I once heard Senator George McGovern give an interview in which he talked about the roots of his liberalism. His father was a Methodist minister—a Republican—and one Sunday after church, chatting with congregants as they left to go home, a neighbor started complaining about how high his income tax bill was that year.
"Praise the Lord," McGovern recalled his father telling the complaining congregant. "You had a very good year."
McGovern was on the losing end of one of the greatest electoral defeats in US history, winning less than 38 percent of the vote against incumbent President Richard Nixon in 1972, and only 17 electoral college votes: those from Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Republicans have worked hard since to conflate his electoral failure into a caricature of failed liberalism. It was a caricature, he told the New York Times, that he resented:
“I always thought of myself as a good old South Dakota boy who grew up here on the prairie,” he said in an interview for this obituary in 2005 in his home in Mitchell. “My dad was a Methodist minister. I went off to war. I have been married to the same woman forever. I’m what a normal, healthy, ideal American should be like.
“But we probably didn’t work enough on cultivating that image,” he added, referring to his campaign organization. “We were more interested in ending the war in Vietnam and getting people out of poverty and being fair to women and minorities and saving the environment.
“It was an issue-oriented campaign, and we should have paid more attention to image.”
When Republicans ridicule Democrats like McGovern, it is those values that they are ridiculing, not to mention the idea that issues should matter at least as much as image.
Twenty years ago I started a small business, which got me on all sorts of weird marketing lists. I still regularly get cold calls from financial advisors pitching me their latest investment opportunity or tax dodge. In fact, I got one just last week, offering me "an opportunity to protect your future earnings from higher taxes."
I tried to talk the guy off the phone as quickly and politely as possible, but he was typically persistent. I no longer operate that business, I told him, and I don't have any money to invest. He pushed on. "But what if your circumstances turn around?" he insisted. "What will you say the next time you're faced with a high tax bill?"
"Praise the lord!" I told him. And then I hung up.