GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – George McGovern, former politician from South Dakota and 1968 presidential candidate against incumbent Richard Nixon died in Michigan, USA, Sunday 21 October. He was 90 years old. The news flashed up and was quickly gone, with all eyes focused on the 2012 presidential campaigns, which draw to a close 6 November.
But in the two days that have followed news of his death the obituaries praising him have been trickling in and the praise has been growing, almost as if the world needed to force itself to pause long enough to recognize that McGovern’s candidacy, for better and for worse, marked a turning point in US politics, the role of the president, and how the president is viewed. Within months of losing the election to Richard Nixon, badly (McGovern lost 49 states), Nixon had become a disgraced president who was forced to step down.
McGovern, for his part, had another 40 years ahead of him, where he went from one quiet success to another, notably as a historian and a humanitarian, in startling contrast to the disastrous political campaign he led for the White House.
The Globe & Mail in neighbouring Canada writes in a rich and balanced lengthy feature: “Above all – and this is a consensus that spans the political spectrum – Mr McGovern was a portrait of character, not a caricature.”
NPR in Washington writes: “If George McGovern often seemed miscast as a presidential candidate, he was at least as improbable as an icon of the anti-war movement. The Vietnam War gave birth to an opposition movement unlike any America had seen in its previous wars. It was young, unconventional and countercultural, defiant of authority and deeply suspicious of government. McGovern himself was none of these things.”
The New York Times author recalls the one and only political campaign in which he personally took part, as a 21-year-old student: “McGovern — a World War II hero bomber pilot — promised to get us out of Vietnam, period. There were no conditions, nothing about Paris peace talks and certainly nothing about listening to Henry Kissinger. Plainly and simply, he was committed to what we were shouting in the streets, “Out now.”
Fox News in a lengthy and emotionless factual obituary notes: “A 22-year veteran of the House and Senate from South Dakota, McGovern was one of the most storied American politicians of the 20th century. McGovern was best known for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War and advocacy for agricultural and world hunger issues.