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George McGovern: Barack Obama, Democrats Need a Backbone

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The one-time presidential candidate discusses what it means to be a “McGovern Liberal.”

By Kira Zalan  | U.S. News & World Report   |  Dec. 2, 2011

George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972 who also served in the House and Senate, embodies liberal politics so much that his name is evoked pejoratively by conservatives. In What It Means to Be a Democrat, McGovern makes a plea to his party to uphold the values that it used to stand for. McGovern recently spoke with U.S. News about partisanship and what the Democrats should do next. Excerpts:

What does it mean to be a Democrat?

Democrats believe that the federal government is not our enemy, it’s our partner.

How is today’s Democratic Party doing?

I think it needs a little more backbone. I’m for President Obama and I hope he’ll be re-elected. But I think both he and the Democrats in the Congress need a little dose of backbone-itis to stand for the kinds of things that a progressive liberal party should endorse.

Should welfare programs be cut to help with the deficit?

Well, the first thing we need to do is to recognize the basic cause of our present $14 trillion [national debt]. When I was a youngster growing up in South Dakota, we never referred to the national debt, it was always referred to as the war debt because it stemmed from World War I. Well, what we have now, at least two thirds of it, is the war debt. We’re never going to make a substantial cut in that debt until we quit getting into these unnecessary wars.

Why do you think the antiwar movement didn’t gain traction with Iraq as it did with Vietnam?
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