Originally published October 21, 2012

I was sad when I saw that George McGovern had entered hospice last week, and I was sad to hear that he passed earlier today. We’re losing an important generation of American statesmen; McGovern ranked high on that list.

My dad gave me a McGovern pin when I was little and speaks fondly of his time volunteering for the ’72 McGovern campaign. For a lot of young people who had embraced 60s counterculture, McGovern pushed them to finally participate in the system they’d spent the last decade fighting against. His subsequent (crushing) defeat turned many of them away from politics forever.

Read a McGovern obituary and you’ll see that it was his principles and ideas, not his accomplishments, that earned him a place in American history. He was a champion of lost causes. He had supporters, but never enough. He was lauded and respected by both sides, but seldom listened to. I suspect that often, when McGovern would take the stage, more than a few in the (polite) audience were thinking, “There he goes again…”

McGovern played an important function, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of role people should aspire to. Fiery rhetoric and personal inflexibility are good for headlines, but often poor qualities for legislators. Stubbornness in some things can be a strength. Stubbornness in all things (or, Goldwater: “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice”) is rarely the best way to get things done.

That said, McGovern cared deeply about the country he served. He elevated duty above both political expediency and personal success. Few of today’s politicians have the stones or character to do the same, and the number seems to get smaller by the day.

Yours was a life well lived, Sen. McGovern. Thank you.