News | Richard Nixon | South Dakota

George McGovern, Senator And Liberal Stalwart, Dead At 90


In 1972, Senator George McGovern waged a largely grassroots campaign to unseat Republican President Richard Nixon. After winning his party's nomination, McGovern and his anti-war progressivism gave the Democrats a reason to hope. The Vietnam War still raged; tricky Dick was ruffling feathers and the good old days seemed like a thing of the past. But those hopes were dashed when Nixon routed McGovern's campaign.

For the next decades, even while he was still a sitting senator, McGovern's name became synonymous with quixotic, ultimately doomed campaigns campaigns. His political vision, however, lived on, and the problems he hoped to solve still remain relevant today.

Bloomberg elaborates:

The standard analysis was that it was a liability to be described as “another McGovern,” which meant “unelectable.” In August, the Republican magazine the Weekly Standard licked its chops in a story titled “Barack Hussein McGovern: The specter of 1972 is haunting the Obama campaign.”

Among the horrors of that convention 40 years ago? Support for Title IX, which banned discrimination against women in federal education funding, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Other delegates spoke out in favor of gay rights, legal contraception for unmarried couples (still a touchy issue in 1972), and abortion rights.

With regard to his commitment to equality and fairness, McGovern earlier this year came out for marriage equality, saying, quite bawdily, "I'm a 'conservative' when it comes to marriage. I think if two people love each other, are living together and having sex, they ought to get married."

Sadly, that fiery spirit is no more: McGovern's family confirmed this morning that the former senator died at the age of 90. Even in his later years, McGovern remained a champion of left-leaning causes. From the New York Times:

To the liberal Democratic faithful, Mr. McGovern remained a standard-bearer well into his old age, writing and lecturing even as his name was routinely invoked by conservatives as synonymous with what they considered the failures of liberal politics.

He never retreated from those ideals, however, insisting on a strong, “progressive” federal government to protect the vulnerable and expand economic opportunity while asserting that history would prove him correct in his opposing not only what he called “the tragically mistaken American war in Vietnam” but also the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

He believed George W. Bush should have been impeached for those invasions.

In addition to his liberal politics, McGovern will also always be known for his work with the McGovern-Fraser Commission: The Democratic Party group that hoped to prevent the turmoil they saw during their 1968 nominating convention by creating rules that still govern both parties' selecting process and let the primary replace the caucus as the dominant selection method. That contribution deserves more attention, I think, than the derisive "another McGovern" smear. It changed American politics forever.

For those of you interested in campaigns and campaign commercials, check out McGovern's infamous ad hitting President Nixon on his dishonesty, corruption, secrecy, bugging and, yes, even wheat deals AFTER THE JUMP.

Feed This post's comment feed


  1. R.I.P one of the finest Americans in my lifetime and the first presidential candidate I ever voted for.

    Posted by: ricky rocky | Oct 21, 2012 10:27:54 AM

  2. George McGovern was a fine man and he was my first presidential vote. He was a true liberal and man with a social consciousness that does not exist today. I laugh today when I hear that anyone in the Democratic party is referred to as a liberal. No-they are moderate Republicans at best. McGovern was a national treasure.

    Posted by: nick | Oct 21, 2012 10:52:54 AM

  3. He was the first presidential candidate whom I voted for as well. A very kind, accessible man who I really do believe would have been an amazingly effective president, had the times been just a tad different.

    Posted by: Josh | Oct 21, 2012 10:53:39 AM

  4. McGovern was a decent, honorable man. I think history has already shown that he was, in every way, far better than the man who defeated him in 49 states.

    Posted by: bcarter3 | Oct 21, 2012 12:40:32 PM

  5. The first presidential election I would vote. I walked into the voting booth and pulled that lever proudly for George McGovern. He was then, and remained, the most decent, honorable man in U.S. politics. He was then, and still is, one of my heroes. Rest in peace, gentle man. You did well.

