One thing with George McGovern, you never wondered where he stood.
McGovern never pretended. He was a bona fide liberal and maintained that stance throughout his political career and afterward. He died early Sunday morning at the age of 90.
A loss of historic proportions like McGovern's during his ill-fated White House run against Richard Nixon in 1972 likely would have broken the spirit of most politicians. The South Dakota Democrat dealt with it with self-effacing humor. "For many years, I wanted to run for the presidency in the worst possible way -- and last year, I sure did," he said in 1973.
That and his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War are what most people remember about the former U.S. senator, though he was active in pursuing humanitarian work long after most people have retired. His family said that McGovern was still writing, giving speeches and advising after he turned 90 last summer.
Six years ago when he dedicated his library, he brought up his biggest dream -- ensuring that millions of children worldwide who go hungry would get a decent lunch every day. He served as the first UN ambassador on world hunger and joined with a former senator from across the political aisle, Bob Dole, to found Food for Education, a program for children in poor countries.
That dream of every young child getting a nutritious meal every day has not been fulfilled, but McGovern inspired others to work toward it.
While McGovern's dove stance -- he said his war experience in World War II convinced him to oppose it -- was too blanketing, he was right in the early 1960s when he predicted that Vietnam would turn into a quagmire.
And even his disastrous presidential bid has had a lasting influence. Shortly after he gave a firm endorsement of his running mate in '72, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, he dropped him from the ticket in favor of Sargent Shriver after it was revealed that Eagleton had undergone shock therapy for depression. The switch was a political disaster that he could not recover from, leading to his getting only 38 percent of the popular vote and Nixon carrying every state except Massachusetts. McGovern also won the District of Columbia.
But since that campaign, vice presidential running mates have been more closely scrutinized by campaigns, especially in an era in which the Internet has made digging up dirt much easier.
The one aspect of McGovern's career that will be most missed was the civility. He was able to separate political positions from the people who espoused them. For instance, in Cal Thomas' column on this page, we expect quite a few readers will be surprised that the arch-conservative Thomas and McGovern were good friends.
In this day when spinmeisters have their clients demonizing anyone who disagrees, and commentators and opinion writers take vicious swipes at anyone who opposes their view, the approach of politicians like McGovern, who can see past the red and blue when dealing with people, is missed.