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Friday, September 30, 2016

Few politicians are ever as thoroughly vindicated as George McGovern, the former South Dakota senator and Democratic presidential candidate who passed away on Sunday at age 90.

A true war hero and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, McGovern became the nation’s leading voice against the war in Vietnam and then went down to a 49-state defeat against Richard Nixon. That election is often portrayed as a watershed for both the Democratic Party and the brand of liberalism that McGovern represented, with the party failing until it moved toward the center  — and away from him.

It was a viewpoint that McGovern accepted, at least in the sense that he was too far ahead of the electorate. But while his positions on domestic and international issues were “out of step” with American voters, as he once put it, the confirmation of his wisdom and integrity was nevertheless swift. First came Watergate and Nixon’s impeachment, then the disorderly withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam. Americans disowned the president they had overwhelmingly reelected, and  came to see the war he had tried to end as a tragic mistake.

If he was right about Nixon and Vietnam, those were not the only questions on which history ultimately absolved McGovern. He supported the decriminalization of marijuana long before narcotics reform became fashionable. He opposed the invasion of Iraq when much of liberal Washington simply acquiesced to the madness. And the young political idealists who ran his campaign prefigured a modern and diverse Democratic Party that grew to represent a far broader swath of America than the embattled minority that had supported him.

While McGovern was proved right in everything he had said about Nixon and the war, he also lived to see the bitter adversaries who had helped to bring him down in 1972 discredited.  The old labor bulls who had contemptuously dumped him were eventually thrown out by more progressive union leaders, the “Democrats for Nixon” left the party to become Republican neoconservatives – and came to grief in their dishonest, destructive invasion of Iraq, another ruinous war that he courageously opposed.

Twenty years after he lost to Nixon, McGovern savored the presidential victory of Bill Clinton, who had run his campaign in Texas. In 1998, Clinton appointed him ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, a position he used to sponsor a major, federally-funded program that has since provided school-based nutrition to millions of children around the world. In recognition of his lifelong dedication to ending hunger, Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.

For decades, McGovern’s chief ally in that struggle was Senator Robert Dole, a longtime partisan adversary who became a close friend– and who described him, in a touching farewell essay, as “a true gentleman who was one of the finest public servants I had the privilege to know.”

McGovern rose above the humiliation of 1972 with dignity and determination and will be remembered as a patriot, statesman, humanitarian, and scholar who stood for virtue and against cynicism.

Photo credit: AP/Walt Zeboski, File

  • Arthur Hurwitz

    One of the most important memories of my childhood was on Election Day, 1972, when I was in the Second Grade, wearing a McGovern button to school and learning that the parents of all of our classmates were voting for Nixon. This was instructive: We took the stand that was the correct stand: That another term for Nixon would be disasterous for our country and it was.. His resignation had many effects: The ascendancy of the Right in the Republican Party, an approach to politics which was cynical and solely based on marketing, the hope that there could be a society which would have more equity, not far less as it is today.

    • ralphkr

      I used to deliver McGovern’s morning paper and always admired how neat that little house was with its white picket fence. I remember how his early Republican opponents would slander him by claiming that he was a Commie and that the only reason he had fought in WW2 was to help Russia. Years later my wife and I both voted for McGovern (we lived in California at that time) even though we knew he had no chance to be elected. After all, it is very hard to get votes when you are spending your entire campaign denying that you had ever said what ever terrible thing that the Republicans had claimed…especially when your denial appeared buried in the back of the newspaper while the Republican false charges were always front page news (and the denials did not even air on TV news, only the Republican charges). That is the year when I finally became convinced that the media was completely controlled by the Republican owners.

  • Mimi2kool

    I was a kid when McGovern ran against Nixon. I remember the landslide for Nixon, where every state but Massachusetts went for Nixon. I did not believe that most of the country voted for that SOB, and there were bumper stickers on Massachusetts cars, during Watergate, that said “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts” on many cars. I thought we would have done better with McGovern. RIP, Senator.

  • capn_america_2

    I was one of the few to vote for him. Met him in an airport decades later. A fine gentlemen and truly one of America’s Heroes. His compassion and commonsense will be missed.

  • The first time I ever voted for President I voted for George Mcgovern. The first time for anything is memorable. I’m proud of that vote today as I was when I cast it. He was the better man. I wished I could have told him. So I’m telling you. God bless you Senator. RIP

    • agnessue

      George McGovern was the first President I ever voted for too. May he rest in peace

    • He was the first president I ever voted for, also. Tricky Dick deserved to get impeached. RIP George.

  • ExPAVIC

    VERY STRANGE

    So as it turned out, George McGovern was right and the rest of the country was all screwed up, including Richard “I am Really a Crook” Nixon.

    This former boots in the mud Vietnam Combat Veteran wished that the world would have listened to George instead of Nixon’s crooks. It would have saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

  • safehome

    I actively promoted George McGovern to be president of the US. All of my friends and most of my acquaintances also supported him. I anticipated a great win. Just shows to go you how we can become isolated in our passions. I am proud to have voted for him.

  • I agree with everything in this article, but the author makes a big mistake. Richard Nixon was never impeached by the House of Representatives. He resigned before such a vote could be taken.

