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WALSH: What George was thinking

Bill Walsh

Much has been written and said about the late George McGovern. Most reflected on his fine political career and life up to the 1980s and the books (he wrote 14) that he had written since then, plus his involvement as the ambassador to the U.N. on food policy. Little has been written regarding his thoughts these past several years.

Although I knew George McGovern for about 60 years, it was the past half dozen years that I and my wife, Jo, really had the opportunity to engage George in conversation over many dinners at Chef Louie's in Mitchell and the many times that he visited with us in Rapid City.

It was from these in-depth conversations and our times together at various democratic functions, that I learned what George was thinking about. Forgive me if I err on the side of simplicity.

First, he was always thinking about Eleanor and his family. He was concerned that he had not spent more time with his family and less time on his career. He was especially saddened by his daughter, Terry's, and his son, Steven's, death. He talked about the addictive gene that was in his family tree.

Second, he thought government workers were getting a bad rap. Both at the last McGovern forum in Mitchell in November 2011 and at his speech at Mount Rushmore a summer ago, he believed that government employees were some of the most dedicated and hardworking folks in D.C.

Third, he believed that we should get out of Afghanistan right now. From a historical point of view, he would argue that Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the British or the Russians could not subdue the people of Afghanistan, nor could we.

Fourth, he believed that he and Sen. Bob Dole could double the 24 million children that the U.N. feeds in Africa.

As with his Food for Peace Program, his support for food stamps, etc., he thought these programs helped our American farmers as well.

Fifth, after writing his latest book concerning "What it Means to Be a Democrat," he wanted to write a book about the great Republican leaders of the 20th century. He also wanted to write a book about his dog, Ursa, and his other Newfoundland dog.

Sixth, he believed that every student should receive a free college or vocational school education. Like most of his liberal ideas, this one, too, was founded on history and sound economics.

George's example was the G.I. Bill of post-World War II. The economic benefits to the nation in jobs and taxes paid by the skilled workforce far exceeded the cost of that program.

Seventh, he believed that the new health care bill should have been just one page extending Medicare to include the uninsured.

Eighth, he often said, "You know, Bill, if a terrorist ever took over a plane that I was on, provided someone took care of the terrorist, I know I could land that plane."

Since 1952, I have been a student of George McGovern. I was lucky to be with him at the Chicago convention in 1968, the Miami convention in 1972 and the Denver convention in 2008.

The Charlotte Convention of 2012 was the first that he missed since the 1950s, but we watched President Obama give his acceptance speech on a TV screen at the top of the Alex Johnson Hotel. After the speech, he leaned over and said, "He's going to sweep it."

That was the last conversation that I had with George.

Bill Walsh, a longtime South Dakota political activist, is a Mitchell native and lives in Deadwood.