Bold Ideas From George McGovern

Washington Matters

Bold Ideas From George McGovern

Most people associate George McGovern with his crushing defeat in the 1972 presidential contest against Richard Nixon and for being the face of anti-war liberalism and the peace movement during the Vietnam War more than four decades ago. But at 86, he's still very active and still floating controversial ideas about war and defense spending.  

In an op-ed Monday in the Wall Street Journal, McGovern calls for a 50% reduction in the U.S. defense budget and for all military troops to be brought back from Iraq and Afghanistan by Thanksgiving.

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Neither will happen, but that doesn't mean the argument the former South Dakota senator makes should be easily dismissed. He makes some worthwhile points.

McGovern would redirect much of the savings from slashing the defense budget  to other sources of national security. It's worth the debate it won't get. An awful lot of Pentagon spending is inefficient and wasteful, often going to programs and weapon systems championed by individual members of Congress but not by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Many are for programs that stopped being appropriate when the Cold War ended, like the B-2 bomber.


The defense lobby has to be the biggest in Washington, and defense-related committee members are among the most influential in Congress. The budget would never be cut in any such drastic way. Still, a couple hundred billion more a year for other types of national security work, such as border control and greater human intelligence at spy agencies, would be quite a boost to our security.

McGovern would also use some of the savings from ending the wars for a broad new GI Bill of Rights, allowing every soldier a fully-paid college education at the school of his or her choice, public or private. That would cost a tiny fraction of the $12 billion being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan each month, and it would have a good return on investment for service men and women who deserve our thanks and support. Education is always a winner.

McGovern, a World War II bomber pilot, used the old GI Bill of his generation to gain a Ph.D. in history that probably helped propel him to enter politics. He recently authored a history book, "Abraham Lincoln" about the continuing influence the 16th president has on American life. 

In any event, McGovern, the aging and fading liberal icon, is well worth reading and paying attention to. He's fought losing battles before, and his new ideas will be probably go down as losers, too. It would be good if a congressional hearing or two was devoted to them, though. McGovern deserves that.