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One of America's most strident liberal voices, George McGovern, dies at 90

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

His name alone conjured up leftist, liberal politics for at least a decade. George McGovern is perhaps best known for running unsuccessfully against President Richard M. Nixon in 1972, but never stopped speaking up for what he believed was right. McGovern has passed away at the age of 90.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Serving South Dakota in the U.S. Senate and House for more than two decades, George Stanley McGovern passed away at the Doughtery Hospice House in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, surrounded by family and friends. 

"We are blessed to know that our father lived a long, successful and productive life advocating for the hungry, being a progressive voice for millions and fighting for peace," a statement from his family read.

President Barack Obama praised McGovern as someone who showed a lifelong love of country.

"When the people of South Dakota sent him to Washington, this hero of war became a champion for peace," the president said in a written statement. "And after his career in Congress, he became a leading voice in the fight against hunger. George was a statesman of great conscience and conviction."

Many agree that McGovern left the United States a different nation. "I think he'll be remembered, obviously, for his stance on the war in Vietnam," Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico said, "but also for his contributions on agriculture, on hunger.

"And then the Democratic Party. He transformed the party, the primary system, getting minorities involved. He was a gigantic figure and a classy, good, good guy."

The son of a Methodist minister who was a Republican, McGovern was born in Avon, South Dakota in 1922. His debating skills in high school won him a scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, where he met fellow student Eleanor Stegeberg. Three years later, they married. All five of their children were born in Mitchell.

In 1942, McGovern enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and went on to fly 35 combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Many said it was ironic that McGovern was a hero in World War II while being one of the staunchest critics of the Vietnam War.

He returned to Dakota Wesleyan University in 1950 as a professor of history and political science, leaving in 1955 to help the South Dakota Democratic Party and launch his political career. He won a seat in Congress in 1956. He was re-elected two years later.

In 1962, he was elected to the Senate. McGovern was re-elected in 1968 and 1974. He served on Senate committees on agriculture, nutrition, forestry and foreign relations, and the Joint Economic Committee.

McGovern was selected as the Democratic Party nominee for president in 1972 on a platform that included ending the war in Vietnam at a time when the country was torn over U.S. involvement there.

"Let us resolve that never again will we send the precious young blood of this country to die trying to prop up a corrupt military dictatorship abroad," he said, to applause, at the Democratic convention in Miami Beach, Florida.

McGovern lost hard against incumbent Richard Nixon, with the McGovern ticket earning only 17 electoral votes to Nixon's 520.

While very disappointed, McGovern remained a servant to the public. Sen. John Kerry said Sunday that McGovern never let the political popularity of a subject determine whether he supported a cause.

"George McGovern was a voice of clarity and conviction at a time when America needed it most," Kerry said. "He spoke to many of us who opposed the war but loved our country, because he was the genuine article, a soft-spoken, decent and gentle man who lived a remarkable life with humility."

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