|George S. McGovern|
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1981
|Preceded by||Joseph H. Bottum|
|Succeeded by||James Abdnor|
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1961
|Preceded by||Harold O. Lovre|
|Succeeded by||Ben Reifel|
Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs
July 30, 1968 – December 31, 1977
April 1998 – October 2001
|Succeeded by||Tony P. Hall|
|Born||July 19, 1922
Avon, South Dakota
|Spouse(s)||Eleanor McGovern (1943-2007) (her death)|
|Residence||Mitchell, South Dakota|
|Alma mater||Dakota Wesleyan University (B.A.)
Northwestern University (M.A., Ph.D)
|Profession||historian, professor, politician, author|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Force|
|Years of service||1943–1945|
|Unit||741st Bomb Squadron, 455th Bombardment Group, Fifteenth Air Force|
|Battles/wars||European Theatre of World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal (3)
George Stanley McGovern (born July 19, 1922) is a historian, author, and former United States U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party nominee in the 1972 presidential election.
McGovern 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 to 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 in gaining the Democratic nomination, but left the party was badly split ideologically and the failed vice-presidential pick of Thomas Eagleton undermined McGovern's credibility. In the general election McGovern lost to incumbent Richard Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in American history. Re-elected Senator in 1968 and 1974, McGovern was defeated in a bid for a fourth term in 1980.
Throughout his career, McGovern has been involved in issues related to agriculture, food, nutrition, and hunger. As the first director of the Food for Peace program in 1961, McGovern oversaw the distribution of U.S. surpluses to the needy abroad and was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations-based World Food Programme. As sole chair of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs from 1968–1977, McGovern 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.
McGovern was born in the 600-person farming community of Avon, South Dakota. His father, Reverend Joseph C. McGovern (born 1868), was pastor of the local Wesleyan Methodist Church there. Joseph had once worked in mines and then been a professional baseball player in the minor leagues,[nb 1] but had given the latter up due to the heavy drinking, gambling, and womanizing of his teammates, and entered the seminary instead. George's mother was the former Frances McLean (born c. 1890), who had been born in Toronto, Canada; her family had later moved to Calgary and then she came to South Dakota looking for work as a secretary. George was the second oldest of four children. Joseph McGovern's salary never reached $100 per month, and he often received compensation in the form of potatoes, cabbages, or other food items. Joseph and Frances McGovern were both firm Republicans, but were not politically active or doctrinaire.
When George was about three years old, the family moved to Calgary for a while to be near Frances' ailing mother, and he formed memories of events such as the Calgary Stampede. While living there, Charles Lindbergh's solo transatlantic flight in 1927 made a great impression upon George, as it did upon many members of his generation. When George was six, the family returned to the U.S. and moved to Mitchell, South Dakota, a community of 12,000. McGovern attended public schools there and was an average student whose only wild behavior was going to the movies (forbidden to good Wesleyans). He was painfully shy as a child and was afraid to speak in class during first grade. Otherwise he had a normal childhood marked by visits to the renowned Mitchell Corn Palace and "a sense of belonging to a particular place and knowing your part in it." He would, however, long remember the Dust Bowl storms and grasshopper plagues that swept the prairie states during the Great Depression. The McGovern family lived on the edge of the poverty line for much of the 1920s and 1930s. Growing up amid that lack of affluence gave young George a lifelong sympathy for underpaid workers and struggling farmers. He was influenced by the currents of populism and agrarian unrest and by the "practical divinity" teachings of cleric John Wesley that sought to fight poverty, injustice, and ignorance.
In seventh grade, a gym teacher called him a "physical coward" for being afraid to dive headfirst and somersault over a gymnastics vaulting horse; the incident troubled him psychologically. George attended Mitchell High School, where he was a solid but unspectacular member of the track team. A turning point came when his tenth grade English teacher recruited him for the debate team, where he became quite active. His high school debate coach proved to be a great influence in his life, and McGovern spent many hours honing his meticulous, if colorless, forensic style. McGovern and his debating partner won events in his area and gained renown in a state where debating was passionately followed by the general public. Debate changed McGovern's life, giving him a chance to explore ideas to their logical end, broadening his perspective, and instilling a sense of personal and social confidence. He graduated in 1940 in the top ten percent of his class.
McGovern enrolled at small Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell and became a star student there. He supplemented a forensic scholarship by working a variety of odd jobs. With World War II underway overseas, McGovern still felt insecure about his own courage. To prove himself, McGovern took flying lessons in an Aeronca aircraft and received a pilot's license through the government's Civilian Pilot Training Program. McGovern recalled: "Frankly, I was scared to death on that first solo flight. But when I walked away from it, I had an enormous feeling of satisfaction that I had taken the thing off the ground and landed it without tearing the wings off." In April 1941, McGovern began dating fellow student Eleanor Stegeberg, who had grown up in Woonsocket, South Dakota. (They had first encountered each other during a high school debate in which Eleanor and her twin sister Ila defeated McGovern and his partner.)
McGovern was listening to a radio broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for a sophomore year music appreciation class when he heard the news of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Within days he drove to Omaha, Nebraska, and volunteered to join the United States Army Air Forces. The military accepted him, but they did not yet have enough airfields, aircraft, or instructors to start training all the volunteers, so McGovern stayed at Dakota Wesleyan. George and Eleanor became engaged, but initially decided not to marry until the war was over. During his sophomore year, McGovern won the statewide intercollegiate South Dakota Peace Oratory Contest with a speech called "My Brother's Keeper", which was later selected by the National Council of Churches as one of the nation's twelve best orations of 1942. McGovern was also elected president of his sophomore and junior classes. In February 1943, during his junior year, he and a partner won a national debate tournament at North Dakota State University that featured competitors from over one hundred schools; upon his return to campus he discovered that the Army had finally called him up.
Soon thereafter McGovern was sworn in as a private at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. He spent a month at Jefferson Barracks Military Post in Missouri and then five months at Southern Illinois Normal University in Carbondale, Illinois for ground school training; both the academic work and physical training would be the toughest he would ever experience. He spent two months at a base in San Antonio, Texas and then went to Hatbox Field in Muskogee, Oklahoma for basic flying school in a single-engined PT-19. Lonely and in love, McGovern married Eleanor Stegeberg on October 31, 1943, while on three-day leave in a ceremony at the small Methodist church in Woonsocket with his father presiding, as the couple decided not to wait any further. After three months in Muskogee, McGovern went to Coffeyville Army Airfield in Kansas for three months of training on the BT-13. Around April 1944, McGovern went on to advanced flying school at Pampa Army Airfield in Texas for twin-engine training on the AT-17 and AT-9. Throughout, Air Cadet McGovern showed skill as a pilot, with his exceptionally good depth perception aiding him. Eleanor McGovern followed him to these different stops and was there when he got his wings and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.
