Today (10/21/2012), Sunday, George McGovern died in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at 90 years of age. He had been hospitalized for a time, slipping into a coma within the last couple days. During that time I started thinking about McGovern at the local level, at least in South and North Dakota. McGovern hailed from the small town farming
community of Avon in southeastern South Dakota. He joined up with the Airforce at 19, and flew B-24 bomber missions against Nazi Europe. After the war McGovern returned to South Dakota, and with his GI Bill he worked toward a graduate degree in history and lectured at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota. He eventually got into politics, and the state of South Dakota elected him for 3 terms to the United States Senate. In thinking about all of this, it seemed like a good idea to upload some George McGovern archaeology, at least a photo of his presidential buttons from his 1972 campaign against Richard Nixon. McGovern lost. Big time. He carried no more than one state in the election — apparently it’s a really good idea to find out a lot about your vice presidential running mate before you ask them to be your vice presidential running mate. But that was how things played out external to the Democratic Party. Internally, McGovern ushered in numerous progressive reforms. Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, has pointed out that McGovern helped revolutionize the internal workings of the Democratic Party, driving out the old guard and absorbing the times that were a changing — thank you Bob. The buttons reflect those changing times and reforms. The buttons have a variety of iconography, including a rainbow, the sign for women with parallel horizontal lines
that signifies equality, the dove (certainly a sign of peace and love), and the geopolitical outline of North Dakota that emphasizes the state’s Peace Garden slogan. These photos came from the private collection of Molly McLain. No doubt there are more of these buttons tucked away in the attics, storage lockers and basements of a variety of homes across the country.
Another photo is of the McGovern Library at Dakota Wesleyan University. If I remember correctly, the building (not the McGovern Library) where McGovern lectured history at DWU still stands. To a large degree these buildings help connect our discombobulated present with the past, providing a kind of stability that is both real and imagined. McGovern lectured history in Mitchell, and he was from Avon, South Dakota. If looking at McGovern, it seems that you can do anything in this country if you put your heart and mind to it. It just so happened that McGovern also had a genuine soul (not every politician or individual has this). Here’s to George McGovern, and his well played life. …well played indeed.