. . . from his own money.
If the true test of responsible adulthood is the ability to alter one’s thinking and positions based upon the facts one actually finds on the ground, then George McGovern, dead this past weekend, passed that test. Americans’ memory of him is frozen in the amber of the 1972 presidential election, when he rode the crest of what for the time was a tidal wave of whacked-out lefties (ignore that most of McGovern’s most outrageous positions of 1972 became . . . well, almost tame over the 40 years since) to one of the biggest whippings ever. That’s how we remember him: paragon of far-left causes.
McGovern lived, however, not quite exactly another 32 years after losing office, and this is Bloomberg’s final take on him: Libertarian Hero.
There is an educational aspect to the process of paying the bills out of your own money which is just impossible fully to replicate when you’re paying with someone’s else’s money. Even if the money is “private” money, say, and you’re the CEO of some gargantuan company, it’s still not really your money. The money you’re paying out is just not coming from the same funds out of which you propose to pay next month’s light bill.
Dr. Johnson observed that nothing will focus a man’s mind like the knowledge that he is to be hanged in a fortnight. I will suggest that nothing will bring home the economic realities of government intrusion into business pursuits like signing checks each one of which measurably reduces the money one has available to put food in front of one’s children.
George McGovern, bless his heart (you see, in the South you can say anything, absolutely anything, about someone if you only preface it with or append to it “bless his/her heart”) made a first career advocating for giving away others’ money. Then he got to fit that shoe on the other foot. Seems it pinched. He sunk most of his post-Congressional savings into a motel in Connecticut that went belly up. McGovern gave his erstwhile supporters a fit of the vapors with a 1992 letter to the Wall Street Journal (read into the Congressional Record here) detailing the effect on his venture of government regulation, including specifically some things that he personally had supported. What I also find interesting is a 2008 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (link is to Reason, which has excerpts, the actual op-ed being behind a paywall), in which he defended subprime lending. That was 28 years after he lost office in 1980. He’d been first elected to Congressional office in 1963, which was 17 years before being beat. So by the time he let loose with his 2008 eructation, he’d been paying the bills from his own pocket for quite a bit longer than he’d been paying them from others’. Bless his heart, he’d learned.
Did McGovern “flip-flop” on the issues? Lincoln once explicitly allowed that he did not claim to have guided events so much as to have been guided by them, and that he held his positions until he was shown they were incorrect, at which point he changed his position. McGovern found out, the hard way, the actual consequences of his earlier causes. He found them out with his own money. And he changed his position.
I accept that government decision makers should have some degree of background and experience in government work. You can’t run a government like a business; you also can’t make business run like a government. When a business runs short of money, it can’t just decree that it’s going to take more from its customers, or require that they buy more of whatever is being sold, or refuse permission to its competitors to operate. The rest of the world is not going to put its plans on hold to wait for any business, however huge (ask GM about that). Similarly, government decision-making is constrained by things not applicable to private enterprise. Things like the 5th and 14th Amendments, for example, or the vastly-increased scope for play of the Law of Unintended Consequences. So you don’t necessarily want “a businessman” to try running the government. On the other hand, complete absence of private, personal business experience is or ought to be as close to an absolute disqualifier as anything this side of being convicted of a felony.