was George McGovern, who died Sunday at age 90.

My vote was cast for the most selfish — and best — of three reasons: I didn’t want to die.

It was 1972 and I was 21 years old when Democrat McGovern ran against Republican Richard Nixon. I was a senior in college, with my draft deferment due to expire in the spring when I graduated.

So, I was a highly motivated voter. My choice was an easy one because Nixon was pro-war, McGovern was anti-war and I was anti-bullets.

Nixon won the election by a landslide, of course, but by early 1973, our country was bailing on Vietnam. So, my concerns about dodging bullets in a rice paddy disappeared.

I admit that the motive for my 1972 vote was all about me, not about the country. But one had to admire his passion. Here’s part of his address about Vietnam to fellow members of the Senate in September 1970:

“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 at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and 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 someday curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.”

In retrospect, it’s easy for us to see that McGovern was correct. But imagine the courage and conviction it took to blast his colleagues as he did. Remember, this is the Senate, where courtesy once ruled.

Politically, McGovern was way too far to the left to win in 1972. And he would be way, way, way, way, way too far to the left to win these days.

But, 40 years later, it’s reassuring to realize that my 1972 vote may have been self-serving, but it was also correct.