When it came time for questions from the audience, McGovern was first asked to share his feelings on Kennedy’s passing. He expressed his admiration for the Kennedy family and the guts Ted Kennedy displayed bouncing back from the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969. McGovern and Kennedy had both first been elected to the Senate seven years earlier, and McGovern recalled Kennedy being back in his office a few days after Chappaquiddick, again working hard for his constituents from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. like he always did.
“Ted was a great senator,” McGovern said. “He hardly missed a day. . . . I admired him, and, on a personal basis, if any senator suffered a loss like a child or a spouse, he was the first person who called. When our daughter Terry died, he came to see Eleanor and me. He was there at 9 the next morning with his wife. He was a person who respected tragedy because of his family. He was very thoughtful. I thought a lot of him.”
George McGovern gets a laugh from Gore Vidal's introduction at the Nixon Library
McGovern made it clear he also thinks a lot of President Barack Obama, but he called on Congress to take a harder look at the “growing military involvement in Afghanistan,” fearing it is a “really unwise military adventure.”
Asked what he would have done differently if he had defeated the man to whose legacy the building McGovern was standing in was dedicated, the South Dakotan first praised Reagan for helping to end the Cold War and Nixon for opening relations with China. McGovern said he would have also tried to open channels of communication with the leaders of the Communist regimes. But he also would have championed further reductions in military spending so more could be diverted to health care, education and cleaning up the environment.
The last question McGovern was asked before he was whisked away to the book-signing table was whether he had anything he wanted to add about the investigation into Nixon operatives breaking into the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972.
“No, I don’t think so,” answered McGovern, slightly flummoxed. “I thought they did a pretty good job investigating Watergate.”
With that, the ground ceased to rumble under the tomb of the 37th president of the United States. Or perhaps Vidal had just finished clearing his throat for chapter two.