When Philip Johnston, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, first heard the news, he was stunned. Representative Jim McGovern, the six-term Democrat who represents the state’s Third Congressional District, had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for president. On March 29, the Clinton campaign had issued a press release announcing that McGovern was backing the former First Lady in the Democratic presidential contest. The notice proclaimed that McGovern considered her the “best candidate to end war in Iraq.” To Johnston, who’s backing Democratic Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid, and other political observers, this Clinton-McGovern meet-up appeared curious: a fierce critic of the war backing a politician who has been accused (rightly or wrongly) of being hawkish.
McGovern is renowned as a liberal legislator. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he worked for Senator George McGovern (no relation), managing the senator’s second-time-around 1984 presidential campaign in Massachusetts. Since before the Iraq invasion, Jim McGovern has been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war. In November 2005, he introduced legislation that would end the war by prohibiting the president from using any taxpayer dollars for the deployment of US troops in Iraq (except for the “safe and orderly withdrawal” of troops).
Hillary Clinton has been slammed by anti-war activists for voting to grant George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq and for not apologizing for that vote. Her anti-war detractors have hounded her, protesting at her office and campaign events. Though she recently proposed cutting off money for Bush’s so-called surge in Iraq and voted with her party to tie troop withdrawals to ongoing funding for the war, she had previously been critical only of the execution of the war, not of the idea of the war. She had seemed more supportive of the endeavor than her two key Democratic rivals: Obama, who spoke against the war before its start, and former Senator John Edwards, who (like Clinton) voted for the war but later apologized for having done so. On the campaign trail, Clinton now declares she will end the war should she return to the White House. Still, her past stance suggests she and McGovern might be odd foxhole-fellows.
Not so, says McGovern. Asked to explain why he partnered up with Clinton, he notes,
“I just decided to do it. I called her office. I talked to a number of people close to her over a period of weeks. They suggested it would be more useful if the endorsement came sooner than later. I’ve known her for a lot of years, and I respect her and admire a lot of what she did as First Lady. Even though HillaryCare did not fly, she was on the right track. She’s out front as someone committed to universal health care and to early childhood development. She held conferences on childhood development at the White House that I attended. We need to get serious that education begins at age 0 and that we need universal preschool.”