Tuesday, December 27, 2005

One More Thing About McCarthy Now That We Mark His Death

gene mccarthy
One important remembrance I have of Gene McCarthy came to mind after I wrote my impressions of this man of whom I was so fond for many years. As you know, he ran for president also in 1972 and as an independent in 1976. It was in 1976 when the Republican nominee was President Gerald Ford that his staff called me and said that he would appreciate getting away from the grind and having dinner at my house. It so happened we were entertaining two couples from Quaker that night and we invited him. He brought his top staffer, a good friend with whom I had graduated and two Secret Service men who occupied our back bedroom and who sent out for pizza (the Secret Service men making a deep impression on my mother-in-law and my then little kids). After an evening of great entertainment, when Gene was at his best, he and his aide drew me aside and told me what was on their minds.

It was an ingenious concocted stratagem. If it had been employed, I can only say that Gerald Ford could have had a better shot at being returned to the White House over Jimmy Carter. Explaining it is rather tricky. The campaign finance law that was in effect that year prescribed that candidates of the two major parties observe fund-raising limits and after the nominating conventions they were to be out of commission for the purpose of fund-raising and would be dependent on monies from the respective national party committees. But McCarthy as an independent candidate for president could continue to receive contributions—unlimitedly. This was McCarthy’s proposal which was brilliant and entirely do-able. After the two conventions, Republican financiers should raise tons of money for McCarthy because (a) they can’t give any money to Ford anyhow and (b) the race between Ford and Carter in certain selected states, Ohio being one of them, were very close. If Gene could go on television in those states, he could very possibly swing Democratic votes to himself and while McCarthy could not be elected, Carter could be defeated.

After studying their map, I became convinced that Gene McCarthy wanted, more than anything in the world, to defeat Carter. I talked to a number of people about it, Bob Stuart being onel (nothing eventuated there) but Mrs. Gus Hart another (and she pitched in for McCarthy because, frankly, she favored him more than Ford or Carter). I went to see former governor Dick Ogilvie who was running the Ford campaign. To my astonishment, he dismissed it and actively opposed it. The thought of Gene McCarthy giving us an idea that would elect Ford and Ogilvie dismissing it has long caused me suspicion about Ogilvie (whom I regarded as one of the coldest-eyed cynics I ever met in this game). McCarthy, on the other hand, was not cynical. I’m convinced he felt that here was a brilliant chance to affect the election in a significant way, recognizing that he could not be elected himself.

McCarthy was, essentially, a libertarian in his philosophical formation and felt more comfortable with Ford than Carter—although, assuredly, he wanted to repay his old party for fancied rebuffs. I have always fantasized about how history would have been changed if, through this device, Ford had won. Four years later McCarthy came out for Reagan. He wanted to be ambassador to the United Nations which, in some ways, he was uniquely qualified to fill. Whether he would have gotten along with Al Haig and George Shultz I don’t know (I doubt it). As to Ogilvie and why he didn’t buy it, the ex-governor was a thorough-going unimaginative political hack who hugged the cards close to his chest and didn’t want a McCarthy or anyone else to get credit (he fancying himself as Ford’ AG). I’ve always felt Ogilvie was one of our more inflated personages who ingratiated himself to the liberals by passing a state income tax after a campaign where he stayed mum on the subject.

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