Thursday, October 11, 2007

Flashback: The Most Impressive Accomplishment of Gene’s House Career—Beginning “McCarthy”s Mavericks” Based on Godfrey’s Views on how the Church Should be Led. Then Gene Looks to the U. S. Senate.

[Fifty years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren

Gene and Hubert: Not Always Allies (as Time Will Show).

After the 1956 convention in which Gene strongly backed Adlai Stevenson and made a loyal pass at trying to get Hubert the vice presidential nomination, it came out much later that Gene had met …and spent considerable time with…former president Harry Truman who was still a great force to be reckoned with in Democratic politics. Hubert discovered this quite by chance. Why Gene didn’t tell Hubert of his meeting at the time, Hubert couldn’t understand. Hubert asked Gene about it. Gene said he didn’t particularly want to bother Hubert with the news of the session at the time of the convention because it would unduly upset Hubert. Why? Old man Truman was adamant against Hubert getting on the ticket with Stevenson. Oh yes, Gene tried to talk him into it but failed. Hmmm.

Hubert was thunderstruck to hear this. Here he had, he felt, done Truman a service in 1948 by raising the civil rights issue and, by making the Dixiecrats walk out, solidified the liberals to weld a stronger party than ever before, averting a kind of Whig namby-pambyism…straddling civil rights…in the party. And, of course, by convincing Truman to name Luther Youngdahl to a federal judgeship, Hubert indirectly contributed to getting Owen Lattimore off the hook, thus sparing Truman from the double embarrassment of having two disloyal Americans—Lattimore as well as Alger Hiss—sent to jail. And here the old man opposes Hubert for the veep job! That sonuva--.

“That’s just it,” Gene told Hubert. “See, you’re upset and I knew you would be—except that I didn’t want to tell you this in the middle of the convention. You couldn’t do anything about it anyhow.”

Hubert groused about Truman for a long time until Herb Waters, his campaign manager, came to him and said, “Hubert—how do you know Truman opposed you: just because Gene says so? I’ve been taking the measure of that guy [Gene] and it’s my estimation that he can’t lay straight in bed. . Don’t take it as a given that Truman didn’t want you for veep just because Gene says it. For all you know, Gene may have been leaning on him in the opposite direction to what you think. I don’t trust him unduly and you shouldn’t either.”

Which explains the Hubert and Gene relationship better than anything else. They have been called more confederates than collaborators. For his part, Gene was wholeheartedly in support of Stevenson for president and harbored not a whit of disapproval that Hubert was passed up for veep. He may have been flirting with the Texas oil depletion allowance boys but-- Gene was a 100% lockstep supporter of organized labor. In 1956 the AFL-CIO’s “Machinist” magazine listed him as voting “right” from the union’s point of view on every one of 56 issues in his career. In recognition of this gold-star record Gene got a slot on the Democratic steering committee which approved Dems for committee assignments. He continued to do the liberals’ bidding by blocking the South’s recommendation of North Carolina’s Alton Lennon, a strong segregationist who wanted to get on the Education and Labor committee. Gene chose South Dakota’s new congressman George McGovern instead.

In Fall, 1956, McCarthy and a group of his liberal fellows met in reaction to the “Southern Manifesto,” which was drawn up by a group of conservative southern Democrats in denunciation to civil rights. House liberals saw the need to counter the Manifesto so they determined to draw up their own liberal legislative program for 1957. So Gene went around in mid-1956 to his liberal colleagues. One of them, Frank Thompson of New Jersey, was startled to hear Gene say, “Frank, we’re going to lose the presidential election anyhow…” Thompson could hardly believe his ears since Gene had taken to the road and had been almost strident—for Gene, anyhow—in support of Stevenson’s presidential candidacy. “We’re going to lose the presidential election anyhow--.” That seemed like heresy to Thompson who was engaged hip-deep in behalf of Stevenson—and he questioned it.

“Well,” Gene said with a wise smile, “there’s a phrase in the Bible that says…” and he quoted something from Jeremiah to the effect that good battles are almost always lost ones. Then Gene got to his idea. A group of liberals should get together during the election recess [1956] and put together a group of papers on their positions. They did. They showed it to Dick Bolling of Missouri who was one of Sam Rayburn’s closest friends but who was jockeying for a position uppermost in the House to eventually succeed the old man. Bolling, a fellow liberal, said they should show their papers to Rayburn as a courtesy to the Speaker. They did. Rayburn read them, returned the papers and said there is nothing in them that he couldn’t support privately—but he couldn’t come out in support of them publicly because of their strong civil rights flavor, since he had the job of keeping the party together. McCarthy said he understood.

