Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Flashback: Improving Republican Chances Brings Ike Back to Minnesota As Walter Judd Begins Stand-Off with the Cowles Press. The Frustration of Amos Jorgenssen

[More from the front of fifty years ago for my kids and grandchildren]

Rebelling Democrats Peter Popovich along with D. Donald Wozniak and financier Robert Short were celebrities in the newly liberated party of Hubert Humphrey after the Estes Kefauver primary victory and they wouldn’t let Humphrey forget it. Initially, there was no ideological split between the Humphrey-ites and them except that Popovich and Wozniak wanted in on the leadership. But after the thrashing they gave Humphrey in March, 1956, the more they thought about it, there were things they wanted to insist on. Humphrey had been a folk-hero of sorts, having formed the Democratic-Farmer-Labor from a loose federation of Farmer-Laborites and conservative Democrats, the his stooge and ally, Governor Orville Freeman was not of the same cut of cloth. Freeman was a tad more to the left, an enforcer and a grim, humorless type who punished enemies.

Popovich was freer meeting with Republicans. Our next meeting was for lunch, whether the press saw us together or not. Popovoch never forgot that I gave him a list that tremendously aided their Kefauver organization. Breaking his word to me, Popovich tried to recruit our conservative Republican people into the DFL but it didn’t work. Our people were there for only one reason: to embarrass Humphrey. Reluctantly, Popovich gave up.

“Yeah,” he said, frankly. “I thought they would melt into our ranks but they’re Republicans. You’re welcome to `em but thanks for your help at the beginning.” He discussed only returning the favor to bring down Governor Freeman. I arranged a meeting between him and our candidate but Ancher Nelsen was not a power-broker, could not think of anything to give them (and I decided not to get overly involved) so a fusion support died. “We can’t go for the farmer,” Popovich said finally. Well, I said, let me think of something else where we can work together.

The defeat of the Humphrey forces and the weakening of Humphrey across the state was a bog story nationally. The press said it was key in causing President Eisenhower’s to decide to come back to the state before election day 1956. Not so; it was far from the truth. As press flack for the GOP, I trumpeted it as a sign the White House felt we were going to win the governorship but the real reason was far more substantive than that. Congressman Walter Judd was the mainstay of foreign policy support for the administration in the House and his margins were being eaten away steadily in Minneapolis as organized labor determined to get rid of him. The Cowles press, publishers of what had earlier been regarded as the progressive Republican Look magazine, the DesMoines Register and the Minneapolis Star and Tribune had gone to the left. Their endorsements of Judd each two years were becoming laced with heavy criticism. John Foster Dulles, a friend of Judd’s asked Eisenhower to come to save Judd.

For those who don’t remember Judd, he was truly the embodiment of what the founders meant when they labeled the job “United States Representative in Congress.” Born in Rising City, Nebraska at the end of the 19th century about the same year as his worst enemy who was also from there, columnist Drew Pearson, Judd went to medical school, developed great talent as a surgeon and ended up at the Mayo Clinic who would operate while a balcony-full of medical students would watch and hear him comment on a microphone as he carved away. He was offered a major role in surgery at the Clinic which he declined because he had experienced a religious conversion.

He wondered whether or not to junk his medical career and just become a Congregationalist minister, but his wife had the good sense to disabuse him of that. “Walter,” she said, “God made you a surgeon and a surgeon you will be.” Okay, he said, but he struck a bargain with her. The both of them would go to China, then in grievous poverty, as medical missionaries to the poor. Which they did while the Mayo Clinic went into mourning. Dr. Charlie Mayo, son of one of the founders, tried to cut a deal with Judd where he’d come back to Rochester after a few years, but it was no go. The Judds decided to spend the remainder of their lives in China.

They worked in China together, he as a surgeon and she as a self-taught nurse, when the China-Japanese war started in the 1930s. They became very concerned about the Japanese warlords, were once captured and held as prisoners of war, then released and went back to their work. It was at that time that the U. S. was selling scrap iron to Japan which the Japanese melted down into armaments. One night, working as a surgeon by a flickering light bulb while Mrs. Judd held an additional light, Judd pried out of the body of a dying Chinese kid a piece of shrapnel that had an inscription on it. The child died and after they both mourned and comforted the weeping parents, Judd looked at the shrapnel: it bore the inscription Made in Detroit. It was part of the scrap iron deal concocted by the FDR administration.

