We went to a very special event tonight, a screening of One Bright Shining Moment, the film about George McGovern and the very special assault he made on the malevolent political machine that was the Nixon Presidency in 1972.
What made the evening more special was that George McGovern was there to give a brief introduction. Afterward, he and the film's director Stephen Vittoria, took questions and gave spirited and complex answers for almost an hour and a half.
Many activists today won't really understand the dynamic of '72. Coming during the downward slide into hell of Viet Nam, the left and the peace movement, which had been largely dispirited by the horrible events of '68, became newly energized behind the Senator from South Dakota, an unlikely yet perfect candidate, much like it seemed Howard Dean might become last year.
Of course, there are many differences between McGovern and Dean, just as there are comparisons and contrasts between Iraq today and Viet Nam in the '70s. Yet one elemental bond gives both time periods commonality: the awakening of a hungry movement, a political force that could capture and change the minds of the American public as clearly happened then, and hopefully seems to be occurring today.
McGovern, unlike most politicians today, was unequivocal in his opinion against the Viet Nam War. He makes the statement in the film, echoed in person, that his misled vote for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in '64 was his biggest voting regret, and he compared that to the vote in 2003 to give authorization to GWBush to propel the equally mendacious war in Iraq forward. But other than that one exception, McGovern was staunch in his disapproval of the Southeast Asian war.
As is the case today, in a relevant and oft repeated parallel, those who dissented then, as McGovern did, were, and are still today tarred with the brush of 'treason,' He mentioned in the Q & A this week's statement by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) against the Iraq war, which predictibly drew cowardly references from the White House hit squad.
McGovern is a special man, whose clear grasp of history and current events made the film even more relevant than merely revisiting a moment where political advantage was lost. His message, made clear as the film unfolds, is that hope moves us forward, that the bastards won't wear us down. This is a film worth watching for any student of politics, and especially those who consider themselves activists today. And Vittoria's sharp direction, featuring interviews with those involved with the campaign like Gary Hart and Frank Mankiewicz, as well as observers such as Gore Vidal, Dick Gregory, and Warren Beatty, presents a vision that seems as clear and frustrating today is it did in '72.
And for those members of the Greater L.A. Blogger's Alliance in town this weekend, there are 2 showings on Sunday, 11/20, followed by Q & A. It would do you well to go see, and meet this mythic figure of progressive Democratic politics. His message is still as vibrant as it was in the infamous 3:00 AM acceptance speech at the '72 convention.
Note: music used in the film was excellent. I am always moved by Elvis Costello's reading of Nick Lowe's "Peace, Love, and Understanding" which played over the closing credits.
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