Monday, October 15, 2007

Flashback: Eugenie Anderson Continued with Her Questions About Gene McCarthy…a Promised Federal Judgeship that Helped Ace the DFL Convention…The Bad Winner-manship from the “Christian in Politics.”

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


My old newspaper colleague lured me to Eugenie Anderson’s Red Wing estate with the shameless flattery that since I knew all about politics…even though Republican…she would like to pick my brain. No sooner did I get there with savvy about the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party which she knew far better than did I. But she had heard I knew Gene McCarthy and knew something about the Catholic faith and his commitment to it and since he was to be her well she wanted to understand how she could use the Catholic card against him at the DFL endorsing convention in Spring, 1958.

She began by wondering aloud if he was a rebel in the Church. The answer I gave her was yes but with qualifications.

“The Church traces itself to Jesus and His twelve apostles with the bishops the successors to the apostles and the Pope the successor of Peter—but Gene tends to believe that the Holy Spirit animates the entire church congregation and that the body of Catholics should have more to say about decisions than they now have,” I said. “This thought gives theologians—some who can be right and others who can be in error—far more power than has been the case. Gene is allied with a more democratic, less hierarchical church. So he is a rebel, yes. Were he Pope you can bet he’d be even more authoritarian than [the current] Pius XII.”

She: I take it you don’t share that view.

“Correct. The Pope and his bishops are essential to impart governance even if you don’t agree with some your bishop on all things. When Benedict began his monasteries he had to use a Rule which set out regulations for their formation and how the monastic family should be governed. Let’s say that sensible regulations were found to be very effective as monasticism gave rise to various centers of learning and then cathedral schools which developed into the great universities—Paris, Oxford among them which are the ancestors of Western learning. I don’t think Gene’s view would have worked in those days. My understanding of authority is that from the earliest days the Church fathers declared the See of Rome had primacy over the other churches. Gene and a very popular theologian now at St. John’s believe the Pope is first among equals and that before a position should be taken, it requires the Holy Spirit to settle upon the people and then the theologians, then the bishops with ratification by the Pope. There is a great to-do made over the fact that the ancient church ran this way. But it is a slick way to elevate the role of theological dissenters in the Church.”

She: The traditional Church was decentralized?

“I think great distances and bad communications made it essential that there be decentralization but I believe this modern teaching is made for the convenience of theologians who want to be first among equals.”

She: Does he think of himself as a theologian?


She: In your estimation is he one?

“No. He talks a good game. He can make average people think he is. But it’s a great game based on his insufferable pride. That’s where his sense of humor stops dead. There is no such thing as self-deprecation. Deprecation of others with brilliantly snide murmurs under the breath that somehow are always heard. But self-deprecation of himself never.”

She: This is a form of insecurity, I take it.

“Very much. The reason he is not in the monastery at St. John’s today is because his novice master told him that while he was the smartest student in the university, he will now have to master humility by tapping maple trees for syrup. That did it.”

She: Tapping trees for maple syrup?

“No, the judgment that he had no humility.”

She: But he proved it did he not by leaving when the novice master said he had no humility! There was no other reason such as…er…celibacy?

“No. Celibacy was not an issue. He was grossly offended that the novice master said he had no humility so he left—which proved the novice master right.”

She: Let us change the subject briefly. How does the Church derive its teaching?

“Two ways—Scriptures and Sacred Tradition which was passed by the Holy Spirit to apostles in oral tradition and ratified by the Magisterium or the bishops. To this one church founded by Christ with reliance on Peter and the Apostles there is a mandate to the Pope, bishops and Magisterium be the authoritative teacher of the faith. “

She: Does Gene believe that?

“He’ll weasel and joke about it, in fact lie about it—but truthfully, no.”

She: Is this pride of self again?


She: Correct me if I’m wrong but is it not true that the Pope and many popes before him have held the position that artificial birth control is immoral?

“Yes. The Church had condemned it through the ages; Pius XI had called it “intrinsically immoral” which was ratified by Pius XII. I would imagine there would be no change in sight.”

She: Well , if Eugene is a faithful Catholic which you have said he is—.

“In his estimation he is, yes…”

She: I am amused by that qualification—“in his estimation he is.” However, if so, the issue can easily turn upon such aid as the United States might give to developing nations to help them oppose out-of-control population growth. His vote as Senator surely would not be governed by what would be in the interest of the United States with its relations to developing nations, but would be mandated by his obligation to his Church. His hands would be tied so to speak to a foreign obligation—the Vatican. Is that not right?

