Gerorge McGovern, RIP

A great man passed away today. Even in a devastating loss, he set a tone for his party and a direction that is visible today.

I’ll post later today a recollection of a dinner with McGovern a few years ago (he was in town and my boss hosted him.) It was one of those encounters that makes you realize how little we Americans actually know about our candidates and how skewed our view is by the media and campaigns.

RIP. This was the first vote I ever cast, in spite of my friends in SDS encouraging me to vote for Nixon.

No respect even in death - George McGovern.

You should have turned down the overture from the Kennedy supporters, George, and pointed them back to Eugene McCarthy and united the peace vote. I’ll forever despise you for failing that.

Ugh on misspelling. That’s why I didn’t discuss the evening with him - not awake this morning.

OK, so a few years ago the owner of the company I work for hosted George McGovern in his home. McGovern was in this little town for something and my boss had met him years ago and stayed in touch. My boss is on the moderate to conservative side fiscally, probably moderate to a bit liberal on the social issues side, but he and McGovern had apparently hit it off and stayed in touch.

I was not yet working for this company, but they were customers of the company I was working for. I will call the owner “Dave” (he has a unique name, and I’d like to keep his identity out of here) - I was making a call on these guys, and Dave asked me if I’d like to join them for dinner. I accepted, and we had a nice dinner at Dave’s house, and then a long evening in front of the fireplace in the den.

My image of McGovern was only what I’d heard in the media, and the campaign (I’m old enough that I remember the Nixon-McGovern campaign well.) I asked him about his background, family upbringing, and in particular described my military history hobby and that I was raised in an Air Force family and was fascinated by his experiences as a WWII B-24 bomber pilot. He had a lot of “little” stories, a lot of them touching, funny, but a number of them quite haunting. He spoke of how lucky he was to have survived, and the friends of his who didn’t. He talked of the landings he made that many have lauded as amazing feats of piloting skills, that saved the lives of his crews after his plane was shot to pieces, engines out and in flames, and admitted “Well, I was a pretty fair pilot, just seemed to be able to feel my plane and sense what she could do and couldn’t” but he said the odds were pretty low he’d have been able to land the plane safely 8 times out of 10 in those situations; he said he just beat the odds those times. “Jeff, far, far better pilots than I, better men than I, didn’t make it back, and I often thought of them as I decided my path forward and what was important in life.”

It is hard to imagine anyone could have ever portrayed this man as “weak” or someone somehow wimpy in terms of military options. He was a man of amazing courage under fire, a true hero. As much as I hated Nixon, I hated him that much more after this evening. Dave asked him if he was hurt by the campaign and the slurs, and he thought and replied “No, no not at all. That’s the nature of politics and you can’t run for high office without understanding that, even if you don’t like it.” But he said it helped form him rather than break him.

He talked about the poverty and devastation and hunger he saw in Europe when he was there for the war, and how that formed a core in him that never went away. I wonder how many people understand what he did in leading the fight on hunger in the U.S. and across the world? He became passionate on that topic, and declared that you could almost understand it in many parts of the world, but how in the HELL could we as a nation ever tolerate even one child who went to bed hungry in this nation? It was an idea he completely rejected as acceptable in any way, that there was no excuse, no reason of any kind that anyone in this country should ever be hungry. And then went on to talk about how there is so much pain in so many nations where people go hungry and starve where you can’t blame it on war, or anything of the like. He got so worked up by this that he caught himself and apologized.

I could go on for pages on the evening, but it didn’t take long to realize I was in the presence of a great man. A man with a history and intelligence and experiences and accomplishments that make it a farce that what most people think of him is “loser.” A man I would work for today if he was alive and wanted to run for president again. We are a little bit less as a nation and world today for his loss.

McGovern was one of those politicians whose public caricature missed so much of the nuance of that contributed toward the totality of the person. While I didn’t share his politics, no one could deny his greatness and character as an American, a hero, and a man. RIP.

Therein lies the tragedy. No matter what your politics, I doubt anyone could sit down and have a cup of coffee or beer with this guy and talk with him and not walk away admiring him. It makes me wonder how much the political persona of so many obfuscates who they really are.

My opinion is that this is much more common than we suspect. Between being shoehorned into a political narrative by their own party and being demonized by attack ads from the opposition party (or parties), it’s almost shocking when we get a glimpse of a candidate’s underlying humanity these days.

I suspect many if not most these days actually don’t want to know the real person. It is much easier to play the political game if you demonize the people on the other side. No one really wants to like the people they are ridiculing and insulting and hating.

That may play a part but I think the largest element is the extreme disincentive for going off script in even the tiniest amount. Any crack in a politician’s facade will be used to demonstrate their unwillingness for office, somehow.

Saw this on Twitter:

Disparate effect on parties is striking—McGovern landslide used to chasten liberal Ds, Goldwater wholeheartedly embraced by Rs.

…about 16 years later.

Despite my ire at him over the whole 1968 thing, he was that rarity in politics, a very sincere man who worked very hard for the betterment of all.

Thanks for sharing Jeff. I’ll raise my glass to George this evening.

RIP, sir.