Editor's note: This interview with George McGovern was conducted by Cal Thomas for his 1999 book "Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can't Save America."
THOMAS: There is a lot of evidence of moral decline in America. What do you think is the chief cause of it?
SEN. MCGOVERN: I think there's deterioration in some areas in terms of the moral tone of our society, but not across the board. I think you can make a pretty strong case that we've made progress in the United States in some areas. Even the bare-bones crime statistics have improved. In most cities there is less murder and less aggravated assault than there was 10 years ago. We have even made some progress in reducing the incidence of hard drugs in our culture. We've made some progress in the way we treat other human beings -- civil rights comes to mind. Even people that we used to brand as "q----s" we treat with a greater measure of Christian and religious tolerance than we used to.
I think the status of women has been elevated somewhat in recent years, but on the other side of that we are freer and sometimes less disciplined regarding sexual responsibility -- easier relationships, promiscuity, and undisciplined sex. We see even on the great campuses of this country the phenomenon of weekend binge drinking. It was there when I was in college, too -- 55 or 60 years ago -- but not to the extent it is today.
So I would say it's too simple to say that we're living in a society in moral decline. We're living in a society that in some cases exercised the influence of progressive politics and progressive religion to make certain changes that I think have been pretty good. But we paid a price for that with less discipline over the more orthodox standards of morality.
THOMAS: You note that sexual morality has been lost and there is less commitment to marriage and easy divorce.
SEN. MCGOVERN: Those things concern me, and they do represent a decline in my opinion.
THOMAS: How do we "get that back"?