George McGovern

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But most of all, McGovern was known for his continued opposition to the Vietnam War. In March 1969, he became the first senator to explicitly criticize the new president's policy there, an action that was seen as a breach of customary protocol by other Senate doves.[119] By the end of 1969, McGovern was calling for an immediate cease-fire and a total withdrawal of all American troops within a year.[119] In October 1969, McGovern was a featured speaker before 100,000 demonstrators in Boston at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, and in November he spoke before 350,000 at Moratorium/Mobilization's anti-war march to the Washington Monument.[120] Afterward, he decided that radicalized peace demonstrations were counterproductive and criticized anti-war figures such as Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Huey Newton, Abby Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin as "reckless" and "irresponsible".[120]

Instead, McGovern focused on legislative means to bring the war to an end.[121] The McGovern–Hatfield Amendment to the annual military procurement bill, co-sponsored by Republican Mark Hatfield of Oregon, required via funding cutoff a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Indochina by the end of 1970.[122] It underwent months of public discussion and alterations to make it acceptable to more senators, including pushing the deadline out to the end of 1971.[123] In May 1970, McGovern obtained a second mortgage on his Washington home in order to fund a half-hour televised panel discussion on the amendment on NBC.[123] The broadcast brought in over $500,000 in donations that furthered work on passage,[121] and eventually the amendment gained the support of the majority of the public in polls.[123] The effort was denounced by opposition groups organized by White House aide Charles Colson, which called McGovern and Hatfield "apostles of retreat and defeat" and "salesmen of surrender" and maintained that only the president could conduct foreign policy.[123] The amendment was defeated in September 1970 by a 55–39 vote, just short of what McGovern had hoped would constitute at least a moral victory.[121] During the floor debate McGovern criticized his colleagues opposing the measure:

Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land - young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.[121][123]

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