Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Flashback: After the Civil Rights Bill Passage, Johnson Starts Seriously Thinking of Who His Running-Mate Will Be. Jockeying Begins Between Hubert and Gene.

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

The Senate was still rubbing its extremities to get a sense of feeling back after the fearfully numbing arm-wrenching put on by Hubert, Ev Dirksen and their colleagues and Dick Russell from the South. Andy Glass, a friend of mine, now with Politico but then a young reporter with the “New York Herald-Tribune,” recounts that in the fearsome last hours, Iowa’s Republican Bourke Hickenlooper came in because he wanted to vote the same as his colleague Jack Miller, the accountant who was the lodestar conservative consonant with the GOP base. Hubert brought in a dying Claire Engel, the California Democrat, who didn’t live long after that, on a stretcher (he was succeeded under appointment by Pierre Salinger who couldn’t hold the seat, losing it to former actor George Murphy).

There were gaping wounds left over from the debate. Later on the campaign trail, Goldwater would bring up “Sen. Humphrey and his Curious Crew”—Joe Rauh of the ADA and a few others. It was a tactic he would use because he didn’t want to insult Johnson whom he feared more than he respected. Andy Glass asked whether he was implying that Hubert was gay (or in those years the word was “homo”). Goldwater blanched and said it wasn’t at all what he meant. The “curious crew” words would later be probed by LBJ to see if Hubert was possibly gay.

Johnson Zeros in on Veep Selection.

Now with the bill signed and history, Johnson was really bearing down hard on the vice president question. Ideally he’d have somebody with Hubert’s energy but with none of the antagonism that Humphrey had brewed in the South. Maybe Johnson ought to gulp hard and take Bobby—that was what some people around him were saying. After all there were many good points to it. He would certify that the Lost Prince would be with the ticket in spirit. To clean up Johnson’s scatological phrase, it would be better to have Bobby inside the tent urinating out rather than the obverse. It would also settle the Catholic question and the matter of the liberals in the East.

No, Connally said (who by then was a kind of survivor-hero having been wounded in the JFK assassination), hanging around Bobby were some conspiratorialists still playing with the theory that Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover had taken JFK to Texas in order to knock him off and that Bobby was just the kind of guy to do the same thing to get even. Connally was no fan of the Kennedys, especially Bobby and he kept referring to the Borgias who knocked people off including a pope or two and especially where in 1055 (in the memoirs of Bernold of St. Blaise) a subdeacon dropped poison meant for Victor II into a chalice. After the consecration when Victor wanted to raise the chalice he could not do so and asked God what was the reason for this. At that point his poisoner was seized with an evil spirit and the reason was thus made plain).

The story depressed Johnson who thought it was exaggerated but who conceded that “that little sonuvabitch” Bobby was not above anything. Lady Bird listened to it all and said that God was giving him a kind of sign that no matter what else he did, he had to keep Bobby off the ticket, adding “you’ll never get a good night’s sleep wondering what he’s doing behind your back.” Johnson agreed so one initial decision was made—and that was no matter who he took, Bobby can’t be on the ticket or Johnson would never get a full night’s rest. Lady Bird didn’t like Hubert for veep either because he was too hated in the South (and she was born in Alabama). She was charmed by Gene McCarthy whose devastating humor she adored; also she liked Abigail McCarthy very much. And of course Connally who wanted McCarthy.

Johnson Romances Gene.

So Johnson began to romance Gene McCarthy because he was an Irish Catholic. To get to know him better he invited him to the White House to pretend to quiz him on a tax bill the Senate Finance committee was studying—but he knew all about the bill; it was actually to get a handle on McCarthy. He was impressed with McCarthy’s realism, non-idealism and pro-oil conservatism. Rather turned off by his cynicism. LBJ had little room for cynicism because he had never been imbued with idealism in the first place and cynicism is nothing more than jaded idealism.

Then LBJ invited McCarthy, J. William Fulbright (chairman of Foreign Relations) and four other Johnson friends to a White House dinner. The ostensible reason was to get them to improve a speech Johnson had to make. So the clerical staff handed around copies and everybody, McCarthy included, started to write in the margins. Johnson took all the corrections…but the real reason for the exercise was to study McCarthy and to quiz the friends afterward: what did you think of him?

