Former presidential candidate George McGovern dies
WASHINGTON – Former US senator George McGovern, whose anti-Vietnam War stance in his 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon led to one of the worst electoral defeats in US history, died yesterday aged 90, his family said.
Mr McGovern had been admitted to a South Dakota hospice suffering from a combination of medical conditions that had worsened in recent months.
The McGovern family said he died in the morning at Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, surrounded by family and friends.
“We are blessed to know that our father lived a long, successful and productive life advocating for the hungry, being a progressive voice for millions and fighting for peace,” said his family.
Mr McGovern, who served in the Senate for South Dakota from 1963 to 1981, challenged Nixon in 1972 on a platform opposing the Vietnam war. He suffered one of the heaviest defeats in US history, taking only 37.5 per cent of the vote and carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
Later, as Nixon’s presidency unravelled in the wake of the Watergate scandal, bumper stickers declaring, “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts”, and buttons saying, “Don’t blame me, I voted for McGovern”, began to appear.
But Mr McGovern’s legacy stretches well beyond his terms in Congress and presidential bids, to social issues, including world hunger and Aids, said Donald Simmons, director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota.
“Outside of the US, he is known for his real humanitarian efforts and I think that will be one of his greatest long-term legacies,” Mr Simmons said in a telephone interview.
Mr McGovern was the son of a Methodist minister. He was born in July 1922, in Avon, South Dakota, and flew combat missions over Europe as a B-24 bomber pilot during the second World War, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1956 and re-elected two years later. After he lost a US Senate election in 1960, President John F Kennedy named him the first director of the Food for Peace Program.
He also ran for president in 1968 after the assassination of front-runner Robert F Kennedy and entertained a short-lived attempt for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.
Mr McGovern said he had moved on from his 1972 defeat, but when another defeated Democratic presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, asked him in 1984 how long it took to get over a landslide loss, he replied: “I’ll let you know when I get there.”
As a soft-spoken academic from South Dakota – he was a history and political science professor at Dakota Wesleyan University – and decorated pilot, Mr McGovern did not fit the model of many leaders from the anti-war movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
He became a campaigner for world food issues in his post-politics life and wrote several books. including an autobiography, the story of his daughter’s struggle with alcoholism, and What it Means to Be a Democrat, released last year. In 2000, Bill Clinton awarded him the presidential medal of freedom, America’s highest civilian honour. – (Reuters)