In the early 1970s, America was torn by the reverberating aftershocks of the 1960s. The sexual revolution, civil-rights era, feminism, and many other changes from the 1950s were still working their way through the national psyche.
These two currents of American thought - the staid traditional mores, and the "modern", liberated views represented by the hippies and pop culture - found embodiment in the two 1972 presidential candidates. On the Republican side was incumbent President Richard M. Nixon, a man whom it is difficult even to imagine dressed in anything other than a full three-piece suit. And on the Democratic side was Sen. George McGovern.
McGovern did not begin the primary season in the lead, but after other candidates fizzled out, he managed to secure his party's nomination. His platform was the farthest left in American presidential history up to that time; it called for an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for all draft-dodgers, ratification of the feminist Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, and a slashing of the defense budget by more than a third.
In short, he offered what the counterculture had been protesting for; a pithy quote by a politician unnamed at the time summed up the McGovern platform as being "amnesty, abortion, and acid."
The American people didn't buy into it; Nixon crushed the Democrats with an electoral college victory of 520-17, at that time the second-greatest landslide in history. From that day to this, while clinging to many of the same policies that McGovern wanted, Democrats have always tried to portray themselves as something other than flat-out, full-bore liberals. McGovern stands as a symbol of what happens when you go too far left: you get crushed.
Thirty years on, a lot has changed, but George McGovern is still around. He's been retired from the Senate for many years, but as a card-carrying member of the international great and good, he has plenty of public appearances and appointments to keep him busy. While his status as a symbol of all that is left brings him both the admirers and the detractors that one would expect, his days as a maker of history are mostly over.
As a reference point, though, "Mr. Liberal" still has light to shed. As the anchor point for the far end of what you might call the "mainstream" left, distinct from the kooks and open Marxists, George McGovern stands as a political signpost saying, "Beyond this be dragons."
Well, is there anything beyond him? As it happens, there is, and he's saying so.
For many years, the major unions have been staunch supporters of Democratic power. They provide money by the truckload; they provide votes; and most importantly, they provide hordes of foot-soldiers in the form of their union members to assist in Democratic campaigns.
Despite the best efforts of their Democratic allies, unions have been losing membership and power for decades. From its peak in the 1950s at about a third of the workforce, the percentage of unionized workers has steadily declined until now it is little over a tenth. Where once unions could plausibly contemplate establishing their own separate political party if they so wished, they now represent just one Democratic constituency - an important and vital one, to be sure, but one among several.
American voters, workers, and businesses have increasingly chosen to avoid unions. How, then, can unions increase their membership, if people won't do so voluntarily? The answer is as obvious as it is un-American: pack the vote.
The way a union enters into a company has been laid down in the law for many years: The union must first get the signature of a certain percentage of the company's employees, and once that threshold is reached, the U.S. government administers an election at that company. The workers go into the polling booth, just as they would in a normal government election, and privately and anonymously check "Yes" or "No" as to whether they want to be unionized or not.
If the "Yes" votes win, then the union is certified, and the company is required by law to negotiate with it. If "No" comes out on top, though, the union has to go away, must start again from scratch, and cannot have another attempt for a certain period of time.
It shouldn't need to be said, but a secret ballot is absolutely fundamental to democracy. How can you have an election which is free and fair, if everyone will know how you are voting?
This is why we don't do elections by show of hands: if you are surrounded by thugs watching your choice, you might not be comfortable in voting your true feelings. Whether you are afraid of union pressure or company pressure, a secret ballot should be non-negotiable.
But the secret ballot is exactly what the union bosses want to consign to the dustbin of history. The Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act proposes to change the law that has stood for decades, eliminating the right to a free and fair election of union representation. Instead, the union need merely obtain signed cards from a majority of workers: once these are procured, by whatever means necessary, the union is instantly put in power with no recourse.
Obviously, the union will know exactly who has signed the cards and who hasn't yet; since union promoters work in the same company with their opponents, they have no trouble finding out their home addresses, children's schools, or any other information that might come in handy in applying pressure.
These are the sort of elections that dictatorships the world over use; in fact, when a dictator finds it necessary to stage an election, Rule One is to arrange to know who casts what vote and make sure everyone knows that he knows. The union bosses know how to win an election regardless of what the people actually want if they're allowed to apply the well-honed tactics of tyranny. The Employee Free Choice Act is designed to allow them to do precisely that.
George McGovern represents all manner of disastrous policies which were wrong for America in the 1970s and would be wrong for America today, but on one issue he stands strong: the people should have the right to freely choose. In the Wall Street Journal, he wrote:
As a congressman, senator and one-time Democratic nominee for the presidency, I've participated in my share of vigorous public debates over issues of great consequence. And the public has been free to accept or reject the decisions I made when they walked into a ballot booth, drew the curtain and cast their vote. I didn't always win, but I always respected the process.
Voting is an immense privilege.
That is why I am concerned about a new development that could deny this freedom to many Americans. As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor.
The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act, and I am sad to say it runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.
The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as "card-check." There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.
Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.
Senator McGovern is about as far from a conservative as one can imagine, but we see that he still believes in the fundamental nature of freedom and of the integrity of the American political system. And he finds EFCA to be completely un-American, unfair, and unwise.
What does it say, then, that Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for president, is in full support of EFCA? He's said so repeatedly; just last month, CNN reported his speech in Youngstown, OH:
Number one, I think that we should pass the Employee Free Choice Act... That will make it easier for unions to organize, make it harder for companies to block unionization.
Yes, that's the truth, for sure - the EFCA would indeed make unionization easier and resistance harder, just like Stalin marking the ballots and beating up anyone who voted the wrong way made it pretty hard for him to lose the "elections" he supervised.
There are a number of American who believe that increased unionization of our work force would be a Good Thing. That may or may not be so, but in America, it's not enough that we reach the outcomes that are good. We have a higher responsibility - that of doing things the right way.
EFCA represents all that is wrong and evil about fraudulent elections. It has no place anywhere in a free nation, and for major candidates to be singing its praises says something very frightening. For Barack Obama to be too far left for George McGovern, well...
McGovern feels so strongly about this issue that he even aired an ad opposing EFCA during the presidential debates. Will Democrats listen? Will America? Freedoms, once lost, are not easily regained.