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George McGovern: Quotes & Biography

Instructor: Eve Levinson

Eve has taught various courses of high school history and has a master's degree in education.

George McGovern was a World War II air force veteran, US Senator from South Dakota, and Democratic candidate for president in 1972 who ran on a reformist platform.

A Life of Service

''The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.'' - George McGovern

George McGovern
George McGovern

George McGovern was born in South Dakota in 1922, which made him just old enough to enlist to fight in World War II. He served as a pilot and was awarded a number of medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is the military's oldest aviation award and recognizes heroism or achievement in aviation.

After returning home from the war, he went to college. Initially, he trained as a minister, including a brief course of study at a theological seminary, but soon turned his attention to American history. He received his master's and doctoral degrees in the subject before becoming a teacher at Dakota Wesleyan, his alma mater.

Early Political Career

''I am fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.'' - George McGovern

Though McGovern admitted that being up in a plane allowed him to stay removed from much of the carnage of war, his experiences in World War II made him strongly anti-war. He pursued courses of activism during the 1950s, opposing the Vietnam War and advocating civil rights and poverty causes. It was not long before his views led him to politics.

In 1956, McGovern ran for one of South Dakota's seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and won. He served for four years. He then went on to run for the U.S. Senate. Though he lost his 1960 campaign, he ultimately represented South Dakota from 1963 to 1981.

Presidential Campaign

''I always thought of myself as a moderate liberal, a fighter for peace and justice. I never thought of myself as being all that far out.'' - George McGovern

While McGovern was a Senator, he decided to run in the 1972 presidential election. McGovern won the Democratic nomination to oppose incumbent President Richard Nixon. His platform remained largely unchanged from his previous campaigns, namely favoring withdrawal of troops from Vietnam advocating for civil rights.

One of the reasons Democrats thought their candidate had a strong chance was that the 26th Amendment to the Constitution changed the voting age from 21 to 18. Though the anti-war movement of the era, especially among young people, has received a great deal of attention, there were still a large number of pro-war and moderate Americans. The Republicans convinced the public that McGovern was a left-wing extremist, a radical, which led most away from voting for him. McGovern only won one state, Massachusetts.

In 1984, McGovern attempted to run for the presidency again, but gained so little support in early primaries that he withdrew.

Later Life

''No man should advocate a course in private that he's ashamed to admit in public.'' - George McGovern

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