Occasionally, when he was called back to the U. S. by the Congregational church to fund-raise, Walter Judd would go across the country not just raising money but warning against Japanese aggression which, he said, was aimed at the United States. He became a compelling orator and a frequently appearing sage on radio on foreign policy. He was regarded as a liberal, a supporter of FDR’s warnings against aggression. As things got worse with the war, the Judds, back in China, were captured again by Japanese forces, again quarantined and held in prison again, then released by the appeal of the State Department. The last time they went back to the United States, he had a talk and fund-raising mission at a Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. That was December 7, 1941. His prophecy had come true. Shut out from returning to China, he began a medical practice in Minneapolis: fitting because he was really a man without a hometown, since he had been in China for twenty years. He was such a powerful figure in evangelical Protestant circles, that he was asked to run for Congress in Minneapolis against an isolationist Republican congressman.

As he had belonged to neither party, Judd thought about running as a DFLer but the more he thought about it, he felt he was a progressive, international Republican—so he combated with Oscar Knutson in the GOP primary. His speaking style was magnetic and a young Hubert Humphrey approached him to ask how Humphrey could join him in the Republican party—but it never took. As a somewhat legendary figure in church circles and a frequent commentator on Far Eastern affairs—particularly in the Reader’s Digest—Judd swamped Knutson, easily beat the DFLer and went to the Congress in 1942 where he was immediately named to the House Foreign Affairs committee. Occasionally he would go back to Mayo to operate but his time grew far more stringent. He then determined he would be a missionary, all right, but to the Congress. In short order, he began to form a new caucus within the House GOP: an internationalist group in what was once an Old Guard isolationist body. He placed Harold Stassen in nomination before the GOP convention in 1948. A close friend of Mrs. Heffelfinger, he became leader of a move to bring General Eisenhower back to the states to run for Congress.

For some years, Walter Judd was the golden boy of progressive Minnesota Republican politics. He appeared on national debate shows then popular, like “Town Hall of the Air” which was a national debate forum every Saturday night from coast to coast. But as World War II wound down and the Cold War started up, Judd discovered two things: first was personal. When he was a medical student in the early days of radiation when no one knew about the deleterious effects of x-rays, he had burned his face severely while working under the invidious rays and had developed skin cancer. The cancer was not fatal but required a regular painful peeling of the skin from his face at Mayo which left his visage scarred and pulpy. It gave him a distinct feeling of inferiority, believing people winced when they saw his face. The second was more serious for him: The Cowles newspapers which ruled the roost in Minneapolis had developed a bad case of liberality where they supported d├ętente and concessions to the USSR and China to avoid war. They painted Judd, once a progressive, as an Old Guard near-Bircher. He was not but Judd was a forerunner of Ronald Reagan’s hard line against appeasement: as a matter of fact, the young Reagan, beginning his General Electric road shows in perfecting his philosophy, came to Minnesota often to meet with Judd.

The Cowles people were threatening to withhold their endorsements and to promote someone to run against Judd. His margins, once hefty, were becoming thinner. The Cowles people made fun of him, saying that he was a key member of the so-called “China Lobby,” the pro-Chiang kai Shek group that was fighting the “agrarian reformer” Mao Tse Tung. Judd agreed that he was opposed to Mao, called Mao a Communist. The Cowles people vehemently disagreed, arguing that Chiang was a feudalist and that the U. S. should align with Mao. That fight led Judd to walk out of an editorial board meeting which declined to endorse either candidate that year in the election.

Judd was called by these detractors with the same epithets that tough anti-Communists faced ever since: inflexible, behind-the-times, out-of-date. In 1954 DFL candidate Joe Robbie came close to beating him.

It was at this stage of his career, waging a tough fight for reelection, that led Foster Dulles to beg Eisenhower to come once more to Minnesota. I was detailed for a time to help Judd get press in his campaign. As a noble humanitarian, he was nevertheless a tough one to work for. I finally convinced him to challenge his DFL opponent, Joe Robbie, to debate. Judd didn’t want to: his face was particularly gruesome from the skin peeling; he was hidebound in the belief that challengers should issue the bid to debate not incumbents. But things were so precarious that Judd would have to act as the under-dog. Joe Robbie was the epitome of a slick lawyer with packed suitcase who would move anywhere for a campaign to get elected to anything.

Joe Robbie was virtually penniless, had blown his wad of cash running for governor of South Dakota as a Democrat which didn’t work out (a young Methodist aspirant minister, George McGovern was his campaign manager). Without a job, Joe Robbie left the loss in South Dakota, came to Minneapolis, signed up as a metropolitan planning attorney, and immediately went after Judd. He lost a close one in 1954 and here he was trying a second time in 1956. If that name sounds familiar to sports fans, it should be. After Joe Robbie, a Lebanese, lost a very narrow one to Judd in 1956 he packed up his things and moved again to Florida. There well into middle age he got involved in real estate, became a multi-millionaire who started the Miami Dauphins, gave his name to the Joe Robbie stadium in Miami.

