In 1972 I was 20. That was forty years ago. 1972 was the first election that 18 year olds could vote, previously there had been an age 21 requirement to vote. As a 20 year old, 1972 was the first year I could vote and I took my right to vote seriously. Like many young people, I had a real enthusiasm for politics as vehicle for making the United States better, in fact for making the world better. In 1972 I was a vocal opponent of the Viet Nam War. I was actively working on the congressional campaign of Wayne Owens who in 1972 was elected as a U.S. Congressman from Utah. I was elected as a delegate to the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention and as a delegate to the Utah State Democratic Convention. I learned Democratic party things as a young boy at the knee of my grandfather, Everett O. Headman. Everett was a Democrat and I became Democrat.
I could not have been more opposed to a president than I was to Richard Nixon. It was difficult for me to see any good qualites in this man that I believed was the definition of evil. After 40 years I am not sure my view of President Nixon has changed much. I was for McGovern. I was for McGovern in my heart and my sole. I am not certain my parents agreed with me but they could not have been more supportive, encouraging me to fight for my causes, for my beliefs. I did stand up and fight for my causes and by and large, I still do.
In 1972 I knew the McGovern campaign was a long shot. I think his loss as a presidential candidate was one of, if not the greatest, loss by any candidate in U.S. History. The loss, and the magnitude of the loss does not mean Nixon was the right fellow. After his relection in 1972, the Vice President, Spiro Agnew, and the President, Richard Nixon, both resigned in disgrace.
I admired McGovern during the election and after the election. In my view he was a true American. A war hero, a statesman, a person willing to stand up for what he believed. George McGovern died this morning in South Dakota; his beloved South Dakota. His death is another sign of my lost youth. It has made me look back over the last 40 years with pride and with regret for things done and things not done.
Here is the Associated Press
George S. McGover Obituary. Read it. Read the whole thing. Take your time and contemplate America during the last 40 years.
The Associated Press' Obituary of Senator George McGovern:
KRISTI EATON and WALTER R. MEARS
| October 21, 2012 08:57 AM EST
| Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — George S. McGovern, a proud liberal who
argued fervently against the Vietnam War as a senator from South Dakota and
suffered one of the most crushing defeats in presidential election history
against Richard Nixon in 1972, died before dawn Sunday. He was 90.
A spokesman for McGovern's family, Steve
Hildebrand, told The Associated Press by telephone that McGovern died at 5:15
a.m. Sunday at a hospice in Sioux Falls, surrounded by family and lifelong
"We are blessed to know that our father lived a long,
successful and productive life advocating for the hungry, being a progressive
voice for millions and fighting for peace. He continued giving speeches,
writing and advising all the way up to and past his 90th birthday, which he
celebrated this summer," a family statement released by Hildebrand said.
A decorated World War II bomber pilot, McGovern said he
learned to hate war by waging it. In his disastrous race against Nixon, he
promised to end the conflict in Vietnam and cut defense spending by billions of
dollars. He helped create the Food for Peace program and spent much of his
career believing the United States should be more accommodating to the former
Never a showman, he made his case with a style as plain as
the prairies where he grew up, often sounding more like the Methodist minister
he'd once studied to be than a longtime U.S. senator and three-time candidate
And McGovern never shied from the word "liberal,"
even as other Democrats blanched at the label and Republicans used it as an
"I am a liberal and always
have been," McGovern said in 2001. "Just not the wild-eyed character
the Republicans made me out to be."
Americans voting for president in 1972 were aware of the
Watergate break-in, but the most damaging details of Nixon's involvement
wouldn't emerge until after Election Day. McGovern tried to make a campaign
issue out of the bungled attempt to wiretap the offices of the Democratic
National Committee, and he called Nixon the most corrupt president in history,
but the issue could not eclipse the embarrassing missteps of his own campaign.
McGovern was tortured by the selection of Missouri Sen.
Thomas F. Eagleton as the vice presidential nominee, and 18 days later,
following the disclosure that Eagleton had undergone electroshock therapy for
depression, the decision to drop him from the ticket despite having pledged to
back him "1,000 percent."
was at once the most memorable and the most damaging line of his campaign, and
called "possibly the most single damaging faux pas ever made by a
presidential candidate" by the late political writer Theodore H. White.
