CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Back in 1987, while former U.S. Sen. George McGovern was the first Drinko lecturer at Marshall University, he visited The Charleston Gazette for a full-page interview about American issues.
He recalled how the Republican Nixon and Reagan administrations sank into criminal violations -- and how the Republican Eisenhower and Reagan administrations illegally sent the CIA secretly to overthrow Latin American governments the White House disliked.
But the most memorable part of his talk was his comparison of billion-dollar U.S. elections to simpler ones in Europe.
"I think we can learn from the British, who limit their campaigns to three or four months -- by tradition, not by law," McGovern said a quarter-century ago. He added that the French "give presidential contenders six hours on public service television ... with 50 million French people watching."
Brief, direct, inexpensive European elections clearly were superior to America's colossal political carnival, he said -- but he knew no way to reform the U.S. mess, because America's free speech lets politicians clamor as long as they want and pour vast fortunes into smear ads on television.
When McGovern died this week at 90, we looked back over his noble life. He waged a never-ending struggle to help little people, average folks, American families.
Under Democratic President Kennedy in the 1960s, he led America's Food for Peace program, sending surplus crops to hungry foreign lands. He helped create the U.N. World Food Program. He expanded America's school lunches and food stamps for the needy. He helped launch the Women, Infants and Children program. He fought for human rights and nuclear weapons control.
McGovern hated the wasteful, unnecessary Vietnam War. In a blunt Senate speech, he said:
"Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land -- young men without legs or arms or genitals or faces or hopes."
McGovern's 1972 campaign for president, backed by millions of young enthusiasts (including Bill and Hillary Clinton), was a disaster. He carried only one state. He later joked that he "wanted to run for president in the worst way -- and I did."
Nobody ever questioned his genuine desire to help humanity. The White House called him "a statesman of great conscience and conviction." After his death this week, longtime Republican Sen. Bob Dole wrote in The Washington Post:
"Throughout his half-century career in the public arena, George McGovern never gave up on his principles or in his determination to call our nation to a higher plane. America and the world are for the better because of him."