[Congressional Record Volume 157, Number 132 (Thursday, September 8, 2011)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1562-E1563]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]



                         HON. JAMES P. McGOVERN

                            of massachusetts

                    in the house of representatives

                      Thursday, September 8, 2011

  Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring the attention of my 
colleagues to a recent article by my friend, former Senator George 
McGovern, in the September, 2011 issue of Harper's magazine.
  In the article, Senator McGovern offers a series of recommendations 
to improve our Nation, including bringing our troops home from 
Afghanistan, investing in the jobs of the future, and reducing defense 
  Senator McGovern continues to bring an important, thoughtful 
perspective to the issues of the day. I urge my colleagues to read his 
article and to give serious consideration to the proposals he outlines.

                  Easy Chair--A Letter to Barack Obama

                          (By George McGovern)

       When President Franklin Roosevelt came into office in the 
     depth of the Great Depression, he sought to stabilize and 
     empower American society by introducing bold new initiatives: 
     Social Security, the Public Works Administration, the Federal 
     Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Rural Electrification 
     Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Civilian 
     Conservation Corps, and the Agricultural Adjustment 
     Administration, among many others. These measures were 
     sufficiently successful, as was his leadership during World 
     War II, that he secured four terms in the White House. There 
     was some congressional resistance but not enough to block the 
     support of both political parties.
       Like Roosevelt, President Barack Obama has inherited a 
     serious economic crisis, but in his first two years in office 
     he has been met with an even worse problem: the rigid 
     opposition of the rival party leaders to national health care 
     and nearly every other proposal he has made. The Republican 
     House Appropriations Committee has even voted to terminate 
     public funding for NPR and PBS. Neither during my four years 
     in the House of Representatives, when Dwight D. Eisenhower 
     was in the White House, nor through eighteen years in the 
     U.S. Senate, under John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard 
     Nixon, have I witnessed any president thwarted by the kind of 
     narrow partisanship that has beset Obama. He has tried to 
     avoid such divisions by publicly explaining his willingness 
     to compromise, but these gestures have been spurned. Some of 
     his political critics have gone so far as to express the hope 
     that the Obama Administration will fail, even avowing their 
     determination to hasten that failure. What has happened, one 
     is compelled to ask, to the love of nation?
       I have learned that it is not easy to succeed either as a 
     senator or as a president if you are pushing for fundamental 
     change. We tend, as lawmakers and as citizens, to drift along 
     with the familiar ways of thinking: If it is good enough for 
     Grandma and Grandpa, it is good enough for us. If it is good 
     enough for the flag-wavers and the boasters, it is good 
     enough for us. Such resistance to change often is 
     strengthened by powerful interests--nowhere more forcefully 
     than in the National Defense bill that Congress considers and 
     passes each year.
       When I entered the U.S. Senate in 1963, the defense budget 
     was $51 billion. This was at a time when our military experts 
     felt it necessary to have the means to win a war against the 
     combined powers of Russia and China. Today we have a military 
     budget of over $700 billion, and yet neither Russia nor China 
     threatens us, if indeed they ever did. Nor does any other 
     nation. Furthermore, the terrorist threat we face is not a 
     military matter. The World Trade Center was brought down not 
     by artillery or bombers or battleships but by nineteen young 
     Arabs equipped only with box cutters. The Department of 
     Homeland Security created by the Bush Administration after 
     this attack is a better instrument against terrorism than our 
     military, even though our armed forces are the best in the 
       In my career both in the House and in the Senate, inspired 
     by the words of Eisenhower, my supreme commander in Europe 
     during World War II, I tried hard to curb the powers of what 
     Eisenhower, in his farewell address as president, referred to 
     as the ``military-industrial complex.'' Needless to say, all 
     my efforts to reduce military spending were defeated. With 
     the renaming of the War Department as the Defense Department 
     in 1947, the military part of the government became sacred, 
     virtually untouchable. How could anyone vote to cut defense 
     unless he or she is willing to face political defeat?
       We need a new definition of ``defense'' that takes into 
     account the quality of our education, the health of our 
     people, the preservation of the environment, the strength of 
     our transportation, the development of alternative fuels, the 
     vigor of our democracy. These were the concerns expressed by 
     the people who stood in Cairo's Tahrir Square holding up 
     their signs for more than two weeks this winter. Without 
     guns, knives, or the use of their fists, they brought down 
     the dictator who had exploited them for nearly thirty 
       All Americans want their country to have an adequate 
     military defense. But under pressure from corporate lobbyists 
     and legislators seeking military contracts or bases for their 
     states, we are spending to excess while other sources of 
     national defense, such as health care and education, are 
     shortchanged and the national debt grows ever larger.
       Many patriotic Americans have opposed the two wars our 
     gallant young troops have been asked to fight in Iraq and 
     Afghanistan. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz 
     has estimated that the direct and indirect costs of the Iraq 
     war will amount to $3 trillion. This represents nearly a 
     quarter of our national debt. I suspect that the war in 
     Afghanistan will eventually cost another $3 trillion and we 
     still will not have achieved our aim. General David Petraeus, 
     the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, advises

