McGovern died Sunday at the age of 90 in a South Dakota hospice.
He has always been one of my favorite politicians. He came from an era when liberal wasn’t a dirty word, and he was proud to call himself a liberal. He was also a true statesman and an honest person, something you don’t find often in politicians today.
McGovern was the son of a Republican minister. He was a decorated World War II B-24 bomber pilot, something he was proud of but never used as a political tool. He did understand the tragedy of war, and it was logical that he would oppose the senseless Vietnam War.
McGovern was first elected to Congress when he was a 34-year-old history professor and was later elected to the U.S. Senate.
He believed that being liberal meant you were open minded and cared about other people. He was a champion of civil rights bills and nutrition programs. But he is best remembered for leading the Senate opposition to the Vietnam War.
His landslide defeat in 1972 is one of the darkest days of American history. He carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, with just 17 electoral votes, to Nixon’s 520.
McGovern, one of America’s most honest and honorable public servants, lost to Nixon, one of its biggest political crooks. It just goes to show you how wrong the American voters can be.
It was during McGovern’s campaign that Nixon’s henchmen broke into the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington. McGovern also fell victim to the Nixon team’s sabotage and dirty tricks. It’s too bad that Woodward and Bernstein’s Pulitzer Prize winning reporting came too late to save McGovern in that election.
I always thought that McGovern should have been given the 1972 election by default. After all, Nixon won by cheating. In sports, that would be a forfeiture and the other team would get the victory. No such common sense in our politics.
What happened was that Nixon resigned in shame and the presidency was turned over to Nixon’s choice for a successor. In all fairness, Gerald Ford was a very decent person and helped calm the country from the Watergate mess. But he remains the only U.S. president never elected to the office.
Unlike other politicians, McGovern didn’t become wealthy while serving in the Senate, nor did he take a lush lobbying job afterwards. He returned to his South Dakota home to continue teaching, lecturing and writing.
McGovern’s final book, written last year, is titled, “What It Means to Be a Democrat.” He called on Democrats to rally against Republican extremism.
“We are the party that believes we can’t let the strong kick aside the weak,” McGovern wrote. “Our party believes that poor children should be as well educated as those from wealthy families. We believe that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes and that everyone should have access to health care.”
We have lost a real leader and a true liberal. May he rest in peace.
Jones is a Carrollton resident and reporter for the Times-Georgian.