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His shambolic 1972 campaign became an emblem of all that went wrong with the Democratic Party between the decline of Lyndon Johnson and the election of Bill Clinton a quarter of a century later.As both a social liberal and Vietnam war dove, his views were too much for a substantial section of his own party, not to mention the wider electorate.After much dithering, Mc Govern dropped Eagleton from the ticket.By then however, damned either for waiting too long before taking action, or for having not had the courage to see the storm out, he had squandered much of his reputation for honesty and straight dealing, which were among his main political assets.Late in life he became a diplomat and indefatigable advocate for the world's poor.
His platform was the most liberal in modern Democratic history, promising an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam ("I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in," he declared), a bn cut in defence spending, and calling for a guaranteed annual income for all Americans. Proceedings so overran that Mc Govern ended up delivering his acceptance speech at 3am, and the actress Shirley Mac Laine cheerily described California delegates, of whom she was one, as resembling "a couple of high schools, a grape boycott, a Black Panther rally and four or five politicians who walked in the wrong door." Even more damaging, if possible, was the fiasco of Mc Govern's vice-presidential choice, Senator Tom Eagleton of Missouri, who was forced to withdraw after admitting he had a history of severe depression.
There he was twice elected class president and won a state public speaking contest with a speech entitled "My Brother's Keeper", a fervent statement of an individual's responsibility to his fellow human beings.
In Mitchell, too, he met another student, Eleanor Stegeberg, whom he married.
But he secured only 146 votes in the roll call, far behind vice-president Hubert Humphrey, whom he subsequently endorsed.
After Humphrey lost the 1968 election to Nixon, Mc Govern emerged as a prominent party figure and, amid the growing polarisation of the country over Vietnam, almost inevitably as a contender for the party's 1972 presidential nomination.
If Vietnam was an affront to Mc Govern's conscience, the death in June 1968 of his friend Robert Kennedy – to whom Mc Govern had spoken by phone minutes before RFK's assassination in Los Angeles – hit home equally hard.