A few years ago, I was waiting for my wife to join me for lunch in a popular eatery off Connecticut Avenue in downtown Washington, D. C.
At a corner table by himself was a stately-looking older gentleman: George S. McGovern, former Senator and standard bearer for the Democratic party in the 1972 presidential race.
I asked if I could join him for a few moments. He gracefully consented and then regaled me with tales from his spectacular career in politics. Though long since retired from government service, he still had the spark of civic involvement burning brightly within him.
We talked about music and he revealed that he was just starting piano lessons. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Optimism and ambition emanated from him despite his advanced age.
Some might not know that this prototype of the "dove" during the Vietnam era was actually a decorated war hero.
During World War Two, he flew dangerous bombing missions against Germany.
In his autobiography, McGovern recounts his sadness over the destruction caused by American bombs he dropped all over Europe. McGovern says that despite this sadness, he'd do it all over again because the defeat of the Nazi regime was essential to the survival of civilization.
In the 1970's, on French television, McGovern discussed bombs he dropped in the French countryside and their devastation. An old woman came to the studio and explained how her farmhouse had been destroyed by one of those blasts.
McGovern, overcome with emotion, tried to say how sorry he was. Before he could finish, she stopped him and hugged him, telling him how he was among the brave young American boys who risked their lives to free the French from the cold blooded invaders. His courage gave her liberty, she said, and she was grateful.
Those of you who read this column know that I am a conservative thinker.
But I must confess that I value character above politics.
McGovern, left winger though he may be, truly believes in his causes in his heart. He loves America and saw liberty worth fighting for in Europe.
He did not believe that we were fighting for liberty in Vietnam and he feels that way about Afghanistan.
I think McGovern is wrong. But I also think McGovern is a man of high character. Despite my Republican roots, I'd take a liberal with honor above a charlatan conservative any day.
This leaves me searching for the liberals of character today. The Michael Moore and Barney Frank style of liberalism is typified by hypocrites looking for space in the New York Times or face time on MSNBC. Even President Obama seems unstatesmanlike as he tosses aside his positions on Guantanamo Bay or Immigration in favor of political maneuvering.
So here's a challenge to the left side of the aisle: bring us the worthy warrior of integrity.
Bring us a George McGovern. Whether right or wrong, someone like him carries with him the missing component in today's political discourse.