“I have to tell you, Ambassador, that Gene is not interested in losing an election based a debate from you or anyone else on either the errancy or inerrancy of the Pope or `Magisterium.’ Gene would insist if caught in a tight squeeze that there is no obligation on conscience binding on a lawmaker on a secular state matter—a view I don’t share.”

She: But if he were to apply unequivocal Catholic social teaching to the question, he would have to vote against federal support of artificial contraception, yes?


She: If he took the position you describe, wouldn’t he be in trouble with his Church?

“Yes. But there are some liberal theologians—one prominent at St. John’s—who would easily muddy the waters on the issue and spare him grief on it. But he would be in trouble with a good number of Catholics but I have faith in Gene that he’d wriggle free. ”

She: I see. Now on the subject of Communism. The Church has taught for a long time that Communism is incompatible with free society and should be rooted out by force is need be, is that correct?

“No. The Church does not teach the war is inevitable or salutary. It has taught from the outset that peace is possible only on the grounds of a social order based on justice and charity. The current Pope has said often that Christians should not be seduced by ideologies that maintain religion is the opiate of the people, that there is an innate contradiction between an ideology that insists there is a paradise which is of this world and the Christian religion which teaches there is life beyond the grave for those who live in virtue—a life that is imperishable.”

She: Which means there can be no compromise?

“No, I didn’t say that. If peace is to be achieved great stress should be placed on institutions for international cooperation. The Beatitude `blessed are the peacemakers’ is vital here.”

She: Blessed are the Peacemakers but not peace at any price would you say?

“That’s right.”

She: Where would you say Gene is with respect to the goals—not the methods—pursued by his namesake?

“Joe McCarthy? Well you have their debate which was on radio a few years ago as a guide.”

She: I have studied it and I see a great difference. But with respect to your Church, would you say the overwhelmingly number would side with Joe McCarthy or Gene?

“As you know, Joe McCarthy died last year [1957] after having been censured by the Senate. I would guess a great majority of Catholics, particularly the Irish, would tend to side with Joe despite the fact that Joe died in enmity with President Eisenhower, a good number of Eisenhower Republicans as well as many Democrats. But a measure of Gene’s skill is that he ran against a man who represented Joe McCarthy’s values—Roger Kennedy—and he beat him soundly in St. Paul and the 4th. . I would think that’s an indication.”

She: Is it your view that I should not raise any question between Gene’s view and that of a preponderant majority of his Church?

“No, I quite emphatically think you should. I would like to see a full exposition of his views and your views on Communism and the birth control question—as to whether he would support federal expenditures for the program. I would think this would be a fair question.”

She: Not viewed as anti-Catholic?

“Not in the slightest. As a matter of fact, it would be fair to try to put him over a barrel on the issue. I would think voters ought to know. But I just want to warn you that he’ll likely slip by because words are of great use to him and he can obfuscate with the best of them. And he will charge you with bigotry.”

She: Bigotry? By merely asking how he stood with reference to questions his church had already decided?

“He believes no one should question him on anything like that. The Doctrine of the Imperial Self. But I’d like to see you do it because it would put him over a barrel.”

She: How would it—as you say—put him over a barrel?

“It’s obvious. On the federal aid for birth control question: If he opposed federal support for birth control as part of foreign aid, it would please members of his Church—but certainly antagonize others—probably a great majority in this state because it is a Protestant state. If on the other hand he supported it, it would displease his Church—or at least a sizable majority of his constituency that believes he is the epitome of the Catholic layman in politics. As a Republican with no particular allegiance to Gene McCarthy, I say let him sweat it out. As a Catholic I’d like to see what he says. But I must tell you this—he can wriggle with the best of them. So while I’d like to see you put him over a barrel, I would imagine he’d escape—but I hope not.”

She: Between the two of us—Gene and I—you would prefer me for the Senate, I take it.

“I would even prefer you over Sen. Thye but I will remain loyal to him.”

She: Why me over Senator Thye?

“Because I’ve studied your record long enough to know that you are a pretty tough lady and a fervent anti-Communist and patriot.”

She: Now I’m blushing. But you are very candid. I appreciate that.

“Thank you. As you have probably realized, if Gene defeats you and is the opponent to Sen. Thye—whom I support—there might very well be no issue at all on this subject.”

She: How is that?

“Because Sen. Thye who is a Lutheran and who I imagine—though don’t know—could very well support the concept of federal monies going to contraception. But he might very well want to agree with President Eisenhower on the issue which would spare Gene taking a position that he wouldn’t have to.”

She: Ah. I never thought of that. So if I were not the candidate, this issue might not very well be raised.

“Might not. Sen. Thye is known as a firm supporter of President Eisenhower who can’t run for reelection but who is still very popular. I can’t imagine Thye would go out of his way to oppose the president on this.”

