Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Flashback: Gene, the Unconventional Liberal, Close to the Oil Depletion Allowance Boys, Pitches and Guards 1st Base in House Democrats’ 4th Straight Win in the Congressional Baseball Game…Hubert Wins Reelection as Senate Establishmentarian, Strives for the Vice Presidential Nomination in 1956.

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

Beginning in 1954, as the former adroit first baseman of the Great Sioux League (spelled SOO) in central Minnesota, Gene got drafted in annual Spring congressional baseball games—House Dems vs. House Repubs. With the majority of the Dems overage and overweight, the tall McCarthy doubled as first-baseman and pitcher and was signally responsible for the Dems winning for four straight years--`54, `55, `56 and `57. He was the standout of the team. This embellished his popularity greatly with his Democratic teammates. His reelection drives now were becoming just a formality: Republicans put up tokens; the St. Paul newspapers were in his corner. He was getting invitations to speak to Democratic fund-raisers across the state but he rarely accepted them—too much energy required. Instead once a month he would duck out and go to St. John’s in central Minnesota for Saturday AM breakfast tete-a-tetes with Fr. Godfrey Diekmann OSB.

Travels with Hubert.

All the while, Hubert was hustling to grow the esteem of the Senate Democratic establishment to offset his liberalism. In his reelection campaign of 1954 which I covered extensively—getting permission from the St. Cloud Times to do a series of stories for the AP on the senatorial campaign—I rode in the backseat with him day after day for several months while a succession of drivers took us from south to north and east to west (one being Mitch Perizzo, an ex-classmate). Another AP writer traveled with is Republican opponent (and we switched sometimes, the AP’s New York Hq believing this was the Senate race of the decade: it was). An honorable man, the Minnesota state treasurer, Val Bjornson was of Icelandic extraction who, in that tail-end of the ethnic era could speak Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Icelandic ( a polyglot threat which could have elected him a generation earlier). But Bjornson was at heart a stolid, cold-blooded Scandinavian type, oracular but not warm who sought to tie Humphrey to his exuberant past campaign excesses but who bored audiences in the process.

Traveling with Humphrey, I became aware of the frustration of his staff to nail down just what he was saying on the road—not that it was bad but that there was little way to know what he was going to talk about in order to release it to the daily press. Herb Waters, his campaign manager, took to sitting down with Hubert every Sunday afternoon and mapping out a whole weak of news releases…they agreeing what he wanted to say each day (no consultant around, just Hubert deciding what he would talk about). That was a blessed era before media consultants took over the process.

As candidate, Hubert himself decided what he would say and dictated volubly how he would say it which a publicist would take down in shorthand and transfer to news release form without editing. At least twice I ventured to his home for these sessions on Sunday afternoons before we would start out on Monday morning at 5:30 a.m., me having stayed at a motel nearby. It was there on Sunday afternoons where they decided these things—Waters being sort of a chide and goad but definitely the subordinate. Watching the process that had been followed for time immemorial before consultancies and TV spots spoiled me rotten because I have not seen since then a candidate with the encyclopedic intellectual mastery over a campaign as Hubert had.

Of course we (I say we since I was riding with him) were criticized for talking too long and arriving too late. I finally abandoned journalistic ethics to counsel him. I told him, “you know the criticisms are all tied together. You talk too long at the first stop which means we get a late departure and you arrive late at the next, talk too long and we are much later leaving…you know it’s a vicious cycle.” He would look out the window and muse: “yes it is.” So it was.

So at age 26 I decided out of frustration to become the ad hoc tour conductor. I would check my watch during his speeches and wave him down in mid-sentence. If he ran late (as he usually did) I’d direct the driver to double the speed to the next stop—arriving exactly on time. Finally we were hitting the stops on time but, guess what? We would find hardly anybody there: they were so inured to Hubert’s being late that they took their own sweet time about coming. SoI threw in the towel.

When we would get in the car at the start of every week, I would get a sheaf of the releases marked from Monday to Friday. But they were dry as dust. I preferred doing personality features on him, picturing what he really said and the response of the crowd. Unsurprisingly the stories gained wide currency in central Minnesota and it was assumed I was a liberal. In the car, I showed him the releases every day for my protection to be sure that he said the things imputed to him in the releases. On the stump, he would grab my copy, glance at it during his speech, touch on the subject and range free and wide to any issue that engaged his mind. I had to keep my pencil ready because the official news release was usually the least interesting thing he had to say. I guess it was as result of my being around all the time that led to his asking me to join the campaign, a job offer that would pay much more than I was earning…and which I was flattered to receive…but which I couldn’t accept. Why? I was a Republican. “I’ll be a--,” he said. “You don’t write like one.” His support of my writing lowered barriers and we talked like candidate and staffer, even though he knew I was a Republican.

