R.I.P. George McGovern (1922-2012)
It is truly upsetting to learn about the passing of Senator George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee who lost to President Richard Nixon in a landslide of epic proportions. McGovern’s death resonates directly with me because at the age of 15, I became politically active for the first time in my life as I worked for his presidential campaign that year. (McGovern's campaign was the only one until Obama’s in 2008.)
I was only a handful of students who wore a McGovern button to an overwhelmingly conservative and Republican junior high school in Kirkwood, Missouri, an upper middle class and ‘waspish’ suburb of St. Louis. I was routinely called a ‘commie’ by other kids, and had one teacher ask me why I wore that “awful” button to her algebra class.
Perhaps, the highlight to an otherwise dismal election campaign was the McGovern rally held during October, 1972 in the parking lot of the then newly-constructed West (St. Louis) County Shopping Center. Missouri U.S. Senator Stuart Symington was the headline speaker at the event, which I believe was subdued because of McGovern’s decision just months earlier to drop Missouri’s other U.S. Senator, Thomas Eagleton, as his vice presidential running mate. Nonetheless, the rally did provide some brief positive reinforcement after seeing so many like-minded folks in one gathering. I attended the rally with my sister and my parents. (At left, the picture shows my mother, who sadly passed away earlier this year, my sister and me. We are carrying homemade signs.)
It baffles me to this day how such a decent man could be so resoundingly rejected by the American people for a man who history later showed was one of our country’s most corrupt leaders. McGovern was a patriotic war hero who served as a World War II bomber pilot. As the son of a Methodist minister, he was a humble and religious man. He was custom-built for seeking political office, it seemed. Yet his opponents were successful in marketing this man as some wild-eyed, anti-American radical hell bent on destroying the country. The Nixon campaign and a compliant media unjustly hung the tag, 'amnesty, abortion and acid” on McGovern and his campaign supporters.
Yes, McGovern wanted to end the Vietnam War, but as I recall in 1972, so did most of America. He had not yet publically stated his position on abortion on demand at the time as it was still a full year before the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling on Roe v. Wade. And McGovern only favored decriminalizing marijuana. He was, however, opposed to legalizing both it and LSD.
George McGovern was a rare breed in politics. He was a noble man whose intentions were truly altruistic. He knew the definition of being a public servant. McGovern lost disastrously lost to Nixon, but his legacy lives on in a more-inclusive Democratic party, which enabled future leaders like Barack Obama to rise to the top. Moreover, his policies regarding Vietnam proved to be correct. We are sorely in need of leaders who tirelessly fight for peace, justice and civil rights. George McGovern’s honesty and sense of decency will be missed.