RIP George McGovern

George McGovern, longtime senator and the Democratic nominee for president in 1972, has died at the age of 90. I recall a friend at Vanderbilt University telling me, “The night McGovern was nominated, the Republicans and the hippies partied together.” Nixon won in a landslide, of course, as McGovern was accused of supporting “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” Not to mention opposing the Vietnam War. Someone – maybe Art Buchwald – said it was McGovern’s fault that Nixon was reelected, because if he had run unopposed he would have lost.

Over at Reason, Jesse Walker and Nick Gillespie offer libertarian appreciations of McGovern. Quoting Bill Kauffman, Walker reminds us:

In the home stretch of the ‘72 campaign, McGovern was groping toward truths that exist far beyond the cattle pens of Left and Right. “Government has become so vast and impersonal that its interests diverge more and more from the interests of ordinary citizens,” he said two days before the election. “For a generation and more, the government has sought to meet our needs by multiplying its bureaucracy. Washington has taken too much in taxes from Main Street, and Main Street has received too little in return. It is not necessary to centralize power in order to solve our problems.” Charging that Nixon “uncritically clings to bloated bureaucracies, both civilian and military,” McGovern promised to “decentralize our system.”

Would that have happened, especially under a president elected by a party heavily populated and directed by the people who run those bureaucracies? Probably not. But it would be nice to try it one of these days.

And the Wall Street Journal reminds us of what McGovern learned after he left the Senate and tried running a small business. If you’re not a Journal subscriber, Google “George McGovern in the Journal” or “A Politician’s Dream Is a Businessman’s Nightmare,” and you can probably find the article. But here’s a taste:

But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: “Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape.” It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators….

In short, “one-size-fits-all” rules for business ignore the reality of the marketplace. And setting thresholds for regulatory guidelines at artificial levels – e.g., 50 employees or more, $500,000 in sales – takes no account of other realities, such as profit margins, labor intensive vs. capital intensive businesses, and local market economics.