He rejoices that "in America it is possible to be personal friends and political opponents.".
The election of 1972 was a fight between an icon of the progressive movement and a Republican incumbent. Richard Nixon, the incumbent, emphasized a good economy, a lessening of hostilities in Vietnam, and foreign affairs successes in China and the Soviet Union. George McGovern, a Senator from South Dakota, ran an anti-war,...
The election of 1972 was a fight between an icon of the progressive movement and a Republican incumbent. Richard Nixon, the incumbent, emphasized a good economy, a lessening of hostilities in Vietnam, and foreign affairs successes in China and the Soviet Union. George McGovern, a Senator from South Dakota, ran an anti-war, progressive campaign. His path to nomination ran through a crowded primary process, where he defeated Ed Muskie, George Wallace, Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, and many others. McGovern himself had led a commission to design the primary system, and in the end he benefited from it. His platform was a calling card for the progressive cause. Among his issues were a guaranteed minimum income for the poor and an immediate end to the war.
The election was a landslide victory for Nixon, but the tactics he employed made for a contentious race and eventually to Nixon's impeachment. On June 17, 1972, months before the election, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. McGovern lashed out at the Nixon campaign, and made its "dirty tricks" a campaign issue as he barnstormed across the country. “These ambitious men apparently will stop at nothing to preserve their own power,” he said. “They would undermine the republic to save their White House parking spaces.” After the campaign, McGovern, still in the Senate, was a thorn in Nixon's side until the President was forced to resign.
Years passed. In 1991, George H.W. Bush was the President, and the economy was in trouble. George McGovern, now a private citizen, pondered a run against the incumbent in a Democratic field without a clear front runner. Before making his decision, he ran into Nixon on a flight and the two sat together and spoke about the election. Nixon quizzed him about his agenda. Eventually, McGovern decided against a run, but neither forgot about the exchange.
The Democratic National Convention took place in July 1992, and Bill Clinton became the standard bearer for the party, a position he would retain for eight years. Ironically, it was as an organizer for McGovern's 1972 campaign that Bill Clinton got his political start. But before the result was known, as organizers of the Convention began meeting, Richard Nixon sat down to write his old political foe a letter and usher in the coming campaign, two decades after their own. This letter, which is unpublished and was not known to exist, is a fascinating glimpse into Nixon, his relationship with McGovern, and his happiness that the two had reconciled. It also sheds light on the nature of healthy partisanship, and a level of positive competitive spirit that is uncommon if not absent altogether in today's caustic political environment. This letter, a favorite of McGovern's that he had on display in his office, has been with McGovern's family until The Raab Collection acquired it this year. It is offered for sale here for the first time.
Typed letter signed, on his letterhead, Woodcliff Lake, NJ, July 8, 1992, to George McGovern. "Dear George, In the campaign of 1972, our differences were ideological not personal; In the years since then we have demonstrated that in America it is possible to be personal friends and political opponents.
"I wish you and your colleagues in the 1972 campaign the very best in the years ahead — except , of course, on election day! Sincerely, Dick."
We have never seen a similar, heartfelt letter of reconciliation between two Presidential political rivals.
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