Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Flashback: The Rush to Ewald. Dairy Magnate Flies to Washington Despite Airplane Phobia With Important News and Hubert Rushes from Committee…Racing the Liaison Kid… Fearing the Worst all the While.


[Fifty years plus of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

Early summer: a June day, 1951. The constituency liaison kid beckons Hubert out of committee. The junior senator, seeing him, knows something is up. When the kid says, “Mr. Ewald is in your office” he looks as if he is ready to run over to the office. At first Hubert decided not to run down the corridors back to his office (it wouldn’t be dignified) but at only age 40, though hobbled with a double hernia that was held snugly in place with a truss…and seeing that the community liaison kid was up for it…he tried to outrace him.

No such luck but by the time they got to the elevator, the junior senator from Minnesota was only a few paces behind. He just had time to catch his breath on the elevator (while the kid elevator operator, studying his law books, stood up in respect: usually senators took their own elevators).

Hubert: The News Can’t be Good.

While the run with the kid was exhilarating, Hubert had a fatal fear in his chest that this would be his last term—fate seemed to play him like that. Here he was a guy who came up the hard way in South Dakota…wanting to go to college to get out of working in a drug store…and the Depression and Dust Storm created such poverty that he had to drop out of the University of Minnesota in order to allow his older brother Ralph to finish (and Ralph never really loved school as much as Hubert).

Then Hubert had to work helping his father in the drug store. He got to go to a castoff school to get a pharmacy degree where he was imprisoned in that damned Huron drug store filling prescriptions while, seemingly, everybody else was allowed to go to college. He could get back to his studies only at age 26…then after he married…and Muriel made sandwiches he sold for 10 cents each to help pay the way (humiliating experience). He gets his degree “magna cum laude” and moves to Minneapolis where he has to be a 4-flat “super”—janitor, stoking up the fire in the basement at 4 a.m., shoveling the snow, cutting the grass in the summer—studying all the while for his Master’s. In those years he would have to lie down with an anxiety pain in his stomach, his mind busy about what other ways he could make a buck.

Then he gets a full-time job with the WPA, spends his evenings making the rounds at political meetings and, when he thinks the time is right, runs for Minneapolis mayor only to lose. Stoking the furnace at the four-plex he engineers a plan to unify Farmer-Labor and Democratic functions, gets the help of Washington Democrats in the effort…tries to pay his debts from the mayoralty loss.

His Farmer-Labor radical enemies try to push him off a pier by seeking to get him to run in a hopeless race for governor: he turns it down to great opprobrium in the party. He runs again for mayor—makes the cut---gets elected. He continually stands off dissident Farmer-Laborites who have gone Communist. He strikes out, makes what could have been a terrible mistake, in trying to dump President Truman for Dwight Eisenhower who rejects the bid. He beats a Farmer-Labor commie for the DFL nomination for the U. S. Senate but everybody tells him the nomination isn’t worth having because Truman is so low in the polls—it’ll be a Republican landslide.

He goes to the convention as a delegate and can’t avoid becoming a rebel (which is what he is anyhow). The regular Democrats have agreed on a bland, make-no-waves “civil rights resolution” which is satisfactory to the southern Democrats—and he challenges it. He’s told that by challenging the civil rights plank…which Harry Truman himself had approved…he’ll cut his throat. His own father warns him not to do it—but then, seeing how Hubert is so idealistic, says “o.k. do it but don’t blame me when you’re served up dead.” Voila! The reform civil rights plank passes and Hubert is lifted on liberals’ shoulders as a hero! But then the south walks out to join the Henry Wallace leftists and Hubert is blamed. Huzza! Truman wins anyhow and so does Hubert. Everything’s wonderful. He goes to the Senate! With wife and four kids, he and his father and mother get a personally conducted White House tour by President Truman himself. Everything seems golden…

Except that the entire Senate hates him, walks on whenever he speaks. He has to go door-to-door to apologize. Now he’s just coming into his own…regarded as a potential liberal leader…and what happens? Minnesota’s golden boy, a liberal, pro-civil rights governor Luther Youngdahl, could challenge him for reelection in 1954…and pffft!...his once bright career could be over.

“Wote fer Looter!”

And this guy Youngdahl (whose name the day he was born was worth 100,000 Scandinavian votes) never faced a gloomy political day. Member of the lucky sperm club, he entered an already prominent Minnesota Lutheran family of clergymen whose surname is legend in the state, growing up a popular golden-haired Scandinavian athlete…a star football player, a star basketball player at Gustavus Adolphus college. He goes to the army in WW I and makes 1st lieutenant. He comes back to a comfortable family income, becomes a lawyer: no sweat. Then is named a judge. Then is named a state supreme court jurist. Then a popular Republican governor drafts him for governor—which means no primary, just virtual appointment: just like that!

When he becomes governor everything falls into place for Luther Youngdahl. He leads crusades against slot machines, crusades to improve the conditions for the mentally ill. Elected governor three times—each time with higher majorities than before. Conservative Republicans hate him because he doesn’t have a conservative bone in his body—but who cares? Recently when President Truman fired Douglas MacArthur he even wrote Truman congratulating him. The Right was up in arms—but he snaps his fingers. Who cares?

Now at age 56 he may decide he wants to be U. S. Senator and maybe president after that. With his charisma and six years in the Senate he could just get the presidency for 1960. By then Hubert would be back teaching at Macalester—if he’s lucky. A has-been.