But the next day liberal columnist Drew Pearson called Bolling and said somebody had leaked the papers to him and wanted a comment on them. Bolling panicked. How did Pearson get the papers? He virtually got down on his knees to Pearson and said that if he published the papers it would drive Rayburn into a corner and it would be the death knell for civil rights in the House. Pearson agreed not to publish them. After he hung up, Bolling wondered how Pearson got the papers. There were only three of them who had seen the papers all together (and Pearson quoted from almost all the papers to Bolling, certifying that he also had seen the whole collection): (1) McCarthy, (2) Bolling and (3) Rayburn. Bolling knew he didn’t leak them to Pearson; he knew for damned sure Rayburn didn’t. Which left McCarthy. So Bolling said much later, “I’ve never forgiven McCarthy for that and I don’t intend to. I never talked to him about anything serious after that because I never trusted him and still don’t.” It seemed clear to Bolling that McCarthy valued his own advancement with House liberals…leaking invaluable inside stuff to a liberal columnist no matter that it would torpedo passage of civil rights legislation by driving Rayburn into the South’s corner prematurely…valued building a liberal reputation much higher than the prospect of passing civil rights.

The All Important Self…Godfrey Diekmann’s philosophy.

Birth of the “McCarthy Mavericks” in the House.

McCarthy was right on the presidential election, of course: Eisenhower and Nixon won smashingly over Stevenson and Kefauver. On Jan. 8, 1957 after the congress came back into session, McCarthy and Lee Metcalf of Montana announced a liberal legislative program for the 85th congress for a group of 28 Northern and Western Democrats. Then Gene and Metcalf began to get flooded by phone calls from other Democratic liberals who wanted to join them. They became known as “McCarthy’s Mavericks”—the forerunner of what would soon be called…the year after McCarthy left the House… the House Democratic Study Group. They developed a system of “whips” to alert members to be on the floor for important votes. Recalled Thompson: “Gene was an absolute goddamn genius at going in and making one-minute speeches that would articulate a complex issue or needle the bejeezus out of somebody. His analysis of political situations, or parliamentary procedure, of motivations and tactics and issues and personalities was remarkable. I never met anyone more brilliant and I’ve met a fantastic number of people.”

The Mavericks got their name from another formal group in the House in 1935 named after its leader Democrat Rep. Maury Maverick of Texas, grandson of the Texas rancher who got his name put in the history books because he refused to brand his cattle—which took on the aura of political independence. It is important to look at “McCarthy’s Mavericks” from the standpoint of political leadership because it is a dead-ringer for the concept that Godfrey Diekmann OSB wanted the Church to follow. The steering committee was composed of anyone who attended the skull sessions held in McCarthy’s office.

Meetings were conveyed by word of mouth; they assembled whenever McCarthy felt there was a quorum (sometimes being convened strategically when McCarthy was sure certain people could not attend). The sense of the meeting was never taken by vote but by an inwardly deduced “consensus”—much like Godfrey’s concept of how the Holy Spirit would work in an anti-hierarchal Church. The existential nature of it was Godfrey’s, adopted by Gene and continued in Gene’s politics so long as he was involved—to the discomfiture of some and to the utter outrage of those who saw the necessity of formal leadership to get things done. But Gene had his supporters. One of the members, Henry Reuss of Wisconsin, later said “Gene McCarthy has provide it is possible to have a vision without being a `visionary’ and to espouse a sound doctrine without being doctrinaire but at the same time to be a thinker and a doer.”

[NOTE: Romantics give McCarthy the credit as progenitor of the Democratic Study Group for the DSG’s overthrow of the archaic rules and procedures of the House that benefited Southern conservatives in their hold on the levers of power. As one who watched the House do so after McCarthy’s departure, I can tell you that the DSG did it but could never have done by the Mavericks method employed when McCarthy was there for the precise reason that somebody else applied old-fashioned, non-Maverick political tactics of doctrinaire discipline to get it done—something McCarthy would not have allowed. In essence, Godfrey’s no leadership “sense of the Holy Spirit” does not work in practical effect…with a Church of a political movement. Thus saith I, anyhow.]

U. S. Senate and the “Catholic Issue.”

By 1957, his tenth year in the House—with reelection for life almost a sure thing—Gene started thinking about the possibility of going to the Senate…which would mean running against Republican Ed Thye. It looked like a very tough thing to do. Minnesota was historically Protestant and favored lawmakers of that religious affiliation; it was, frankly, hostile in most of its past to Catholics because of a perceived bias by Scandinavians. Yet (although few people knew this), it had had a Catholic senator before, and an Irishman to boot. He was James Shields the peripatetic Democratic pol who traversed the nation in the early to mid-19th century. But this was in its wild and woolly history before there was much organization…and Shields, dealing with a pioneer legislature which elected U. S. senators, was an anomaly.

