Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Flashback: Humphrey’s Warning About Nut-Cups…Getting Married…The Auto Accident and What Lillian Learned About Me…All These Things Plus Trying to Run Judd for Vice President

[More memories from fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren.]

All the while Ed Viehman was building a volunteer-based Minnesota Republican party from scratch, Lillian Prescott of Chicago and I, in Washington, were planning our wedding—to be held October 10, 1959 at St. Thomas Aquinas church on the west side, my cousin, Father George Helfrich, to be the Mass celebrant and witness to the marriage. Since we had dated extensively…about two years steadily seven years ago before I left for Minnesota…we thought we knew each other very well—but, of course in those innocent days when nobody in our crowd were intimately familiar before nuptials, we weren’t. With Lillian in Chicago and I in Washington, I kept feeding out news releases, radio tapes and some TV films with Walter Judd, always referring to him as Dr. Judd, his favorite salutation.

The publicity stirred up speculation that he was preparing to run against Hubert Humphrey in 1960. It surely would have been a terrific contest and ironic. The young Humphrey, dissatisfied with the isolationism of the old-school Democratic and Farmer Labor parties, sharing a belief in Wilsonian internationalism like Judd, actually visited Judd in his Minneapolis congressional office as an instructor in political science at Macalester college and asked how he—Humphrey—could get involved in a Judd-type Republican party. Judd told him how to sign up but Humphrey thought better of it and kept on being a Democrat.

The media savored the prospect of that contest because the two were world-class orators…Judd, at 61, more so than Humphrey, 48. Which is not to disparage Humphrey in the slightest. As one who knew both very well, I’d put Humphrey in a slightly…only very slightly…lesser category. Their styles were different reflecting their difference in ages and backgrounds.

Humphrey didn’t echo the past or cite inspiring precedents. He was a near-demagogic red meat and boiled potatoes labor union and Farmers’ Union (as anti-Communist in this Cold War as was Judd), rooted in the contemporary, a master at stirring class discontent, with the peroration calling on listeners to march to the polls and rectify injustice. Judd was the classic Webster-Calhoun genre with a propensity for asking rhetorical questions in an address, like Demosthenes: stressing linkage with the past, citing heroic precedents, turning electrifying by citing a danger from radically, prescribing a cure and an incitement to march to the polls to prevent further injustice, with a studied but coolly eloquent evangelism about him.

The two were stunningly close in crowd appeal. From personal historical taste, I’d put Judd slightly first—based on his usage of his own biography as a second lieutenant in field artillery in World War I, top-rated Mayo surgeon, medical missionary, exhortatory Congregationalist minister type and classic debater in the style of Cicero—sometimes, not always, raising oracular questions and letting the crowd shout back answers to them (a style Humphrey employed at the Democratic convention as vice presidential nominee with LBJ four years later). Humphrey didn’t have the biography Judd did: a South Dakota druggist’s son, a university instructor with a master’s degree, a party builder who like Ed Viehman took a moribund, divided party, unified it and produced an army of workers. Then as pol, Minneapolis mayor and Senator. There was really no other component to Hubert but politics. He was interested in nothing else…with the all consuming wish to be president of the United States—a wish that, as it turned out, we Minnesota Republicans decisively frustrated without fully realizing it by following Augie’s advice and sending thousands of GOP members to vote for Estes Kefauver for president in the Democratic primary instead of Adlai Stevenson (Hubert’s choice who had he won the primary would probably have picked Hubert for the vice presidential slot which would have pushed him along the road to the presidency). Now, immensely popular once again in Minnesota, Humphrey planned to run in the 1960 primaries. If he didn’t do well, he’d come back, file and run for Senator again.

While well-read and of keen intellect, Humphrey eschewed reference to the classics, dreading to sound like an academic but stressed common sense. He had more debater’s wit and a keen sense of ridicule with a haymaker peroration that could belt a victim out of the ring than Judd. Yet Judd was a superb debater, belting Joe Robbie out of the park on two successive occasions—and Joe Robbie was reputed to be a terrific debater. Who would win a Humphrey-Judd debate? We’ll never know. Judd had no experience with university-taught forensics; Humphrey did and was a champion debater. But both were naturals. A 1960 battle for the Senate was awaited by political junkies in an era where eloquence topped 30-second commercial spots.

My top goal was Judd for vice president—then, and only then, for the Senate. I was so drawn into the Judd possibilities that I forgot the dissatisfaction between Quie and me—but they soon returned. As the Judd phenomenon grew in the Minnesota press, my co-employer, Quie, dropped by my desk and said, “well, all of us little people are stirred up by the press you’ve given the good doctor.” I said, yeah—well he’s a classy guy (letting the implication hang). “What ever happened to the idea you’re also supposed to be working for me?” Said I: Nothing—you’re getting a newsletter and doing interview taping. “Somehow they don’t seem to connect with the media the way his do.” I: Why don’t you announce for the Senate and see what happens? “Rather crisp and tart, aren’t you?” I said, Maybe that’s the way a person gets when he’s told you’ll never make more than what you’re making now. I already had that experience with The St. Cloud Times. He said, “maybe I understand now why you did.” Neat rejoinder. I was waiting for him to blow up and fire me for I was reasonably sure I could get another Hill job. But he was satisfied with that rejoinder and sauntered off the winner of that match. But he realized my sass to him was not the way deferential staffers were supposed to talk to Congressmen in the man-boy era.