  • bpai99

    Nice attempt to derive some consolation for McGovern. The fact is that he suffered the worst defeat in modern presidential history, and saw the man who defeated him irreparably damage the country’s government institutions and citizens’ trust in government overall.

    Nixon’s impact on America and the world is far greater than McGovern’s, and only a fool (or a loser trying to make the best of it) could draw any solace from McGovern’s supposed “vindication.” Asking McGovern if he felt vindicated is like asking Mary Lincoln “Other that that, how did you like the play?”

  • there are times I’m proud of being from Massachusetts!

  • Nixon was the 1st true psychopath Pres. I knew all that was going to happen. Smart people did. When he said, “I’m not a crook”, you knew.

  • emadis41

    In 1972 we said Massashuset won and 49 states lost. Nixon watergate was uncovered, and was waiting for full bloom. Nixon next bulled from Vitnam with what called Paris Peace treaty, “read surrender, few months later the whole of Vitnam became communist. McGovern saw that, the 49 states did not see it coming.
    McGovern, also supported the environment and fought for women rights, and labor rights which were begining to errode under Nixon.

  • A great man. A Visionary.

  • I mourn the death of Senator MCgovern, and am proud to say that my husband and I worked in his campaign and voted for him.

  • The first time I voted it was for George McGovern and I’m proud of it.
    It was the best vote I ever made.
    God Bless Senator McGovern

  • When my wife and I left the States in ’68, we thought we might never have a reason to return-An opportunity to vote for George McGovern provided us with a reason, and a good one-he was the first candidate for whom I ever voted, and probably will always be the best -America is a poorer place today

  • Fred_Furrer

    I think it was McGovern’s unfortunate initial pick of Tom Eagleton for VP that killed his chances. As for Nixon, I was surprised at how quickly the Republicans dumped him for something as petty as the Watergate scandal. Nixon was actually a great president. He opened up China to the world. Nixon was actually a genius politician, but a little too uptight about everything. McGovern was bright, but just too far ahead of his time with his thinking. You can only have it one way, and McGovern wanted to leap forward which is scary to most people.

    • Dave_dido

      Opening up China was great for the owners of the means of production, i.e., the wealthy, because it gave them access to a near-limitless supply of slave laborers. It was not so good for working Americans who lost their jobs to the exploited workers of China. Like most Republicans, Nixon worked to improve the lot of the wealthy at the expense of the working class. I don’t think Nixon was as bad as he’s been made out to be- he was just a typical Republican.

  • sziegler

    I campaigned for George McGovern and was bitterly disappointed when he was not elected. The Viet Nam was was such a passionately debated subject and so rejected by liberal democrats. I haven’t seen that kind of passion since. He was a great man.

    sz

  • sziegler

    My favorite bumper sticker in the 70’s

    Don’t change Dick’s in the middle of a screw. Vote for Nixon 72!

  • bwmconst

    Those with true compassion, wisdom and impeccable integrity, are often the victims of the very vision they bring to us…, because we are yet too ego based and refuse to take the time to figure out who the real “crooks” are…Actions speak far louder than words, as with Romney, he voted against the auto bailout, to cripple American Labor, yet made millions off the very deal he rejected…Jimmy Carter is another man of integrity, he is responsible for our stealth technology to a large degree, but people went with Reagan, who misguidedly created the Taliban, by selling them Stingers to knock out the Russians…Truly the “Devil” speaks with a “silver tongue” and wears a silk suit…, and we allow it….Thank you George for your vision, and your service as a B-17 pilot, in very hard times….

  • puregoldj

    I always considered myself one of the Senator’s “honorary constituents”; one of his youth coordinators in Massachusetts. Senator McGovern was a great American with a great mind and a great heart, who got badly slimed in a filthy campaign. I never regretted campaigning for him; in fact, whenever he spoke or wrote, I was always proud to have done so. Unlike most politicians, he was impeccably honest, straightforward, and humble (most people don’t realize, he had a PhD), and he was much more intelligent and forward thinking than most. I did have the pleasure and honor of meeting him, and he was a truly decent guy, who will be sorely missed. RIP to a great American.

  • Pat

    I did not know Mcgovern well,but the little I do,convinced me that he was a man of fine character.May his soul rest in peace.

  • bwmconst

    As a B-17 pilot he saw a lot of the worst, very high casualties, people burning up in their planes, men falling out of planes w/o parachutes…Only those who have walked the talk, know…Reagan wasn’t fit to shine his shoes, but got elected anyway…America seems to like people who “look” like they could do the job, oh yes, actors…At least Eisenhower was there, though he took a lot of Social Security Funds, he never put back…Thank you George for the integrity, sincerity and the vision we failed to follow…We failed you, you did not fail us…A true Christian, who walks the talk, but does not get on a pulpit to hear himself talk…A true man of Peace…Again, thank you,… your place in the afterworld embraced by grace, faith and a very good heart…We were blessed by your good Soul..

  • Paul Hollett

    In my first election as a registered voter, George McGovern not only stood as the alternative to Richard Nixon, he represented the discontented Democrats versus the old style Democratic party system that dug us into the nightmare of Vietnam. I voted for him and watched as America pushed George McGovern aside because he actually challenged voters to think and act according to moral principles. It must have been painful for him watching America make the dark choices that led to disaster in Vietnam and Watergate shame … but he never gave up on this country. Rest in Peace, George … a true American hero in the field and at home.