As we rode along, it was clear that his mind was on a far wider vista than the reelection, which for all practical purposes was in the bag since he had demonized Ezra Taft Benson with Republican opponent Bjornson—who expected President Eisenhower to come in to fund-raise for him and not wanting to antagonize the White House, not supporting Benson but not opposing him either. His mind was on several things at once: (1) the fact that the Senate minority leader, Lyndon Johnson of Texas, his friend, also up for reelection in 1954 could very well become majority leader and that LBJ needed an ambassador to the liberal community which Hubert saw himself as…and (2) that in 1956 when Adlai Stevenson would undoubtedly get the call to run again he might pick Hubert for vice president, a Hubert hope but as it turned out futile.

In connection with No. 1, Johnson whose reelection to the Senate was in the bag had planned to come to Minnesota to “campaign for Hubert.” He really wanted to see how well regarded Hubert was in Minnesota and Hubert wanted to show off for him. But, face it, Minnesota didn’t need a southern- drawling then suspected near-segregationist (liberal only in Texas terms) in its northern liberal borders—but Hubert wanted to impress him.

What to do with Johnson and where to send him? I was asked my opinion. I said speaking in Minneapolis where Hubert was strong was not in the cards—LBJ wouldn’t “go over” there as a so-called segregationist. What about St. Paul? Gene McCarthy said o.k. but on reexamination, Hubert felt the strong labor union presence there would not mix well with Johnson’s backing of Taft-Hartley. So they sent LBJ with many Hubert functionaries to southwestern Minnesota near the South Dakota border where some people wore Stetsons and seemed more western.

The first thing Johnson wanted to do was to grab a nice juicy steak dinner as he had been used to in Texas. They went to a very good steak place where the meat came thick and juicy. Sitting around, Johnson belted down a good number of bourbons and became rather loud and scatological in the process. That wasn’t so bad but everyone in the entourage was scandalized when the waiter came. Everybody ordered thick, medium to rare steaks, still de rigeur everywhere in the Midwest. Johnson ordered his very thin, Texas-style, “and burn the hell out of it.” One member of the entourage told me of Johnson: “what a rube!” He had that right. But Hubert was very solicitous of him because he figured rightly that this senate minority leader would become majority leader with the `54 election and might promote Hubert to whip—which is what happened.

Hubert won reelection by a fairly good margin—162,000 over Bjornson…no landslide but then Eisenhower was leading the GOP ticket. Also elected was a formidable DFL ticket, taking over the governorship from hapless, sleepy C. Elmer Anderson and almost the entire raft of state offices except for state auditor…also electing some DFLers to Congress over lifelong Republican incumbents due to the unpopularity of Ezra Benson.

It was the first and last time I spent almost full time as a newspaperman on a campaign. While I turned down Hubert (and later Gene) for a job, I was getting tired of journalism which struck me as stenography and wanted to get in politics—only in my party, not theirs. Then the Minnesota Republican party, impressed with the detailed coverage I gave Hubert—and Bjornson when I traveled with him—hired me as its communications director when I was 26—once the GOP became convinced I was a conservative…and that took me for a time out of Hubert’s purview. I was told Hubert was mystified by my decision, saying “you know you’re joining the losing side.” Well, to some extent he was right…and he wasn’t the last to say it. After that I didn’t have contact with him or Gene but--.

But I stayed close enough through some of my college classmates who were working for both him and Gene. Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955 cheered Hubert up because he thought there was very slight chance that the president would run—and that given the GOP’s proclivity to proceed along corporate lines, the inevitable nominee would be Dick Nixon whom he didn’t like at all…meaning, to him, that Adlai had a great shot at the title and that if he, Hubert, played his cards right he, Hubert, could be Adlai’s vice president.

Gene’s Sardonic Jibe at Nixon.

When Eisenhower returned to work and went to the Capitol to make the State of the Union address as a former heart attack patient, I bumped into Gene in Washington when I was there for a short intro with the Republican National Committee. I was staying at the Statler Hilton and bumped into Gene in the lobby who was going to make an address to a St. Paul chamber group. He saw me before I did him. He grabbed me by the elbow and steered me over to a corner. Without saying hello, he said seriously, “Eisenhower was up at the Hill making his State of the Union speech today, you know.”\

I said: yes, I know.

