Two men who once considered the Senate their domain will return to the Capitol tonight. Former Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) and Senate Historian Emeritus Richard Baker will be honored with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society’s Freedom Award at a reception in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Ron Sarasin, president of the society and a former Member of the House, said the society looks for individuals who have promoted a greater understanding of democracy and freedom. When choosing elected officials, the group tries to maintain a political balance between parties. Sarasin said that though McGovern may be best known for his race against President Richard Nixon in 1972, the society wanted to honor him for the work he has done since he left Washington in 1981.
“His work in the area of world hunger and so forth are not as well-known but also ought to be celebrated,— Sarasin said.
McGovern left Congress almost 30 years ago, but he didn’t stop being a public servant then. Though the three-time presidential candidate returned to South Dakota, he set his sights on the global problem of hunger. In some ways, he brought his career full circle. President John F. Kennedy appointed him the first director of the Food for Peace program in 1960, and he kept that role until he ran for the Senate in 1962.
In the Senate, McGovern was a leader on the committees on Unmet Basic Needs and Nutrition and Human Needs. In 1998, President Bill Clinton appointed him ambassador to the United Nations for food and agricultural agencies, and three years later, McGovern became the U.N.’s first global ambassador on world hunger. He has received awards for his battle against hunger, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the World Food Prize.
Working to eradicate hunger, however, is not the only reason that McGovern is being honored. In the year of President Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, the society appreciated McGovern’s new biography of the 16th president. “Abraham Lincoln— was released in late December. At McGovern’s request, his former campaign manager, Frank Mankiewicz, will present the award to him.
Baker served as the first historian of the Senate, taking the job when the office was created in 1975 and leading the office until he retired at the end of August. Baker spent 34 years in the office providing information about the Senate and its history to a wide variety of audiences. Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, a member of the society’s board of trustees and a contributing writer for Roll Call, will present the award to Baker.
McGovern and Baker will receive a crystal plaque engraved with the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol. Baker’s reads, “Presented to Richard A. Baker, Historian Emeritus, the United States Senate, in grateful recognition of lifelong achievement in historical scholarship that have brought an informed patriotism’ to the nation and the world by advancing greater public understanding and appreciation of the U.S. Senate and America’s representative democracy.—
McGovern and Baker join a prestigious list of honorees. The first Freedom Award went to Gilbert M. Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society in 1993, and recipients since have included historian Robert Remini, C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb, former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), former Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) and journalist David Broder. Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) was honored last year.