In 2012, on this day the thirty-eighth President of the United States George Stanley McGovern died in Sioux Falls, South Dakota aged ninety.
Death of Former President McGovern
Icon of modern American liberalismMcGovern grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota, where he was a renowned debater. He volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Forces upon the country's entry into World War II and as a B-24 Liberator pilot flew 35 missions over German-occupied Europe. Among the medals awarded him was a Distinguished Flying Cross for making a hazardous emergency landing of his damaged plane and saving his crew. After the war he gained degrees from Dakota Wesleyan University and Northwestern University, culminating in a Ph.D., and was a history professor. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956 and re-elected in 1958. After a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960, he was elected there in 1962.
As a senator, McGovern was an exemplar of modern American liberalism. He became most known for his outspoken opposition to the growing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He staged a brief nomination run in the 1968 presidential election as a stand-in for the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. The subsequent McGovern-Fraser Commission fundamentally altered the Democratic presidential nominating process, by greatly increasing the number of caucuses and primaries and reducing the influence of party insiders. The McGovern-Hatfield Amendment sought to end the Vietnam War by legislative means but was defeated in 1970 and 1971.
McGovern's long-shot, grassroots-based 1972 presidential campaign found triumph due to two totally unrelated events. Firstly, the deft selection of Walter Cronkite as running mate. Secondly, the shocking exposure of a wire-tapping operation in the DNC Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Ironically, McGovern who had been defeated as a stand-in candidate, now defeated an RNC stand-in candidate when the discredited Richard Nixon was forced out of the race.
"Mr President, the fires you lit then still burn in countless hearts" - campaign worker Bill ClintonHe will be long respected (if grudgingly honoured) for having the moral courage to grasp the nettle by bringing the Vietnam Tragedy to a messy and dishonorable ending that was perhaps the inevitable outcome of his predecessor's policies. But less fortunately for McGovern, too much time had been lost and 1968 would have been a far better year for his election than 1972 because there were very Democrat centrists on the Hill, and he struggled to implement his legislative agenda. And so a third event precipitated his downfall - the re-emergence of the GOP under the reinvigorated leadership of the hugely popular Governor of California Ronald Reagan. With the mood of the country turning sour, he offered a compelling "change of direction appeal" in the face of a dysfunctional Democratic party.
After his one-term Presidency, McGovern pursued a rewarding career over twenty-five years. He publicized the problem of hunger within the United States and issued the "McGovern Report" that led to a new set of nutritional guidelines for Americans. McGovern later served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture from 1998-2001 and was appointed the first UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger by the World Food Programme in 2001. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program has provided school meals for millions of children in dozens of countries since 2000 and resulted in McGovern being named World Food Prize co-laureate in 2008.