UN ambassador speaks out against president

Jasett Chatham and Jasett Chatham

Click here to listen to the DAILY’s Jasett Chatham discuss politics with U.N. Ambassador George McGovern.

United Nations Ambassador George McGovern spoke at Northwestern Tuesday night, criticizing the Bush Administration and showing an uncanny ability to laugh at himself by recognizing past political upsets.

About 400 people gathered in Pick-Staiger Auditorium to hear the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate speak, according to Andrew London, treasurer of NU’s College Democrats. The group sponsored McGovern’s speech.

“We meet tonight with perhaps the least effective and most dangerous president in history,” McGovern said.

The former South Dakota senator received his doctorate from NU. In his campaign against President Richard Nixon, he won about 37 percent of the popular vote. McGovern lost 49 of the 50 states, winning Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Q&A with George McGovern

Q: A common criticism of (2004 Democratic presidential candidate John) Kerry was that he was too moderate during the elections. What would you say an upcoming Democratic candidate in 2008 would need to – where they would need to lie on the political spectrum?

A:Well, if we are again accused by the opposition of being soft on national security, soft on terrorism, I hope our candidate will jump right down their throats. Because this intervention in Iraq has recruited terrorists, rather than diminishing them – Foreign armies, even good armies, like we think ours is, are not very welcome in the long run in somebody else’s country. That’s why we threw the British out of the colonies two hundred and thirty years ago.

Q: OK. Along another note, what would you say – is probably the number one issue facing the world right now in (global health)?

A: On the hunger front, I’d like to see a proposal by Sen. Bob Dole and myself, which we’ve been pushing, that would provide a good, nutritious school lunch, everyday, for every hungry schoolchild in the world. That’s something the United Nations can do, with the United States in the lead. We ought to take the lead.

And what we have found is that there are about 300 million school-age kids who get nothing to eat during school hours. I’m an old teacher. I don’t think you can educate kids on an empty stomach – If you start a school lunch program, both the boys and the girls will get there. We know that because we’ve experimented with pilot programs –

These little illiterate girls that stay at home can’t even write their names or read a simple sentence. They start getting married when they’re 11, 12, 13 years of age. And UN statistics show they have an average of 6 children for each of those little illiterate girls. –

The ones that go to school, even if it’s just for six years, grades one through six, marry years later in life – and they have an average of 2.9 children per mother. So you slightly more than cut in half the birth rate on the strength of elementary education. I think that’s remarkable.

“If you’re going to lose, lose big,” McGovern said. He later added, “I went to the Super Bowl and I went down, but I’ve never had the desire to change places with the landslide victor.”

McGovern became the first UN global ambassador on hunger in 2001, but he didn’t spend much time speaking on the topic.

McGovern served in the Army Air Forces and spoke fondly of his time serving in World War II.

“I’m really glad that I had that experience because it was the last war that I really believed in,” McGovern said. He later earned a doctorate from NU in 1953.

The ambassador, who grew up a Republican, encouraged students to pursue political careers, calling it a “glorious field.”

McGovern’s attitude was reflected in his choice of dress. The formality of his navy blue pinstripe suit couldn’t overshadow the green, polka-dotted tie around his neck. When he moved into the political portion of his speech, McGovern removed his glasses and became notably more formal.

McGovern said the Democrats need to make people aware that Republicans are not the only ones concerned with morality or spirituality.

“Without a moral undergirding, politics is a hazardous enterprise,” he said.

McGovern said the invasion of Iraq was unjustified and called the Bush Administration “un-Christian.” He said the way Bush misled the nation is comparable to Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

“Saddam was a big enough SOB without us blaming him for something he had nothing to do with,” he said.

McGovern also criticized the current administration for turning its back on the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty intended to reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Everything will be set back due to global warming,” he said. “Walking out on the Kyoto treaty is a horrendous blunder.”

For the future, McGovern said he wants to see the U.S. establish a national health care system, build the best railway system in the world and lead by example in nuclear non-proliferation by liquidating some of the American arsenal.

Weinberg sophomore Sonia Sanga said she was inspired by McGovern’s attitude about his presidential loss.

“It gave me confidence and optimism in the future,” she said.

Evanston resident Jim Genden voted in a presidential election for the first time in 1972; he voted for McGovern.

“He’s 84 and he’s still so articulate,” Genden said. McGovern will turn 84 in July. “He still has confidence in the political system.”

Communication Prof. Lee Huebner, a former Nixon speechwriter, said he met McGovern in Paris in the 1980s. Huebner said he enjoyed the speech and called McGovern “one of the most decent people in public life.”

Reach Jasett Chatham at [email protected]