He didn't look like a politican. He wasn't a "pretty boy" like Kennedy; oddly he shared history from a rival: World War II veteran, was a senator. He didn't even come from a glamourous state. South Dakota? Yawn. Yet George McGovern was something you don't find much in politics: he was decent. He could be considered a mench.
George McGovern was raised in North Dakota, then served in World War II. After the war (and thanks to the GI bill) he went to college. He married his high school sweetheart Eleanor. According to wikipedia, they met while Eleanor and her partner won a debate over McGovern and his parnter. Now I just love this: this woman kicks his ass in a debate. He is drawn to her. Of course, he wouldn't be thrilled with anyone else that made him lose a debate, but it worked for them.
In 1956, he ran for Congress. Then in 1960, he ran for Senate. He lost that first time, but President Kennedy contacted him for a position on the Food For Peace Program. Origninally started by Eisenhower, the program provided food to help eliminate poverty in third world countries, then later was expanded for US farms. Although McGovern helped many people that first year (according to one McGovern biography, a dozen countries was served and ten million people had been helped) he still had his eye on the prize: that senate seat in North Dakota. By God, he was going to get it.
He did, in 1962. He kept on asking for funding for Food For Peace. Something else came down on his radar: Vietnam. He was one of the first politicans to protest the war, back in 1963. He continued to speak out against the war throughout the sixties and early seventies, when he realized that if he wanted to end the war, he had to run for president.
And he ran. Jack Nicolson wore a McGovern button while giving The French Connection Best Picture in 1971. McGovern soon found himself posing with Warren Beatty for pictures. Hung out with Candice Bergen. Leonard Nimoy endorsed him. Spock endorsed this guy!
Marlo Thomas was free to be with him. To liberals, he was the guy that was going to get us out of Vietnam. To conservatives, he was a Liberal with a capital L. Plus a big misstep was made when he replaced Thomas Eagleton after saying he was behind Eagleton a thousand percent. He lost to Nixon's sixty-one percent while he got a thirty-seven percent.
Yet, there was still the Senate. He kept on going trying to end hunger, then came up with dietary guidelines (Eat less fat, less cholesterol, less refined and processed sugars, and more complex carbohydrates and fiber. Wow, he was so not fun) When he lost in 1980, he kept on going. He ran for president again in 1984, but lost the nomination. Renovated a hotel but it declared bankruptacy. Then the worst happened: his daughter Teresa who drank most of her adult life was found dead after a snowstorm.
Somehow, he coped. Wrote a book about Terry. Doted on his grandchildren. Then in 1998, he was called to serve again: President Clinton appointed him the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. McGovern was seventy-five at the time. If you ever hear someone say "Oh I'm too old to do that" remember McGovern.
Yesterday it was revealed that at age 90, McGovern was transitioning to a hospice. He was, one of his daughters said, ready to meet the end of the life. And yet, one has to think that when it is time to give the eulogy for Mr. McGovern from North Dakota, one sentence could suffice: He served.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries