Remember when it was a good thing to be a liberal?
Democrats nostalgic for some old-fashioned, ignore-the polls idealism converged on the Newseum Thursday night to celebrate George McGovern’s 90th birthday. There was cake, of course, but it was really a reunion of folks who remember when they leaned left. . . or lefter.
“George, you taught me just how liberal my parents were — more liberal than they may have even known,” offered Nancy Pelosi in a parade of heartfelt toasts to the birthday boy. “Thank you for being born.”
It was McGovern’s actual birthday and 40 years since he embarked on his best-remembered presidential bid. So the party, hosted by the World Food Program USA, brought out Washington’s A-list Democrats — Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Dick Durbin, Barney Frank, Rosa DeLauro, Dennis Kucinich, Vicki Kennedy, Mark Shriver, Tom Harkin, Dan Glickman, Pat Leahy, Jack Quinn — and one respectful conservative, South Dakota’s Sen. John Thune (R). “We’re very proud of Senator McGovern,” said Thune, calling him one of the state’s historic figures. “My dad was a big McGovern fan . . . he’s a terrific man and a great public servant.”
The historical record is straightforward: McGovern’s military service and antiwar stance, his lifelong work to feed the hungry, his losing presidential campaigns. Harder to measure are what Leahy called McGovern’s “conscience and credibility,” his character, his inspiration. “He makes you believe anything is possible,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (no relation), who interned for the then-senator more than 30 years ago.
Frank first ran for office in 1972 and proudly brought along a 40-year-old campaign poster of him with the presidential candidate. “I won because George McGovern inspired young people,” he told the crowd. “With all of the crap that was being thrown at him and all the distortion, the purity and goodness of George McGovern did break through to the unjaded — and I was able to win on his coattails.”
After an hour of toasts, the guest of honor (snappy in a striped suit and red tie) took the mike. No long speeches, just thanks for all the kind words and the chance to serve.
“I’ve always believed we live in the greatest country on earth,” he said. “I don’t say that in any display of false patriotism. . . There never was a day, not once in 40 years. . . that I didn’t swell with pride.”
McGovern fell a few months ago and hit his head, but he’s fine now and doctors have given him a clean bill of health. So he’s already planning another party: “Let’s do this again in about 10 years.”
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