Commentary: ​​By George, McGovern Was Right


Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota was never a darling of conservatives; however, in his later years he shocked fellow Democrats by his outspoken backing for streamlining government regulations and eliminating frivolous lawsuits — positions championed mostly by Republicans.

McGovern, a decorated World War II B-24 pilot who flew 35 combat missions over North Africa and Europe, was an unabashed self-professed liberal. He won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 but lost the election in a landslide to Richard Nixon.

In the late 1980s, McGovern departed from his traditional Democrat base and supported legal reforms which annoyed personal injury lawyers. He bought a small New England country inn and soon after got whacked by a number of “slip and fall” frivolous lawsuits. High litigation costs were a key factor in his decision to sell the inn.

Deeply affected by his failure, McGovern became an advocate for regulatory and lawsuit reforms, saying, “I … wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day.”

McGovern penned a 1992 Wall Street Journal column, “A Politician’s Dream is a Businessman’s Nightmare.” He described his experience running the inn and conference center. He ultimately went bankrupt, a failure he attributed in large part to local, state and federal regulations that were passed with good intentions, but no understanding of how they burdened employers, particularly small business owners.

Having firsthand experience running a business today would be highly useful for politicians proposing trillions of dollars in new government programs, taxes and regulations — all to be paid with our hard-earned money.

Most elected officials have no idea what it’s like to put their life savings on the line 12 to 16 hours a day, scrambling to make ends meet. Those families risk everything to meet payroll and invest in new equipment for state-of-the art facilities in spite of waves of new government regulations, taxes and fees.

President Biden wants Congress to authorize nearly $5 trillion in additional funds for infrastructure and for new programs. In fiscal 2020, when the pandemic began, our federal government spent a record total of $6,551,872,000,000, according to the monthly Treasury statement for September 2020.

That’s an unimaginable number. Most of us have no idea of what a trillion dollars looks like — let alone $5 trillion or $29 trillion, which is the size of our current national debt. To pay back a $1 trillion loan at a dollar per second, it would take over 31,000 years.  With our current national debt, every taxpayer owes nearly $230,000; and that amount is growing each passing minute.

Family-owned businesses are particularly hit hard.  According to CEOworld Magazine, there are more than 32 million family-owned businesses in America which employ over 83 million people and account for 54% of total private sector GDP.

Historically, in normal times, 30% of family-owned companies shut down during the transfer of ownership and management from founders to the second generation. Even if that first transition between generations succeeds, the majority of family firms do not survive beyond the second generation of owners.

Even seemingly small increases in the costs of doing business, inflation, workers shortages, taxes and fees, and permitting delays have a greater impact today when the world and our nation are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hopefully, before piling on new programs, new taxes and higher fees, Congress and President Biden would pause and consider what George McGovern learned from his experience in business.

They find it is much easier endorsing a check than making sure there is enough money to cover the check families and employers write to pay their bills.


Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at