So Johnson decided to start speculation about McCarthy being his running mate in order to see how much a brush fire could be created. He attended a fund-raising dinner for McCarthy in January 1964 (McCarthy was to run for the Senate again that year) at a Washington hotel. Because Johnson had announced he was coming, almost all notables in D. C. went: 550 total—including Hubert, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, 20 senators, 36 House members, Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark and every lobbyist worth anything at all in town including Tommy the Cork and his escort Anna Chennault—Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon, Averill Harriman and Pamela, even Harry Byrd who never went out at night (sitting at the head table). Adlai was at his best, telling the crowd this about McCarthy: “There is no more eloquent representative of what is good in American life than Sen. McCarthy and we are all grateful to him for rehabilitating the phrase `Senator McCarthy.’” At which Anna Chennault who was a lover of Joe (literally as figuratively) tugged Tommy Corcoran’s sleeve and said, “Tommy, take me home.” Tommy thought she was kidding but she meant it and he had to take her home.

So Tommy missed LBJ’s talk where the president said, “All my life I’ve wanted to be a speaker like Hubert or Gene.” Everybody looked at each other knowingly. Hubert looked down at his plate. Now Gene was in the race versus Hubert. And as Hubert knew well, Gene would not be a good loser—if he lost.

Things percolated along with people literally picking and choosing who they were for in the vice presidential thing—Hubert or Gene…or somebody else. There was Republican Secretary of Defense (and former Ford Motor president) Robert McNamara who Johnson had once mistakenly assumed was an Irish Catholic who didn’t go to church but when he found out McNamara was a Presbyterian who didn’t go to church, he lost interest. It would be a kick in the groin for the party to take a Republican even if he were secretary of defense and besides a northern Irishman Protestant to-boot.

Humphrey continued to hold first position, as long as there was speculation that Nelson Rockefeller or some other liberal or “moderate” as the euphemism for liberal then was invented and which continues to this day could get the GOP nomination. Rockefeller or Bill Scranton would make a pitch for liberal votes and the blacks and Humphrey would be needed on the Democratic ticket. But on July 15 the Republican convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace picked Barry Goldwater, booed Rocky and followed up by naming another conservative, Congressman William E. Miller of New York (a Catholic). That meant that the Democrats didn’t have to have a red-hot liberal in order to carry the liberal north. Humphrey wasn’t needed. The bettors’ odds turned to Gene McCarthy: an Irish Catholic, liberal enough for the north but not a firebrand that alienated the South as did Hubert.

Hubert’s anxiety attacks…heart palpitations, clammy palms… continued through the summer. They worsened when Evans & Novak wrote two weeks before the Democratic convention via a leak from George Reedy that if Johnson had his druthers he’d pick McCarthy. Johnson kept saying what bothered him about Humphrey was his being anathema in some circles of the South, the fact he had no war record, that he would lose Humphrey as his good right arm in the Senate. What he liked about McCarthy was that he was just as liberal as Hubert but sneaky about it so the man on the street didn’t realize it. Also McCarthy was somewhat lethargic so he would only do the tasks assigned to him all the while neutralizing the Catholic problem and not drive LBJ nuts with energy. Not a bad argument.

Johnson Insiders Back Hubert.

But there was huge support for Hubert among party professionals and civil rights people, liberal movement people, organized labor—those who would carry the water for the Democratic party. Still undecided, Johnson called a meeting of party professionals who were cold-eyed strategists without much emotion: John Bailey, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Richard Maguire, the DNC treasurer, Jim Rowe, Walter Jenkins, Jack Valenti, Bill Moyers, Larry O’Brien and Kenny O’Donnell. Johnson began the meeting by inventing the fiction that a private poll he had taken showed that he’d have trouble without a Catholic on the ticket and that this was true now that Bill Miller, a Catholic, was running with Goldwater. (Bill Miller’s Catholicism was dormant, the only residue being that he had gone to Notre Dame).