McGovern was assigned to Liberal Army Airfield in Kansas to transition school to learn to fly the B-24 Liberator, an assignment he was pleased with. McGovern recalled later: "Learning how to fly the B-24 was the toughest part of the training. It was a difficult airplane to fly, physically, because in the early part of the war, they didn't have hydraulic controls. If you can imagine driving a Mack truck without any power steering or power brakes, that's about what it was like at the controls. It was the biggest bomber we had at the time." Eleanor was constantly afraid of her husband suffering an accident while training, which claimed a huge toll of airmen during the entire war. This was followed by a stint at Lincoln Army Airfield in Nebraska, where McGovern met his B-24 crew. The traveling around the country and mixing with people from different backgrounds was a broadening experience for McGovern and others of his generation. The USAAF sped up training times for McGovern and others due to the heavy losses that bombing missions were suffering over Europe. Despite, and partly because of, the risk that McGovern might not come back from combat, the McGoverns decided to have a child and Eleanor became pregnant. In June 1944, McGovern's crew received final training at Mountain Home Army Air Field in Idaho. They then shipped out via Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia, where McGovern found history books to fill downtime, and overseas on a slow troopship.
In September 1944, McGovern joined the 741st Squadron of the 455th Bombardment Group of the Fifteenth Air Force, stationed at San Giovanni Airfield nearby Cerignola in the Apulia region of Italy. There he and his crew found a starving, disease-ridden local population wracked by the ill fortunes of war and far worse off than anything they had seen back home during the Depression. (The sights would be part of his later motivation to fight hunger.) Starting on November 11, 1944, McGovern flew 35 missions over enemy territory from there, the first five as co-pilot for an experienced crew and the rest as pilot for his own plane, known as the Dakota Queen after his wife Eleanor. His targets were in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and northern, German-controlled Italy, and were often either oil refinery complexes or rail marshalling yards, all as part of the U.S. strategic bombing campaign in Europe. The eight- or nine-hour missions were grueling tests of endurance for pilots, and while German fighter aircraft were a diminished threat by then, his missions often faced heavy anti-aircraft artillery fire that filled the sky with flak bursts.
On McGovern's December 15 mission over Linz, his second as pilot, a piece of shrapnel from flak came through the windshield and missed killing him by only a few inches. The following day on a mission to Brüx he nearly collided with another bomber during close-formation flying in complete cloud cover. The day after that he was recommended for a medal after surviving a blown wheel on the always-dangerous B-24 take-off, completing a mission over Germany, and then landing without further damage to the plane. On a December 20 mission against the Škoda Works at Pilsen, McGovern's plane had one engine out and another in flames after being hit by flak. Unable to return to Italy, McGovern was able to land his plane on a British airfield on Vis, a small island off the Yugoslav coast controlled by Josip Broz Tito's Partisans. The short field, normally used by small fighter planes, killed many of the bomber crews who tried to make emergency landings there, but McGovern successfully landed, saving his crew and earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In January 1945, McGovern used R&R time to see every sight he could in Rome and participate in an audience with the Pope. Bad weather prevented many missions from happening during the winter, and during downtime McGovern spent much time reading and discussing how the war had come about. He resolved that if he survived it, he would become a history professor. In February, McGovern was promoted to First Lieutenant. On March 14, McGovern had an incident over Austria in which he accidentally bombed a family farm when a jammed bomb accidentally released above it and destroyed it, which McGovern felt guilty about. (Decades later, after a public appearance in that country, the owner of that farm came to the media to let the Senator know that he was the victim of that incident, but no one was hurt and felt it was worth the price if that event helped achieve the defeat of Nazi Germany in some small way.) On return from the flight, McGovern was told his first child Ann had been born four days earlier. April 25 saw McGovern's 35th mission, to fulfill the USAAF limit for combat, against heavily defended Linz. The sky turned black and red with flak – McGovern later said "Hell can't be any worse than that" – the Dakota Queen was hit multiple times (producing 110 holes in its fuselage and wings) and the hydraulic system was knocked out. McGovern's waist gunner was injured and his flight engineer so terrified that he would be hospitalized with battle fatigue, but McGovern managed to bring back the plane safely with the assistance of an improvised landing technique.
In May and June 1945, following the end of the European war, McGovern flew food relief flights to northern Italy, then flew back to the United States with his crew. McGovern was discharged from the Army Air Forces in July 1945, with the rank of First Lieutenant. He was also awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, one instance of which was for the safe landing on his final mission.
Upon coming home, McGovern returned to Dakota Wesleyan University, aided by the G.I. Bill, and graduated from there in June 1946 with a B.A. degree magna cum laude. For a while he suffered from nightmares about flying through flak barrages or his plane being on fire. He continued with debate, again winning the state Peace Oratory Contest with a speech entitled "From Cave to Cave" that presented a Christian-influenced Wilsonian outlook. The couple's second daughter, Susan, was born in March 1946.
McGovern switched from Wesleyan Methodism to less fundamental regular Methodism. Influenced by Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement, McGovern began divinity studies at Garrett Theological Seminary[nb 2] in Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago. He preached as a United Methodist student supply minister at Diamond Lake Church in Mundelein, Illinois during 1946 and 1947, but became dissatisfied by the minutiae of his pastoral duties. In late 1947, McGovern left the ministry and enrolled in graduate studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, where he also worked as a teaching assistant. He received an M.A. in history in 1949.
McGovern then returned to his alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan, and became a professor of history and political science. With the assistance of a Hearst fellowship for 1949–1950, he continued pursuing graduate studies during summers and other free time. The couple's third daughter, Teresa, was born in June 1949. Eleanor McGovern began to suffer from bouts of depression, but continued to assume the large share of household and child-rearing duties. McGovern earned a Ph.D in history from Northwestern University in 1953.[nb 3] His 450-page dissertation, The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913–1914, was a sympathetic account of the miners' revolt against Rockefeller interests in the Colorado Coalfield War. His thesis advisor, noted historian Arthur S. Link, later said he had not seen a better student than McGovern in 26 years of teaching.
Nominally a Republican growing up, McGovern began to admire Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II.[nb 4] At Northwestern, his exposure to the work of China scholars John King Fairbank and Owen Lattimore had convinced him that unrest in Southeast Asia was homegrown and that U.S. foreign policy towards Asia was counterproductive. Discouraged by the onset of the Cold War, McGovern was attracted to the 1948 presidential campaign of former Vice President and Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace. He volunteered for Wallace in South Dakota and attended the Wallace Progressive Party's first national convention as a delegate. After deciding there that Wallace was in the control of "fanatics", Communist and otherwise, he did not vote in the general election, although he supported the re-election of President Harry Truman.
