By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
FORT COLLINS — If it were up to George McGovern, the nation’s health care crisis would be solved with a one-sentence mandate: Medicare for every American.
That was the message the former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential nominee brought to Fort Collins last week when he said the 1,300-page bill now in Congress won’t do the job.
“It’s easy to vilify (a 1,300 page bill) by demagoguery,” McGovern said to a crowd of 150 gathered for a Larimer County Democrats book tour event. “It’s hard to defend it against the 30-second spots that have become the curse of American politics.”
McGovern’s call for simplicity in health care reform came during a wide-ranging 30-minute speech that touched on the Iraq war, health care and even the need for more trains in America.
“Here is what I would do — and keep in mind I wasn’t elected,” McGovern said to laughter. “If it were up to me, instead of a 1,300-page bill, I would have a one-sentence bill that would read: ‘Congress hereby extends Medicare to every American.’”
McGovern said that idea would be easy to sell because Americans are familiar with the Medicare system and believe it works well.
“We all know what Medicare is,” he said. “What it means for me, is that, for the last 22 years, all of my medical bills, all of my doctor bills, all of my hospital bills are paid for by the government — by my taxes and your taxes. It’s the best program that we have.”
Although nearly three decades have passed since McGovern unsuccessfully challenged President Richard Nixon for the Oval Office, the 87-year-old decorated war veteran could still energize a crowd with his words.
Denouncing the George W. Bush administration as the “worst in our country’s history,” McGovern said he was pleased to see that eight-year era in Washington politics come to an end.
“We’re celebrating the end of eight years of wandering in the wilderness,” he said. “Before I got into politics, I was a professor of American history. And, speaking from that base, I think we have just come through the worst administration in the history of this country. I never thought I would say this, but they made me long for the days of Richard Nixon.”
McGovern, known at his political height as a staunch peacenik, has not changed his stance in recent years. In Fort Collins, he called the war in Iraq “unnecessary” and blasted the Bush administration for the way it led the nation into the conflict.
“What Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld did after 9/11 when the American people were in shock — the way they took advantage of that to launch a war in Iraq that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attack — is terrible,” McGovern said. “It didn’t help the war on terrorism … and it created a deficit of $4 trillion.”
McGovern said he’d been “almost ashamed” to travel abroad during the Bush years because of what he perceived as a negative worldview of America. But, he added, the election of Barack Obama last year changed his feelings.
“I love Barack Obama,” he said, adding that he is proud of America for electing a man with a “black face.”
“I love the fact that our standing in the world has been going up every day since he has been in office.”
Despite his accolades for Obama, McGovern stopped short of praising the president on every decision he has made since coming into the Oval Office. Toward the tail end of his speech, McGovern said Obama’s decision to commit more troops to Afghanistan is unwise and will waste more American lives.
“I think he is making a mistake putting another 21,000 troops into Afghanistan,” McGovern said, adding that he is trying to set up a meeting with Obama to talk him out of it.
“That is a dead end … I don’t think that anyone wants him to be a great president as much as I do. But Johnson was a great president — except he slipped into the morass of the Vietnam War … which finally caused him to not run for re-election. I don’t want that to happen in Afghanistan and to President Obama.”