Longtime Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who had worked on the McGovern campaign and appeared on “Meet the Press” with Novak, said: “Boy, do I wish he would have let you publish his name. Then he never would have been picked as vice president. ... We had a messy convention, but he could have, I think in the end, carried eight or 10 states, remained politically viable. And Eagleton was one of the great train wrecks of all time.”
McGovern, a decorated World War II bomber pilot, was an outspoken and early opponent of the Vietnam War, a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
However, at the behest of his colleagues, he voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave President Lyndon Johnson a free hand in fighting the war. It was a vote he regretted.
“Well, I reluctantly supported that resolution because we were assured that two American destroyers operating on the high seas were attacked in an unprovoked — what was called an unprovoked attack by the North Vietnamese naval forces,” McGovern said in a 2005 Democracy Now radio interview. “Actually, we learned within a few months of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that there was no evidence that such an attack ever occurred. Even one of the commanders of one of the destroyers said at the time, ... ‘Hold up, we are not really sure that there was any attack.’”
McGovern was later critical of Congress’ 2002 vote that essentially gave President George W. Bush the go-ahead for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“I couldn’t understand people with any historic memory at all voting to authorize war against Iraq in view of the way we had been so shamefully misled in the Gulf of Tonkin incident,” McGovern said in the same interview.
While in the Senate, McGovern championed programs for the poor, particularly battling hunger. He worked with Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) — with whom McGovern was close — to establish WIC, food stamps and school lunch programs.
McGovern’s relationship with Dole prospered when he was selected to be chairman of the Nutrition and Human Needs Committee and Dole was chosen as ranking member.
In a 2011 C-SPAN interview, McGovern said he got the idea for the committee after watching a CBS News documentary called “Hunger in America” in 1967.
McGovern said he recalls telling his wife, Eleanor, “there are no hungry people in America; this is the richest country in the world.”
“I knew about hunger in the world — African, Asia, Latin America, parts of the Middle East ... but I wasn’t really aware of the degree of hunger right here in this country,” McGovern said.
One scene that particularly bothered McGovern was when the reporter asked one child who was standing to the side in a school lunchroom how he felt about not eating. The boy responded that he felt ashamed because he didn’t have money for lunch.
“I remember saying to two of my daughters who were watching the program, ‘You know, it’s not that little guy who should be ashamed. It’s George McGovern, a United States Senator and I didn’t even know that students aren’t allowed to eat unless they had the money to pay for the lunch.”