OPINION – We lost one of the good guys the other day with the passing of Sen. George McGovern.
He was one of my heroes.
He was also the first presidential candidate who won my vote.
McGovern emerged at a time when the nation needed real leadership.
Coming quietly out of South Dakota, McGovern became known as one of the most independent statesmen in Senate history. Of course, the path to statesmanship was rough and rocky and he endured one of the worst losses in election history when he and running mate Sargent Shriver were clobbered by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in 1972.
The tragedy of that election was, of course, that both Nixon and Agnew resigned in disgrace. McGovern, and his running mate, on the other hand, had reputations that remained untarnished throughout their illustrious careers.
They are still regarded as stalwarts of the liberal movement and humanitarianism. In fact, in 1961 as a member of the U.S. House, McGovern was appointed the first director of the Food for Peace program by President John F. Kennedy.
As early as 1963, McGovern spoke of his opposition to the Vietnam War, calling it a trap that would haunt the United States. His opposition to the war grew with each escalation until, finally, in 1969 he called for a cease-fire in Vietnam and withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of 1971. He also co-sponsored an amendment to cut off funding for the war, taking to the Senate floor in an emotional, dramatic appeal:
“Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave,” he said. “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.”
When a member of the Senate said he was “personally offended by his remarks,” McGovern replied, “That’s what I meant to do.”
Unlike many of the chicken hawks who walk the halls of Congress these days, who think nothing of sending young men and women into harm’s way without having worn the uniform themselves, McGovern knew of war.
He was a highly decorated World War II pilot who flew 35 bombing missions over Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters for heroism.
During his final combat flight, his B-24 Liberator, the Dakota Queen, was hit by enemy fire as it flew over Linz. Even though the fuselage and wings were heavily damaged and the aircraft’s hydraulic system was inoperative, he managed to land his crew safely. “Hell can’t be any worse than that,” he said once while describing his experience.
As he became more and more the voice of liberalism in the U.S. Senate, the opposition began the highly successful propaganda tactic of turning the word “liberal” into a pejorative. They spat it out as if it was the foulest of expletives, used it with derision, implied that liberalism was akin to communism. But, McGovern was accustomed to that because during his first race for the House, his opponent, Harold Lovre, said as much during the campaign.
McGovern was a fearless, righteous man of principle who knew who he was, what he was, and what he represented, and he would not yield to Lovre’s slander, saying simply, “I have always despised communism and every other ruthless tyranny over the mind and spirit of man.”
He was a victim of a vicious and untruthful political system until the end, at once losing the presidential race to opponents who resigned their positions rather than face considerable jail time, and then again in 1980 when the Reagan Revolution painted every liberal in this country with a red brush in latter-day shades of McCarthyism. It was despicable political brainwashing, of course, but political brainwashing that continues to this day. I mean, for all of his cantankerous ways, and mysterious positioning on the issues, Barry Goldwater was and always has been respected by liberals because of how he was straight-forward in his convictions. We trusted him because of his honesty and sincerity, even though we disagreed with his politics. The same, alas, cannot be said of how the right deals with liberals.
So, for some of us, the bright and shining light that was Camelot was not so much a reflection of the Kennedy administration, but the promise we held in George McGovern and the path to peace harmony he shone his beacon upon.
And thanks for the lessons in humility, humanity, and courage.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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