A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George S. McGovern (1922-2012) and the Middle East

Most of the appreciations of George McGovern, who died today at 90, will focus on his overall career, his 1972 run for President, his opposition to the Vietnam War,  his later career working against hunger, etc.

Amid all these distinguished accomplishments, it is easy to forget that from 1991 to 1998, Senator McGovern served as President of the Middle East Policy Council.  Though his career was not otherwise concentrated on the region, other than his consistent convictions about peace (he'd been a bomber pilot in World War II, and had standing to express his views), during those years he was indeed a presence in the Middle East community in Washington. As a member of MEPC's Advisory Board, I got to know Senator McGovern a bit — not closely, but a bit — at several meetings, on panels, and at least once at lunch. He always seemed in person just what he seemed on television: a straight-talking, intelligent but unassuming South Dakotan who was unabashed about his liberal views and unapologetic about his views. And a very nice guy. I'm sure MEPC will have something to say about him on their website, and I won't try to upstage them. I will tell one personal anecdote here. Over lunch, I mentioned to Senator McGovern that I had, in fact, voted for him back in 1972, in fact by absentee ballot from Egypt. (He was, of course, famously beaten badly by Nixon, carrying only Massachusetts and DC.) He said, "Well, let me thank you for voting for me."

This coming election will, I think, be the 12th Presidential election since I've been old enough to vote. And you know what: he's still the only Presidential candidate who's thanked me in person.

Farewell, George  McGovern. Your campaign may have seemed quixotic (and a bit chaotic), but it engaged  many disillusioned young people in politics (including, famously, Bill Clinton). They don't make them like that anymore.

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