George McGovern was many things, but not, to his great disappointment, president of the United States.
A political giant died this week — George McGovern. The Democrats' 1972 presidential candidate and a man who helped changed the nation's political landscape passed away at age 90 in hospice care in his native South Dakota.
What Barry Goldwater, the GOP's landslide presidential loser in 1964, was to the Republican Party, McGovern, a landslide loser in 1972, was to the Democrats. Although rejected by the country at that time, the liberal policies that McGovern championed ultimately became party orthodoxy.
Partly because of McGovern, the Democratic Party has become the liberal party while the Republican Party, under Goldwater's influence, is the conservative party. Cross-ideological pollination between the two parties has become almost a thing of the past.
But there was far more to McGovern than his politics, although his experiences in life drove his political choice.
The son of a minister, McGovern adopted an almost religious zeal in pursuit of social policy aimed at helping the less fortunate. He devoted much of his energy throughout his career to programs aimed at eliminating hunger.
A veteran of World War II and a much-decorated bomber pilot, McGovern became known as the ultimate dove because of his personal revulsion to what he saw and felt during harrowing bombing missions in Europe.
A would-be minister who turned to academia with a doctorate in history, McGovern was a gentle, principled man who made it a point to treat his opponents in a respectful manner and earned many friends among those who did not share his political views.
He ran for the presidency three times (1968, 1972 and 1984) and thought about doing so again in 1992. But for all intents, his political career came to an end in 1980, when he was among those Democratic incumbent U.S. senators swept out of office in the Reagan landslide. Since then, he devoted his incredible energy to his many interests, including addressing hunger, advocating for peace, and, something much more personal because of the early death of his daughter, treatment of alcoholism and mental illness.
A most honorable man, McGovern was a credit to the politics he pursued and, in terms of his intellectual honesty and gentlemanly demeanor, an example current leaders would do well to emulate.