An interesting conversation came not long later with Humphrey, my old friend who had at one time asked me to work for him—and still a guy I liked very much personally. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce put on a huge spread at the Capitol Hilton in Washington with all Congressmen and their staffs invited. I was helping myself at the buffet table at a sumptuous repast which would amount to a full dinner for free when I felt someone at my elbow. It was Hubert, spearing himself some choice cold shrimp for a plate loaded with roast beef and turkey.

“Listen,” he said under his breath as he smiled professionally over my shoulder to streams of well-wishers. “Tell old Walter to get his nut-cups on.” It was a scatological term of the time for donning an athletic supporter to ward-off injury to the testicles. I said: Woweee, Hubert! You’re that afraid of him, huh? He gave the classic rejoinder: a soft sucking shhhh sound that implied that he thought my view amounted to excrement.

He flicked a make-believe speck of dandruff from my jacket as Lyndon Johnson used to do in nose-to-nose conversations with senators he wanted to recruit for a vote and said, “Nope. I’m just telling you I’m running for president next year and if I don’t get it, I’m coming back and keep my job, which you can tell old Walter that the battle will be strenuous and he ought to get his nut-cups on. I know you’re pushing him so that goes for you, too.” With anyone else that would be taken as rudeness but not gregarious Hubert. I said: Say, Walter’s over there. Would you want to give him that medical forewarning personally? He said, “Sure, where is he?”

Whereupon we walked over to the physician-legislator. Doctor, I said. Hubert just threatened to un-man you. “Did he now,” said the surgeon eying Humphrey with a grin. “With a dull knife or what?” They roared with laughter—which was how adversaries viewed themselves in those days, as fellow gladiators but friendly political sportsmen. Would that they were back—the old days and the old adversaries: Hubert and Judd who, I believe, would be in agreement on the Iraq war and the necessity to continue the struggle.

But politics was temporarily over for me. In early October I drove back to Illinois in a brand-new Chevrolet, picking up my best man where he lived in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. We went through the motions of going to rehearsal dinners and planning where we’d go on our honeymoon—all of which with masterly inattention to detail, which has been my style, I left to Lillian.

When I went over to her house to see her the night before our wedding, I saw a household filled with women—Lillian’s mother, her aunt and numberless other female relatives, making plans: so much activity and bustle that it kind of got to me. Lillian then took my hand and patted it, believing that for the first time I might be regretting what she feared I would regard as the surrender of my freedom to a pack of women making plans in my name. She tells me she actually wondered if I’d get cold feet. Of course not: I had had years to find out that she was the woman for me. But, I’ll confess, I had a bit of a jolt at the change that would come because for 31 years I had been on my own. On the way back to my parents’ house on the northwest side, I stopped and had a couple of stiff drinks with my best man. But it passed quickly enough. Since then and for 47 years I have rather liked being the subject of plans rather than making them extensively for myself. Now I even ask Lillian what suit I should wear, what tie, etc.

Believe it or not, after the wedding Mass we celebrated with our relatives at the Kungsholm, a fancy Swedish-Norwegian restaurant which really belonged in Minnesota. The reception lasted for a long time. Then we left in my new car and stopped that evening at a hotel called 50th on the Lake which may or may not still be there. We planned on driving to Florida for the honeymoon, spending time in Miami Beach and then driving to Washington where we’d move into an apartment. All of which happened o.k. except that on the way to Washington from Miami Beach, driving down Highway 1 into Washington, there was a long line of cars stopped at a red light.

I carefully stopped my brand new Chevrolet at the end of the long line and looked in the rear view mirror…where to my horror I saw a guy heading full-tilt for me, looking out the side window and not realizing that the line had stopped. He whacked me good, almost landing in the rear seat, snapping the front seats so that they folded up like a bed. The Virginia state highway patrol saw the whole thing and gave him a flock of tickets: driving too fast, driving inattentively, etc. But for the rest of the trip we had to fold up pillows and overcoats to prop us up so we could sit erectly in the front seats. I was very depressed at the sight of my new car and Lillian says that was the first time I seemed to lose it: between anger at the guy who whacked me, concern that insurance would pay for it and all the other attendant problems producing a kind of pessimistic panic—sure that all was for the worst. That kind of thing hits me in crisis at the outset. But it was too late for her to back out now: she was my wife.

When we got to Washington, we moved into an apartment encased in several blocks of identical buildings called the “Glassmanor” in Anacostia, Maryland—reminiscent of the blocks after blocks of desolate housing complexes outside of London. Lillian got a job as an assistant to a Republican congressman from New York, Howard Robison. We socialized with a group of Minnesota staffers and endured the agony of hearing only shop talk about Congressmen this-and-that until we could scream. Both of us have the same feeling about Washington gained from those years: a company town with company talk.

Washington was far from the elite, posh city it has become, a haven for those visiting on expense accounts. Restaurants were southern, rather dumpy. There was still a hint of the old segregation in the town. For kicks we would go up to the Senate at lunch where Lillian grew fascinated with the movie-star-type John F. Kennedy, heavy brushed reddish hair, twirling his reading glasses as LBJ and Dirksen would consort purportedly cutting deals on legislation while Richard Nixon glowered from the dais and a new resident from Minnesota sat idly by reading Robert Lowell poetry—Eugene McCarthy.

1 comment:

  1. Adali E. Stevenson was too old cry when he lost to Dwight Eisenhower, but it hurt both times, and I must admit I don't remember if he said this the first time or the second time.