McGovern talks about new book

Andrew Scoggin

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Though current events weren’t on the agenda for the talk he gave Thursday at Northwestern, former Democratic presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. George McGovern couldn’t help but take a jab at former Vice President Dick Cheney’s attitude toward Iraq.

“At the risk of sounding slightly partisan,” McGovern said, “I wish that he and (former President George W. Bush) and his colleagues in the White House would have dithered a little longer. We never should have put American troops in Iraq.”

About 80 people attended McGovern’s question-and-answer session in the McCormick Tribune Center. The event was co-sponsored by the McCormick Freedom Project and the Medill School of Journalism.

McGovern’s remarks centered around his new book, “Abraham Lincoln,” which is part of a series by a number of authors called “The American Presidents Series.” McGovern said Lincoln is his hero not only because of his accomplishments in office but also his ability to overcome personal obstacles.

“There’s something kind of neat about George McGovern writing about the founder of the Republican Party,” he said jokingly.

McGovern didn’t shy away from discussion of his own life, including his unsuccessful 1972 bid for President.

“The high point was in Miami (at the 1972 Democratic National Convention) at about midnight when I knew I was going to be the nominee,” he said. “And I think the low point was when we got the results. I was astounded. That was tough. I wouldn’t say that was a lift.”

Lourdes Aceves, Weinberg ’04, said she enjoyed McGovern’s meandering lecture style.

“It wasn’t just ‘let me talk about Lincoln and my book,'” Aceves said. “He gave anecdotal gems. It was exactly what I wanted out of a lecture from McGovern. That’s something you can’t read about.”

McGovern received a master’s degree in 1949 and Ph.D. in 1953 from NU, both in history. McGovern said he searched for the right graduate school after returning home from fighting abroad during World War II and finally settled on NU.

“And I never regretted it,” McGovern said. “I never would’ve been a U.S. senator or presidential nominee had it not been for those four years at Northwestern.”

In 2006, the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian at Harvard University, challenged McGovern to write a book for his “American Presidents” series.

“He convinced me I should do one of these books,” McGovern said. “He said, ‘You’ve been telling me for 40 years that Northwestern is better than Harvard, and here’s your chance to put up or shut up.'”

David Anderson, vice president of civic programming for the McCormick Foundation, said the Freedom Project brought McGovern to Chicago to speak earlier this year.

“His writing is very approachable,” Anderson said. “We thought he was wonderful and we wanted to bring him back.”

McGovern said his proudest accomplishment was linked to his fervent opposition of the war in Vietnam.

“While I didn’t win the election, when a candidate gets nearly 30 million votes with a pledge to flatly end a war,” McGovern said before the event, “even though you lose, that war had to end after that. Nobody understood that better than Nixon.”