“The vice president greeted him on the sidewalk before the Capitol steps. You know what Nixon said to Ike?”


“Race you up the steps!”

The Kefauver Primary Debacle Against Hubert.

I told this story before but it follows logically here so I’ll retell it (maybe I’ll catch it in the later editing, maybe not).

Later that year (1955), Hubert endorsed Adlai Stevenson for president and invited him to enter the Minnesota presidential primary to be held the following March. He had a tentative deal with Stevenson that if Hubert could hustle Stevenson through the primary to victory, Hubert would stand ace-high for getting the vice presidential nomination with him. Hubert had no illusions that they could beat Eisenhower and Nixon in 1956 but that, gaining high visibility running for veep, Hubert would stand first in line for the presidential nomination in 1960 (when Hubert would be 49) and could likely beat Richard Nixon who was the odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination that year.

Stevenson entered the Minnesota primary later in 1955 to be joined by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) who quite a populist vote-getter. The primary had no interest for Republicans since Dwight Eisenhower would be running unopposed. It was late in 1955 (as detailed earlier in “Flashback”) that I happened to be meeting with Rep. August Andresen (R-MN), a canny old owl from the heavily Republican 1st congressional district in southeastern Minnesota. Andresen quietly suggested to me a revolutionary thought that no one else had seized upon—that Minnesota Republicans engage in a stealth game to help Kefauver beat Stevenson in the Democratic primary—thus embarrassing Hubert, the new governor Orville Freeman and the entire DFL establishment and jeopardizing Hubert’s succession to the vice presidency. Andresen said because of his own close relationship with Hubert on farm matters, he did not want to be associated with the idea and would deny it if asked.

Although there was some dissension in our own ranks about this strategy, I quietly sat down with two DFL Kefauver campaign leaders, St. Paul legislators D. Donald Wozniak, the House majority leader and Peter Popovich, a St. Paul state senator and quietly worked out an arrangement where our list of volunteers would work surreptitiously to swell the vote for Kefauver.

Wozniak and Popovich cried “bossism” that the big guys in the DFL had decided to ram Stevenson down the Democratic voters’ throats. Kefauver became the shining night of populism. For once Humphrey appeared to be on the wrong side of a populist question in his own party. I watched Kefauver go town to town as a mendicant preacher while Stevenson and Hubert spoke at more highly organized functions. It was fitting justice that Hubert who played the little guy for all he was worth got burned. It made him humble and the better man for it. When election came Stevenson was buried and the official DFL was shorn of all its delegates…all of them went to Kefauver with a new list of people taking over.

It worked brilliantly (and I never talked to Andresen about it again; I never told either Hubert or Gene about my role either). It was a only temporary setback for Adlai; the entire state Democratic leadership got licked as delegates pledged to Stevenson. But for Hubert, more than any of us realized at the time, it was an interrupted timetable that blocked him from possibly becoming president. In retaliation with his command of the official state machinery in the legislature, he ordered an end to the Minnesota presidential primary system once and for all. It had a short life never to be resurrected because its tally disappointed Hubert. But the effect was disaster-ville for him.

By the time Hubert did run for president the first time, in 1960, he was an underdog to John F. Kennedy. Had he won in Minnesota for Stevenson, he would assuredly have run with Stevenson in 1956 he would have had at least the upper hand for 1960. The defeat was viewed by the national press as a humiliating setback for Humphrey…and created intra-party divisions which sparked attacks within the DFL on “bossism” that lasted for a generation.

The day after the presidential primary, Hubert had two big pro-and-con stories in the “New York Times” which was his big booster. One front page story praised him for winning a Senate vote to restore high farm price supports…while its major front-page headline portrayed Kefauver’s upset victory and pointed out that Humphrey was licked for convention delegate. Ruefully, Humphrey said that rather than criss-crossing the country campaigning for Stevenson again, “I’ll have to go county-by-county through Minnesota for at least a year kissing asses.” He did—and he never really did put down the taint of “bossism” with the DFL in the hinterland of Minnesota.

Now in my ancient decrepitude I regard my part in this as a high point in affecting political change—even higher than the entirely questionable action much later of implementing minority set-asides in the 8(a) program of hiring when I was at Commerce. My work in derailing Hubert had a good effect of knocking him on his keester—but probably a bad effect for my party in brushing him off so as to pave the way for the rise of John F. Kennedy, whose charisma enlivened the party of liberalism. Oh well. It was fun anyhow.

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