Four years later, in 1952, he heard a radio broadcast of Governor Adlai Stevenson's speech accepting the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. He immediately dedicated himself towards Stevenson's campaign, publishing seven articles in Mitchell's Daily Republic newspaper outlining the historical issues that separated the Democratic Party from the Republicans. The McGoverns named their only son Steven, born immediately after the 1952 Democratic National Convention, after his new hero.[nb 5] Although Stevenson lost the election, McGovern remained active in politics, believing that "the engine of progress in our time in America is the Democratic Party." In early 1953, McGovern left teaching to become executive secretary of the South Dakota Democratic Party (the state chair having recruited him after reading his articles). Democrats in the state were at a low, holding no statewide offices and only 2 of the 110 seats in the state legislature. Friends and political figures had counseled McGovern against making the move, but despite his mild, unassuming manner, McGovern had an ambitious nature and was intent upon starting a political career of his own.[nb 6]
McGovern spent the following years rebuilding and revitalizing the party, building up a large list of voter contacts via frequent travel around the state. Democrats showed improvement in the 1954 elections, winning 25 seats in the state legislature. From 1954 to 1956 he also was on a political organization advisory group for the Democratic National Committee. The McGoverns' fifth and final child, Mary, was born in 1955.
In 1956, McGovern sought elective office himself, and ran for the House of Representatives from South Dakota's 1st congressional district, which consisted of the counties east of the Missouri River. He faced four-term incumbent Republican Party Representative Harold O. Lovre. Aided by the voter lists he had earlier accumulated, he ran a low budget campaign, spending $12,000 while borrowing $5,000. McGovern's quiet personality appealed to voters he met, while Lovre suffered from a general unhappiness over Eisenhower administration farm policy. When polls showed McGovern gaining, Lovre's campaign implied that McGovern's support for admitting People's Republic of China to the United Nations and his past support for Henry Wallace meant that McGovern was a Communist appeaser or sympathizer. In his closing speech, McGovern responded: "I have always despised communism and every other ruthless tyranny over the mind and spirit of man." McGovern staged an upset victory, gaining 116,516 votes to his opponent's 105,835, and became the first Democrat elected to Congress from South Dakota in 22 years. The McGoverns established a home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Entering the 85th United States Congress, McGovern became a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. As a representative, McGovern was attentive to his district. He became a staunch supporter of higher commodity prices, farm price supports, grain storage programs, and beef import controls, believing that such stored commodities programs guarded against drought and similar emergencies. He favored rural development, federal aid to small business and to education, and medical coverage for the aged under Social Security. In 1957, he traveled and studied conditions in the Middle East under a fellowship from the American Christian Palestine Committee. McGovern first allied with the Kennedy family by supporting a House version of Senator John F. Kennedy's eventually unsuccessful labor reform bill.
In his 1958 reelection campaign, McGovern faced a strong challenge from South Dakota's two-term Republican Governor and World War II Medal of Honor winner Joe Foss, who was initially considered the favorite to win. But McGovern ran an effective campaign and was the superior politician, possessing an acute sense of his political beliefs and the talent to articulate them. He prevailed with a slightly larger margin than two years before.
In the 86th United States Congress, McGovern was assigned to the House Committee on Agriculture. The longtime chair of the committee, Harold D. Cooley, would subsequently say, "I cannot recall a single member of Congress who has fought more vigorously or intelligently for American farmers than Congressman McGovern." He helped pass a new food stamp law. He was one of nine representations from Congress to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly conferences of 1958 and 1959. Along with Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, McGovern strongly advocated a reconstruction of the Agricultural Trade Development Assistance Act that had started under Eisenhower, with a greater emphasis on feeding the hungry around the world and the establishment of an executive office to run it. During his time in the House, McGovern was regarded as a liberal overall, and voted in accordance with the rated positions of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) 34 times and against 3 times.[nb 7] Two of the themes of his House career, improvements for rural America and the war on hunger, would be defining ones of his legislative career and public life.
In 1960, McGovern decided to run for the U.S. Senate and challenge the Republican incumbent Karl Mundt, a formidable figure in South Dakota politics whom McGovern loathed as an old-style McCarthyite. The race centered mostly around rural issues, but John F. Kennedy's Catholicism was a drawback at the top of the ticket in the Protestant state. McGovern made careless charges during the campaign and the press turned against him; he would say eleven years later, "It was my worst campaign. I hated [Mundt] so much I lost my sense of balance." McGovern was defeated in the November 1960 election, gaining 145,217 votes to Mundt's 160,579, but the margin was three times smaller than Kennedy's larger loss to Vice President Richard M. Nixon in the state's presidential contest.
Having relinquished his House seat to run for the Senate, McGovern was available for a position in the new Kennedy administration.[nb 8] McGovern was picked to become a Special Assistant to the President and first director of Kennedy's high-priority Food for Peace program, which realized what McGovern had been advocating in the House. McGovern assumed the post on January 21, 1961.
As director, McGovern urged the greater use of food to enable foreign economic development, saying "We should thank God that we have a food abundance and use the over-supply among the under-privileged at home and abroad." He found space for the program in the Executive Office Building rather than be subservient to either the State Department or Department of Agriculture. McGovern worked with deputy director James W. Symington and Kennedy advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. in visiting South America to discuss surplus grain distribution, and attended meetings of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. In June 1961, McGovern became seriously ill with hepatitis, contracted from an infected White House dispensary needle used to give him inoculations for his South American trip; he was hospitalized and out of action for two months.
By the close of 1961, the Food for Peace program was operating in a dozen countries and 10 million more people had been fed with American surplus than the year before. In February 1962, McGovern visited India and oversaw a greatly expanded school lunch program thanks to Food for Peace; subsequently one of five Indian schoolchildren would be fed from it. Pope John XXIII praised McGovern's work during an audience in Rome, and the distribution program was also popular among South Dakota's wheat farmers. In addition, McGovern was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations-based World Food Programme in December 1961; it started distributing food to stricken regions of the world the following year and would go on to become the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.
Administration was never McGovern's strength, however, and he was restless for another try at the Senate. With the approval of President Kennedy, McGovern resigned his post on July 18, 1962. Kennedy said that under McGovern the program had "become a vital force in the world", improving living conditions and economies of allies and creating "a powerful barrier to the spread of Communism". Schlesinger would later write that Food for Peace had been "the greatest unseen weapon of Kennedy's third-world policy."
