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George McGovern: A Retrospective Interview
At 90 years old, George McGovern has recently been admitted into hospice care. "He's coming to the end of his life," says his daughter Ann McGovern, according to CNN. I was deeply honored and fortunate that Mr. McGovern made time for a phone interview with me weeks ago between some of the many public appearances he still made at his age. He has lived a full life. A South Dakota native, George McGovern has been a professor, historian, author, WWII hero, U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and famously, the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1972 presidential election. More than this, he also dedicated his life to the cause of ending world hunger, being the first ever UN Global Ambassador for World Hunger and eventual co-laureate of the World Food Prize in 2008. And those are only the facts. I hope that this interview gives a more personal perspective of the wonderful person I saw when speaking to him. He was warm and open and above all, optimistic. This great hope of his makes this turn of events even more poignant to me. May Senator McGovern go in peace, having lived a principle life as a determined leader, open-hearted humanitarian, and man of integrity.
What does it mean to you to be a South Dakotan politician?
If you’re a Democrat, it means you work twice as hard! (laughs) South Dakota is certainly a traditionally conservative state and I feel I broke the precedent back when I was elected to represent. People didn’t give me much hope for my party. But still now, I have great respect for and confidence in the people of South Dakota.
I’m 17. Do you believe that we can end world hunger within my lifetime?
Absolutely. With all of our new technology, and dedicated people, we must. If we haven’t ended hunger by that time, I’d be very discouraged. I won’t be there, but if I achieve my goal of living to be 100 – that’s ten years from now – I hope to see it happen by then.
Robert Kennedy once called you “the only decent man in the Senate”. What has shaped your morals most?
I grew up in a Methodist minister’s parsonage. He drove in us very vigorously to live by a strong moral code. I don’t claim to be a saint, and the people that know me would tell you that. But I will never say in public what I don’t believe or won’t say in private.
The divide between the ideologies of Republicans and Democrats grows greater than ever this election. How did a Democrat like you work so closely in the hunger program with Bob Dole, a Republican?
Working with Bob Dole, the two of us simply both decided to dedicate our time to trying to help the cause of hunger. Our respective parties didn’t change that. We both care. We work hand in glove, and I still consider him one of my most important friends.
You’ve received dozens of honors and awards over the years. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Well, I received the honor from President Bill Clinton – they call it the “Medal of Freedom” – and that is my greatest pride as far as awards. But outside that, my greatest achievement is working towards ending hunger. Awhile ago a respected historian out of Oxford University wrote that I have helped more hungry people than any other individual in history. And that is the best honor I can think of.
What advice would you give to my generation, the youth of America?
First, get as much education as you reasonably can. Go out and think about the impact of your life on the scope of the world. And don’t just be someone who knocks everything and is critical. Whatever happens, try to see an opening for how you can help others, because you’ll find the world really is a good place.