(Updated below with links to some very interesting articles on Shriver, his biography, and the film.)
Unable to sleep, I spent most of last night channel surfing. I came upon a program on pbs that made my insomnia worthwhile: a showing of American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver.
What a great film, and inspiring life! Of course, I knew a little about Sargent Shriver; I knew he was JFK's brother in law and was tapped by him to run the Peace Corps. I also knew he had run as McGovern's VP in 72 after Eagleton's history of depression became public (the stigma of mental health issues was even greater then than it is now).
But I found out a lot I didn't know, and a lot of details about the years of the Peace Corps, and the other Great Society programs that Shriver initiated: Job Corps, VISTA, Legal Services, Head Start, and on and on.
He has become a somewhat forgotten figure, which is too bad, because his life, his ideals, his victories, his defeats are all extremely instructive today. I think if the Obama phenomenon continues, study of Shriver's life might be all the more relevant. But I highly recommend this film (and related books and web sites) to all progressive activists concerned about the same values that drove Shriver: equality, justice, peace.
Sadly, Shriver was denied the VP slot twice before McGovern called. Johnson really wanted him to run with him in 64, and Hubert Humphrey had him on the short list in 68. But, both times, the Kennedy machine let it be known that bypassing the direct line of Kennedy kin would not be tolerated. We'll never know, but it could be argued that Humphrey could have narrowly beat Nixon in 68 with Shriver on the ticket, which would have meant a very different campaign that reached out to youthful antiwar protesters instead of denouncing them. If that had happened, the history of this country would be very, very different. Probably for the better.
Shriver is still living; he has advanced Alzheimer's.
I'll probably buy the DVD (update: not available for regular purchase; I'll try to acquire it for local organization and do a public showing), because I found the story very uplifting despite some of the tragic elements, the opportunities missed or great programs ruined by politics and ego. For a peace and justice activist, I'd call this required viewing. I'll probably also now read the biography (Sarge, published in 2004, with forward by Bill Moyers), and may then update this entry.
Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sargent_Shriver
More articles and resources added 1/28/08:
The Call to Service by Scott Stossel – biographer talks about the life and legacy of Sargent Shriver (The Atlantic, 4/2004)
Knifed by Scott Stossel – focuses on how the Kennedy clan kept Shriver from higher office (Atlantic article, May 2004)
A Muscular Idealism by Bob Herbert (Opinion column, NY Times 4/2004)
AP article about the biography (April, 2004)
On the 40th Anniversary of the War on Poverty: Same Folks, Different Strokes by Laura Flanders (Published on Monday, January 12, 2004 by TomPaine.com)
Press release from Chicago Video Project about the film 's broadcast on PBS (1/2008)
Tom Shales' Washington Post column about the film (1/2008)
From Lanny Davis's entry at Huffington Post on the PBS broadcast:
But for me, his most important legacy during his years heading the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty–young people doing public service to assist and teach the disadvantaged at home and abroad; and the one most relevant to today's politics is that he proved – and I mean proved beyond the shadow of a doubt – that a socially conscientious and caring federal government can be a friend of the average American, not the enemy that many conservatives believe and would have Americans believe.
A reaction to seeing the documentary from blogger “People Power Granny”:
We need another War on Poverty with a Different Name