After a hard day's campaigning – Nixon did virtually none –
McGovern would complain to those around him that nobody was paying attention.
With R. Sargent Shriver as his running mate, he went on to carry only
Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, winning just 38 percent of the
"Tom and I ran into a little snag back in 1972 that in
the light of my much advanced wisdom today, I think was vastly
exaggerated," McGovern said at an event with Eagleton in 2005. Noting that
Nixon and his running mate, Spiro Agnew, would both ultimately resign, he
joked, "If we had run in `74 instead of `72, it would have been a piece of
McGovern's campaign, nevertheless, left a lasting imprint on
American politics. Determined not to make the same mistake, presidential
nominees have since interviewed and intensely investigated their choices for
vice president. Former President Bill Clinton got his start in politics when he
signed on as a campaign worker for McGovern and is among the legion of
Democrats who credit him with inspiring them to public service.
"I believe no other presidential candidate ever has had
such an enduring impact in defeat," Clinton said in 2006 at the dedication
of McGovern's library in Mitchell, S.D. "Senator, the fires you lit then
still burn in countless hearts."
George Stanley McGovern was born on July 19, 1922, in the
small farm town of Avon, S.D, the son of a Methodist pastor. He was raised in
Mitchell, shy and quiet until he was recruited for the high school debate team
and found his niche. He enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University in his hometown
and, already a private pilot, volunteered for the Army Air Force soon after the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Army didn't have enough airfields or training planes to take him until 1943. He
married his wife, Eleanor Stegeberg, and arrived in Italy the next year. That
would be his base for the 35 missions he flew in the B-24 Liberator christened
the "Dakota Queen" after his new bride.
In a December 1944 bombing raid on the Cezch city of Pilsen,
McGovern's plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire that disabled one engine and set
fire to another. He nursed the B-24 back to a British airfield on an island in
the Adriatic Sea, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. On his final mission,
his plane was hit several times, but he managed to get it back safety – one of
the actions for which he received the Air Medal.
McGovern returned to Mitchell and graduated from Dakota
Wesleyan after the war's end, and after a year of divinity school, switched to
the study of history and political science at Northwestern University. He
earned his masters and doctoral degrees, returned to Dakota Wesleyan to teach
history and government, and switched from his family's Republican roots to the
"I think it was my study of history that convinced me
that the Democratic Party was more on the side of the average American," he
n the early 1950s, Democrats held no major offices in South
Dakota and only a handful of legislative seats. McGovern, who had gotten into
Democratic politics as a campaign volunteer, left teaching in 1953 to become
executive secretary of the South Dakota Democratic Party. Three years later, he
won an upset election to the House; he served two terms and left to run for
Republican Sen. Karl Mundt in 1960, he lost what he called his "worst
campaign." He said later that he'd hated Mundt so much that he'd lost his
sense of balance.
President John F. Kennedy named McGovern head of the Food
for Peace program, which sends U.S. commodities to deprived areas around the
world. He made a second Senate bid in 1962, unseating Sen. Joe Bottum by just
597 votes. He was the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from South
Dakota since 1930.
In his first year in office, McGovern took to the Senate
floor to say that the Vietnam War was a trap that would haunt the United States
– a speech that drew little notice. He voted the following August in favor of
the Gulf of Tonkin resolution under which President Lyndon B. Johnson escalated
the U.S. war in the southeast Asian nation.
While McGovern continued to vote to pay for the war, he did
so while speaking against it. As the war escalated, so did his opposition. Late
in 1969, McGovern called for a cease-fire in Vietnam and the withdrawal of all
U.S. troops within a year. He later co-sponsored a Senate amendment to cut off
appropriations for the war by the end of 1971. It failed, but not before
McGovern had taken the floor to declare "this chamber reeks of blood"
and to demand an end to "this damnable war."
McGovern first sought the Democratic presidential nomination
late in the 1968 campaign, saying he would take up the cause of the
assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He finished far behind Vice President
Hubert H. Humphrey, who won the nomination, and Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy,
who had led the anti-war challenge to Johnson in the primaries earlier in the
year. McGovern later called his bid an "anti-organization" effort
against the Humphrey steamroller.
"At least I have precluded the possibility of peaking
too early," McGovern quipped at the time.
