George McGovern was not a very good presidential candidate. He joked that he wanted to run for president “in the worst way — and did.”

But his stupendous loss to Richard Nixon on the cusp of the Watergate scandal was hardly the measure of this good and decent man. He was an author of more than a dozen books, a statesman, a crusader against hunger, a liberal lion, a New Dealer to the core, a public servant. And he was an early and vocal critic of the Vietnam War.

In one memorable speech in 1970 on the Senate floor, McGovern told colleagues:

“Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave.”

While the loss to Nixon in ’72 condemned McGovern’s brand of liberal politics to the scrapheap for years, he never wavered in his principles. The campaign was noted for a new openness to women, the young and people of color, all of which revitalized the Democratic Party. A young Bill Clinton — and his future wife, Hillary Rodham — both worked for McGovern.