Almost every position that the man held, I thought was wrong. Nevertheless, I thought him to be a decent and devoted-to-the-people man - a man who truly wanted to improve the world as best as he could. At the wedding of friends of mine, I met him. The ebulliance and kindness of both Paul and his wife had an indelible impression on me.
George McGovern, thankfully, had a long and full life. He, too, held many views with which I would disagree. Yet, McGovern also was a man that you knew was devoted to his country and its people, and who worked throughout his life to improve that nation and keep an open mind as to how to do it. Wes Pruden remembers him.
Loser or not, no one ever put an asterisk against George McGovern’s origins deep in America’s heartland, his unreserved love for his native land or his courage under fire. He flew a B-24 Liberator on more than two dozen bombing missions against the Nazis, twice bringing his battered ship home on a wing and a prayer. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal and went home to South Dakota to marry his high-school sweetheart, Eleanor, who, like so many young women of those years, waited, afraid to take a deep breath, for her soldier’s return home from the hill. He studied for the Methodist ministry at Dakota Wesleyan College, where no one tried to destroy his faith, and later reluctantly traded the cloth for politics. But he never abandoned Christ’s commandment to look after the poor, the hungry, “the least of these.”
I ribbed him unmercifully in my column for his sometimes-goofy left-wing politics, the presidential candidate who had sealed his fate as big-time loser when he proclaimed that he would “crawl on my knees to Hanoi” to end the Vietnam War. There’s just something about bowing and crawling that Americans don’t like. He wrote to me occasionally to needle The Times for the editorials and for things I wrote. One day my phone rang and a familiar voice said: “This is the man you call ‘Mr. Magoo,” and I’d like to ask you to lunch.” We became friends, neither of us softening the other’s politics, but Baptist and Methodist preachers' sons talking politics, war, peace and sometimes a little theology. He was regarded by Democrat, Republican, liberal and conservative alike as one of the most decent men in the United States Senate. I soon understood why.
Mr. Magoo, who died Sunday, age 90, had the rare gift of humility. When he learned as a Connecticut innkeeper how government regulators conspire to thwart a businessman’s thrift and industry, he ruefully conceded in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that if he had known first-hand about the difficulties the government imposes, “that knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.” (Such good advice for Barack Obama.)
He once recalled how a man and a little boy came up to him at the Minneapolis airport a few days after the 49-state blowout of ’72. “I voted for you and I’m really sorry how it turned out,” the man told him. Then the little boy of about 7 piped up: “Yeah, but don’t feel bad. Coming in second is pretty good.”
Mr. Magoo, R.I.P.