In April 1962, McGovern announced he would run for election to South Dakota's other Senate seat, intending to face incumbent Republican Francis H. Case. Case died in June, however, and McGovern instead faced an appointed senator, former Lieutenant Governor Joseph H. Bottum. Much of the campaign revolved around policies of the Kennedy administration and its New Frontier; Bottum accused the Kennedy family of trying to buy the Senate seat. McGovern appealed to those worried about the outflux of young people from the state, and had the strong support of the Farmers Union. Polls showed Bottum slightly ahead throughout the race and McGovern was hampered by a recurrence of his hepatitis problem in the final weeks of the campaign. (During this hospitalization, McGovern read Theodore H. White's classic The Making of the President, 1960 and for the first time began thinking about running for the office someday.) Eleanor McGovern campaigned for her ailing husband and may well have saved his chances. The November 1962 election result was very close and required a recount, but McGovern's 127,458 votes prevailed by a margin of 597, making him the first Democratic senator from the state in 26 years and only the third since statehood in 1889.
When he joined the Senate in January 1963 for the 88th Congress, McGovern was seated on the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee and Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. On the Agriculture Committee, McGovern supported high farm prices, full parity, and controls on beef importation, as well as the administration's Feed Grains Acreage Diversion Program. McGovern had a fractious relationship with Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, who was less sympathetic to farmers; McGovern's 1966 resolution to informally scold Freeman made the senator popular back in his home state. Fellow new senator Edward M. Kennedy saw McGovern as a serious voice on farm policy and often sought McGovern's guidance on agriculture-related votes. McGovern was largely inactive on the Interior Committee until 1967, when he was given chair of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs. However, Interior chair Henry M. Jackson, who did not get along with McGovern personally or politically, refused to allow McGovern his own staff, greatly limiting his effectiveness. McGovern regretted not accomplishing more for South Dakota's 30,000 Sioux Indians, although after a McGovern-introduced resolution on Indian self-determination passed in 1969, the Oglala Sioux named McGovern "Great White Eagle".
In his first speech on the Senate floor in March 1963, McGovern praised Kennedy's Alliance for Progress initiative, but spoke out against U.S. policy towards Cuba, saying that it suffered from "our Castro fixation". In August 1963, McGovern advocated reducing the $53 billion defense budget by $5 billion; influenced by advisor Seymour Melman, he held a special antipathy towards the doctrine of nuclear "overkill". McGovern would try to reduce defense appropriations or limit military expenditures in almost every year during the 1960s. He also voted against many weapons programs, especially missile and anti-missile systems, and also opposed military assistance to foreign nations. In 1964, McGovern published his first book, War Against Want: America's Food for Peace Program. In it he argued for expanding his old program, and a Senate measure he introduced was eventually passed, adding $700 million to the effort's funding.
Preferring to focus on broad policy matters and speeches, McGovern was not a master of Senate legislative tactics, and developed a reputation among some other senators for "not doing his homework". Described as "a very private, unchummy guy", he was not a member of the Senate "club" nor did he want to be, turning down in 1969 a chance to join the powerful Senate Rules Committee. Relatively few pieces of legislation would bear his name and his legislative accomplishments were generally viewed as modest, although he would try to influence the contents of others' bills. In terms of ideology, McGovern fit squarely within modern American liberalism; through 1967 his ADA senate score was 92, and when unbriefed on a particular matter, he would ask his staff, "What are the liberals doing?"
In a speech on the Senate floor in September 1963, McGovern became the first member to challenge the growing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Bothered by the Buddhist crisis and other recent developments, and with concerns influenced by Vietnam historian Bernard Fall, McGovern said:
|“||The current dilemma in Vietnam is a clear demonstration of the limitations of military power. ... [Current U.S. involvement] is a policy of moral debacle and political defeat. ... The trap we have fallen into there will haunt us in every corner of this revolutionary world if we do not properly appraise its lessons."||”|
However, the speech was little noticed, and McGovern backed away from saying anything publicly for over a year afterward, partly because of the November 1963 assassination of President Kennedy and partly to not appear strident. Though more skeptical about it than most senators, McGovern voted in favor of the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which turned out to be an essentially unbounded authorization for President Lyndon B. Johnson to escalate U.S. involvement in the war. McGovern thought the commander-in-chief should be given limited authority to retaliate against an attack; subsequently he said his instinct had been to vote no, but that he had voted yes based on Senator J. William Fulbright's urging to stand behind Johnson politically. Indeed, the day after the resolution vote, McGovern spoke concerning his fears that the vote would lead to greater involvement in the war; Wayne Morse, one of only two senators to oppose the resolution, sardonically noted that this fell into the category of "very interesting, but very belated". This would become the vote that McGovern most bitterly regretted.
In January 1965, McGovern made his first major address on Vietnam, saying that "We are not winning in South Vietnam. ... I am very much opposed to the policy, now gaining support in Washington, of extending the war to the north." McGovern instead proposed a five-point plan advocating a negotiated settlement involving a federated Vietnam with local autonomy and a UN presence to guarantee security and fair treatment. The speech gave McGovern national visibility as one of the "doves" in the debate over Vietnam. However, McGovern made moderate-to-hawkish statements at times too, flatly rejecting unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces and criticizing anti-war draft-card burnings as "immature, impractical, and illegal". In November 1965, McGovern travelled to South Vietnam for three weeks. The human carnage he saw in hospital wards deeply upset him, and he became increasingly outspoken about the war upon his return, more convinced than ever that Vietnam was a political not military problem. Now he was ready, as he later said, "not merely to dissent, but to crusade" against the war.
McGovern voted in favor of Vietnam military appropriations in 1966 through 1968, not wanting to deprive U.S. forces of necessary equipment. Nevertheless, his anti-war rhetoric increased throughout 1967. Over the years, Johnson had invited McGovern and other Senate doves to the White House for attempts to explain the rationale for his actions in Vietnam; McGovern came away from the final such visit, in August 1967, shaken by the sight of a president "tortured and confused ... by the mess he has gotten into in Vietnam."
In August 1967, activist Allard K. Lowenstein founded the Dump Johnson movement, and soon they were seeking a Democratic Party figure to make a primaries campaign challenge against Johnson in the 1968 presidential election. Their first choice was Senator Robert Kennedy, who declined, as did another, and by late September 1967 they approached McGovern. After much deliberation McGovern declined, largely because he feared such a run would significantly damage his own chances for reelection to his Senate seat in 1968. A month later the anti-Johnson forces were able to convince Senator Eugene McCarthy to run, who was one of the few "dove" senators not up for reelection that year.
The 1968 Democratic primaries unfolded with McCarthy staging a strong showing and Robert Kennedy entering, followed by Johnson withdrawing and Vice President Humphrey running instead. While McGovern favored Kennedy privately, McCarthy and Humphrey were from a neighboring state and publicly McGovern remained neutral throughout. McGovern hosted all three as they campaigned for the June 4 South Dakota Democratic primary, which resulted in a strong win by Kennedy to go along with his win in the crucial California primary that night. McGovern spoke with Kennedy by phone minutes before Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. The death of Bobby Kennedy left McGovern the most emotionally distraught he had ever been to this point in his life.
