116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Theodore Roosevelt was right: the more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future. On the cusp of a midterm election, I would like to look backward in order to go forward.
My wife and I recently attended a George McGovern Centennial Celebration on Sept. 22 in Mitchell, South Dakota. Mitchell was the hometown of Sen. George McGovern, who served South Dakota in Congress from 1957 to 1981. You may remember him as the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee who lost badly to President Richard Nixon. I remember him as the man who molded the conscience of an 18-year-old who knocked doors for him in South Dallas, Texas.
The 2022 celebration remembered the man who was born 100 years ago, ran for President 50 years ago, and died 12 years ago. After completing his time in Washington, he moved back to his hometown of Mitchell and lived in a modest house across the street from his alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan University, along with his wife Eleanor and his dog Ursa.
Speaker after speaker at the celebration poignantly shared their respect and love for the man best known for his opposition to the Vietnam War and his lifelong struggle to feed the hungry. Named director of the Food for Peace program in 1961, McGovern was able to earn the friendship of farmers in the Midwest whose oversupply of food went to underfed people at home and abroad.
How different from now, when the U.S. did not learn the lessons of Vietnam and plunged into wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, lasting almost 20 years with no clear victory or accomplishments.
How different from now, when corn is grown not to feed the hungry around the world or the U.S., but to feed cattle and produce ethanol, continuing our dependence upon oil and its environmental destruction of the planet.
Though McGovern is often considered a “loser,” he won in the end. He won respect and love. The library at Dakota Wesleyan University bears his name and a legacy at the same university — The McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service — continues to promote and enact the ideals for which he stood.
McGovern was the kind of Midwesterner we need now, and from whom we can still learn the values of decency and humility, even in defeat. He helped create the person I am now, and for that I will always be grateful. His example is instructive for all of us: there is more to politics than power.
Charles R. Crawley lives in Cedar Rapids.