Vital Signs

High Times for Democracy

When George McGovern died, aged 90, two weeks before the last general election, the obituaries rightly praised his long and fitfully distinguished record as a U.S. representative and senator, his years of military service, his plucky presidential campaign against Richard Nixon, and his principled opposition to the Vietnam War, among other such causes.  Unlike the more certifiable of his supporters, McGovern never dabbled much in America-bashing or class envy, and having listened to him speak on the stump for close to an hour, in Seattle in April 1972, I can remember but one reference to “our brave men fighting overseas in a campaign this administration has needlessly drawn out into a miserable litany of human wreckage and the darkening of our American ideals.”  Whether he ever believed Nixon had cynically prolonged the war in Southeast Asia is debatable.  The sight of the young speechwriter, and future federal judge, Dick Stearns at the side of the podium mouthing the words rather suggested that these were not McGovern’s own precise thoughts.  It was regrettable that the candidate never quite recovered from the Eagleton affair—McGovern’s original choice as running mate had once received electroshock treatment for depression—which became like The Phantom of the Opera: a show that never closes.  Later, of course, there was the matter of the hand grenade lobbed into the ring...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here