Within days, some of Kennedy's aides were urging McGovern to run in his place; their antipathy towards McCarthy and ideological opposition to Humphrey made them unwilling to support either candidate. McGovern delayed making a decision, making sure that Ted Kennedy did not want to enter, and with his staff still concerned about the senator's own reelection prospects. Indeed McGovern's voting had changed during 1968, with his ADA rating falling to 43 as he sought more middle-of-the-road stances. In late July, McGovern's decision became more complicated when his daughter Teresa was arrested in Rapid City, South Dakota on marijuana possession charges. She had led a troubled life since her teenage years, developing problems with alcohol and depression and suffering the consequences of a relationship with an unstable neighborhood boy. Based on a recently enacted strict state drugs law, Terry now faced a minimum five-year prison sentence if found guilty. McGovern was also convinced that the socially conservative voters of South Dakota would reject him due to his daughter's arrest. Charges against her were subsequently dropped due to a technically invalid search warrant.
McGovern formally announced his candidacy on August 10, 1968 in Washington, two weeks in advance of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, committing himself to "the goals for which Robert Kennedy gave his life." Asked why he was a better choice than McCarthy, he said, "Well – Gene really doesn't want to be President, and I do." At the convention in Chicago, Humphrey was the near-certain choice while McGovern became the initial rallying point for around 300 leaderless Kennedy delegates. The chaotic circumstances of the convention found McGovern denouncing as "police brutality" the Chicago police tactics against demonstrators. It was very difficult for McGovern to gain in delegate strength given the internal politics of the party, and black protest candidate Channing E. Phillips drew off some of his support. In the actual roll call, McGovern came in third with 146½ delegates, far behind Humphrey's 1760¼ and McCarthy's 601.
McGovern endorsed Humphrey at the convention, to the dismay of some anti-war figures who considered it a betrayal. Humphrey went on to lose the general election to Richard Nixon. McGovern returned to his Senate reelection race, facing Republican former Governor Archie M. Gubbrud. While South Dakota voters sympathized with McGovern over his daughter's arrest, he initially suffered a substantial drop in popularity over the events in Chicago. However, McGovern conducted an energetic campaign that focused on his service to the state, while Gubbrud ran a lackluster effort. In November, McGovern won 57 percent of the vote in what he would consider the easiest and most decisive victory of his career.
During the 1968 Democratic Convention, a motion had been passed to establish a commission to reform the Democratic Party nomination process. In 1969, McGovern was named chairman of the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection; due to the influence of former McCarthy and Kennedy supporters on the staff, the commission significantly reduced the role of party officials and insiders in the nomination process, increased the role of caucuses and primaries, and mandated quotas for proportional black, female, and youth delegate representation. A somewhat unintended consequence of the McGovern Commission's reforms was a massive increase in the number of presidential primaries; this became true for the Republican Party as well. The U.S. presidential nominating process has been different ever since, with scholars debating whether all the changes are for the better.
In the wake of several high-profile reports about hunger and malnutrition in the United States, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs had been created in July 1968, with McGovern as its chair. Seeking to dramatize the problem, in March 1969 McGovern took the committee to Immokalee, Florida, the base for 20,000 mostly black or Hispanic migrant farm workers. They saw graphic examples of hunger and malnutrition firsthand, but also encountered resistance and complaints about bad publicity from local and state officials. McGovern battled the Nixon administration and Southerners in Congress during much of the next year over an expanded food stamp program; he had to compromise on a number of points, but legislation signed in 1970 established the principles of free food stamps and a nationwide standard for eligibility.
McGovern generally lacked both interest and expertise in economics, but was outspoken in reaction to Nixon's imposition of wage and price controls in 1971. McGovern declared: "This administration, which pledged to slow inflation and reduce unemployment, has instead given us the highest rate of inflation and the highest rate of unemployment in a decade." A 1971 60 Minutes detailed his support of desegregation busing while Washington, D.C. resident McGovern simultaneously paid tuition for his own daughter to attend Bethesda, Maryland public schools, which were only 3 percent black.
|U.S. Congressional opposition
to U.S. involvement in
wars and interventions
|1812 North America|
|House Federalists’ Address|
|1847 Mexican–American War|
|1917 World War I|
|Filibuster of the Armed Ship Bill|
|1970 Southeast Asia|
|Repeal of Tonkin Gulf Resolution|
|1973 Southeast Asia|
|War Powers Resolution|
|House Concurrent Resolution 63|
But most of all, McGovern was known for his continued opposition to the Vietnam War. In March 1969, he became the first senator to explicitly criticize the new president's policy there, an action that was seen as a breach of customary protocol by other Senate doves. By the end of 1969, McGovern was calling for an immediate cease-fire and a total withdrawal of all American troops within a year. In October 1969, McGovern was a featured speaker before 100,000 demonstrators in Boston at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, and in November he spoke before 350,000 at Moratorium/Mobilization's anti-war march to the Washington Monument. Afterward, he decided that radicalized peace demonstrations were counterproductive and criticized anti-war figures such as Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Huey Newton, Abby Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin as "reckless" and "irresponsible".
Instead, McGovern focused on legislative means to bring the war to an end. The McGovern–Hatfield Amendment to the annual military procurement bill, co-sponsored by Republican Mark Hatfield of Oregon, required via funding cutoff a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Indochina by the end of 1970. It underwent months of public discussion and alterations to make it acceptable to more senators, including pushing the deadline out to the end of 1971. In May 1970, McGovern obtained a second mortgage on his Washington home in order to fund a half-hour televised panel discussion on the amendment on NBC. The broadcast brought in over $500,000 in donations that furthered work on passage, and eventually the amendment gained the support of the majority of the public in polls. The effort was denounced by opposition groups organized by White House aide Charles Colson, which called McGovern and Hatfield "apostles of retreat and defeat" and "salesmen of surrender" and maintained that only the president could conduct foreign policy. The amendment was defeated in September 1970 by a 55–39 vote, just short of what McGovern had hoped would constitute at least a moral victory. During the floor debate McGovern criticized his colleagues opposing the measure:
Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land - young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.
The Senate reacted in startled, stunned silence, and some faces showed anger and fury; when one member told McGovern he had been personally offended by the speech, McGovern said, "That's what I meant to do." McGovern believed Vietnam an immoral war that was destroying much of what was pure, hopeful, and different about America's character as a nation.
The defeat of the amendment left McGovern embittered and somewhat more radicalized. He accused Vice President of South Vietnam Nguyen Cao Ky of running a heroin trafficking operation that was addicting American soldiers. In a retort to the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Stennis' suggestion that U.S. troops might have to return to Cambodia, McGovern declared, "I'm tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to fight. If he wants to use American ground troops in Cambodia, let him lead the charge himself." He denounced Nixon's policy of Vietnamization as "subsidiz[ing] the continued killing of the people of Indochina by technology and mercenaries." In a Playboy interview, he said that Ho Chi Minh was the North Vietnamese George Washington.
