Democratic Convention: The Essential America
George S. McGovern
1972 Democratic Candidate for President
Wednesday, July 28, 2004; 1:00 PM
In his new book, "The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition," 1972 presidential candidate George S. McGovern calls for an embracing of liberalism and the liberal ideals.
McGovern was online Wednesday, July 28 at 1 p.m. ET live from the 2004 Democratic National Convention to discuss the his book, the convention and the 2004 election.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
It seemed to me as a new voter back in 1972 that you challenged a certain amount of the liberal can't of the time -- for instance arguing that a negative income tax would be more effective than the welfare system. (And this was part of your appeal, I'd add.)
Can you mention anything today in which we liberals should look outside what we've supported in the past? And no, I'm not asking because I have an example in mind.
George S. McGovern: I did challenge the old welfare system in 1972. I thought we would be better off with a negative income tax which would provide a minimum income floor for every American. I would have just scrapped the whole welfare apparatus and when people filed their income tax those who did not report any income they would get a cash payment depending on their economic circumstances.
George S. McGovern: The working poor would receive a payment that would help improve their economic situation.
New York, N.Y.:
I appreciate your characterization of yourself as a liberal. Is Kerry a liberal? Is Bush a conservative? If not, how would you characterize them?
George S. McGovern: Liberals believe in a positive role for the federal government aimed at strengthening the position of the ordinary rank and file American. For example social security, Medicare and civil rights are all liberal initiatives. I think that John Kerry could be described as a moderate liberal. George Bush has defined himself as a compassionate conservatism. I think he has been a disappointment both on grounds of compassion and conservatives. A true conservative would not have run the federal deficit through the ceiling and increased the national debt by trillions of dollars. A compassionate person does not weaken our environmental standards and do little or nothing to lift the quality of education and healthcare.
You wrote a very touching book about a deeply personal tragedy regarding your daughter's alcoholism and death. For readers who did not read your book, would you plese summarize some of the excellent points you mentioned about how we need to be available for an alcoholic to reach out, even when they claim they don't want help, so that when they are ready to admit they need help, there is someone there to help, along with any other useful advice you may wish to provide.
George S. McGovern: I think the important thing to keep in mind is that alcoholics are desperately ill. We are dealing with a disease that is as real as cancer. I learned from my daughter's tragic death the importance of reassuring the alcoholic of our love from them even when we find their conduct revolting. I wish that we were investing more in determining the cause of alcoholism and in the best possible treatments for it.
New York, N.Y.:
At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, you asked that we "come home, America." In 2004, what will it take for America to finally come home?
George S. McGovern: My theme in 1972 "Come Home America" was to call the nation back to our founding principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This is the same theme I am emphasizing in much greater detail in my new book. The title of the book is "The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition."
I think the ideals of our founders are the best guide to the road ahead today. There are two enduring political traditions in America - conservatism and liberalism. The creative tension between these two traditions represents the genius of American politics.
George S. McGovern:
I have been attending Democratic conventions since 1978. This one is one of the most positive and constructive conventions and we have seen here more unity than I have observed in the Democratic Party in a long time.
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