Monday, October 22, 2012

George McGovern

How do you take the measure of a man's life? By the standard usually applied to George McGovern, he was one of  America's biggest losers. After all, in 1972, he lost 49 of 50 states. But, when I was finishing a masters degree at the University of North Carolina in the summer of 1974 -- when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency -- I began each day passing by a car which bore Massachusetts plates and a bumper sticker which read, "Don't Blame Me." It seems to me that the real losers of the 1972  election were the American people.

It wasn't that McGovern didn't make mistakes. After all, he had voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. But, a year later, he acknowledged that mistake:

“We are fighting a determined army of guerrillas that seems to enjoy the cooperation of the countryside and that grow[s] stronger in the face of foreign intervention,” he said in a widely noticed Jan. 15, 1965, Senate speech that marked him as the leading Senate pacifist. “We are further away from victory over the guerrilla forces in Vietnam today than we were a decade ago.” He then laid out a five-point program for withdrawal from the war.

McGovern's opposition to the war  was based on experience and knowledge. In World War II, he piloted a B 24 bomber over Europe on 35 missions. And he held a doctorate in American History from Northwestern University.

The son of a Methodist minister, who was raised on the Social Gospel, McGovern took seriously Christ's command to feed the poor:

In 2001, Sen. McGovern was appointed the first U.N. global ambassador on hunger and published “The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time,” in which he proposed a plan to alleviate world hunger by 2030. In 2008, he and former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) shared a $250,000 award from the World Food Prize Foundation for their work combating hunger among children.

He was a man who had known personal tragedy. His alcoholic daughter, Theresa, collapsed and died in the snows of Wisconsin in 1994. He understood pain, disappointment and defeat.

And what of that defeat in 1972? Consider who worked with him on that campaign: Bill and Hilary Clinton were there. So were Gary Hart, Bob Schrum, Sandy Berger and John Podesta. If one measures a life, not by the number of battles a person wins or loses, but by what he or she leaves the next generation, then George McGovern's journey on this planet was, indeed, time well spent.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Kirbycairo said...

I was in grade school in Los Angeles during the 72 election and I remember that the school organized a vote for the students - a kind of civics lesson in action. I was appalled when Nixon won our school election. Even when I was young there was something about Nixon that struck me as creepy and evil. I knew about (but didn't understand) issues such as Vietnam and Watergate, but I didn't need to understand. One could feel the devil ooze from Nixon's pores whenever you saw him on Television. But McGovern had an authenticity and genuineness that even a child could see. As American politicians, and compared with Nixon, he was one of the better ones.

Owen Gray said...

He was, indeed, one of the better ones. Kirby. Perhaps it was because he was authentic.

Whenever Nixon took the stage, I always had the feeling that he was working too hard to impress me.

He couldn't pretend to be an earnest man.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I am a great admirer of George McGovern. I remember the '72 campaign. He was one of the good ones along with Eugene McCarthy. Oh, how we need these progressive now.

I do fault McGovern for not standing up for Tom Eagleton. It was shameful that he got "tossed under the bus". I hope we have learned for about mental illness now.

Owen Gray said...

McGovern later admitted, Philip, that he should have stood up for Eagleton.

When he made a mistake, he acknowledged it. What a difference there was between McGovern and Mitt Romney.