McGovern–Hatfield was put up for a vote again in 1971, with somewhat weaker provisions designed to gain more support. In polls, a large majority of the public now favored its intent, and McGovern took his name off a final form of it, as some senators were just objecting to him. Nevertheless, in June 1971 it failed to pass again, gaining only a few more votes than the year before. McGovern was now certain that the only way the war would come to a quick end was if there was a new president.
Front-runner Edmund Muskie did worse than expected in the New Hampshire primary and McGovern came in a close second. While Muskie's campaign funding and support dried up, McGovern picked up valuable momentum in the following months. Gary Hart, who became a presidential contender 12 years later, was McGovern's campaign manager and future president Bill Clinton (with assistance from his future wife Hillary Rodham) managed the McGovern campaign's operations in Texas. Despite losing several primaries, including Florida to George Wallace, McGovern secured enough delegates to the 1972 Democratic National Convention to win the party's nomination.
McGovern ran on a platform that advocated withdrawal from the Vietnam War in exchange for the return of American prisoners of war and amnesty for draft evaders who had left the country.
McGovern's platform also included an across-the-board, 37% reduction in defense spending over three years; and a "demogrant" program (later dropped from the platform) that would replace the personal income tax exemption with a $1,000 tax credit as a minimum-income floor for every citizen in America, to replace the welfare bureaucracy and complicated maze of existing public-assistance programs. Its concept (a conservative one) was similar to the negative income tax long advocated by economist Milton Friedman, and by the Nixon Administration in the form of the Family Assistance Program, which called for a minimum family grant of $1,600 per year, later raised to $2,400. The personal income tax exemption later became $1,000 under President Reagan. (As Senator, McGovern had previously sponsored a bill, submitted by the National Welfare Rights Organization, for $6,500 guaranteed minimum income per year to families, based on need.) In addition, McGovern supported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
McGovern became tagged with the label "amnesty, abortion and acid", supposedly reflecting his positions.[nb 9]
Just over two weeks after the 1972 Democratic Convention, it was revealed that McGovern's running mate, Thomas Eagleton, had received electroshock therapy for clinical depression during the 1960s. McGovern initially supported Eagleton, in part because he saw parallels with his daughter Terry's battles with mental illness. Though many people still supported Eagleton's candidacy, an increasing number of influential politicians and columnists questioned his ability to handle the office of Vice President. The resulting negative attention, combined with McGovern's consultation with preeminent psychiatrists including Eagleton's own doctors, prompted McGovern to accept Eagleton's offer to withdraw from the ticket. Five prominent Democrats publicly turned down McGovern's offer of the VP slot. Finally he was able to name United States Ambassador to France Sargent Shriver, a brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy. This occurred after McGovern had stated publicly he was still "... behind Eagleton 1000 percent"; reneging on that statement a few days later made McGovern look indecisive. The Eagleton controversy also put the McGovern campaign off message and was speculated at the time to perhaps be a harbinger of what would become McGovern's subsequent landslide loss.
The McGovern Commission changes to the convention rules marginalized the influence of establishment Democratic figures (some of whom had lost the nomination to McGovern). Many refused to support him, with some switching their support to the incumbent President Nixon through a campaign effort called "Democrats for Nixon". In addition, McGovern was repeatedly attacked by associates of Nixon, including the infamous Watergate break-in, which eventually led to Nixon's resignation in 1974.
An infamous incident took place late in the campaign. McGovern was giving a speech and a Nixon admirer kept heckling him. McGovern called the young man over and whispered in his ear, "Listen, you son-of-a-bitch, why don't you kiss my ass?" The heckler confirmed the exchange when asked by a journalist, and the remark was widely reported. By the following night, "KMA" buttons were being worn by people in the crowds at McGovern rallies. Several years later, McGovern observed Mississippi Senator James Eastland looking at him from across the Senate floor and chuckling to himself. He subsequently approached McGovern and asked, "Did you really tell that guy in '72 to kiss your ass?" When McGovern smiled and nodded, Eastland replied, "That was the best line in the campaign." McGovern later wrote, "I don't know whether the incident won or lost me votes. It probably did both... Some staff members frantically insisted that I issue a denial or retraction immediately. I did no such thing. I went to bed and slept soundly."
In the general election, the McGovern/Shriver ticket suffered a 61%-37% defeat to Nixon– at the time, the second biggest landslide in American history, with Electoral College totals of 520 to 17. McGovern's two electoral vote victories came in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.; McGovern failed to win his home state of South Dakota, a state that had delivered for the Democrats in only three of the previous 18 presidential elections in the twentieth century.
One of the most memorable of the failings of McGovern's campaign was that, at the Democratic Convention, McGovern delivered his speech ("Come home America!") at 3 in the morning, reaching an audience of probably less than one million. This was supposedly the result of McGovern either repaying favors or yielding to pressure to give more than a dozen interest groups what were supposed to be two or three minutes of face time on network TV. Most of these special-interest speakers ignored time limits, with the result that McGovern spoke to a more-than-half-empty auditorium.
McGovern would later say of not emphasizing his war record more during the campaign: "I think it was a political error, but I always felt kind of foolish talking about my war record—what a hero I was. How do you do that? ... [I]t was not in my nature to turn the campaign into a constant exercise in self-congratulatory autobiography."
After this loss, McGovern remained in the Senate. He was scarred by the enormous defeat, and his wife Eleanor took it even worse; during the winter of 1972–1973 the couple seriously considered moving to England. On January 20, 1973, a few hours after Richard Nixon was re-inaugurated, he gave a speech at the Oxford Union beginning with the words, "Delighted as I am to be here, I had hoped to be engaged elsewhere this evening ..." which a largely student audience greeted with laughter and applause. In order to get past the "bitterness and self-pity" he felt, McGovern continued to force himself to deal with the defeat humorously before audiences; starting at the March 1973 Gridiron Dinner, he frequently related his campaign misadventures in a self-deprecating fashion, such as saying, "For many years, I wanted to run for the Presidency in the worst possible way – and last year I sure did." Nixon resigned in August 1974 due to the Watergate scandal. McGovern said President Gerald R. Ford's subsequent September 1974 pardon of Nixon was difficult to understand given that Nixon's subordinates were going to prison.
