Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Flashback: Humphreys Decision to Enter the West Virginia Primary Leads to Bitterest Dem Fight with Bobby Sparking Questions of Huberts Avoidance of Military Service in World War II.
[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].
Bobby Kennedys 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 presidentan 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 statebut 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 Humphreys repeated military deferments in World War II. While Hubert slugged Kennedy for overspending in the primary, FDRs 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 feeland 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 Kennedynot just for massive expenditures but for questionable fund-raising. He charged, I cant afford to run throughout this state with a black suitcase and a checkbook. It was a hint that Kennedys money, routed from the Old Man, had some Mafia ties to itwhich, of course, was true.
Trying to douse the bitterness, Humphreys campaign manager Herb Waters and Kennedys Lawrence OBrien 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 Kennedys Catholicism. Kennedys people wisely determined that they could turn it into a plusby 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 ministersCogley ultimately leaving the Catholic church for the Episcopalian over the churchs opposition to artificial birth control and other issues. But Cogleys idea was brilliant since Hubert couldnt 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 moneythe 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 Huberts campaign was hard-scrabble.
All the while, Bobby Kennedy kept peppering Humphreys 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 didnt have a nickel. Hubert blew up yelling, Goddammit! Weve got to get it! He chewed Waters out as a false friend and Waters, stressed to the limit, broke down and criedand 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 boughtand 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 nominationwinning 60.8% compared to Huberts 39.2%. Hubert read a generous concession in which he voice brokecongratulating 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 youre licked youre licked. He got more votes than I did. I ought to be home. Im going to be home for my daughters wedding Saturday. I lost a primary and gained a son-in-law. I think Im 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 didnt have repaired until 1950an indication he wasnt 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. Comon. (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 didnt 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 Mondales press secretary), Humphrey said about Franklin Roosevelt, Jr.: Its a simple storyI simply wasnt 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 isnt 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 didnt 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?
Now there is little doubt that Hubert used his pull to get out of the militarywhich he wouldnt acknowledge. But when FDR Jr. used this, it was tacky and he had a right to be angryeven 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 Kennedys trying to be the first Catholic president. McCarthys 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 dont 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 others company. And as for Kennedys 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 mans 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 soand told him, Jack, youve got looks, money and personality and all Huberts got is your voting record.
That didnt help Hubert, incidentally, did it? Telling Jack he had better looks and personality, especially (see, a key to McCarthys 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 religiousand if he is in politicsone 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 Kennedys trademark came, of course, from his ghost writer Ted Sorensen which McCarthy fully understood.
To me as to others McCarthy once saidreflecting on the West Virginia primaryI 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 Genes bitterness than anger over what the Kennedys did to Hubert. It was the Gene McCarthy I know wellbrimming with resentment and a determination to get even. Hubert remembered Bobbys 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 wasnt more a dirty player than Dick Nixon on other things (remember Nixons 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.