Poor Hubert. He was hard luck from the start. Half Scandinavian but on his mother’s side whose name never surfaced (Christine Sannes). His surname, Humphrey, was of Brit extraction, which did him no good in ethnic Minnesota. Nobody named Humphrey can beat Luther Youngdahl in Minnesota. Why the very first time Youngdahl ran, the semi-literate miners from eastern Europe on the Iron Range…and the Finlanders, Swedes and Norwegians from the old countries with their lilting sing-song voices…would sing: “Wote fer Loother! Wote fer Looter! Wote for Looter Yo-ung-dall! Ve weel puuut heem in da sta-a-a-a-t haus…in da sta-a-a-t haus in zaym Paul!” (Translated in English: “Vote for Luther, vote for Luther, vote for Luther Youngdahl! We will put him in the statehouse, in the statehouse, in St. Paul!”).

Yeah—this is how it’ll be in 1954—which would have been Hubert’s golden year—“Wote fer Looother!”

Youngdahl’s Message to Hubert Via Ewald.

When he bolted in the door with a bang, he scared Ewald almost out of his pants who had been sitting in the lobby reading a picture book about the Capitol. They convened immediately in Hubert’s sancto-sanctorum private office while a secretary brought coffee.

“Okay,” said Hubert. “I know it’s bad news. Out with it. You wouldn’t have flown here, scared of planes as you are, if it had been good news.”

“Hubert, let me tell you.”

“Let me sit down first.”

“I was at a U of M appreciation dinner for big donors last night and Youngdahl was there. He comes in and gets a standing ovation.”

“Of course.”

“Then he looks over the crowd and after he finishes his remarks he gives me a high-sign to join him. I do and he wants to go to a separate room. We excuse ourselves and go to the separate room.”

“Tell me the bad news quick.”

“We get there and this is what he says. He says, `I know that you are good friends with Hubert and same way you are good friends with me.”

“He wants you to be his finance chairman.”

“He says: `I want you to do something for me. I have just returned from the Mayo Clinic. Nobody knows I went. The physical I took was okay but the staff there says I have congenitally high blood pressure. They gave me some pills but they also gave me some advice. They said the pills won’t work unless I get out of the governorship and take it easier. In fact they said that if I want to live to be over sixty years old—and I’m 56 now—I should do it sooner than later. They also said that I have had what they call a `silent heart attack.’ Do you know what that is, Ray? It is a heart attack that you don’t know you had. They feel the way I throw myself into the governor’s job is the reason. So I’ve got to give up being governor, even though I love it. I’m a detail guy and I get worked up checking on my department heads seeing they do their job.’ But to do it right, being governor is a 15, 16, 18-hour job of administration. And my Mayo doctors say I can’t continue to do it.’”

“Swell,” said Hubert, a Calamity Jane. “So he’d just as soon be Senator where there’s not that much pressure or administrative work.”


“No, Hubert. He wants to get out of politics altogether. He wants to be a federal judge. He was a state judge before and he liked the work. He wants to be a judge again. He wants to get out of the governorship right now and he wonders if you would help him—convince President Truman to name him a federal judge.”

“WOULD I? But is he talking about a Supreme Court justice job? None are open! He’s got to be thinking of a court of appeals job. We have to check to see what’s available!”

“No, Hubert. Listen to me. He’s already checked out the job he’d like. A plain old federal judgeship—nothing else. There’s an opening in Washington, D. C. A judge died. Youngdahl gave me his name—T. Alan Goldsborough. He wants to know if you think you can get Truman to name

Him to that post?”

“CAN I? Let’s call the president this very minute!”

“One more thing…”


“He wants to keep this very secret. He doesn’t want the press to know. It has to be sprung with an announcement by the president that takes everybody by surprise. He wonders if you’re willing to do that. He says the shock will hit the Republican party very big, leaving them with an incompetent lieutenant governor who never planned to be governor—and he wants to delay the bad news until the announcement. Would you cooperate to that end?”


In a late afternoon meeting with President Truman, Hubert, still barely able to believe the news, asked the president if he would consider naming a Republican governor named Youngdahl to the federal bench. Truman said:

“WILL I? He’s a 32nd degree Mason and one of the few governors who backed me in firing MacArthur,” What the 32nd degree Masonic status had to do with it is still anybody’s guess—but Truman himself was 32nd degree.

The next morning Hubert called Youngdahl’s home and told Youngdahl’s wife…Irene Engdahl Youngdahl (God what a great Minnesota name!) of the president’s offer. She giggled. When Hubert asked why, she said: “At this very minute, Harold Stassen is in the governor’s office begging Luther to run for a fourth term in `52 and to place Stassen in nomination that year at the Republican National convention in Chicago for president! He’ll be disappointed.” Yes—but not the first time.

The next morning the governor slipped onto a commercial plane at Wold-Chamberlain field and flew to Washington. Hubert had arranged for a room at the Statler-Hilton under the imaginative name—Smith. The next afternoon, the press was suddenly called to the Oval Office by presidential news secretary Joseph Short. The president stood by his desk and said that he had an announcement…that as the media knew the policy of this administration was to name the best possible people to the federal bench—and for proof…he gestured to a door that immediately opened…here is the next federal judge, Republican Governor Luther Youngdahl.

In a statement issued from his office, Hubert agreed that it is a wonderful thing that old-style partisan politics do not soil appointments to the judiciary in this administration.

It is still regarded as a wondrous occasion that when Hubert said this the walls and the ceiling of his office did not fall in. That they did not is due to the magnanimity of God.


Next: President Truman names 3-term Republican Governor Luther Youngdahl the federal bench…certifying that Hubert is all but reelected and leaving the Republican governorship in the hands of an incompetent which will certify that a DFLer will become governor and start a generation-long trend to liberal government in the state. Or so it is thought,

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