The following year, McGovern led a Democratic Party reform
commission that shifted to voters' power that had been wielded by party leaders
and bosses at the national conventions. The result was the system of
presidential primary elections and caucuses that now selects the Democratic and
Republican presidential nominees.
1972, McGovern ran under the rules he had helped write. Initially considered a
longshot against Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, McGovern built a bottom-up
campaign organization and went to the Democratic national convention in
command. He was the first candidate to gain a nominating majority in the
primaries before the convention.
It was a meeting filled with intramural wrangling and
speeches that verged on filibusters. By the time McGovern delivered his
climactic speech accepting the nomination, it was 2:48 a.m., and with most of
America asleep, he lost his last and best chance to make his case to a
McGovern did not know before selecting Eagleton of his
running mate's mental health woes, and after dropping him from the ticket,
struggled to find a replacement. Several Democrats said no, and a joke made the
rounds that there was a signup sheet in the Senate cloakroom. Shriver, a member
of the Kennedy family, finally agreed.
The campaign limped into the fall on a platform advocating
withdrawal from Vietnam in exchange for the release of POWs, cutting defense
spending by a third and establishing an income floor for all Americans.
McGovern had dropped an early proposal to give every American $1,000 a year,
but the Republicans continued to ridicule it as "the demogrant." They
painted McGovern as an extreme leftist and Democrats as the party of
"amnesty, abortion and acid."
While McGovern said little about his decorated service in
World War II, Republicans depicted him as a weak peace activist. At one point,
McGovern was forced to defend himself against assertions he had shirked combat.
He'd had enough when a young man at the airport fence in
Battle Creek, Mich., taunted that Nixon would clobber him. McGovern leaned in
and said quietly: "I've got a secret for you. Kiss my ass." A
conservative Senate colleague later told McGovern it was his best line of the
Defeated by Nixon, McGovern returned to the Senate and
pressed there to end the Vietnam war while championing agriculture, anti-hunger
and food stamp programs in the United States and food programs abroad. He won
re-election to the Senate in 1974, by which point he could make wry jokes about
his presidential defeat.
"For many years, I wanted to run for the presidency in
the worst possible way – and last year, I sure did," he told a formal
press dinner in Washington.
Defeated in his bid for a fourth Senate term in the 1980
Republican landslide that made Ronald Reagan president, McGovern went on to
teach and lecture at universities, and found a liberal political action
committee. He made a longshot bid in the 1984 presidential race with a call to
end U.S. military involvement in Lebanon and Central America and open arms
talks with the Soviets. Former Vice President Walter Mondale won the Democratic
nomination and went on to lose to President Ronald Reagan by an even bigger
margin in electoral votes than had McGovern to Nixon.
He talked of running a final time for
president in 1992, but decided it was time for somebody younger and with fewer
After his career in office ended, McGovern served as U.S.
ambassador to the Rome-based United Nation's food agencies from 1998 to 2001
and spent his later years working to feed needy children around the world. He
and former Republican Sen. Bob Dole collaborated to create an international
food for education and child nutrition program, for which they shared the 2008
World Food Prize.
"I want to live long enough to see all of the 300
million school-age kids around the world who are not being fed be given a good
nutritional lunch every day," McGovern said in 2006.
His opposition to armed conflict remained a constant long
after he retired. Shortly before Iowa's caucuses in 2004, McGovern endorsed
retired Gen. Wesley Clark, and compared his own opposition to the Vietnam War
to Clark's criticism of President George W. Bush's decision to wage war in
Iraq. One of the 10 books McGovern wrote was 2006's "Out of Iraq: A
Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now," written with William R. Polk.
In early 2002, George and Eleanor McGovern returned to
Mitchell, where they helped raise money for a library bearing their names.
Eleanor McGovern died there in 2007 at age 85; they had been married 64 years,
and had four daughters and a son.
"I don't know what kind of president I would have been,
but Eleanor would have been a great first lady," he said after his wife's
death in 2007.
One of their daughters, Teresa, was found dead in a Madison,
Wis., snowdrift in 1994 after battling alcoholism for years. He recounted her
struggle in his 1996 book "Terry," and described the writing of it as
"the most painful undertaking in my life." It was briefly a best
seller and he used the proceeds to help set up a treatment center for victims
of alcoholism and mental illness in Madison.