Ben Alpers in McGovern and American History U.S. Intellectual History 10/22/2012 reflects on how McGovern, a believer in the New Deal and the Great Society who thought that wars were something to be prevented rather than sought out and bragged about, is regarded among the political and media elites as an extremist of sorts among Democrats, certainly one whose ideas were and are far outside the mainstream:
In this regard, it's worth contrasting McGovern's legacy with that of Barry Goldwater, another candidate from his party's "extreme" wing who got crushed in a landslide victory by an incumbent president of the other party. Goldwater's campaign is today remembered by Republicans as the vanguard of modern conservatism. Goldwater is seen as having helped paved the way for conservative success, first within the GOP and then in the country at large. Even Democrats came to see Goldwater as representing an older, somehow better, conservatism. When Goldwater died in 1998, President Clinton ordered that all flags on federal property fly at half mast on the day of his funeral.I didn't know until now that Johnny Rivers had done a campaign song for McGovern in 1972 using his campaign theme "Come Home America", Johnny Rivers - Come Home America YouTube date 06/04/2011:
I hope that George McGovern's death will spur us to think more concretely about the differences McGovern made in American politics. He played a crucial, and complicated, role in the transformations that the Democratic Party went through between 1968 and 1992. Though McGovern's vision lost out to a much more centrist and militarist one, McGovern represents more than simply a path not taken. [my emphasis]
Corey Robin justifiably gripes about Obama's meager initial statement on McGovern's passing in Things Obama Says When Famous People Die 10/21/2012.
Congressman Jim McGovern, who wasn't a relative of George's but admired him and his political outlook, writes about him in George McGovern, the 'Atticus Finch' of American Politics The Nation 10/22/2012:
To me, George McGovern was the “Atticus Finch” of American politics. Like the main character in Harper Lee’s brilliant novel To Kill A Mockingbird George McGovern spoke the truth even when—especially when—it was uncomfortable.And he observes:
He spoke the truth about the folly of Vietnam and our excessive military budget. He spoke the truth about corruption in the Nixon White House. And he spoke the truth about the tragedy of hunger in the United States and around the world. He paid a heavy political price for his candor and honesty. But as he always said, “there are worse things than losing an election.” George McGovern never lost his soul and he never betrayed his conscience.
George McGovern was perhaps the most courageous man I’ve ever known. And it was not just because he was a bomber pilot in World War II, fighting against Hitler and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. I admired him for his guts, in being who he was, in conservative South Dakota. To oppose the war in Vietnam was not easy in the early 1960s. Yet, George McGovern’s valiant and sincere position was right, and the voters of his home state sent him to the United States Senate three times.David Shribman provides his take in George McGovern: a portrait of character The Globe and Mail 10/23/2012.
He came across as a gentle man but he had a spine of steel. He was decent and kind. He wasn’t afraid of the political consequences of his liberalism and never trimmed his sails for the convenience of the moment. His steadfastness used to drive his staff crazy. But every one of them knew they were working for a great man.
John Miller, Unpacking George McGovern: A historian’s view Pierre (SD) Capitol Journal 10/21/2012 writes of McGovern's political inspirations:
In two interviews I did with McGovern in August and September, we talked about the original sources for his political beliefs and aspirations as a student and young man, and I had anticipated returning from the archives to follow up with more questions about his activities in Washington. Alas, that will not happen.Tags: george mcgovern
When I asked George what had been the driving force in formulating his earliest political attitudes as a college student and graduate student, he said it had been the principles contained in the "social gospel," a major movement within Christianity during the early 1900s which argued for the direct application of Jesus teachings – especially the Sermon on the Mount – to the social and economic problems of the day. He recalled listening with his father to the sermons of Harry Emerson Fosdick on the radio and later reading books by Walter Rauschenbusch, the outstanding articulator of social gospel teachings.
Additionally he was inspired by early twentieth-century progressive politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, George Norris, and Robert La Follette. He readily assented to the suggestion that Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal had been important to his way of thinking, but his first inclination had been to mention the progressive social gospelers rather than the New Dealers.