George McGovern, the three term U.S. Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, passed away early Sunday at age 90.
A decorated World War II pilot, McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election as an anti-poverty candidate and staunch opponent of the Vietnam war. Nixon defeated the Democrat handily in a sweeping victory, only to resign under a cloud two years later when his administration came under investigation for allegations related to the break-in at McGovern’s campaign headquarters in the Watergate.
McGovern’s devotion to liberal causes earned him a devoted following which included future political leaders such as young Bill and Hillary Clinton. The couple took a break from Yale Law School in 1972 in order to work on McGovern’s presidential campaign. The New York Times describes that year’s party platform as “the most liberal one ever adopted by a major party in the United States. It advocated immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for war resisters, abolition of the draft, a guaranteed job for all Americans and a guaranteed family income well above the poverty line.”
Though he suffered a landmark election defeat, McGovern maintained his passion for liberalism well into his old age. In 1984, he attempted another run for president, but did not make it past the Democratic primary. In 2011, he wrote an open letter to Barack Obama in Harper’s Magazine, in which he entreated the president to bring all troops home from Afghanistan, close all U.S. military bases in Arab countries, dramatically reduce the Pentagon budget, and expand Medicare coverage to all Americans.