McGovern displayed the political resiliency he had shown in the past. In the 1974 U.S. Senate elections, McGovern was initially in trouble for having neglected the state during his long presidential campaign, and by May 1973 had already begun campaigning for re-election. An Air Force pilot and Medal of Honor winner, Leo K. Thorsness, had just been repatriated after six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam; he publicly accused McGovern of having given aid and comfort to the enemy and of having prolonged his time as a POW. McGovern replied that if there had been no war there would have been no POWs, and that everything he had done had been towards the goal of ending the war sooner. Thorsness became the Republican nominee against McGovern, but despite the two men's different roles in it, the war did not become a significant issue. Instead, the campaign was dominated by farm policy differences and economic concerns over the 1973–75 recession. Thorsness charged McGovern with being a "part-time senator" more concerned with national office and with spending over $2 million on his re-election bid, while McGovern labelled Thorsness a carpetbagger due to his having grown up in Minnesota. In a year in which Democrats were advantaged by the aftereffects of the Watergate scandal, McGovern won re-election in November 1974 with 53 percent of the vote.
Following the victory, McGovern harbored thoughts of running in the 1976 presidential election, but the Democratic Party wanted nothing to do with him. Unfamiliar and uncomfortable with Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter, McGovern secretly voted for Ford instead.[nb 10]
McGovern's Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs expanded its scope to include national nutrition policy. In 1977, it issued a new set of nutritional guidelines for Americans that sought to combat leading killer health conditions. Titled Dietary Goals for the United States, but also known as the "McGovern Report", it suggested that Americans eat less fat, less cholesterol, less refined and processed sugars, and more complex carbohydrates and fiber. While many public health officials had said all of this for some time, the committee's issuance of the guidelines gave it higher public profile. The recommendations proved controversial with the cattle, dairy, egg, and sugar industries, including from McGovern's home state. The McGovern committee guidelines led to reorganization of some federal executive functions and became the predecessor to the more detailed Dietary Guidelines for Americans later issued twice a decade by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
In the 1980 Senate election in South Dakota, McGovern was one of several liberal Democratic senators targeted for defeat by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), which put out a year's worth of negative portrayals of McGovern. They and other pro-life groups especially focused on McGovern's support for pro-choice abortion laws. McGovern faced a Democratic primary challenge for the first time, from a pro-life candidate. McGovern's Republican opponent was James Abdnor, a four-term incumbent congressman who held identical positions to McGovern on farm issues, was solidly conservative on national issues, and was well liked within the state. Abdnor's campaign focused on both McGovern's liberal voting record and what it said was McGovern's lack of involvement in South Dakota affairs. McGovern made an issue of NCPAC's outside involvement, and that group eventually withdrew from the campaign after Abdnor denounced a letter they had sent out. Far behind in the polls earlier, McGovern outspent Abdnor 2-to-1, hammered away at Abdnor's refusal to debate him (drawing attention to a slight speech defect Abdnor had), and, showing the comeback pattern of some of his past races in the state, closed the gap for a while. However, in November 1980 McGovern was solidly defeated for re-election, getting only 39 percent of the vote to Abdnor's 58 percent. McGovern became one of many Democratic casualties of that year's Republican sweep, which became known as the "Reagan Revolution".
McGovern did not mourn leaving the Senate. Although being rejected by his own state stung, intellectually he could accept that South Dakotans wanted a more conservative representative; he and Eleanor felt out of touch with the country and in some ways liberated by the loss. Nevertheless, he refused to believe that American liberalism was dead in the time of Reagan; remaining active in politics, in January 1981 he founded the political organization Americans for Common Sense. The group sought to rally liberals, encourage liberal thinking, and combat the Moral Majority and other new Christian right forces. In 1982, he turned the group into a political action committee, which raised $1.2 million for liberal candidates in the 1982 U.S. Congressional elections. McGovern shut the committee down when he decided to run for president again.
McGovern also began teaching and lecturing at a number of universities in the U.S. and Europe, accepting one-year contracts or less. From 1981 to 1982, McGovern replaced historian Stephen Ambrose as a professor at the University of New Orleans. McGovern also began making frequent speeches, earning several hundred thousand dollars a year.
McGovern attempted another presidential run in the 1984 Democratic Presidential nomination primaries. Friends and political admirers of McGovern initially feared the effort would prove an embarrassment, and McGovern knew himself that his chances of winning were remote, but he felt compelled to try to influence the intraparty debate in a liberal direction. Freed from the practical concerns of trying to win, McGovern outlined a ten-point program of sweeping domestic and foreign policy changes; not seen as a threat, fellow competitors did not attack his positions and media commentators praised him as the "conscience" of the Democratic Party.
While having name recognition, McGovern had little funding or staff (although he did garner critical funding from some prominent celebrities and statesmen). He won a surprise third-place showing in the Iowa caucuses amidst a crowded field of candidates, but finished fifth in the New Hampshire primary. He announced he would drop out unless he finished first or second in the Massachusetts primary, and when he came in third behind his former campaign manager Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale, he made good on his promise. He later endorsed Mondale, the eventual Democratic nominee. To help pay off his campaign debt, McGovern hosted Saturday Night Live on April 14, 1984.
McGovern addressed the party's platform committee and his name was placed in nomination at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, where he delivered a speech that strongly criticized President Reagan and praised Democratic unity. He received the votes of four delegates. He went on to actively support the Mondale-Geraldine Ferraro ticket, whose eventual landslide defeat bore some similarities to his own in 1972.
During the 1980s, McGovern was a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies think tank in Washington.
McGovern had made several real estate investments in the D.C. area and became interested in hotel operations. In 1988, using the money he had earned from his speeches, the McGoverns bought, renovated, and began running a 150-room inn in Stratford, Connecticut, with the goal of providing a hotel, restaurant and public conference facility. It went into bankruptcy in 1990 and closed the following year. In 1992, McGovern's published reflections on the experience appeared in The Wall Street Journal and the Nation's Restaurant News. He attributed part of the failure to the early 1990s recession, but also part to the cost of dealing with federal, state and local regulations that were passed with good intentions but made life difficult for small businesses, and to the cost of dealing with frivolous lawsuits. McGovern wrote, "I ... wish that during the years I was in public office I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender."
After briefly exploring in early 1991 another presidential run in the 1992 contest,[nb 11] instead in July 1991 McGovern became president of the Middle East Policy Council (having previously served on its board since 1986), a non-profit organization that seeks to educate American citizens and policy makers about the political, economic and security issues impacting U.S. national interests in the Middle East. He held this position from until 1997 when he was replaced by Charles W. Freeman, Jr.
On the night of December 12–13, 1994, McGovern's daughter Teresa fell into a snowbank in Madison, Wisconsin while heavily intoxicated and died of hypothermia. Heavy press attention followed, and McGovern revealed his daughter had battled her alcoholism for years and had been in and out of many treatment programs while having one extended period of sobriety. He authored an account of her life, Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism, published in 1996; it presented a harrowing, unsparing view of the depths to which she had descended, the torment that he and the rest of his family had experienced in trying unsuccessfully to help her, and his thoughts on whether the demands of his political career had made things worse for her. The book was a modest best seller, and with the proceeds he founded the Teresa McGovern Center in Madison to help others suffering from the combination of alcoholism and mental health problems. He would later say that Terry's death was by far the most painful event in his life: "You never get over it, I'm sure of that. You get so you can live with it, that's all."
