Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Flashback: Humphrey’s Decision to Enter the West Virginia Primary Leads to Bitterest Dem Fight with Bobby Sparking Questions of Hubert’s Avoidance of Military Service in World War II.

[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

Bobby Kennedy’s message delivered circuitously to Hubert was that if he decided to enter the West Virginia primary after having lost Wisconsin to JFK, he was enlisted in something more than running for president—an LBJ-backed attempt to stop Kennedy which would lead to a brokered convention. There was something to be said about that since Gene McCarthy had arranged for LBJ to send money roundabout to Bobby Byrd to be used for Humphrey. Both sides tried to downplay the religious issue in the battle for an economically depressed state—but personalities were another thing. Jack Kennedy hired Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., who was down on his luck and trying to angle a future job in Washington to go to West Virginia and campaign for him. FDR Jr. raised the question of Humphrey’s repeated military deferments in World War II. While Hubert slugged Kennedy for overspending in the primary, FDR’s son said that while Kennedy was commanding a combat patrol boat in the South Pacific, Hubert was getting repeated deferments.

One deferment Hubert got was extremely questionable, I feel—and I suspect it was arranged reportedly through his contacts with the Democratic National Committee while he was inventing the hybrid that became the DFL party in Minnesota. That was his designation as belonging to an essential wartime industry when he was lecturing to Army Air Corps students at Macalester college in St. Paul. But outraged at the charge, Humphrey began to slug harder at Kennedy—not just for massive expenditures but for questionable fund-raising. He charged, “I can’t afford to run throughout this state with a black suitcase and a checkbook.” It was a hint that Kennedy’s money, routed from the Old Man, had some Mafia ties to it—which, of course, was true.

Trying to douse the bitterness, Humphrey’s campaign manager Herb Waters and Kennedy’s Lawrence O’Brien met several times late at night at the Charleston Press Club, trying to defuse the bitterness. Finally Kennedy agreed to an hour-long televised debate on May 4, 1960. The debate was inconclusive: Hubert charging over-spending and Kennedy hinting that he was being used as a stalking horse. Underneath this battle was the issue of Kennedy’s Catholicism. Kennedy’s people wisely determined that they could turn it into a plus—by going at the issue frontally and allowing West Virginians to prove to the world they were tolerant by voting for JFK. That idea was concocted by one John Cogley, a liberal Catholic from “Commonweal” magazine who wrote the minor masterpiece JFK delivered later to the Houston ministers—Cogley ultimately leaving the Catholic church for the Episcopalian over the church’s opposition to artificial birth control and other issues. But Cogley’s idea was brilliant since Hubert couldn’t discuss the religious issue without appearing intolerant himself: thus he was the victim of reverse bigotry…not the first time nor the last that candidates running against members of minority groups, religious and otherwise, have been so stymied.

The big issue that bedeviled Hubert was money—the lack of it. Organized labor wanted him out of the race so it deserted him, heavily in debt from Wisconsin, he was forced to spend much of this time off the road, telephoning his friends pleading for help.

JFK had his own private plane, named after his daughter “The Caroline.” In contrast everything associated with Hubert’s campaign was hard-scrabble.

All the while, Bobby Kennedy kept peppering Humphrey’s friends with threats of recriminations if they gave him so much as a nickel. Humphrey campaigned gallantly and only one time did he lose it. That was in a Charleston hotel room on May 10 when he told Herb Waters he needed several thousand dollars for an election-eve TV voter appeal. Waters had to tell Hubert he didn’t have a nickel. Hubert blew up yelling, “Goddammit! We’ve got to get it!” He chewed Waters out as a false friend and Waters, stressed to the limit, broke down and cried—and Hubert joined him, the two of them hugging each other and weeping. They made up quickly. Hubert then went to his own bank account and paid for it.

Two hours after the polls closed it was obvious Hubert was going to be trounced. Jim Rowe wanted to issue a statement for Hubert saying the election was bought—and there was good reason to insist it was. But Hubert knew that by continuing the bitterness with a likely presidential nominee, it would result in high-level damage for him. He took a walk in the rain around Charleston on election night after the polls had closed, thinking. When he returnedto the hotel, it was clear that Kennedy had just about wrapped up the nomination—winning 60.8% compared to Hubert’s 39.2%. Hubert read a generous concession in which he voice broke—congratulating “my friend Jack Kennedy for a significant and clear-cut victory.” He said: “I am no longer a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.” To the “Minneapolis Tribune” he said, “when you’re licked you’re licked. He got more votes than I did. I ought to be home. I’m going to be home for my daughter’s wedding Saturday. I lost a primary and gained a son-in-law. I think I’m ahead.”

