George McGovern died today (1992-2012)

He was 90 at the time of his death.

It cannot be said that McGovern’s star-crossed 1972 Presidential campaign signaled the death of American liberalism (America’s version of social democracy). That death would finally come when Ronald Reagan demolished the politically conservative Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981. What his 1972 campaign managed to accomplish was the creation of a potent and enduring symbol, one which encapsulated the political impossibility of liberal reform in the United States. It did not matter a jot that McGovern was not a radical in any way at all. His reform program was quite modest. Yet his defeat at Richard Nixon’s dirty hands was so decisive that it suggested Americans in general would not support the political implementation of a just social order, a project which informed national politics in the prior decade. In this sense it can be said that McGovern’s defeat in 1972 ushered in the Age of Reaction in American politics. It was the watershed moment when the silent majority put down the young upstarts who wanted to run the country. Even the Watergate Scandal — which one might have expected to affirm completely and strongly the leftwing of the Democratic Party and which destroyed the corrupt Nixon Administration as well as the Party-man Gerald Ford — failed to deter the hard right turn made by the American elite after the 1960s. Militarism, predatory economics and social reaction would dominate American politics thereafter.

The 1972 Election remains an active and significant component of America’s political memory. Echoes of Nixon’s victory could be heard in Scott Walker’s decisive victory over Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin Governor’s Recall Election of 2012 and, for that matter, in the public and private despair felt by the Democratic Party left over Barack Obama’s reactionary administration. Both situations reflect the irrelevance of a center-left politics in the United States, a weakness revealed by the 1972 Presidential Election. A Heideggerian might consider this despair to be Uncle Sam anticipating his very death.

George McGovern was considered a decent man. I never met him and cannot confirm this observation from personal experience. But, if McGovern had been a decent man during his long life, we who remain alive might affirm his memory by appreciating the fact that his name will always remain associated with the effort to turn the country away from its self-selected destruction. This will be his posterity.

Scott Walker defeated his opponents in the Wisconsin recall election

His was a landslide victory. Walker’s victory affirmed the party-duopoly which governs the United States because both candidates were system politicians in good standing, both accepted managed democracy as legitimate. Democracy ‘won’: the system ‘worked.’

Walker’s victory is an unqualified disaster for the left, at least for any left committed to popular participation, democratic accountability and equality. It does not matter a jot that Walker had enormous financial resources to use in this election, pace those who claim otherwise (see, for instance, this and this). He did not buy votes. The election was not decided by the work of a Republican Party Sturmabteilung. What matters is Walker was a nationally known political reactionary and who had the backing of the reactionary faction of the nation’s economic elite and oligarchs, and who used these resources to muster the popular support he needed to defeat all of his opponents in what appears to have been a fairly contested election. Walker had to be defeated in order for the left in America to deliver on the promises generated by the Wisconsin Uprising and by the Occupy Movement. Anything less than a Walker defeat in this recall election meant a general and decisive defeat of the political left.

How important was this election? In my estimation, the Wisconsin recall election was so important that Walker’s latest victory may well stand alongside Reagan’s destruction of PATCO, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, Bush v. Gore, passage of the Patriot Act, the 2004 electoral affirmation of the Bush regime and the Iraq Occupation as well as Barack Obama’s steadfast affirmation of the security-surveillance state as recent landmark moments in the dissolution of America’s democracy.