George McGovern — a stalwart liberal who served South Dakota in the U.S. Senate and House for more than two decades and who ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic Party nominee for president in 1972 — died October 21, 2012 at the age of 90
He was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam war, but a hero in WWII. He was a distinguished Democrat with Republican roots. He was a politician concerned more about being on the right side of an issue than on the popular side. He was a soft-spoken man whose words weighed heavy with meaning.
McGovern enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and flew 35 combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe, distinguishing himself on many dangerous missions — and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He even volunteered to continue to serve after his enlistment ended. Unlike politicians today who claim credit for supposed valor, McGovern was from that generation that did not discuss such matters in public.
George McGovern was a statesman of great conscience and conviction.
He’ll be remembered, obviously, for his vigilant stance against the war in Vietnam
- He was, famously, one of the first political leaders to oppose the war in Vietnam and, later, became a vocal critic of George W. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- “Let us resolve that never again will we send the precious young blood of this country to die trying to prop up a corrupt military dictatorship abroad,” he said, to applause, at the 1972 Democratic convention in Miami Beach, Florida.
- Richard Nixon portrayed McGovern as weak on defense and unpatriotic. Indeed, for years afterward, Republicans ridiculed the Senator by dismissing people they claimed to be “un-American” as “McGovernites” or “McGovernicks.”
- Yet, he was not to be misunderstood, as conservative Newt Gingrich said, “He was not a pacifist. His argument over Vietnam was about that particular war. He was a citizen.”
He’ll be remembered for his contributions on agriculture, on hunger.
- McGovern was named special assistant to the president and director of the Food for Peace Program by President John F. Kennedy.
- He was elected to the Senate in 1962 and re-elected in 1968 and 1974, serving on Senate committees on agriculture, nutrition, forestry and foreign relations, and the Joint Economic Committee.
- President Clinton appointed him ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and, in 2000, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- In 2001, McGovern was named the first United Nations global ambassador on hunger.
He’ll be remembered for transforming the Democrats’ party primary system, getting minorities involved at unprecedented levels.
- In 1972, McGovern was selected as the Democratic Party nominee for president on a platform that included ending the war in Vietnam at a time when the country was torn over U.S. involvement there.
- He called the unemployment of more than 5 million Americans “the most false and wasteful economics of all” and said his highest domestic priority would be “to ensure that every American able to work has a job to do.”
- He called for an end to a system of economic controls “in which labor is depressed but prices and corporate profits run sky high,” and he called for national health insurance and “a fair and just tax system.”
He’ll be remembered for his clear conscience.
- Indeed, despite the rhetoric coming out of the political parties, it was McGovern who was actually the moralist, maintaining that it was our duty as Americans to care for our fellow citizens in need, just as it was patriotic to oppose unjust wars.
- Although McGovern lost in a landslide in 1972, not long after Nixon’s reelection a story broke about a burglary in the Watergate building and the rest, as they say, is history. McGovern would have proven the honorable President.
- After his presidential loss, McGovern returned to the Senate, where he was re-elected in 1974. But he was beaten when he sought a fourth term in 1980, a victim of what became known as the Reagan Revolution that swept conservatives into power and their views into vogue — just as we continue to lose statesmen politicians like Indiana Senator Richard Lugar to the “tea-party” zealots destroying the nation’s political discussion.
- Still, McGovern devoted his entire life to the leading moral challenges of the day.
It is telling that, while recently discussing his memories of children starving in post-war Europe or American soldiers dying in Vietnam, he was observed tearing up. He was a true liberal believer.
South Dakota farmers elected him and then re-elected him… While few Dakotans shared his liberal views, they all knew him to be a true friend of the farmer and the common man. And he never forgot them while serving. I will not forget him or his liberal cause, and the nation would be well served to do the same.