George McGovern passed today. He had many roles in his personal life — a distinguished World War II veteran, small hotel owner, and history professor — but the controversies he became involved with as a Senator would define his legacy; nobody can say McGovern didn’t fight for his ideals, and this fight led to a controversial legacy. After the infamous 1968 Democratic convention, McGovern headed the commission which would controversially reform the presidential candidate selection process in the Democratic party to make it more democratic (the Republicans would later follow suit). He worked very hard on the unsexy issue of both world and U.S. hunger; in 1970, William F. Buckley asserted to McGovern that instead of spending government money on multiple food programs for the poor, the problem could be solved if they learned to cook the little they had like “Allyson Roosevelt Longworth…she serves Bulgar wheat…she makes something that is considered an extraordinary delicacy out of it, and it’s simply a matter of expertness;” McGovern demurred and explained the importance of the programs the government was instituting. As a point of leftist principle, he fought the Vietnam War tooth and nail, offending many of his colleagues in the Senate by telling them they had blood on their hands. Supported by the base but viewed with suspicion by the Democratic establishment, McGovern ran for president in 1972 in one of the most disastrous campaigns in American major party history. Despite being a disliked long-time leftist critic of the centrist voices in the Democratic Party, he also appreciated their accomplishments. In one of his last public appearances this past year, he expressed his general opinion on Lyndon B. Johnson, and here it is for posterity:

 

“I just want to say, as a critic on the Vietnam issue, that before I went into politics I was a history professor…And I think, just thinking about what Johnson did on civil rights, what he did on poverty, what he did on education, all these other things, that whole Great Society program, those were good ideas. Some people ridicule the Great Society. Why would you ridicule a president who was trying to build a great society in the United States? I thought every point in that program made America stronger, and if we’d have gotten the whole thing in full force it would’ve made us even stronger. I honestly believe, and I’m speaking now as an old history prof, that with the exception of Roosevelt who had four terms in the White House, I think Lyndon Johnson was the greatest president of the 20th century.”