Watching Mitt Romney and Barack Obama debate foreign policy, considered secondary to what counts in this presidential campaign, I recalled a time when foreign policy was the only thing that mattered in America come election time.
I've been thinking about that since George McGovern died this week at the age of 92. The passionate, sometimes too earnest politician was the first senator to oppose the war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and won the Democratic nomination in 1972 on a pledge to end the war the moment he was inaugurated.
That campaign was a gas - until voting day. As a student living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was bathed in the smug certainty that McGovern would win. All of Boston's environs were blanketed in signs supporting him, and even in the small towns I visited to go gaga over the fall colours, he looked like a winner.
Yeah, well, McGovern won only Massachusetts in a vote that saw Richard Nixon take the nation by a margin of almost 25 per cent.
I'd arrived at school in 1970 as a first-year student. Though I'd protested the war from outside the American Consulate here and demonstrated against Dow Chemical for its complicity in napalm production, I was blown away by the profound alienation and anger so deeply felt by American students.
The war had taken a terrible toll on young people in America, and it was about more than principle. Many students faced being sent to Vietnam as soon as they graduated. In the wake of hundreds of mass street demonstrations, McGovern had revived youthful confidence in the election process.
Depression sank in as we watched the results. Though it was a Tuesday night, people started drinking with a Saturday night fever and getting high on anything at hand to repress the realization that Nixon had humiliated the man who'd given us hope.
Less than two years later, Nixon would be shamed by Watergate and hounded from office.
McGovern never once gloated at those developments.
He wasn't that kind of guy.