George S. McGovern, former U.S. Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, delivered the Inaugural Culver Lecture on April 7, 2011. McGovern served in the U.S. Senate with John C. Culver of Iowa; the two forged a close bond as principled liberal reformers from neighboring states.
A native of Mitchell, South Dakota, McGovern flew 35 missions over German-occupied Europe as a B-24 Liberator pilot. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for safely landing his damaged plane and saving his crew. After his service in World War II, he earned degrees in history from Dakota Wesleyan University and Northwestern University and became a history professor. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956 and the U.S. Senate in 1962, where he served until 1981.
McGovern helped to reform the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process by adding more primaries and caucuses, while reducing the influence of party insiders. He rose to national prominence as a strong voice against the Vietnam War. His insurgent candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 was captured in Hunter S. Thompson’s classic collection of articles, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.
McGovern lost to incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon in a landslide, but continued his lifelong commitment to public service. In addition to his leadership of the anti-war movement, McGovern pioneered progressive approaches to agriculture, food security, nutrition, and hunger. He became the first director of the Food for Peace program in 1961 and helped to create the United Nations’ World Food Programme. He chaired the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs and issued the “McGovern Report,” which helped spur the creation of comprehensive nutritional guidelines for Americans. McGovern served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture and was the first UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger. He was named World Food Prize co‑laureate in 2008.
George S. McGovern passed away in October 2012 at the age of 90.
“The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher standard.”
–George S. McGovern