There was nothing strident about McGovern; even when his words were harsh, his delivery tended to be bland. As a young man, he had been a warrior, and a heroic one. As a senator, he opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam from the beginning, in 1963. Arguing in 1970 for legislation to cut U.S. war spending and force troop withdrawal, he offended his colleagues by telling them, “This chamber reeks of blood,” vehement words delivered in the matter-of-fact McGovern style. His 1972 presidential campaign proposals included withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for draft evaders and steep cuts in the Pentagon budget.

For a time, he also advocated a $1,000 tax grant to every American to replace complex welfare and income support programs, saying the needy could spend it and the wealthy would pay it back in taxes. It came with no numbers, no estimate of the cost, although McGovern claimed, against arithmetic and logic, that it would balance out at zero. He dropped that idea, but the Republicans never did.

That spoke to one of his chronic political problems. He was an idea man, not a manager. Witness the uncontrolled chaos of his nominating convention, dramatized when assorted Democratic interest groups spent so much time talking that McGovern did not get to deliver his own acceptance speech until 2:48 a.m., long after the TV audience had gone to bed.