He was 90 at the time of his death
It cannot be said that McGovern’s star-crossed 1972 Presidential campaign signaled the death of American liberalism (America’s version of social democracy). That death would finally come when Ronald Reagan demolished the politically conservative Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981. What his 1972 campaign managed to accomplish was the creation of a potent and enduring symbol, one which encapsulated the political impossibility of liberal reform in the United States. It did not matter a jot that McGovern was not a radical in any way at all; his defeat at Richard Nixon’s dirty hands, America’s last liberal President (Chomsky), was so decisive that it suggested Americans in general would not accept the political implementation of a just social order, a project which informed national politics in the prior decade. In this sense it can be said that McGovern’s defeat in 1972 ushered in the Age of Reaction in American politics. It was the watershed moment for this reactionary turn. Even the Watergate Scandal — which one might have expected to affirm completely and strongly the leftwing of the Democratic Party and which destroyed the corrupt Nixon Administration as well as the Party-man Gerald Ford — failed to deter the hard right turn made by the American elite after the 1960s. Militarism, predatory economics and social reaction would dominate American politics thereafter.
The significance of McGovern’s defeat is such that echoes of it could be heard in Scott Walker’s decisive victory over Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin Governor’s Recall Election of 2012 and in the public and private despair felt by the Democratic Party left over Barack Obama’s reactionary politics. Both situations reflect the political weakness of a center-left politics in the United States, a weakness revealed by the 1972 Presidential Election. A Heideggerian might consider this despair to be Uncle Sam anticipating his very death
George McGovern was considered to be a decent man. I did not know him and cannot confirm this observation from my personal experience. But, if McGovern had been a decent man during his long life, we who remain alive might appreciate the fact that his name will always remain associated with the effort to turn the country away from its self-selected destruction. This will be his posterity.