Political Animal


October 21, 2012 11:20 AM RIP George McGovern, 1922-2012

By Ryan Cooper

The Times:

George McGovern, the United States senator who won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972 as an opponent of the war in Vietnam and a champion of liberal causes, and who was then trounced by President Richard M. Nixon in the general election, died early Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was 90.

The best eulogy I’ve seen is from Conor Friedersdorf (written a few days ago, when it became clear the McGovern was on the way out):

Over the course of his career, McGovern made a lot of arguments that I personally find unpersuasive. But he sure did get the most important issue of his time right. Think of all the Americans who’d be alive today if the country had listened to McGovern rather than his opponents about the Vietnam War. Think of all the veterans who’d have been better off. Think of how many Vietnamese civilians would’ve been spared death by napalm.

From Hunter S. Thompson’s legendary Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72:

The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes… understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.

Here’s McGovern himself on the death of Thompson, and some interesting pictures from his career.

Godspeed, good sir.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • TCinLA on October 21, 2012 12:07 PM:

    To me George McGovern and Richard Nixon illustrate the basic difference between the two parties perfectly, and the point is nowhere better made than to look at their respective careers in the Second World War:

    Richard Nixon, who spent the war on Guadalcanal, arriving a year after all the fighting was done, who spent his time in the rear with the gear as a supply officer who played poker well enough to come home at the end of the war with the money for a down payment on his first home. Out for himself, from the git-go, like any Republican.

    George McGovern, who flew 35 missions as pilot of a B-24 operating out of Italy, facing the chance of being blown out of the sky 35 times (flak was far more deadly to B-24s than fighters), who cared for his crew, men who loved him all the rest of their lives, who took what he had learned in those deadly skies and put it into his politics, caring for his country the way he cared for his crew, using that courage that had to sustain him then, to take the most unpopular position a politician could take: to oppose the war created by the president of his party, and make the issue stick.

    Blue skies, Captain McGovern, sir.

  • Tigershark on October 21, 2012 12:21 PM:

    In May 1972 I saw him speak before as large crowd of aerospace engineers in LA. (Things were different back then; the HS said if you want to hear the speech, walk over during lunch. The speech and HS were next to each other.) These engineers, who were facing layoffs after sending a man to the moon, listened of he said he wanted to use their talents to build mass transit systems for LA. Polite applause, but I don't think he picked up many votes.

    But, 40 years down the road, (sorry)I wonder what LA would have looked like if he had won, and followed through on that pledge.


  • Flashy on October 21, 2012 12:24 PM:

    My dad has seen a lot of politics in his life (he was born in 1929 in Boston). He told me once: 'in my whole life, the most fundamentally decent person in politics in my life has been George McGovern.' I'll never forget that comment and everything I have learned about McGovern has proven my father right and I have considered George McGovern one of my heroes. He will be missed.

  • c u n d gulag on October 21, 2012 12:57 PM:

    He will be missed.

    A REAL war hero.
    A REAL man.
    A REAL politician.
    A REAL human being.
    A KIND human being.

    We should have cloned him while he was still alive.

    RIP Senator McGovern.

    This sh*tty stupid nation didn't deserve a man like you as President.

    And here we are at another crossroads, with a good and decent man running for President.
    And I'm not sure this sh*tty stupid country will pick him, or another sociopath - a richer version of Nixon - with 1/4 of the brains.

  • SecularAnimist on October 21, 2012 1:15 PM:

    The first vote I ever cast for President of the United States was for George McGovern in 1972 - which was the year that I turned 18 and became eligible for the draft.

    Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign was nothing but a barrage of vicious lies, and McGovern had the courage to go on TV and say so.

    I wish that Obama had half as much courage today.

  • DJ on October 21, 2012 1:29 PM:

    "[O]n the way out"??? What a callous turn of phrase.

  • schtick on October 21, 2012 2:44 PM:

    It proves that the people of this country want to hear lies and always have. They seem to forget the biggest scandals that hit this country in terms of illegal shenanigans have been put forth by the teapubs for years. (Yeah, I know, Clinton got a bj. Good for him bad for Hillary. It only let the cat out of the bag the teapubs were doing it, but in their Congressional offices and their driveways.)
    I voted for McGovern because I thought he was an honest man that cared for the country and the future of the country. A true American patriot.
    My thoughts with his family. RIP

  • MikeBoyScout on October 21, 2012 3:23 PM:

    George McGovern was a hero that we, the American people, did not deserve. Pity that. McGovern believed differently.

    I hope someday to see this country be worthy of a leader and politician of the caliber of the late George McGovern.

  • JoanneinDenver on October 22, 2012 10:41 AM:

    "Saw war and tried to stop it."

    Thank you, Senator McGovern.

  • MuddyLee on October 22, 2012 10:38 PM:

    George McGovern: a true role model for the youth of America (and the rest of us). He mishandled the Eagleton mental health treatment issue, but in later years he apologized for that mistake. What other US Senator had a more distinguished career? To think that this country could vote overwhelmingly for Nixon over McGovern made me sad in 1972. The country still suffers from that choice. Without Nixon, there's no President Ford and no big career for Dick Cheney: therefore, no Iraq War.