George McGovern: Barack Obama Is a 'Second Lincoln'

McGovern's new biography on Abraham Lincoln is out today.


What do you make of Obama's "team of rivals"' approach to creating his cabinet?

I think it's wise. Franklin Roosevelt did that, too. His secretary of war and his secretary of the Navy in World War II were both Republicans. George Washington kept both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in his cabinet. Lincoln didn't invent the team of rivals, but he probably did it as well as any president we've had. Have you spent much time with Obama?

Oh, yes. After I came out for him, he met with me in Sioux Falls, S.D., and I had dinner with him. I've talked with him on the telephone, and I've gotten to know him. He's a strong man. He's an intelligent man, but he's also very adroit, as was Lincoln. I think he'll get along fine with the kind of people we've seen so far in the cabinet. Antiwar liberals haven't had much success running for president since you lost in 1972. Does the election of Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, feel like vindication?

Yes, people who opposed these unnecessary wars do feel somewhat vindicated. Of course, I opposed the Iraq war, too. I was on television two or three times warning against it. I've seen one poll as high as 80 percent of Americans think we made a mistake going into Iraq. I suppose we'd get similar poll results on whether Vietnam was a sound policy. Do you believe Obama will keep his campaign promise to pull American troops out of Iraq ?

Bush thinks it's a big concession that we'll have them out by 2012. I don't think any president can keep those troops in there until 2012. Obama has said we've got to get out of Iraq, but the real problem is Afghanistan. Well, you go from Iraq into Afghanistan, you're moving from the frying pan into the fire. Your campaign in 1972 was the victim of the Watergate break-in, the pre - eminent example of political corruption at the highest level. Do you think the era of 'dirty tricks' is over, or does the Illinois corruption scandal show politics is as seedy as ever?

It's not over, but it's losing its effectiveness. I think people are getting tired of it. I just think that's another thing that Barack sensed—that people were fed up with the low level of politics, the intense partisanship, and the continuous warfare in the Senate and elsewhere. I think there is certain weariness about that. How will you feel when President Bush steps down in January?

I don't have any personal malice toward Bush. I wish him well. I've talked to him on a couple of occasions. He's a congenial, likable guy. I always admired his father, and I hope things will go well for him. I don't think Bush is a bad man. I just think he was mistaken in so many of the judgments he made as president. But I wouldn't throw a shoe at him.