Let me finish tonight with this.
We live in a society where winning is everything. No matter how dishonest, how sleazy, how (excuse the term) evil, the victor has conducted himself, and he is cheered on election night.
As for the loser? The reverse is true. You can be principled, honest, courageous, even visionary. But lose the election and you’re branded a “loser.”
George McGovern flew dozens of combat missions over Europe in World War II. He never bragged about his war heroism, never actually mentioned it.
McGovern was not a great politician. A great politician would have combined his opposition to the Vietnam War, for which he will always be known, with a strong statement of pride for what we Americans, he included, accomplished fighting World War II. Again, he never did. As a politician running to be Commander-in-Chief, he should have–but he didn’t.
I never saw exactly eye-to-eye with this good man from South Dakota. He never showed the kind of gut “Cold Warriorism” that I value. He never personified the just view most Americans took toward the Soviet Union, which truly was set on a course of world domination. He didn’t show his deep contempt and anger toward the Communist ambition and threat to us. Again, I don’t know why, but he didn’t, and that bothered me.
But he was what he was: a Cold War skeptic, a World War II guy who never bragged–a man of guts we needed when Bobby Kennedy was gone and Eugene McCarthy left the field–to fight against the stupidity of the American war in Vietnam, a war we could only win by killing most of the country we went there to save.
George McGovern lost his seat in the Senate in the 1980 landslide. It would have been better for the country if he’d been there fighting the now relentless series of wars we seem intent on fighting in the Islamic world.
That’s what I think we lost: a man who’d been a profile in courage both in war and in fighting for peace.