By all accounts, McGovern was an honorable man. The fact that he promoted wretched ideas shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Republican opposition had little trouble working with him on many issues, including the problem of hunger in America — a cause that engaged his attention for most of his adult life. He served his country honorably and bravely in World War II, while promoting veterans’ causes both in the House and the Senate.
McGovern was an important figure in the 1960s and 1970s and will largely be remembered for coming out in opposition to the Vietnam War at a time when it was political suicide to do so. His cut and run strategy would have been disastrous if implemented, but how much worse would it have been compared to the eventual outcome of the war? We’ll never know.
I will always remember watching his acceptance speech at the 1972 convention — given after 1:00 a.m. because of the internecine platform fights that delayed the proceedings. His famous lament “Come home America…” seemed so out of touch with the times, so jarringly off-key, that many observers wrote his candidacy off that very night.
But being wrong politically is not a crime in America. And perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in McGovern’s mixed legacy: telling the truth and losing makes one a better man than lying in order to get elected.