She: And if I were the candidate there would be a clear line of demarcation?

“Yes, of course.”

We talked briefly of the arduousness of the campaign. Then sensing the conversation was over, I thanked her for her hospitality.

She: And I thank you for your help. You have been very helpful indeed.


Whether I was of much help or not, she raised the issue of artificial birth control at the DFL convention. I am told that Gene was incensed. I smiled at this because it was typical Gene. How dare anyone question anything at all about his views? He fought her through a series of rumors which made fun of her being an elitist. There never was anything humble about Gene; he was always cocksure of his rightness, always pompously self-righteous. So far as I was concerned—and still am—Eugenie Anderson was right to bring up the contraception issue. Who the hell was Gene McCarthy not to have to face issues like this? As a matter of fact, as a born trimmer—raised in the ultra-flexible theology of Godfrey Diekmann OSB—he would have had no trouble backtracking on his church whatsoever. The dogma that Godfrey taught was that of the Imperial Self.

At the Minneapolis convention at which Hubert and Gov. Freeman as well as other DFLers with the single exception of John Blatnik were “neutral” but really for Eugenie, 300 votes were needed for endorsement. Weeks before the convention, Gene sat down with Gerald Heaney, the powerful DFL national committeeman, and promised him a recommendation for a federal judgeship if Heaney would back him. There is a rule and a law against promising federal posts in return for support which he freely violated. He would say that since there was no Democratic president in power, no offer could be considered as binding. But that’s poppycock; the offer was made and accepted and votes were delivered on that basis.

On the basis of that deal, Heaney went to the rural delegates and got a sufficient number of them to swing over from Eugenie Anderson whom they were originally for to McCarthy. I have seen this politics played before. There is nothing, utterly nothing, that differs in Gene’s approach from Hubert’s or even the politics of the Chicago Daleys. That promise of a judgeship motivated Heaney to deliver 271-1/2 for McCarthy on the first ballot and went on to win the endorsement for McCarthy on the second. Assuredly, when President John Kennedy was elected two years later in 1960, he followed McCarthy’s recommendation and made Gerald Heaney a federal judge with offices in Duluth. Heaney retired earlier this year from senior service at a great advanced age.

After he won the endorsement, Gene kept slurring Eugenie’s mention of the Church and birth control and Communism in such a context that he represented it as bigotry—which it was not. He never knew that I had given her a kind of sanction to do it—and I’ve never regretted encouraging her to put him to the test. He could say the most dreadful things about his opponents, could smirk at them and zing them behind their backs but let someone go after his beliefs and he regarded this as a great indignity. Pride and the inability to be self-deprecating was this man’s great failing which carried through his entire life.

A book on Eugene McCarthy by Al Eisele, a fellow St. John’s grad—who later became Vice President Walter Mondale’s press secretary-- reported that after the convention victory “McCarthy showed an element of ruthlessness that even some of his closest supporters hadn’t been aware of. When a squabble developed over a picture-taking session at which Mrs. Anderson was present and McCarthy wasn’t, Joe Gabler of St. Paul, his campaign manager, called McCarthy at his hotel.”

Eisele quotes Gabler as saying: “I told him the whole convention was in an up[roar and that Eugenie was unhappy and hadn’t meant to take advantage of him and he should come over right away so they could take a picture of both of them.’…He said, `Let her wait. It’s the first time she s heard the blood call of the 4th district and it’s good for her’ He didn’t come down for an hour.”

Eisele quoted Gabler, one of McCarthy’s key allies and closest associates as saying this: “I’ve told more than one guy, `Don’t ever put McCarthy in a position where he has to cut your throat—because he will and he’ll do it without any compassion whatsoever.”

Being a bad winner and a political throat-slitter which McCarthy was, was no surprise to me. But it sickened me to see him carry a personal banner of self-righteousness. He was at bottom a proud, vain man with pretense to theology but every bit as duplicitous, venal, bitter and self-serving a candidate as any I’ve met with the exception that the others didn’t prate around as a “Christian in Politics.” Such “Christianity” he displayed was right from the book of Godfrey Diekmann OSB.

Eugenie Anderson by the way was named U. S. Representative to the United Nations Trusteeship council in 1965 and resigned to work on Hubert’s presidential bid in 1968—the bid that Gene McCarthy refused to endorse until Hubert’s defeat was certifiable. She was a supporter of our commitment in Vietnam even when it was highly unpopular, saying, “I agree with the need to contain the Chinese Communists. I believe they are the aggressors and that the U.S. had made a commitment and that it would be disastrous to walk away from it.”

She would have made a great U. S. Senator.

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