George McGovern – a highly decorated US military veteran who was “fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in,” a deeply religious scholar and devoted family man – represents the best of timeless Democratic values.
Getting to know George McGovern – who died Sunday morning at age 90 – as a friend, collaborator, co-author and co-teacher has been among my proudest and most fulfilling experiences.
As a 15 year-old high school sophomore, I volunteered for his 1972 presidential campaign. McGovern won my county (one of the few in the South that went Democratic that year), but lost the state and the nation in a near-record landslide, thanks in large part to attacks by the right wing of the Democratic Party during the primaries and the dirty tricks by the campaign of incumbent President Richard Nixon during the fall campaign.
These illegal acts, along with the resulting cover-ups, eventually led to impeachment procedures that forced Nixon’s resignation. Polls taken less than a year after the election showed that, if the election had been held then, McGovern would have won.
He later told me in a %20″ >parallels I drew between what she was doing to Obama and what Hubert Humphrey had done to him at a comparable period in the 1972 primaries -attempting to re-write the delegate selection rules ex post facto to steal the nomination, and attacking him from the right in a manner that would provide fodder for the Republicans in the fall campaign. Still respected as an elder party statesman, others soon followed McGovern’s lead and Clinton withdrew from the race not long afterwards.
Public opinion polls today indicate that, on most issues, the majority of registered Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents are closer to McGovern than to either Clinton or Obama. Yet, the idea of someone like McGovern getting the presidential nomination today seems quite remote since, in McGovern’s words, both parties “are now feeding out of the same trough” of special interest money when it comes to campaign financing. Yet McGovern never gave up hope that through a combination of popular movements and electoral politics, we could “come home” to reclaim the best of American values of justice, fairness and real democracy. With his passing, it is that hope and that legacy we need to embrace more than ever.
*In order to keep the narrative in the first person and to make it not appear to be ghost-written, my name isn’t on the cover, but I was responsible for about one-quarter of the content.