Conservatism and liberalism have been the driving forces in American history, former U.S. Senator George McGovern said Thursday, adding that both political philosophies are in trouble if the current political environment doesn't improve.
Speaking at Ottawa University as part of the Hostetter-DeFries Cultural Event Series, McGovern lamented that American politics have slipped into divisiveness and negativity.
"I think the country suffers when either conservatism or liberalism are denigrated," McGovern said, noting that liberalism in particular had been the subject of widespread attacks in recent years. "We need to be more faithful to those ideals."
McGovern, who as the Democratic candidate in the 1972 presidential election was defeated by Richard Nixon, discussed how current American policy had diverted from the traditional values of conservatism and liberalism. Specifically, McGovern said, conservatism has historically been a force for fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets, yet the budget deficit grows daily. Liberalism has historically been a force that drove the formation of international alliances, yet the United States has lost much of the goodwill its once enjoyed in foreign nations.
Though McGovern commented on the failings of leaders from both political philosophies, he defined in no uncertain terms his own political affiliation.
"I'm a liberal -- and I'm the worst kind of liberal in some people's minds," McGovern said. "I'm a bleeding heart."
Though that line drew a sustained ovation from much of the crowd of more than 200 people who attended the speech at University Chapel, several members of the audience balked at aspects of McGovern's rhetoric
Samantha Iveson, an Ottawa University junior who described herself as a Republican, said she was unimpressed with McGovern's classifications of the war in Iraq, which he said was unjustified.
"Some of the things he said were fair, but personally I would have liked to hear what he had to say about September 11," Iveson said. "He talked a lot about the war right now but not about what got us there."