The death of former Presidential candidate George McGovern caused a moment of reflection for me.
He was the recipient of my first Presidential vote. And even though he lost in a landslide — winning only one state and the District of Columbia — in the race against Richard Nixon, I never regretted the choice.
I liked his commitment to the greater good, social justice and principle, values that led him to become one of the greatest political leaders as a failed Presidential candidate in American history. He inspired a generation to service.
A wonderful tribute to McGovern appeared in Sunday's Washington Post. It was written by Bob Dole, another failed Presidential candidate, former fellow Senator and a person who worked diligently against him as a Republican leader in the 1972 campaign. The two bonded when reunited at the funeral of Nixon's wife, Pat. Dole asked McGovern what drove him to attend the funeral of the wife of the man who had defeated him in an election marred by "dirty tricks" — that led to Watergate and ultimately the resignation of Nixon and vice president Spiro Agnew. McGovern replied, "You can't go on campaigning forever."
McGovern was a good man who opposed the Vietnam War. Once desiring to be a Methodist minister, he said he grew to oppose war after fighting in one. In that disastrous 1972 campaign, he was a victim of circumstance, culture, going against the grain, bad tactics, the popularity of Nixon and being linked to a counter-culture that scared many.
He returned to his foundational principles devoted the rest of his life to eradicating hunger. Many children in the world are better off today because of him and Bob Dole.
Here is an excerpt from Dole's tribute:
“'You can’t keep on campaigning forever.'”"That classy remark was typical of George, a true gentleman who was one of the finest public servants I had the privilege to know.I am sure there are some who were surprised by the long friendship that George and I shared. After all, before his death this weekend at age 90, he was a proud and unapologetic liberal Democrat and I am a lifelong Republican. As chairman of the Republican Party, I did what I could to ensure the defeat of his 1972 run for the White House. When the election was over, however, George and I knew that we couldn’t keep on campaigning forever. We also knew that what we had in common was far more important than our different political philosophies.
"We would both come to understand that our most important commonality — the one that would unite us during and after our service on Capitol Hill — was our shared desire to eliminate hunger in this country and around the world. As colleagues in the 1970s on the Senate Hunger and Human Needs Committee, we worked together to reform the Food Stamp Program, expand the domestic school lunch program and establish the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
"We jointly proposed a program to provide poor children with meals at schools in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. In 2000, President Clinton authorized a two-year pilot program based on our proposal, and in 2002, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. Since its inception, the program has provided meals to 22 million children in 41 countries.
"We agreed that the greatest of life’s blessings cannot be counted in electoral votes."
In the volatile political atmosphere of today, it's inspiring to note of the friendship developed by two men on opposite sides of the political aisle (both losers in Presidential elections), one an unapolgetic liberal, another a committed Republican, who built bridges and found common ground to help mankind and advance a solution to a serious world problem.
Some principles bigger than election results. Political "enemies" can become lifelong friends.
Both men shared a bedrock value of doing the best one could to serve things greater than themselves.
Sure, McGovern lost an election. But he maintained his core values and principles.
You can't campaign forever. But there are no finite limits on loving your neighbor.