Sunday, October 21, 2012

Death of a Prairie Populist

I was sorry to hear this morning that George McGovern, a former U.S. senator from South Dakota and the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, died Sunday morning. According to The New York Times, he had been “treated for several health problems in the last year.” McGovern was 90 years of age.

As it happened, I first tuned into American presidential politics in 1972, the year that McGovern ran against Richard M. Nixon, the incumbent Republican Oval Office-holder, in a tumultuous campaign energized by anti-Vietnam War fervor but undermined by both ugly, right-wing allegations that McGovern stood “for amnesty [for draft evaders], abortion, and legalization of pot,” and the mini-scandal that erupted from McGovern’s choice of Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate. Only after that year’s Democratic National Committee did Eagleton admit to McGovern and the press that he’d undergone electroshock therapy as a treatment for depression. He was subsequently replaced on the ticket by former Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, but the scandal had already raised doubts about McGovern’s judgment, and Nixon went on to win re-election in a landslide--though he quit just two years later, as a result of the Watergate scandal.

There are many things being said on the Web today about the life and career of George McGovern (see here, here, here, and here, for instance). But one of the best remembrances, I think, comes from Salon editor-at-large Joan Walsh. She looks back at the ’72 race as a time when Democrats and organized labor brought their own dreams of political success crashing down; also, though, as a time when rules changes for Democratic elections opened them up to “young and diverse forces” within the party that would help Barack Obama become the Democratic nominee--and eventually the 44th U.S. president--in 2008.

You can (and should) read all of Walsh’s piece here.

READ MORE:R.I.P. George McGovern, 1922-2012,” by Ryan Cooper (Washington Monthly); “The Year Was 1972,” by Ron Beasley (The Moderate Voice); “George McGovern, the Man Who Never Gave Up,” by Bob Dole (The Washington Post).

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I was raised in a staunchly Rep. family, but George McGovern and Vietnam woke me up. I proudly voted for McGovern and have been a liberal Democrat ever since. I admired McGovern so much. He made mistakes in politics but he stood firm for what he believed, and his experience and background gave him the right to do so.