Republicans heart McGovern

Republicans offer sound reasons for opposing organized labor’s “card check” initiative. But that George W. McGovern agrees with them is one they should show the decency not to deploy.

If you choose the politics of personal destruction, of demonization, and, in so doing, to impose a smear on a good man and a cancer on our vital policy-making processes and institutions, you ought to abide by what you’ve chosen.

If you spend your life saying a man is scary, radical, unfit to lead and of dubious patriotism despite his heroic military career as a bomber pilot in World War II — that indeed this man provides the very horrid personification of a modern Democratic Party that would ruin this country — then you shouldn’t be permitted to appropriate him when, as the man of independent principle that he always was no matter what you said, the law of averages catches up and he accidentally agrees with you on something.

To the contrary, Republicans ought to be falling over themselves to explain that “card check” is still bad in spite of McGovern’s saying it is.

Last fall, Republicans were saying that Barack Obama shouldn’t be elected president because he was in the terrifying liberal mold of McGovern, noted opponent of the Vietnam War who carried one whole state, Massachusetts, against the disgraceful and soon-disgraced Richard Nixon in 1972.

But now, only because McGovern believes as principle that employees ought to have secret-ballot elections on union representation, Republicans are featuring him in television commercials and citing him as a sage authority and muscular ally.

McGovern was always above this sort of thing. He admitted publicly a few years ago that, in 1976, four years after the Republicans smeared him, he voted for Republican Gerald Ford over Democrat Jimmy Carter. He told Larry King that he knew and respected Ford and, at the time, felt altogether more comfortable with the prospect of Ford as president.

This is what happens when you dare to present independence and nobility in American politics. You have no permanent allies. You do have permanent enemies, except that these permanent enemies reserve the right to leech off you should a convenient occasion present itself.

If George W. Bush declared himself in favor of “card check” tomorrow, which of course he wouldn’t, would unions and Democrats embrace him and showcase his endorsement in television commercials?

Not likely, for three reasons. One is that Bush is not noted for independence and nobility. Another is that Democrats haven’t caricatured him; he caricatured himself, and Democrats’ disdain for him is not so much strategic as deeply heart-felt. The third is that W.’s alliance wouldn’t help, but hurt.

What, then, are the sound reasons for Republicans to oppose this labor initiative by which unions could be imposed simply if a majority of workers signed cards, instead of after a decision-making period, then in a secret-ballot election?

One is that the desired objective in labor-management relations should be a balanced and objective presentation of options to workers. It should not be a pre-emptive stealth strike in behalf of one side.

The second is that, while there might be a time to consider this legislation or something like it, this surely is not that time. It is no longer a matter of which side is more to blame for our national and global economic meltdown. This is now a matter of how our economy survives.

That can happen only by the renewed confidence among those who provide employment. And this confidence could hardly be renewed amid a new law and culture generating new labor unions like pop-up ads on a computer screen.

Would there ever be a good time to do away with the secret-ballot elections? George McGovern doesn’t think so. And I can quote him, you see, because I never caricatured or smeared him.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of “High Wire,” a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@

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