In April 1998, McGovern returned to public service when he began a three-year stint as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, serving in Rome, Italy, after having been named to the post by President Bill Clinton. In an effort to meet the UN's goal of reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half, he urged delivery of more surplus food to foreign school-lunch programs and the establishment of specific targets such as had been done in old American programs. He began working again with fellow former Senator Bob Dole to convince the Senate to support this effort, as well as expanded school lunch, food stamps, and nutritional help for pregnant women and poor children in the U.S.
The George McGovern–Robert Dole International Food for Education and Nutrition Program that was created in 2000, and funded largely through the Congress, would go on to provide more than 22 million meals to children in 41 countries over the next eight years.[nb 12] It was also credited with improving school attendance, especially among girls, who were more likely to be allowed to go to school if a meal was being provided. In August 2000, President Clinton presented McGovern with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in recognition of McGovern's humanitarian service in the effort to eradicate world hunger. McGovern's book The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger In Our Time was published in January 2001; with its title making reference to Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech, it proposed a plan whereby chronic world hunger could be eliminated within thirty years. In January 2001, McGovern was asked to stay on at the UN post for a while by the incoming George W. Bush administration, then concluded his stint in September 2001.
In October 2001, McGovern was appointed as the first UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger by the World Food Programme, the agency he had helped found forty years earlier. He remains in this Goodwill Ambassador position as of 2011. McGovern is an honorary life member of the board of Friends of the World Food Program. McGovern also currently serves as a Senior Policy Advisor at Olsson Frank Weeda, a food and drug regulatory counseling law and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., where he specializes on issues of food, nutrition, and agriculture.
McGovern's wartime story was at the center of Ambrose's 2001 best-selling profile of the men who flew B-24s over Germany in World War II, The Wild Blue. It was the first time much of the public became familiar with that part of his life; throughout his political career, McGovern had rarely mentioned his war service or the medals he had won.
McGovern continued to lecture and make public appearances, sometimes appearing with Dole on college campuses. McGovern and Dole contributed essays to the 2005 volume Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith. From around 2003 to 2005, McGovern owned a bookstore in his summer home of Stevensville in Montana's Bitterroot Valley.
In October 2006, the $8.5 million George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Leadership and Public Service was dedicated at Dakota Wesleyan University. It seeks to prepare the college's best students for future careers in public service through classes, seminars, research, and internships. The dignitaries in attendance were led by former President Clinton. McGovern's wife Eleanor was too ill to attend the ceremony, and she died of heart disease on January 25, 2007, at their home in Mitchell, South Dakota. Later in 2007, several events were held at Dakota Wesleyan and in Washington, D.C., to celebrate McGovern's 85th birthday and the 35th anniversary of his nomination for president. Hundreds of former staff, volunteers, supporters and friends attended, along with public officials.
McGovern still sought to have his voice heard in the American political scene. He became a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, likening U.S. involvement in that country to that of the failed Vietnam effort, and in 2006 co-wrote the book Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. In January 2008, McGovern wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, saying they had violated the U.S. Constitution, transgressed national and international law, and repeatedly lied to the American people. The subtitle of the article read "Nixon Was Bad. These Guys Are Worse." In the tumultuous 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination campaign, he first endorsed U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, then later switched to Senator Barack Obama after concluding Clinton could no longer win.[nb 13]
On October 16, 2008, McGovern and Dole were made World Food Prize laureates, for their for their efforts to curb hunger in the world and in particular for their joint program for school feeding and enhanced school attendance.
By 2009, McGovern had moved to St. Augustine Beach, Florida, as a new seasonal resident, citing the history and beauty of the area (and warm climate) as his reasons for becoming a "snowbird" there. By now a prolific writer, McGovern's seventh book (as author, co-author, or contributing editor) in the decade of the 2000s, Abraham Lincoln, was published by Times Books and released at the close of 2008. Throughout 2009, McGovern embarked on a book tour, including a prominent visit to the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in August 2009.
During his career, McGovern has received many awards and honors, especially once he was no longer running for office.
Since his loss in the 1972 presidential election, there have been numerous allusions to McGovern in American popular culture.
Due to his resounding loss to Nixon in the 1972 election, McGovern was perceived as a "liberal" whose campaign "became synonymous with lost causes." In 1992, nationally syndicated Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene wrote, "Once again politicians– mostly Republicans, but some Democrats, too– are using his name as a synonym for presidential campaigns that are laughable and out of touch with the American people." According to Daniel McCarthy of The American Conservative, the Republican Party began to act after 1972 as if "every Democratic leader, no matter how Southern, how pro-war, how middle-of-the-road, is really a McGovernite. Indeed, for nearly 40 years the conservative movement has defined itself in opposition to the Democratic standard-bearer of 1972. Anti-McGovernism has come to play for the Right the unifying role that anticommunism once played, much to the detriment of older principles such as limited government, fiscal continence, and prudence in foreign policy." McGovern later said in 2001 that his image had been exaggerated: "I am a liberal and always have been – just not the wild-eyed character the Republicans made me out to be." He continues to feel that he was marginalized with his views miscast; in 2006 he said, "How the hell do you get elected in South Dakota for twenty years if you're a wild-eyed radical?" Despite his reputation as a dovish liberal, McGovern has publicly stated he is not a pacifist.
As Chairman of the Democratic Party's Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection in 1969-1970, McGovern helped institute major changes in Democratic party rules that continue to this day and, to a large degree, were ultimately adopted by the Republican Party as well.
He remains a symbol, or standard-bearer, of the political left, particularly in relation to the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s when the country was torn by U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and the corruption and abuse of power of the Nixon administration. McGovern recognized the mixed results of his 1972 candidacy, saying, "I opened the doors of the Democratic Party and 20 million people walked out." McGovern has also become more forceful in recent years in drawing historical parallels between the Nixon and Bush administrations and the Vietnam and Iraq wars. McGovern's post-political career has generally enhanced his reputation; Tom Brokaw wrote in 1998 that "He remains one of the country's most decent and thoughtful public servants."
McGovern's legacy also includes his commitment to combating hunger both in the United States and around the globe. He has said, "After I'm gone, I want people to say about me: He did the best he could to end hunger in this country and the world." Overall, when confronted with the Serenity Prayer's desire to "grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change," McGovern has said simply that he rejects that notion: "I keep trying to change them."
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|United States House of Representatives|
Harold O. Lovre
|Member from South Dakota's
1st congressional district
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Joseph H. Bottum
|Senator from South Dakota (Class 3)
Served alongside: Karl E. Mundt, James Abourezk,
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