May George McGovern rest –as he lived — in peace. We have lost a great and decent man.
At 24, I worked for McGovern’s 1972 Presidential effort, managing the campaign in what was then the 52nd Assembly District in Los Angeles County. This was the most conservative Democratic district in California and likely favored both Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace over the nominee. In 2005, I had the opportunity to interview him for an hour with the release of the documentary, One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern.
GEORGE McGOVERN was a decorated World War II bomber pilot (his wartime exploits were at the center of of Steven Ambrose’s The Wild Blue) and professor at Dakota Wesleyan Univeristy. After running the Food for Peace Program under John Kennedy, he represented South Dakota for two terms in the House and three terms in the Senate. His opposition to the Vietnam War fueled a grassroots campaign that won him the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, only to lose to incumbent Richard Nixon in one of the great landslides in US history. Many members of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President later served jail time for Watergate-connected crimes.
In 1997, Bill Clinton named him the US Permanent Representative to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and in 2000 Clinton awarded him the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Freedom. He has written nine books including Terry: My Daughter’s Life and Death Struggle with Alcoholism (about his daughter — also named Terrence — who died in 1994), The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition, and Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith.
At 24, I worked for George McGovern’s 1972 Presidential campaign. In 2005, I had the opportunity to interview him for an hour with the release of the documentary, One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern. Robert Kennedy described him as the most decent man he’d ever met in politics. I agree. This interview was originally published at Alternet November 21, 2005.
In addition to his pledge to begin withdrawing US troops from Vietnam on Inauguration Day, George McGovern was for universal health care, a guaranteed minimum income, and tax reform. Not only that, his grassroots campaign wasn’t controlled by party bosses or professionals.
I couldn’t resist. I left paradise and drove back to the States in time to work the last two primaries in California and New York and the convention in Miami. As a reward for my efforts I was given the job of running California’s most conservative Democratic assembly district in southeast Los Angeles County, consisting of a few Latinos, a lot of Humphrey-loving unionists and, to the right of them, Wallace folks.
I was asked to win 37 percent of the vote. Without a university, a community college or a single affluent neighborhood in the region, and using a canvassing army of mostly high school students, that’s exactly what we did. Unfortunately, that’s all the campaign got nationally, losing to Richard Nixon 49 states to one. In our campaign office in Downey, we wept.
A decorated World War II bomber pilot, George McGovern ran the Food for Peace Program under John Kennedy and represented South Dakota for two terms in the House and three terms in the Senate. He’s written nine books, including his most recent, Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith. The late Robert Kennedy described McGovern as the most decent man he’d ever met in politics. A documentary about the campaign, One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern, is now playing in select theaters. (photo: iowademocrats.org)