Remembering Arlen Specter and George McGovern

The recent passing of Senators Arlen Specter and George McGovern allows us a unique opportunity to reflect on some of the men who defined the modern Democrat.

Arlen Specter was born in Wichita, Kan. on Feb. 12, 1930. Before becoming a senator he served on the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It was after this that he sought political office. Having been a Democrat up to that point, Specter surprised many when he switched to the Republican Party and was elected to the Senate in 1980. As a socially liberal senator, Specter found it increasingly difficult to find common ground with his Republican counterparts. As such, Specter changed party affiliation back to Democrat in 2009.

Specter was also diagnosed with an advanced form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer, in 2005. He continued working during chemotherapy. However, he died from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 82 on Oct. 14 of this year.

“Arlen Specter was always a fighter. From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent  —  never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve,” said President Barack Obama in a White House press release. “He brought that same toughness and determination to his personal struggles, using his own story to inspire others.”

Another equally inspirational story of political action can be found in Senator George McGovern.

McGovern was born in Avon, S.D. on July 19, 1922. In 1956, McGovern was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives and was later elected to the Senate in 1962..

McGovern was a staunch opponent of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, going so far as to introduce an amendment that sought to end the war through legislative means. It was defeated in both 1970 and 1971. McGovern also made three unsuccessful runs for the presidency in 1968, 1972 and 1984.

“Senator McGovern is remembered as the loser in the Nixon landslide of
1972,” said Associate Vice President for Communications and Marketing Ty Buckner in an email interview. “But what some people forget is that he was a decorated U.S. hero who was willing to stand against the Vietnam War. And he spent many years after that election as a mighty public servant.”

Buckner continued, “He never lost the strength of his convictions. We need more people like him in public office, regardless of their political affiliation.”

McGovern passed away on Oct. 21 of this year at age 90.

Both senators were recognized as men who stood their ground when it came to their convictions. Whether it was Specter in regards to stem cell research funding or McGovern in his fight against hunger, these men never backed down.

Their actions as Democrats reflected the definition McGovern put forth in his final book “What It Means to Be a Democrat.”

“We are the party that believes we can’t let the strong kick aside the weak,” he wrote.

It is with this passion that they will be remembered and, perhaps, they will inspire others ­— no matter the party — to hold fast to their own convictions.