October 21, 2012

Liberal Hero McGovern, Who Taught At Cornell in 1990, Praised After Death

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A caring professor and idealistic politician, George McGovern –– a former South Dakota senator and Democratic nominee for president in 1972, who also taught history at the University in 1990 — died Sunday of age-related medical conditions, according to Reuters. He was 90 years old.

McGovern died at a hospice surrounded by family and friends in Sioux Falls, S.D., according to The Associated Press.

After serving in World War II, McGovern was elected the congressman of South Dakota’s first district, a position he served in from 1957 to 1961. McGovern was then elected a senator of South Dakota in 1962 before he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for president in 1972.

According to Prof. Glenn Altschuler Ph.D. ’76, American studies, McGovern navigated politics with integrity throughout his time as both a senator and a presidential candidate amid the political controversy surrounding the Vietnam War.

“I think in a day in which many politicians masked what they believed or distorted the views of their opponents, he was a man of great honesty and directness,” Altschuler said.

McGovern was also noted for strongly opposing the Vietnam War, professors said.

“He was a good man. He was a leader of the anti-war movement,” said Prof. Mildred Sanders M.A. ’ 76, Ph.D. ’78, government.

McGovern’s opposition to the war was noted by others even as far back as 1972, when he ran for the presidency. In a Nov. 7, 1972, editorial, The Sun said that, in light of former President Richard Nixon being “able and willing” to continue the Vietnam War, McGovern would be a positive change for the presidency.

“After the past four years we, too, will never be quite the same. But we can begin the long road back by electing George McGovern,” the editorial stated.

Despite getting clobbered by Nixon in the election, McGovern left behind a legacy.

“I hope he will be remembered not only for his opposition to the war in Vietnam but also for bringing a decency to American politics,” Altschuler said.

He was also remembered by professors as a man who stood by his beliefs on the campaign trail.

He “gave away less to the right wing, and very few have that kind of ability,” said Prof. Theodore Lowi, history.

Though McGovern was described by many as an honest politician, he also left behind a “complex reputation,” according to Prof. Richard Bensel Ph.D. ’78, government.

“He was someone who was on the left of the Democratic party and yet was not so radical that the mainstream of the party could not accept him,” Bensel said. “That was both his great virtue and the thing that made his life and the memory of his life more complicated.”

Sanders echoed Bensel’s sentiments, adding that McGovern’s political legacy is one marked by many hurdles.

“He spearheaded the reforms that opened the [Democratic] party up to a huge amount of participation to people who were very zealous about their causes, and that’s what killed his chances as [a] presidential candidate,” Sanders said.

Despite his strength as a galvanizer of political activity, McGovern was imperfect, according to Sanders.

“My opinion of him is that he was a great idealist, but he made a lot of mistakes,” Sanders added.

McGovern was also remembered by professors as being a man of wisdom. Lowi said he admired McGovern for his patience in times when other politicians often made hasty decisions.

“We think that democracy is, ‘We go and we fight and we win,’ but he had the courage to wait,” Lowi said.

After leaving politics, McGovern taught at a number of universities, including Cornell.

Though McGovern was a professor at the University for a short time, Altschuler remembered him as a dedicated educator.

“He took the course he taught very seriously … He was a very gracious man [who] cared about the students,” Altschuler said.

Original Author: Lianne Bornfeld