    OFF TOPIC: Towelroad, can you remove that nonsense for PLAVIX_HEALTH? I'm seeing a lot of this crap here lately.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Oct 21, 2012 1:06:08 PM

  6. I knew George McGovern was a decent guy when I watched him take a 'wrong number' phone call. I was interviewing him in his Senate office when the call came-in to his private line. He took the call and had to explain over-and-over to the stunned caller that he had reached Senator McGovern in the Capitol. This went on for a good five minutes with McGovern never losing patience. Oh yes, and he was right about Nixon too. -- Hank Plante

    Posted by: Hank Plante | Oct 21, 2012 1:10:48 PM

  7. I am ashamed to say I voted against him. I didn't wake up to the ugliness of the Rethug party until Reagan's second term. Wish I could take those votes back.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Oct 21, 2012 4:16:30 PM

  8. Where is the mention that it was because of George McGovern that gay rights first officially entered a presidential election when he rewarded gays in California who had helped him win the 1972 California primary by letting the first out gay man, San Francisco's Jim Foster, speak at a Democratic National Convention? He was inconsistent on the issue itself, and let his homophobic handlers torpedo the first gay rights plank, but he publicly apologized for the extremes to which they went. And even just flirting, so to speak, with gays, was one of the reasons powerful AFL-CIO president George Meany gave for not endorsing him [in addition to bitterness that labor darling Hubert Humphrey had lost the nomination]: "The Democratic Party has been taken over by people named Jack who look like Jills and smell like Johns.” Meany also sneered at those who wanted to legalize “marriage between boys and boys, and also girls and girls,” and growled about New York’s delegation to the Convention: "What kind of delegation is this? They've got six open fags and only three AFL-CIO people on that delegation!"

    Actually, the only “open fag” at the convention beside delegate Foster was alternate Lowell Williams from Minnesota, though there were two out lesbians alternates from New York in addition to delegate Madeline Davis who was also allowed to speak: Renee Cafiero and Danece Covello. How many of the hundreds at this year’s convention knew that they stood on the shoulders of those five from 1972, or how much they owe to the straight man from South Dakota whose death we mourn today, and that his career in the US Senate was finally killed in 1980 by a self-loathing gay Republican named Terry Dolan who was one of the pioneers of using uncontrolled fundraising to poison political campaigns still sickening the nation today?

    Rest in peace, Mr. McGovern. I will always be proud of having campaigned for you.!/photo.php?fbid=3377199368424&set=a.1058500922412.8818.1822575019&type=1&theater

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Oct 21, 2012 6:00:00 PM

  9. Thanks to Michael Bedwell for recalling a key piece of gay history, and yet another reason to value the life of Senator McGovern.

    Posted by: bcarter3 | Oct 21, 2012 8:49:34 PM

  10. Uhm. Well, historically, his loss was far more influential than his campaign. Essentially, both parties moved to the right after he lost as far as nominees were concerned and the fair primary system he won his nomination under was gutted in favor of the current Democratic "super-delegate" system, which vetoes populist candidates. Obama was the most populist nominee ever to win, and he needed the support of Nancy Pelosi and the Chicago Democratic machine (what remains of the Daley machine) to do it. Obama is also much more cautious than McGovern.

    The more bizarre legacy was that even though Nixon knew that he was way out in front of McGovern early in the race, he was so paranoid that we ended up with Watergate anyway. It was a pointless provocation on his part. It has been speculated that Nixon was worried that McGovern had the goods on Nixon in such a way that once revealed Nixon would be toast. Theories as to what that might have been could fill books, but a popular one put out recently was a gay affair with mob banker and Nixon bag man Charles "Bebe" Rebozo.

    Posted by: anon | Oct 22, 2012 8:36:59 AM

  11. McGovern [RIP] was no doubt a genuinely decent man; that said, he ran TERRIBLE campaigns that severely tarnished the liberal 'Brand', with Jimmy Carter pretty much finishing the job.

    It goes without saying that Nixon was a scoundrel [as was LBJ who preceded him, who had all the hallmarks of a psychopath; historians now say LBJ actually had people murdered on his orders during Texas election campaigns, and some think he was involved in the JFK assassination]. But by today's standards Nixon was a liberal, who championed various 'liberal' social causes that we today take for granted.

    When looking at the last half century, LBJ was probably the most effective president in getting legislation passed, followed by Nixon and Reagan, and to a degree Bill Clinton [who would be considered moderate not left liberal or 'progressive' by early to mid 20th century standards], but by Clinton's era, politics and society had changed, and governing was not as easy as it was for early presidents. Carter, both Bushes, and Obama are duds. And I suspect George McGovern would have likewise been a dud if had become president.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Oct 22, 2012 9:04:27 AM

Post a comment


« «News: Iran, Ohio, Big Tex, Chris Kluwe« «