Obituary: George McGovern, former US presidential candidate
- 21 October 2012
- From the section US & Canada
US liberal icon George McGovern, who has died at the age of 90 in a South Dakota hospice, was the Democratic nominee who ran unsuccessfully against President Richard Nixon in 1972.
He earned distinction as an Air Force pilot in World War II, where he flew B-24 bombers over Nazi Germany.
Born in South Dakota, in the Mid-West, he was first elected to national office in 1956, after years of working for the Democratic party in his home state.
He was a member of the House of Representatives, a senator, and ran for president three times.
An early critic of the Vietnam War, McGovern became the first senator to speak out against American involvement. He made critical comments as early as 1963 and amplified his rhetoric as the war continued.
"We must learn that it is madness, not security, to devote 70% of our controllable federal budget to armaments and only 11% to the quality of life," McGovern reportedly said at a 1969 anti-war rally in Boston, Massachusetts.
"Perhaps out of the blood-soaked jungles of South-East Asia will come the humility and the national wisdom that will lead us into the light of a new day."
His vocal anti-war position made him a champion of the American left, and he won the Democratic nomination for president in 1972 in a close contest.
He had made two other brief attempts to obtain the Democratic nomination in 1968 and 1984.
In 1972, McGovern campaigned on a liberal platform that included withdrawing US troops from Vietnam, reducing defence spending and providing amnesty to men who evaded the draft.
His campaign was popular among college students and progressives, including a young Bill Clinton, who ran McGovern's Texas office with help from his wife, Hillary. But McGovern fared poorly against the incumbent President Nixon, and lost in a landslide.
In the electoral college, he captured only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
Despite Nixon's immense advantage throughout the campaign, the president's re-election committee was later found to have perpetrated dirty tricks against the McGovern campaign and the Democratic party, including the Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters.
Nixon later resigned the presidency after evidence showed he was aware of the misdeeds.
Despite his drubbing in the White House race, McGovern remained an influential senator and liberal icon. He served in Congress until the "Reagan Revolution" of 1980, when he was swept from office by a Republican challenger.
Throughout his life, McGovern championed the cause of world hunger.
In 1961, he became the first director of the United States' Food for Peace plan, which sent US food overseas as a form of international aid.
After he left Congress, he worked for President Clinton as the US ambassador to the UN agencies for food and agriculture.
When that appointment ended in 2001, he became the World Food Programme's first UN global ambassador on world hunger.
"It is immoral for 800 million of the world's people to be hungry from birth to death," he wrote in his 2004 book, The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition.
McGovern married his high-school sweetheart and had five children.
His daughter, Theresa, and son, Steven, died of alcohol-related causes.
McGovern often spoke and wrote about alcoholism and addiction, and penned a book about the death of his daughter.