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WOSTER: McGovern taught me love of politics

He's the guy, more than any other, who made me care about politics.

But even more than that, he made me see the value of politics.

That 1972 presidential campaign was my first love affair with politics, and by far my most passionate. It made me believe – which I do even yet, despite all the mean-spirited partisanship to the contrary – that politics and politicians can mean something in our lives.

Something good.

I had an FDR-JFK Democrat for a father, a farmer who relinquished dreams of college to take over the family land in Lyman County with his brother. My dad admired George McGovern for his war service, his soft-spoken eloquence and his commitment to parity in farm country.

And my mother, a Democrat in youth who would turn Reagan Republican with age, still admired in 1972 the man from Mitchell and his prominent place in Washington, D.C. She approved the McGovern-Shriver bumper stickers I plastered on her '68 Chevrolet and the glass of our south storm door -- the one all could see while passing by on Courtland Street in Chamberlain.

I wore his name on T-shirts and on the bumpers of my own '62 Chevy, replacing them as fast as the more numerous Richard Nixon fans in our parts could tear them off.

McGovern's win at the Democratic convention made his name and South Dakota's household words in politics across the country. Few things have ever made me prouder of where I live.

Of course, his campaign was doomed. It was Richard Nixon in a landslide. McGovern even lost his home state. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

But if McGovern was crushed, he didn't show it. He ran for and retained his Senate seat in 1974 against a worthy challenger in Leo Thorsness. And he continued to do the Senate seat proud until 1980, when one good man lost to another and Jim Abdnor rose to the Senate.

Since then, George McGovern has made me prouder than ever. My friend and journalism colleague, Denise Rose, said as we discussed McGovern on a public radio show last week that he might be the greatest former U.S. senator ever.

I can't imagine any greater.

He has written well, spoken well, traveled extensively and continued his work on a world scale to end hunger and serve the marginalized.

Oh, he has made me so proud to be a South Dakotan. Now, as the 90-year-old former senator I admire like none other nears the end of his time on earth, I find myself hoping that I told him so in ways that mattered.

As the years passed from that defining '72 campaign, I released some of Sen. McGovern's liberal beliefs and held tight to others. But I have never released my full-hearted admiration and respect for the kind-and-caring man who shaped my views of public service and public servants.

They remain positive views, mostly, unlike the cynicism and even hatred shown by those who belittle politicians and politics in our nation today.

It's an imperfect system, for sure, full of failings and imperfect human beings.

But it is still a system that matters in our lives, and can do abundant good.

My senator taught me that. And it's something I'll never forget.

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or

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