George Will reflects on the public mood in connection with the passing of George McGovern this week:
Four decades and 10 presidential campaigns later, however, the nation is near a semi-McGovern moment.
As Michael suggests in his post on the main blog, candidates running for election are most attentive to the public’s discontent with hyperactive American foreign policy, but then they govern more or less however they see fit. One of the common criticisms of current U.S. policy in Syria is that the election season is preventing the U.S. from being more involved in that country’s conflict. That’s probably true. If so, it would be good for the U.S. if election season didn’t end.
If the “semi-McGovern moment” means that the two major party candidates quarrel with one another about who is more prepared to launch an illegal war on Iran if “necessary,” I submit that there isn’t much of McGovern in the “semi-McGovern moment.” The public is definitely war-weary, but for whatever reason that doesn’t usually translate into political support for antiwar candidates. It also doesn’t seem to change the political incentives for the major party candidates enough to get them to entertain significantly less aggressive policies. That’s probably because all that they have to do to assuage most voters’ fears is to pretend that their aggressive policies are something that they’re not.
It’s supposed to be an encouraging sign that Romney said, “We don’t want another Iraq, we don’t want another Afghanistan,” but all that this tells us is that he wants to avoid multi-year wars of occupation. If that’s all that it takes nowadays to be seen as reluctant to wage war, almost everyone would be. Romney’s numerous uses of the word peace during the debate notwithstanding, that’s very different from saying that he wants to avoid new wars. If America were in a “semi-McGovern moment,” voters wouldn’t be faced with a choice between a hawkish interventionist and an even more hard-line hawk. At least one of the candidates would vaguely resemble someone like McGovern, and to their discredit neither one does.