The former presidential candidate deserves to be remembered for much more than a disastrous defeatby James McAuley / October 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
F Scott Fitzgerald once bitterly remarked that there are no second acts in American lives. One wonders what the author of The Great Gatsby would have made of George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential contender who lost to Richard Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in American history and who died yesterday at the age of 90.
In some ways, McGovern was a character straight out of Fitzgerald’s most famous novel. Like Nick Carraway, he was a midwesterner out of place among the elite, far from his native South Dakota; like Gatsby himself, he was chewed up and spat out by the “foul dust”—as it turned out, the foulest dust—in the American political establishment (the Watergate scandal would break a few months after he lost the election). Unlike those characters, however, McGovern had an afterlife.
When he ran for president, McGovern was the most progressive mainstream candidate in recent memory. As a senator and a second world war veteran, he was the first to condemn the US military presence in Vietnam, arguing in a 1963 speech—ten years before involvement officially ended—that 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.” No one seemed to listen, but “haunt” was certainly the right word. As if that weren’t enough, he worked to reconfigure his party’s rules to include more women and minorities in its delegations.