"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in." George McGovern, 1922-2012
I'm not worthy to eulogize George McGovern. Only his great chronicler Hunter Thompson could have done that:
"Of all the men that have run for president in the twentieth century, only George McGovern truly understood what a monument America could be to the human race."
I had the honor of meeting and briefly interviewing McGovern a few times. The first time was in early 1991, when he was reportedly considering a 1992 presidential bid. The last time I saw him was at our 2007 Johnson County Democratic barbecue,where his endorsement of his former campaign staffer Hillary Clinton (retracted at end game of the endless nomination battle) was the top national story of that exciting day. Even in his late 80s, McGovern remained a powerful speaker, and he remained active almost to the end.
McGovern visited Iowa as recently as April 2011. I joked at the time that he was either the left's 2012 primary challenger, or that he was laying the groundwork for 2016.
More than any other person, George McGovern was the founder of the Iowa caucuses. The McGovern-Fraser Commission he led in 1969 and 1970 rewrote Democratic Party nomination rules to require more time and openness, in response to the bitter Democratic convention of 1968.
Having literally written the rulebook, McGovern was the first national politician to figure out that the 1972 Iowa caucuses fell before the New Hampshire primary. The reform commission and McGoverns "stronger than expected" Iowa showing were two of the big steps that paved the way for Carter `76 and the caucuses as we know them today. Since my original purpose in moving to Iowa was to study the caucuses in graduate school, you could say McGovern is a big part of why I'm an Iowan today.
In a way that's forgotten today, McGovern worked across the aisle. My favorite story of how bipartisanship used to work: who wrote the original food stamp bill? George McGovern and Bob Dole. Both were war heroes, and Kansas and South Dakota both grow a lot of wheat.Despite their differences, they were friends and had much in common long before their names were added to the list of losers.
Republicans came to embrace their landslide loser, Barry Goldwater. But in one of the great tragedies of my lifetime, McGovern became a pariah and his progressive politics were discredited for three decades, and are just barely beginning to be embraced today.
The last thing I ever said to George McGovern five years ago, as we grasped shoulders and I felt the years in his bones, was "you would have been a great president, sir."
And he would have.