(Okay, get ready for a digression—and here it is. Looking at Shields’ career truly makes one dizzy. Born in county Tyrone, Ireland: 1810…the only man in history to be elected U. S. senator from three different states, at the time when the legislatures elected senators: Illinois (1849-1855) where he was elected before he qualified as an Illinois citizen, resigning and running again for the senate to which he was reelected; Minnesota (1848-59) and Missouri (January to March 1879). In between time he was a member of the Illinois House, state supreme court justice, state auditor who almost fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln over a letter to the editor that Mary Todd wrote which Lincoln signed and major general in the Civil War. His bronze statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall represents Illinois (the other Illinoisan being Frances Willard). For a man who traversed the nation looking for opportunities to serve in Congress, James Shields is buried in Ottumwa, Iowa).

The great influx of Protestant Scandinavian and German farmers and small towners in Minnesota after Shields (with Catholics centered in St. Paul, central Minnesota and the Iron Range notwithstanding Shields) produced a dearth of Catholic elected officials. There were none in statewide office since Shields. When I moved to the state in 1953 it was a much a cinch that no Catholic could be elected statewide as there is today that no Republican can carry Chicago. Well, maybe not that bad, but… But there was the beginning of a break-up. The first Catholic statewide official to be elected was Joe Donovan of Duluth as Democratic secretary of state. Maybe, some of us began to realize, there would be a change coming. Then we thought again and said “really?” Nah.

In September, 1957 while driving to Albert Lea, Minn. for a speech Gene softly said this to his old friend, St. Thomas college professor Raphael Thuente in this typically indirect way:

“Do you get `Time’ magazine, Rafe?”

Answer: yes.

“Do you ever hear of or see a representative being quoted?”

Thuente said he couldn’t recall but why.

He asked, “Do remember reading the quotations of a senator?”

Yep but why? Are you thinking of running for the Senate?

“Guess so, Rafe.”

At 41, he wanted a greater forum for his ideas. Again, it was Godfrey’s idea and when McCarthy later explained why to the media he sounded like Godfrey:

“Great debates today are the Senate debates. As a result, public interest—at least as is reflected in the press—is generally concentrated not on what is said in the House but simply on the outcome of the voting. To men who believed that an informed public is a necessary condition to effective democratic government, the fact that the Senate offers a forum in which what one says is likely to be heard or read not only by other senators but by people of one’s own state and in some measure by the people of the country is also attractive.”

Rather ironic. One of the two congressmen I served as staffer, Rep. Walter H. Judd (R-Minn.) was far more influential than McCarthy ever was—and used his role as ranking minority member of Foreign Affairs to hammer out legislation he believed in. McCarthy’s rationale is different. Not accomplishing something but getting noticed.

Ergo: Godfrey’s doctrine of the Imperial Self.

Before he announced for the Senate, Gene understood that there was one more formidable than he standing in his way for the Senate position in the DFL The most senior House member was John Blatnik of Duluth (also a Catholic)—but Blatnik regarded his service as vital to northeastern Minnesota through his service on Public Works.

He declined.

The only remaining roadblock was Mrs. Eugenie Anderson, wealthy wife of the heir to the inventor of “puffed wheat” and “puffed rice” fortune which was sold to Quaker Oats making the Anderson family multi-millionaires. She was a very formidable candidate—Carleton college educated, a League of Women Voters product, superbly knowledgeable on foreign policy--the first woman head of mission overseas in U. S. history, having been appointed as ambassador to Denmark by Truman in 1953.

The matter was to be decided at the DFL state convention in May, 1958. McCarthy lined up Blatnik as an ally but Hubert was playing a duplicitous game. Suspicious of McCarthy for not helping him unduly on civil rights in the House, wondering about the McCarthy meeting with Harry Truman where McCarthy reported Truman didn’t want Hubert for veep, Hubert listened to his aide Herb Waters and decided to privately support Eugenie who had always been loyal to him with fund-raising help. Gov. Orville Freeman favored her as well…saying why sacrifice a good vote-getter in St. Paul for the job when you have a woman who can finance herself for the post who’s a private citizen? . He would be publicly neutral as would Freeman. But covertly they were in Eugenie’s camp.

Eugenie Anderson went after McCarthy on two counts. First, that he was lazy and not tough enough to be a good senator—a legitimate-sounding objection…and second that as a Catholic he would lose because of his Catholicism--although she lamented bigotry. A Minnesota political analyst wrote that even if McCarthy would get endorsed for the job, “Will he steel himself to the severe disciplines that drive the Freemans and the Humphreys to shaking hands at 6 a.m. at factory gates and to talk on Main street corners from dawn to dusk? Will he find himself at home ion muddy farmyards and will his scholarly allusions and gentle satire fall on receptive ears in the rural areas?” The tone of the story was that he wouldn’t. Well—would he or wouldn’t he be that disciplined?

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