George McGovern, the South Dakota Democrat who ran for president in 1972 as a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War and a strong advocate of economic equality, died early Sunday in Sioux Falls. He was 90.
In the fall of 1972, I was only 10, but even as a 5th-grader, I was moved by McGovern’s anti-war, pro-social-justice message. I had a “Come Home America” pin that I would wear everyday to school, and after school, I would go to the local campaign office to stuff envelopes and lick stamps.
At the crack of dawn on Election Day, I went with my father to hand out flyers to arriving workers at Litton Industries. I remember the flyers explained that you were allowed time off at the beginning or end of work to vote, and then, inside, made the pitch to working Americans with the headline “How in the Hell Can You Vote for Nixon?”
History, of course, shows that many found a way. There are a lot of books and essays on all the reasons why, and though there is much to be learned from McGovern’s struggles in ’72, this is not the time to despair over that loss, but to recall with warmth and amazement that a candidate like George McGovern was once the presidential nominee of a major national party.
The speech I have included here–McGovern’s acceptance speech at the 1972 Democratic National Convention–was considered by those that saw it as one of the greatest of the Senator’s career, and perhaps one of the greatest by any modern presidential candidate.
I say “by those that saw it” because so few did. Conventions then were not the carefully scripted infomercials they are today. Incessant wrangling by old-guard Democrats and McGovern’s main challenger for the nomination, Hubert H. Humphrey, slowed the floor vote for McGovern’s running mate and delayed this acceptance speech till the wee hours of the morning. To this day, it amazes me that convention organizers let this happen.
You may not have been awake back then–hell, you may not have even been alive–but do the Senator from South Dakota the honor listening to him today. Then imagine, maybe even dare to hope, that someday you might hear a national candidate speak like this again.
I lost my “Come Home America” button at school at some point on election day. I remember how much that upset me and my mother, but of course, by the end of the evening, there was something that upset us all so much more. Maybe George McGovern was not a great campaigner, and neither was he a wholly perfect politician (as I grew older, there were certainly issues where he and I would have had to disagree), but I cannot think of a presidential candidate who has moved me as much since.
Senator McGovern, you will be missed.
Update: My mother just sent this along: