Obit of the Day: Senator George McGovern
“I am a liberal and always have been. Just not the wild-eyed character the Republicans made me out to be.” So said Senator George McGovern, who ran as the Democratic candidate for president in 1972 against incumbent President Richard Nixon. McGovern, who attempted to make the break-in at the Watergate Hotel a campaign issue, but it fell on deaf ears as Nixon was a runaway winner earning 60.7% of the vote, and a record 18 million more popular votes than Sen. McGovern. (The Senator only won Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., a total of 17 electoral votes.)
Although best known for his failed campaign - including the disastrous pick of Missouri senator, Thomas Eagleton as Vice-President, who had to resign as the result of a history of psychiatric treatment including shock treatments - Sen. McGovern was an honored statesman. He served a U.S. Representative from 1957-1961. He lost the 1960 election to the U.S. Senate against the incumbent, South Dakota power Karl Mundt.
Now available, President Kennedy selected McGovern to run the White House’s global initiative, “Food for Peace.” (Although he only served for two years, his work on this program led him to join the United Nations in 1998 as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Food and Agriculture.) in 1962, with Kennedy’s blessing, McGovern resigned to try again to win election to the Senate. This time he was successful.
McGovern would serve three terms, leaving the Senate in 1980 after losing election to Congressman James Abdnor*. After his 1980 loss, McGovern would never serve in elective office again, although he did compete, briefly, in the 1984 Democratic primaries, losing to eventual nominee former Vice-President Walter Mondale. (This led to one of the most random connections between politics and entertainment in history - McGovern hosted Saturday Night Live in April 1984.)
McGovern would spend the rest of his career holding tightly to his liberal philosophy denouncing not only the Vietnam War, but also the Iraq War. In January 2008, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.
During his career McGovern would author ten books on politics and history, his most recent was published in 2012, What It Means to Be a Democrat, as well as a short biography of Abraham Lincoln. Senator McGovern was awarded the World Food Prize in 2008 by the United Nations along with former Republican Senator Bob Dole.
Senator McGovern died in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on October 21 at the age of 90.
Random note: McGovern became a staunch and active Democrat after hearing Adlai Stevenson’s acceptance speech from the Democratic National Convention in 1952. He so admired Stevenson that McGovern named his first son, Steven.
* Abdnor would serve one term in the Senate before losing reelection to another representative - Tom Daschle.
Image of a 1972 McGovern campaign poster is courtesy of ScottPearce.com