Gentleman, statesman

George McGovern was a passionate politician, but a kind man first

George McGovern made it difficult to vote for him and nearly impossible to dislike him.

He will be remembered by history as the ultra-liberal presidential candidate who lost all but one state to Richard Nixon in the Electoral College in 1972. He pledged legal marijuana, recognition of Cuba in Castro’s heyday, amnesty for draft dodgers and a minimum income for all Americans.

Even after decades of such notions percolating, and after four years of Barack Obama, such an agenda might have been too radical even today.

But we will remember George McGovern somewhat differently – as an elder statesman who gave of his time to a fault, inspired a generation of followers and managed to lampoon himself with quiet dignity on the comedy show Saturday Night Live in the 1980s.

In his monologue on that show, he joked that he was hosting Saturday Night Live because he needed the money. “Frankly, I don’t have many job options,” he deadpanned.

Of course, that was pure poppycock. The former U.S. senator was in great demand, and was remarkably selfless in his later years, speaking to civic clubs and veterans’ groups and immersing himself in community life in St. Augustine, Fla.

George McGovern, who died Sunday at 90, had a gentle charisma and a homespun South Dakota sensibility. He was soft spoken and kind, and while a lion of liberalism he was also a throwback to an era in which partisan divides weren’t necessarily human barriers. Although he was a Democrat, he spoke very fondly of Richard Nixon as well as Bob Dole, with whom he worked closely to try to feed hungry children.

In this day of political demonization, it’s important to remember there’s another human being on the other side of the aisle. George McGovern never forgot.

“This is what is missing from our politics today,” writes conservative columnist Cal Thomas. “If we don’t like a person’s politics, we reflexively dislike the person.

“McGovern practiced ‘family values’ better than some conservatives who merely talk about them. ...

“I shall miss George McGovern as a friend, a fellow American, a patriot and an example.”

This page represents pretty much the political opposite of him. But the country has lost a good man and good American.

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