[[Page E1563]]

     that we cannot think of withdrawing our troops before 2014. 
     If we stay on that schedule, our soldiers will have been 
     fighting, bleeding, and dying there for thirteen years--more 
     than three times the length of U.S. involvement in World War 
       I recently conferred with President Obama in his White 
     House office, urging him to withdraw from Afghanistan. I'm 
     pleased that he has since announced the withdrawal of 10,000 
     troops in 2011 and 23,000 in 2012. I would have been even 
     more pleased if all our 100,000 troops now in Afghanistan, as 
     well as those in Iraq, were on the way home.
       The president may he reluctant to follow the advice of a 
     presidential candidate who in 1972 lost forty-nine states to 
     Richard Nixon. I can appreciate that concern. On the other 
     hand, shortly after the 1972 election, two bipartisan 
     investigations--one by the House and one by the Senate--
     forced the incumbent who beat me to resign his office in 
     disgrace. A question from the New Testament comes to mind: 
     What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world or wins 
     a big election and loses his own soul? The late Sargent 
     Shriver, my running mate in 1972, came to me the day after 
     the election and said, ``George, we may have lost forty-nine 
     states but we never lost our souls.''
       With this sentiment in mind, I would like to suggest a few 
     bold steps President Obama might consider for the good of his 
     soul and that of the nation.
       1. We should bring our troops home from Afghanistan this 
     year. No previous foreign power that has tried to work its 
     will in Afghanistan has succeeded--not Alexander the Great, 
     not the Mongols, not the British, and not the Russians, who, 
     after nine years of fighting, had sent some 25,000 of their 
     soldiers home in coffins. The Soviet treasury was emptied and 
     the Soviet Union collapsed. Even if it were desirable for us 
     to stay a decade more, we simply cannot afford to do so.
       2. We should close all U.S. military bases in the Arab 
     world. American troops in the Middle East incite rather than 
     prevent terrorist attacks against us. We would do well to 
     remember that when Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia 
     after fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, he found a large 
     American army in his home country, positioned there to halt a 
     possible Iraqi invasion--a presence that so offended him he 
     denounced the king and his own family for quartering the 
     American ``infidels'' within the shadow of the holy cities of 
     Mecca and Medina. He then returned to Afghanistan to organize 
     Al Qaeda and, later, launch the World Trade Center and 
     Pentagon attacks.
       3. We should evaluate whether it is necessary to continue 
     other American troop consignments to Europe, South Korea, and 
     elsewhere. When the U.S. Army was sent to Korea in 1950 the 
     deployment was described as a brief police action, but sixty 
     years later our troops are still there. South Korea is now a 
     wealthier, more populous, and more industrialized nation than 
     North Korea, and is fully capable of defending itself. 
     Similarly, U.S. troops in Europe, now numbering 80,000, have 
     been there for half a century. They should be withdrawn, as 
     were the Soviet forces from Eastern Europe under Mikhail 
       4. President Obama should call on the Pentagon to reduce 
     the current military budget of $700 billion--a figure that 
     accounts for almost half of the world's military 
     expenditures--to $500 billion next year, and then, over the 
     next five years, to $200 billion. In a careful and persuasive 
     study, Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for 
     American Progress and an assistant secretary of defense under 
     Ronald Reagan, identifies unneeded and costly programs that 
     could be cut from the Pentagon budget without weakening our 
     security, including the elimination of sophisticated 
     warplanes--all of which, added up, could save a trillion 
     dollars over the next ten years.
       5. The Bush tax cuts for those with higher incomes should 
     be not only repealed but reversed; with an increase in taxes 
     for this bracket, the increased revenues could be used to 
     reduce the national debt. There would, of course, be strong 
     resistance to ending the tax favoritism now enjoyed by the 
     rich, but this bonanza for the few at the top must end.
       6. Savings in military spending could be used to launch 
     valuable public investments, thereby creating jobs and 
     stimulating the entire economy. The administration has 
     expressed support for creating a European-style high-speed 
     rail system in the United States, and indeed we ought to 
     build the fastest, cleanest, and safest passenger- and 
     freight-train system in the world.
       The president should also revive the full provisions of the 
     World War II--era G.I. bill, which enabled 7.8 million 
     soldiers to secure a college education at government expense 
     while also receiving a cost-of-living stipend. Having been a 
     bomber pilot during World War II, flying missions over Nazi 
     Germany, I was one of the beneficiaries of the bill, 
     eventually earning a Ph.D. in history at Northwestern 
     University. This program was costly, but the government 
     certainly made its money back, because educated citizens earn 
     more and so pay increased taxes. Now, as we experience a 
     crisis in higher education caused by soaring tuition costs 
     that exclude many working- and middle-class young people, why 
     not offer government-paid higher education and vocational 
     training for all qualified students--both civilian and 
       Another wise public investment would be the expansion of 
     Medicare to all Americans. Some of the recently proposed 
     health-care legislation has been so lengthy and complicated 
     that I am not sure what is contained in it, but we all know 
     what Medicare is. We could reduce the impenetrable 
     legislation to a simple sentence: ``Congress hereby extends 
     Medicare to all Americans.'' I am at a loss as to why an old 
     codger like me benefits from Medicare while my children and 
     grandchildren do not. To soften the impact of this expansion 
     on the budget, I propose that the program be implemented in 
     steps every two years: the first step including children up 
     to the age of eight; the second, those from nine to eighteen; 
     the third, those from nineteen through thirty; and finally, 
     those from thirty-one through sixty-five. Programs such as 
     Medicare have been in place for years in many advanced 
     countries. My Canadian relatives tell me that any government 
     that tried to do away with their comprehensive medical and 
     hospital care would be promptly expelled from office.
       None of this is intended as a criticism of Barack Obama, 
     who had my support when he was a candidate for the United 
     States presidency and who has my support today. I hope that 
     some of the ideas here might help him on the road to 
     greatness. I wish him well on the journey ahead.