This weekend, friends of George McGovern will gather in Washington, DC, to celebrate his eighty-fifth birthday and honor his legacy.
The man who Robert Kennedy called "the most decent man in the US Senate" should have been President. Had he won, this country and the world would be a much different place. The way we do politics in this country would be different, too. Elections in a post-President McGovern era would be more about listening, learning and teaching, and less about money, sound bites and negative ads. Campaigns would be more uplifting.
George McGovern remains an idealist. He thinks big thoughts and takes on big causes. In an age in which trivial issues are debated passionately and important ones not at all, George McGovern wants to stop war and end worldwide hunger. I must confess that sometimes when I hear him speak I say to myself, "Oh, George, we can't possibly do that." And then I listen some more and find myself becoming a believer. And then, after a little more listening, I want to join the movement.
It is frustrating that success in American politics is always defined by winning elections. Yet George McGovern has accomplished more in defeat than most politicians have accomplished in victory. His campaign in 1972 helped mightily in ending the tragic war in Vietnam. And his efforts to end domestic hunger resulted in the creation of Food Stamps, WIC, school lunches and breakfasts and so many other initiatives to help feed people and provide better nutrition.
Today, he is responsible for an international school feeding program that is currently feeding millions of kids and getting them in school. His goal is to feed all kids and end hunger once and for all. That's a big, bold goal–but George McGovern has made me a believer.
One final note. I'm in politics because of George McGovern. As a seventh-grader, I campaigned for him in Massachusetts during the '72 campaign (I felt I did my job because he did win my state). In college, I interned in his Senate office and was inspired by his courage and service. We've been close friends ever since. And while George and I are not blood relatives, we do share the same ideology and surname. Not a day goes by that I don't thank God my last name is McGovern instead of Nixon.
Happy Birthday, Senator.