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February 07, 2012 09:55 PM

McGovern's Memories

Sioux Falls, SD

One of South Dakota's most prolific authors is proving there's always a new chapter, even at the age of 89.
Former Senator and Presidential Candidate George McGovern is promoting his latest political book, even as he starts writing his memoirs. McGovern reflects upon the ups-and-downs of public and private life.

McGovern remains a politician at heart, still energized by talking policy with the public, during his latest book tour. "What It Means To Be a Democrat" is McGovern's contemporary take on the party he helped shape more than a generation ago.

"I think Democrats still hold to certain basic assumptions. They believe, for example, that a citizen to be at his best, or her best, should be compassionate," McGovern said.

McGovern's book tour literally stumbled out of the gate in December, when he fell outside the McGovern Library in Mitchell on his way to a live interview with the national cable network C-SPAN.

"And I was lying outside that library bleeding from the head. I hope I didn't hurt my brain too much, but I'm sure I shook it up in rare fashion," McGovern said.

Now fully recovered from that fall, McGovern is five chapters into writing his memoirs, his latest literary project he hopes to complete within the next couple of years.

"I've had a fascinating life. I have never in my life, almost 90 years now, I've never had a job that I didn't enjoy," McGovern said.

McGovern's past jobs have included South Dakota Congressman and Senator. His opposition to the Vietnam War led to his nomination as the 1972 Democratic candidate for President.

"I didn't want young American boys dying it what I thought was a mistaken cause. But it hurt me politically, because people thought, 'George is not backing our troops.' I was backing our troops. I was trying to back them out of that mistaken war and save their lives," McGovern said.

McGovern lost by a landslide to incumbent Richard Nixon. But McGovern takes pride in how he ran that campaign.

"I was never going to say something just to get votes. I was going to try to face the hard issues head on, and I did that," McGovern said.

But losing the presidency paled in comparison to the tragedy the McGovern family experienced nearly 20 years ago.

"Losing my daughter, Terry, was the worst, most painful chapter of my life," McGovern said.

McGovern's daughter Terry froze to death in the parking lot of a bar in Wisconsin. McGovern wrote a book about his daughter's struggle with alcohol.

"It was a painful thing to do.  But I'm glad I wrote that book because if I can believe the letters I have received from all over the world following the publication of that book, it helped a lot of people, McGovern said.

These days, McGovern is reflective about his own mortality.

"I don't think of that in any morbid sense.  But I have absolutely no fear of death," McGovern said.

McGovern says his campaign to end the Vietnam War will be his signature political legacy. But he says his decades of fighting to end hunger will be his global legacy.

"I'm probably responsible for more people being fed in the world than any other human being," McGovern said.

And McGovern vows to keep applying political pressure on governments around the world to ensure that all children have nutritious meals to eat. McGovern may be pushing 90, but this humanitarian and author will have the final word on a life well-lived.

"I've done the best I could in this life.  And if at some point in the future, be it near or far, I'm called away to the mystery beyond the grave, I'm ready to go," McGovern said.

McGovern, who was heavily outspent in the 1972 presidential race, says he's troubled by all the millions of dollars being funneled into campaigns these days through so-called Super-PACs. He says all that money allows too much corporate influence in politics.

McGovern is spending the rest of the winter on the beaches of Florida writing his memoirs. He expects to return to South Dakota in April.

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