George McGovern 1984 Announcement Speech












11 a.m., TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 1983



I have decided to seek the Presidency of the United States. I shall make that effort on a platform of realism and common sense. Fantasy may be good entertainment on the movie screen; it is not good policy for a great nation.


The new realism calls for a revival of the old common sense that has guided our greatest leaders since George Washington who gave this University its proud name.


In the course of the campaign and I will set forth what I believe to be common sense positions on the major issues before the country, but I shall concentrate on these three propositions:


PROPOSITION I: There is no longer any alternative to what president Eisenhower described as “peaceful coexistence” except no existence.


PROPOSITION II: The age of intervention in the internal affairs of small countries is over. It does not work anymore.


PROPOSITION III: American prosperity and power rest on faithfulness to our founding ideals including equal rights and equal opportunities for all Americans.


As for the first proposition, the system of war as a means of settling international conflict is now obsolete. Both nuclear and conventional weapons have become so costly and so destructive that a peacetime arms race bankrupts the participants and a wartime use of modern weapons destroys the combatants. Modern warfare has erased the distinction between losers and winners: if war comes, all of us lose.


As a combat bomber pilot in the Second World War.., I knew the horrors of war firsthand. Many of my young friends, including the navigator on my own crew, died before my eyes.


A decade ago I came to national prominence as a leader in the effort to end the war in Vietnam. After one of the longest and most wide-ranging campaigns in American history, I won the Democratic Presidential nomination on a platform to end the war. Although the Vietnam struggle was the transcendent issue of that decade, both the Democratic Party and the nation were painfully divided on the question. In a sense that division led to my defeat by Mr. Nixon in the fall.


But I believed then as I do now that my candidacy helped in ending a conflict that nearly all Americans now realize was a dreadful mistake.


We conducted a campaign of which we can all be proud because it was an honorable campaign of candor, common sense and compassion. the funding of that campaign under the direction of my old friend Henry Kimelman has become a textbook model -- not one dollar of deficit -- not one hint of dishonesty.


History has already rendered its verdict upon the distortion, deceit, and shameful behavior of our opponents who were driven from office in disgrace a few months after the election.


But, my dear friends, now a decade later the issues before us are far more grave than in 1972. All men, women, and children now face the most awful decision which God has put to them since Creation -- the question of whether human life can survive on this planet.


The recent outrageous shooting down of a passenger airliner that had strayed over Soviet territory underscores the folly of the present Cold War tension between Washington and Moscow. The present hair-trigger relationship is too risky. The next blunder might involve the explosion of a nuclear weapon.


Are we to be incinerated in a global war that begins with the folly of a single trigger-happy pilot, or an over-wrought field commander? Will Russians and Americans continue to squander their resources and exhaust their treasuries in manufacturing more and more engines of destruction in the fear that the other side is about to strike?


The President's most substantive reaction to the loss of the Korean airliner has been to renew his call for the MX missile. Is there any thoughtful person who believes that either commercial air travel or America itself will be more secure after we have gone another $100 billion into debt far yet another highly controversial new weapons system?


While the nation must preserve an adequate military deterrence against attack, there is neither security nor victory in either an open-ended arms race or in the actual use of the weapons of deterrence. The only realistic, common sense course for the United States and the Soviet Union is to relentlessly pursue the discussion and settlement of disputes at the conference table. Better that old men lose their tempers at the conference table than that young men lose their lives on the battle field.


Instead of increasing military spending at a pace of ten percent annually above the inflation rate as advocated by Mr. Reagan or a five to seven percent increase as advocated by the other Democratic Presidential contenders, we should reduce military spending substantially after ratifying a verifiable arms control agreement with the Soviet Union.


President Eisenhower expressed the hope twenty-seven years ago that “…we will have sense enough to meet at the conference table with the understanding that the era of armaments has ended and the human race must conform its actions to this truth or die.”


This is the common sense realism of a man who knew war firsthand -- not just the glamourized wars of Hollywood.


I do not advocate unilateral disarmament. But I have no doubt that as President I could work out a realistic agreement with the Russian leaders that would stop the arms race and safely reduce arms spending.


