George McGovern, RIP

Posted by Sappho on October 21st, 2012 filed in RIP

No man should advocate a course in private that he’s ashamed to admit in public.

George McGovern

McGovern was the first candidate I got enthusiastic about, back when I was in middle school and just starting to get interested in politics. He was also my introduction to the experience of seeing my preferred candidate lose badly. Still, for all that, he remains one of the people whose character I most respect.

Now my various Facebook friends and feeds are posting quotes from him, in honor of his death. Most people have posted quotes expressing his opposition to the Vietnam War, an issue on which he was of course darn right. Sasha quoted his firm acceptance of the label “bleeding-heart liberal”:

It was not meant as a compliment, but I gladly accept it. My heart does sometimes bleed for those who are hurting in my own country and abroad.

I picked the quote above because I had read, just yesterday, an online argument in which someone made that remark that you often see, the one about how you shouldn’t have anything private that you’d be ashamed to admit in public. This is of course wrong, for all kinds of reasons that others quickly pointed out: You’re not obliged to keep your bathroom, in private, to a level of cleanliness that you’d be willing to have displayed to the world. There are all kinds of things in our lives that it’s perfectly OK to keep private, and perfectly OK to handle, in private, in ways that we might be embarrassed to have the world see. Because they’re things that affect mostly ourselves. Privacy is valuable, and we’re all entitled to a space that we’d rather the whole world not see.

But there’s also a truth to “Don’t do in private what you’d be ashamed to admit in public,” and so I was glad to run across this quote from McGovern, the one that’s clearly not about privacy and personal space, but about integrity. Don’t advocate a course of action in private that you’d be ashamed to admit in public. Don’t follow policies in private that you’d be ashamed to own in public. Don’t do to others in private what you’d be ashamed to admit in public that you’d done to them. It’s in that sense that we should be willing to live a life that we wouldn’t be ashamed to see on the front page of the New York Times.

And McGovern lived such a life.

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