Hubert had a private score to settle, however. That was with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. and his draft record. It rankled. Sure, Hubert never did enter military service. Two places earlier in these articles I alluded to it. He tried to enlist in the Naval Reserve several times but was rejected because of color blindness and a double hernia (which he didn’t have repaired until 1950—an indication he wasn’t eager to go). He was first classified as 3-A in 1940 because he was married and a father. That was okay but he was reclassified as 2-A as an “essential civilian” because he was teaching Army Air Corps cadets at Macalester. Com’on. (Note: I always thought and still do that his connections with the Democratic hierarchy in Washington, D. C. had something to do with it but this is unproven but highly suspicious since he was readying himself to make his first unsuccessful bid for Minneapolis mayor and didn’t need to be drafted which would interrupt his political progress). In July, 1944 he was reclassified 1-A and called up for induction but his double hernia, never repaired until five years after the war, and a minor lung calcification caused by childhood pneumonia, got him finally classified 4-F.

In a interview much later with biographer Albert Eisele (later to become Vice President Mondale’s press secretary), Humphrey said about Franklin Roosevelt, Jr.: “It’s a simple story—I simply wasn’t accepted. Roosevelt knew that. I brought him into my office after the campaign and showed him those draft records. I said to him, `Frank, you know goddamn well that what you said isn’t true.’ And Frank said, `I know that but Bobby asked me to do it.’” Asked if he ever forgave Roosevelt for it, Humphrey said “nope.”

It was the first time that he had ever said of an assailant that he didn’t forgive. Humphrey was pressed on that question by Eisele and answered:

“I did not forgive him for that because I thought it was unconscionable.”

Question: Bobby or FDR, Jr.?

“Both, but mostly FDR.”

Question: He said Bobby asked him to do it?

Hubert: Yes.

Now there is little doubt that Hubert used his pull to get out of the military—which he wouldn’t acknowledge. But when FDR Jr. used this, it was tacky and he had a right to be angry—even bitter.

Far more bitter than Humphrey, however, was Gene McCarthy. Not so much for what he did to Hubert on the military service issue (Gene himself avoided the service twice, once as seminarian and then as CIA cryptographer) but animosity at Kennedy’s trying to be the first Catholic president. McCarthy’s dark Irish bitterness toward the Kennedys never quit. He told others and told me that he was utterly unimpressed with Kennedy when he served with him in the House. Kennedy, he said, had no understanding or much interest in House procedures and little more in U. S. history. Frankly I don’t know how he knew this since service in the House for both was widely divergent. I will wager they spent very-very little time in each other’s company. And as for Kennedy’s having little understanding of House procedures, how would McCarthy know? The only thing McCarthy really knew about Kennedy when they were in the House was what everyone knew: bachelor Kennedy was a dilettante, ladies man, a rich man’s son, undisciplined, lazy and prone to skip out early.

During the presidential primaries, Kennedy phoned McCarthy and asked to see him. McCarthy walked over to his office. Kennedy asked Gene to tell Hubert “to lay off my farm voting record.” He had voted early on for the Ezra Taft Benson flexible price program and Hubert had justifiably zinged him with it in Wisconsin and West Virginia.

McCarthy said he refused to do so—and told him, “Jack, you’ve got looks, money and personality and all Hubert’s got is your voting record.”

That didn’t help Hubert, incidentally, did it? Telling Jack he had better looks and personality, especially (see, a key to McCarthy’s ability to demean even his allies). Anyhow, it almost ended any relationship that had existed between the two. Later when Kennedy vowed to keep church and state strictly separate, McCarthy wrote in “America” magazine, a publication put out by Jesuits, that they cannot be kept truly apart: “If a man is religious—and if he is in politics—one fact will relate to the other if he is indeed a whole man.”

“A whole man,” JFK is reported to have repeated to aides as he read the article. A true McCarthy dissection. Wonderfully psychoanalytic. That did it.

Later when both were at a Democratic party fund-raiser and Kennedy was besieged with autograph seekers, McCarthy commented fairly loudly, “Pay no attention. The meat is so bad they had to find something to distract them.”

After hearing Kennedy quote history in his speech, McCarthy leaned over to someone and said in a voice that carried: “Gee, all those years in the House I never heard him quote history.” The history allusions which were to be Kennedy’s trademark came, of course, from his ghost writer Ted Sorensen which McCarthy fully understood.

To me as to others McCarthy once said—reflecting on the West Virginia primary—“I remember poor Hubert out there…running to catch the North Central DC-3 and then looking out on the field to see the `Caroline’ [the family’ private plane] waiting on the apron with the soup bubbling in the kitchen.”

There was more to Gene’s bitterness than anger over what the Kennedys did to Hubert. It was the Gene McCarthy I know well—brimming with resentment and a determination to get even. Hubert remembered Bobby’s so-called dirty trick of getting young FDR Jr. to slug Hubert, but ultimately forgot it and went on to a kind of joyous series of battles. Gene was never joyous about anything. He forgave nothing and remembered everything.

The episode illustrates something else. In using the Hubert draft issue, Bobby Kennedy wasn’t more a dirty player than Dick Nixon on other things (remember Nixon’s reproducing Helen Gahagan Douglas’ very liberal voting record on pink paper which he called “the Douglas pink sheet”?). But the galling thing to me is that in current liberal media mythology, Bobby is a saint the way John became a saint (they just “grew” into greatness as the courtesan Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. reported). Hubert is forgotten, Gene is largely forgotten but the Kennedys shall live in our mythology forever and ever. God!

Pardon me while I gag.

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