A sizable group of primarily old political junkies gathered in Washington last weekend to celebrate the 85th birthday of George McGovern.
You remember him? He's the Democratic senator from South Dakota who lost a presidential race to Richard Nixon by landslide proportions. McGovern carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. He even lost his home state.
Nixon resigned in disgrace two years later. McGovern subsequently lost his Senate seat but went on to sponsor food and nutrition programs for needy children here and abroad.
McGovern was distraught by his defeat by Nixon, but he did not brood about it. The food program he headed with GOP Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, another presidential race loser, is a proud legacy for both men.
The audience of several hundred included a number of McGovern campaign advisers, including Gary Hart, who two years later became a Colorado senator, as well as other paid and volunteer aides, including many car drivers. McGovern joked that he could have used one of them. He came by taxi to the main event.
McGovern and others talked about his campaignagainst the war in Vietnam in 1972 and the current opposition to the war in Iraq.
Don't regard McGovern as any peacenik or wimp, as some right-wing critics did back then. He was a World War II pilot with 35 bombing missions and a Distinguished Flying Cross to his credit. On one mission, he brought a badly crippled B-24 back to England, the plane's fuselage ripped by antiaircraft fire.
McGovern knows something about combat, unlike the president and vice president in the current administration.
In his remarks, McGovern noted how the huge cost of the war in Iraq, at $2 billion a week, could feed hungry children throughout the world, giving them a least one hot meal a day.
A number of journalists who covered McGovern's embattled campaign 35 years ago were in the audience. McGovern said he could never understand how Nixon hated the press even after defeating him so badly. On some days, McGovern laughed that he didn't care much for what the journalists wrote, but he considered them as friends doing their jobs rather than enemies. You'll remember Nixon's enemy list included a number of journalists.
David Broder of the Washington Post, a nonpartisan writer of note, saluted McGovern for talking frequently to the traveling press on his campaign plane. Nixon never did.
In future years, historians are certain to list McGovern's lopsided loss to Nixon as his most memorable event. He should instead be remembered as a World War II combat vet and a decent man from the Plains who cared and left hatred to others.