There was no way I could get Walter Judd favorable press in Minneapolis with the lefty Cowles people despite the fact that elsewhere Judd had become a conservative staple. Perhaps the only way I helped him was to sit down again with Peter Popovich of the dissident Kefauver wing of the Democratic party and cut a deal. Joe Robbie had been a strong Stevenson leader during the abortive presidential primary and I convinced Popovich to get even by sending battalions of his people to cross the river to Minneapolis to help punish Robbie by reelecting Walter Judd. But Eisenhower was crucial. The polls were still against Judd when we met the ancestor of Air Force One, the “Columbine,” at Wold-Chamberlain. By then I had taken on the all but official title of Judd campaign manager at Mrs. Heffelfinger’s behest. Judd, Mrs. Heffelfinger and a few fat cats met the “Columbine” on a blustery cold October day, posed for the TV cameras with the president and ushered him into a waiting room where I was. The Secret Service was not nearly so aggressive as they have become. Then they generally stood around, watching. The pretext was to serve steaming coffee to the group—but Eisenhower and Jim Haggerty, his press guy, wanted a brief huddle with the candidate to know what Ike should do to help Judd.

But the candidate wouldn’t admit he was in trouble. Judd was painfully shy, apologizing to the president for taking him away from more important tasks in Washington, as Mrs. Heffelfinger and I groaned. Asked by the president as to what he should say, Judd said that it was up to the president to decide. Awful. Mrs. Heffelfinger and I both jumped in—me first while she gave me a dirty look and a sharp jab in the ribs. Mr. President, I said, tell the people and the cameras out there that you don’t know what you would do if you didn’t have Walter Judd by your side to juggle the issues of war and peace! “God!” said Judd, mortified, “don’t listen to that, Mr. President. I’m fine. That’s a terrible exaggeration!” Eisenhower looked at me, then to Mrs. Heffelfinger who said gravely, “Mr. President, only those words, sat like that, can save him.” “No-no,” said Judd, embarrassed, “it’s not nearly that bad.” Eisenhower nodded, made his judgment and the group went to the car, the Secret Service tagging along, while I hitched a ride with the press in the press bus. In the car Eisenhower took out a notebook and made some notes, putting them in his jacket pocket before he arose and gave his familiar V-sign salute. That afternoon at the Bank Plaza, the president rose from his seat, waited for the applause to calm down and delivered.

The rally, outside, featured an early hand-held microphone which someone was to hand to the President. It should have been a small recognition for a Judd volunteer who worked in all the campaigns, folding literature, making phone calls, going door-to-door. I picked one of our hardiest volunteers, a senior citizen, about 80, named Amos Jorgenssen, a faceless, dedicated worker who asked nothing of anyone, no recognition, no nothing. He stood outside in the cold with the hand microphone for at least two hours prior to Eisenhower’s arrival with the hand mike, occasionally blowing on it to see if it was working. The plan called for Judd to make the introduction on a regular mike with Eisenhower in the wings (so he wouldn’t get cold) and then the president was to either trot or stride briskly to Jorgenssen to take from him the hand mike. It was something Jorgenssen would treasure and he had his grandchildren there to watch him.

Judd unfurled a terrific introduction, pointed to the wings and the President strode out his hand extended to take the hand mike from Jorgenssen. Just then from the wings on the other side of the stage the Hennepin county GOP chairman, a born show-horse, raced out to Jorgennsen which momentarily stunned the Secret Service one of whom reached for a gun. The GOP chairman yanked the mike from Jorgenssen’s hand and gave it to the president. Talk about low rent! Jorgenssen left the stage then and we never saw him again. Ever. I am sure he voted for Joe Robbie and I couldn’t blame him.

Eisenhower came through that day.

The next day the morning Cowles Tribune hated to do it but gave us this headline: Ike: I Need Judd! The Cowes Star in a rehash of the story that evening: Judd Foreign Savvy Essential says President. The speech helped everybody. We photocopied the headlines in the archaic process of the day, ran off circulars and gave them to the aging Republican volunteers plus Pete Popovich’s St. Paul insurgents to distribute door to door. The headlines got Judd reelected; they convinced Joe Robbie he had better get out of Dodge and practice law in Miami where he made a mega million fortune, bought the Dauphins, built a stadium, had it named after him, dying a Floridian hero and spared me at 28 from bringing home a loser.

And I am sure Amos Jorgenssen watching the TV that night gnawed his knuckles in hatred and frustration at the idiot GOP county chairman, a grinning showboat. God, I still feel bad about that.

1 comment:

  1. Tom-

    I recognize that these words may be technically interchangable but the Miami NFL team associates with the aquatic mammals, not the eldest son of the French King. This may confuse some of your less well read fans . Keep up the great history lesson. Lil and I enjoy every installment!