Tonawanda News

Columns

October 24, 2012

DUVALL: Recalling George McGovern's lesson

Tonawanda News — George McGovern, arguably the worst major party presidential candidate in modern American history, died Sunday after a brief illness, his family said. He was 90.

His 1972 trouncing at the hands of Richard Nixon was among the most lopsided in American history. He won one state, Massachusetts. Nixon won the other 49. In his New York Times obituary, McGovern would come to joke that, “all my life I wanted to run for president in the worst way — and I did.”

But it wasn’t his failure to effectively address the nation’s ills a decade before I was born that interested me about George McGovern. It was a college road trip I took to Lake Placid as an impressionable and hyperactive 19-year-old that, to this day, changed how I view the world around us.

I had made some college friends who were active in local politics and they’d managed to lure me away for a weekend in summer 2003 for a conference sponsored by the state Democratic Party. Several of the party’s presidential candidates were scheduled to speak including John Kerry and Howard Dean. 

McGovern was the event’s keynote speaker.

We sat through some stem-winders meant to rally the base and engender grassroots goodwill in the early stages of the race to unseat President George W. Bush.

Unsurprisingly for a room full of dyed-in-the-wool liberals, Dean, telegraphing his meteoric rise in the polls that would come later that fall, won over a lot of hearts and minds with his forceful critique of the increasingly unpopular Iraq war. His message resonated and I dedicated myself to helping him win the nomination. I still keep the “Dean for America” sticker I got that day on display as a reminder of what it used to be like as a heady, idealistic college student.

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