Winners and Losers

Author: Gary Hart

The political media has long treated politics as a sport and a contact
sport at that. All the verbs and most of the adjectives are taken from
the sports pages. And, of course, it is all about winning and losing.
From this perspective, George McGovern goes down as an epic loser: 49
States went against him and for Richard Nixon in 1972.

But what if we judged political figures and candidates by more
intelligent standards? The “winner”, Richard Nixon, abdicated the
presidency in disgrace. And the “loser”, George McGovern continued on
to become one of his generation’s greatest humanitarians.

Throughout his public and private life, Senator McGovern was at the
forefront of the struggle against hunger both in the United States and
throughout the world. Though a decorated military hero, he led the
opposition to the war in Vietnam. He has still to be recognized for his
leadership in democratizing the Democratic Party and opening up its
doors to women, minorities, and young people, thus avoiding a repeat of
the chaos at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968 and bringing his
party into the cultural mainstream emerging from the social revolutions
of the 1960s and 70s.

Most politicians, especially those who lose and lose badly, disappear
from public view. George McGovern refused to do so. That took some
courage. His deep convictions would not permit him to disappear. If
you believe in ideals strongly enough, you are not at liberty to abandon
them simply because you did not obtain the office you sought, including
the presidency. Continuing the fight is the definition of conviction,
and of courage.

Losers are ridiculed for losing. They are lampooned with jokes and
cartoons. It takes a very strong man or woman to suffer through that.
But George McGovern did. And he continued throughout his life to pursue
his sense of justice, equality, and fairness—the very purpose of the
Party he once led. All the while, he and his family suffered
Kennedyesque personal tragedies.

Nor is the insensitive political scale of winning and losing capable of
weighing another factor of true leadership—the caliber and quality of
people the supposed loser attracts into public service. In George
McGovern’s case that includes Bill and Hillary Clinton, Senators and
Representatives, State legislators, foreign service officers, federal
judges, and many, many humanitarians.

Senator McGovern, for years after 1972, was fond of saying: “We may
have lost, but none of us went to jail.” Many of those closest to the
“winner” went to jail or simply became political hacks.

If George McGovern represents the political losers of the world, then I
for one am proud to stand with him.

5 Responses to “Winners and Losers”

  1. Bill Pruden Says:

    As a historian himself, George McGovern fully understood that there was a greater, more meaningful judgment of his efforts than that of the numerical tote board that measures the electoral process. He knew that elections were only the first step, that governing was what the process was really about, and his legislative record was one that demonstrated clearly how the government could serve the people, how partisanship could be put aside to make life better for those in need. Just ask Bob Dole about George McGovern and his efforts to feed the hungry. Unhappily, Senator McGovern represents a different era in many ways, but it is not an era that we should forget. Rather it is one to which we should turn for guidance and inspiration as we seek to turn around our current floundering ship of state.

  2. Paul G Says:




    By Tim Murray

    It was a cold winter Saturday morning as my father helped me load my hockey equipment into the trunk of his green American Motors Rambler. After he shut the trunk, I asked him what the bumper sticker on the back of the car that read “Don’t blame me I’m from Massachusetts” meant. As we got into the Rambler and started the 10 minute drive to the hockey rink, he began to tell me about a man named George McGovern.

    My dad told me that George McGovern was a World War II war hero who, as a pilot, flew many dangerous missions. He told me that Mr. McGovern worked for President Kennedy and helped bring surplus food from American farms to hungry people across the globe. He told me that Mr. McGovern ran for President to try to bring an end to the Vietnam War.

    He told me that even though he didn’t agree with Mr. McGovern on every issue, he was proud to have voted for him for President because he was a man of principle.

    My dad told me that Massachusetts was the only state in the country that George McGovern won when he ran for President in 1972.As I grew older, and my interest in history and government grew, I read about George McGovern.

    Obviously his service during WWII as a pilot of a B-24 Liberator that flew 35 missions stood out in my mind. However, I was equally interested in his in establishing the Food for Peace program as requested by President Kennedy.

    As the son of the Midwest, he knew he could help family farmers while at the same time provide this most basic need to hungry nations around the world to help bring stability and good will. Additionally, as my father said George McGovern was passionate in his efforts to bring the Vietnam War to end in his capacity as a U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate. His work with Bob Dole on national and international hunger issues modeled the bipartisanship that we need more of today.

    Years later I would meet George McGovern on several occasions as he visited Massachusetts to support his former staff member Congressman Jim McGovern. He was always very personable, curious about local events, and generous with his time.

    However, my most vivid recollection was one of his visits to Worcester during my time as Mayor. Congressman McGovern and I briefed him on what we were doing about feeding kids in Worcester. He said something that was both very simple and obvious but incredibly profound, “A child doesn’t have a chance if they go hungry day after day”. Here was a man with a lifetime of service who was well into his 80’s still pushing and advocating to make sure kids were not going hungry. A minister’s son still asking all of us, “Have we fed the poor?”

    Having had the privilege to get to know Senator McGovern a little bit, I am proud of my dad and his vote in the Presidential election of 1972 and I wish that beat up green Rambler with the bumper sticker “Don’t blame me I’m from Massachusetts” was still around.

    – Leiutenant Governor Tim Murray [D] Commonwealth of Massachusetts

  3. Michael Says:

    One morning during the 1984 campaign, I picked up Senator Hart at a NYC hotel and drove him to a campaign event. Sitting next to me in the car, he opened up a copy of the NY Daily News, which had one of those cartoons disparaging Senator McGovern’s candidacy that year. Senator Hart look pained and said, “I’d hoped they’d be kinder to him.” Months later on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, I saw Senator McGovern, whom I had always admired, standing alone. I went and introduced myself. He shook my hand and wanted to know where I was from, but his broad smile dropped when he saw the Hart button on my lapel.“Continuing the fight is the definition of conviction, and of courage.” Indeed.

  4. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Shortly after the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, I paid my annual visit to my home town in Arkansas for my family’s reunion. I noticed a bumper sticker on both my father’s car and pickup truck, which read, “Don’t blame me! I voted for McGovern!” This was the first time that I had seen this particular bumper sticker, but what made it even more impressive was the fact that my father was, as he said, “a Yellow Dog Democrat”. He was not against the conflict in Viet Nam. He was a fiscal conservative in all matters governmental and did not support many of the “social entitlement” programs of the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies. He was a decorated WWII veteran, who like Senator McGovern had flown a B-24 Liberator on many missions out of England over Europe. He was active in Democratic politics all of his life. He and I had many heated discussions about the political and social issues of the day. So I found it odd, to say the least, that he had displayed this bumper sticker on his personal vehicles.

    When I asked him about this, he replied, “I have a profound respect for the Democratic Party and for any candidate, whom it nominates for President. Although I disagreed with the Senator and his stand on many of issues he represented, I felt that he was an honest and honorable man, whom I could support.” I never ceased to be amazed by my father, and he never voted anything but Democratic in every election until his death.

  5. George Harben Says:

    Senator McGovern was a classy guy. I think a couple of points missed were his commitment to changing the Democratic Party and the stellar people associated with his 1972 campaign. Sen. Hart comes to mind. It says alot about a man by the quality of people that choose to follow him and the success that they subsequently achieved. In that respect, Sen. McGovern clearly recognized and appreciated talent. Remember, they all had alternative candidates vying for their skills. But they chose Sen. McGovern’s campaign.

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