McGovern entered Democratic Party politics in 1953, was first elected to Congress in 1956, and retained his seat until 1961. He lost a senatorial bid in 1960. President John F. Kennedy then appointed McGovern to head the Food for Peace program, an initiative to use U.S. food surpluses to fight world hunger. McGovern resigned this post in 1962 to seek South Dakota's other senatorial seat, winning a narrow election victory that November and taking office in January 1963.
McGovern emerged in the mid-1960s as a leading critic of American Cold War policies. He presciently warned against further American involvement in Southeast Asia, and after a 1965 trip to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, South Vietnam) he publicly advocated a political rather than military solution to what he viewed as a civil war.
In 1970, along with Senator Mark Hatfield, McGovern introduced the Hatfield-McGovern Amendment that called for the removal of U.S. military forces from South Vietnam by the end of 1971 and for the end of all funding to South Vietnam. The amendment failed to win approval.
McGovern won the Democratic nomination for president in the 1972 election and campaigned as an antiwar candidate. He called for a blanket amnesty for draft resisters and for drastic cuts in military spending. Incumbent President Richard M. Nixon ridiculed McGovern's positions, labeling him a radical and out of touch. Nixon easily defeated McGovern in the November election. In 1980, McGovern was defeated for reelection to the Senate. He retired from active politics in January 1981.
A prolific author and acknowledged expert on world hunger and food problems, McGovern worked with the United Nations (UN) in many capacities. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
Michael D. Richards
McGovern, George. Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern. New York: Random House, 1978.; Watson, Robert P., ed. George McGovern: A Political Life, a Political Legacy. Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2004.; Weil, Gordon Lee. The Long Shot: George McGovern Runs for President. New York: Norton, 1973.