I would not be seeking the Presidency a second time if I did not believe with all my heart and soul that I have the God-given capacity to lead this great nation away from the abyss into the ways that make for peace. I am speaking about hard- headed negotiations with the tough-minded leaders of the Soviet Union. I am speaking about having the informed judgment to end our deepening military involvement in Central America. I am speaking about having the sense of justice and prudence to tell the warring parties of the Middle East that there will be no more American aid and no more American soldiers unless Arabs and Israelis and Palestinians get to the conference table and begin at long last serious negotiations for peace.


As a student of history since childhood and as a seasoned public man who has grappled with political and international issues nearly all of my life, I believe that I am ready now as at no previous time in my life to lead this nation toward justice, honor and peace.


And now for the second Proposition: It is no longer possible at acceptable cost for either Washington or Moscow to impose its will against the revolutionary currents of Central America, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Poland, Africa and the Middle East.


We Americans love freedom and hate oppression. But we came to greatness not by whimpering what we were against but by boldly proclaiming what we were for -- the liberating, revolutionary ideals of Jefferson and Washington, Jackson and Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt.


Yet, we have trembled at and attempted to turn back the revolutionary currents which have convulsed countries from Vietnam and Angola, to Nicaragua and El Salvador. Of course Communists are involved in some of these revolutions. Of course the Russians may support them. But let it never be forgotten that these revolutions, misguided though they sometimes are, are revolts against centuries of oppression and exploitation.


We Americans dislike Communist governments.  But we have also learned that with a little hard-headed common sense and imagination we can live at peace with them and even influence of their behavior and a limited way.  Yugoslavia is an example of a Communist country that we approached in a practical and effective manner.  President Nixon’s decision to begin dealing with Communist China is another case in point.  Diplomacy and trade are less costly than the shipment of American arms and less precious than American blood.


To be specific, as President, I would cease forthwith the so-called “covert war” against Nicaragua and end all United States military involvement in Central America.  Not one drop of American blood would be shed on that soil.  And America would not be extract one drop of blood from the sons and daughters of Central America.


Certain persons now in power believe that the Russians and Cubans are causing all the trouble in Central America. But remove all Russians and Cubans and Central America would still be caught up in struggle and strife. And which side will we be on?  On the side of oppression and a short-sighted dictators?  Or on the side of desperate people’s trying to find social and economic justice? 


To be specific ones more, I call for a new day in our relations with Cuba.  Our present policy of boycotting Cuba economically and isolating her diplomatically has been a disastrous failure for more than twenty years. We have done nothing but drive Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union and into of hated dependence upon that country.


I have endorsed President Reagan’s decision to sell American grain to the Soviet Union.  I have endorsed former president Nixon’s decision to open up the doors of diplomacy and trade to China.  But if it makes sense to deal with the two major Communist powers, why do we back away and fear from diplomacy in trade with Cuba?  Would dealing with Cuba really jeopardize American security? 


In addressing the third and final proposition of this campaign, let me assert that there must at long last be an end to unequal treatment of any American and especially of that majority of Americans who are women.


The polling analysts have reported that in 1980 women voters were more opposed to Mr. Reagan’s policies then were the men.  The same analyst’s report that the “gender gap” verdict on Mr. Reagan is now widening.  Thank god for the women of America!  I believe that in 1984 women voters will lead us out of the wilderness of unfairness into that promised land of equality and justice for all Americans.


As for our economic problems, I flatly reject Reaganomics and the Reagan budget priorities.  I do not blame Mr. Reagan for all the economic problems that face the country.  The economy was in trouble before the present administration came into power.  But I am equally sure that Mr. Reagan’s prescription is not the cure for our economic illness.  The Reagan supply side tax plan will cost the government an average of $125 billion annually in lost revenues with very little benefit to the average taxpayer.  Nor has the tax cut achieved its announced objective of stimulating savings and investment in job of creating enterprises.  Savings have declined from 5% of GNP to 3% during the last three years and the tax cuts has apparently been used more to finance corporate mergers then to create new jobs. 


The Reagan program of military spending is not really a program.  It is not practical defense.  It is a wasteful binge, and it threatens i the very vitality of our economy.  Until 1965, it cost less than $100 billion to run the entire United States government.  Current arms spending has now pushed military outlays alone beyond $200 billion a year.  The man who promised a balanced budget has combined an unworkable tax scheme with the foolishly conceived arms spending explosion to produce a $200 billion annual federal deficit. 


Of the total national debt accumulated since the days of George Washington, forty-one percent will have been added by the present Administration.  By any test, Mr. Reagan is the most reckless deficit financer in American history.  He claims to be a conservative, but these are the facts.  He sat in the past that I was too liberal, but if I had said in 1972 that at $200 billion annual deficit was acceptable, I wouldn’t even have carried Massachusetts! 


We must face the reality that no matter who is President there will be no end to rising deficits and recurring inflation until we end the terrible strain of an open-ended arms race.  We must also cancel the unwise tax formula of 1981 and then go on to devise a simplified system of taxation such as the Bradley-Gephardt Fair Tax Bill that will be fair to income receivers of all categories.


Let us recognize, too, that there will be no end to the federal deficit and no increase in our productivity until we educate and train our people for productive work.  So let us create a “Second Chance GI Bill of Rights,“ patterned along the lines of the program after the Second World War but open to all people. 


Every American should have the opportunity, through low-cost government guaranteed loans, to have additional education and job training. 


Nor will we end federal deficits while twelve million Americans are unemployed and therefore paying no taxes while collecting unemployment compensation or welfare.  Each one percent of unemployment costs the national treasury $25 billion in lost revenues and paid out compensation.  With ten percent of our people unemployed, the cost to the taxpayers is $250 billion each year.  High deficits will not end until high unemployment ends. 


So let us develop a carefully designed, businesslike program of public and private works to provide jobs for the balance of this century in rebuilding our railways, roads, water and sewage systems, alternative systems of energy, and the protection of our precious environment.  Specifically, with industry and government cooperation let us commit America to building by the year 2000 the finest railway system in the world.  Let us undertake an industry-government research effort to find safe and clean methods of utilizing America’s vast coal reserves so that we can revitalize our cold industry and strengthen our energy security.  Let us undertake a major tree planting and conserving program by our farmers and by a new Civilian Conservation Corps to halt the erosion of life sustaining top-soil.  Let us also get the construction industry going again with a concerted effort to bring down interest rates so that the dream of home ownership will once again be a reality.  I would recommend the availability of a one-time government-backed mortgage loan below ten percent for any American family. 


Believing that the United States Government can be a mighty force for human progress.  I shall outline additional proposals for strengthening the economy as the campaign progresses.  Mr. Reagan seems to believe that government is the enemy of the people.  In truth, Democratic government is strength in our hands and hope in our hearts, not a burden on our backs. 


American Democracy at its best has been undergirded by the spiritual insight of the Hebrew Prophets and the Christian Gospel.  Conversely, we have learned again in our time that politics devoid of a moral compass is a destructive enterprise.  It is still true that “where there is no vision the people perish.”


I believe that the American people want to see the light of this nation shine once again in all its grandeur.  Let the light shines on those who long for peace; let the light shine on the despairing unemployed and the discouraged farmer; on the hungry and the homeless; on those who are old and lonely; on the troubled veterans of the Vietnam conflict; let the light shine on the dark recesses of discrimination; and let the light shine on our crime-ridden, drug infested cities until once again it is safe to walk the streets of America. 


And now an exciting and what can be a victorious campaign lies before us.  No candidate can protect the public reaction to his appeal.  Indeed, as Emerson has written, “None but he knows what he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. “ I don’t know if I can win this campaign, but I do know that with all my heart and strength I am going to try. 


But let me remind you: the success of this campaign lies in your hands. Please, those of you at George Washington University and those who watch on television, if you will volunteer send your name, and if you can contribute send your dollars to the McGovern for President campaign. And let us now as Democrats and as Americans join hands around the table of common purpose and then go forward with a strong and active faith.



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Source: McGovern for President News Release