While almost everyone in the room was Catholic (except Moyers, an ordained Baptist minister), all said he’d be wise to pick Hubert—even Valenti who by that time had changed from backing McCarthy. That seemed to weigh heavily on Johnson’s decision-making. Rowe later described the meeting as the climactic won that decided Johnson in favor of Hubert.

Lady Bird didn’t agree but the first thing was, she stressed: get rid of that damned Bobby—dump him off the pier. LBJ agreed. But how to do that? Abe Fortas came up with a plan for Johnson. Don’t make it seem you’re dumping Bobby because it’ll look discriminatory. Lump him in with other cabinet people…arguing that to be singled out as the running-mate would “interfere” with them carrying out their duties. So as Fortas sketched it out on his pad those to be eliminated under that rubric would be: Bobby, McNamara, Freeman (secretary of agriculture), Stevenson as UN ambassador. Johnson enlarged the group to also include not just the cabinet but “people not in the cabinet who meet regularly with the cabinet.” No one yet has imagined who that would eliminate but Johnson kept this idea to himself. On July 30, Johnson went on television to unexpectedly announce this decision—a rather foolish thing to do to misuse TV for what was strictly a partisan decision.

The gesture and speech were foolishly transparent. Everybody laughed at the convolutions Johnson had made to get rid of Bobby. And Bobby Kennedy had a great deal of fun by leaking to the press his contacting all the others involved, expressing sorrow that “so many of you good men had to be thrown over the side because of me.”

Lyndon Plays it Cute.

But Johnson being Johnson he had to play it cute. There was an aspect of mental cruelty within him. He told Jim Rowe to tell Hubert that he was still in the game but that things hadn’t jelled yet. Still the teaser. Rowe was instructed to say that Johnson would expect loyalty in his vice president (probably because of the pain he suffered by Bobby’s having hinted to JFK that Johnson wasn’t loyal; actually Johnson was but desperately feared Kennedy would dump him in 1964). When Rowe brought up the issue of loyalty, Hubert said this according to a memo Rowe sent Johnson:

“Today,” said Hubert, “the liberals are all for Lyndon Johnson. But I can remember 1959 and 1960 when every New York and most Northern liberals had daggers in their hands which they used with pleasure whenever the name Lyndon Johnson was mentioned. During those tough years, time and time again both on national television and New York television, I defended Lyndon Johnson as a real liberal. In those days the plains were bleak and the ground dry. Why would I desert him now, be disloyal now when he is fashionable when I was never disloyal to him when it was fashionable?”

Before he left the meeting with Humphrey, Rowe advised him not to be passive but round up his supporters and lobby Johnson else the president would get the idea Hubert was too passive about getting the job. That further excited Hubert about whom the one word that wouldn’t fit was “passive.” .

Passive? It’s wasn’t in Hubert’s vocabulary. Humphrey personally contacted every Democratic governor and national party leaders of consequence, asking for pledges of support, approving publication of 5,000 campaign biographies (stored in his aide Bill Connell’s Washington basement), 8,000 LBJ-HHH buttons (locked in an Atlantic City hotel storage room), getting his staff to collect favorable newspaper clippings and editorials from around the country and getting a dummy committee organized to send them to the White House every day along with favorable polls dished up to the president and the remaining Kennedy men who were in the White House. He got Marlin Sandlin chairman of the Pan American Sulfur Co. of Houston (an LBJ crony) to set up meetings for him in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles where Hubert discussed his ideas in fairly conservative terms). One of the only leaders to be lukewarm was Chicago’s Richard J. Daley. Why nobody knew but Daley and Hubert never took.

This frenetic work by Hubert stirred the once relaxed McCarthy to action. He got the philanthropist Stephen Currier to pour in the non-reported political money stashed in a secret bank account that was, well, illegal-- opening a secret headquarters in a southwest Washington townhouse, hiring the executive secretary of the Wyoming party at $2,000 a month to run the campaign and detailing Art Michelson (a friend of mine) to be both senatorial press secretary and in charge of communications for his vice presidential bid. The ad hoc committee was composed of Jerry Eller (a classmate of mine) and administrative assistant to McCarthy, Legislative Counsel Larry Merthan (later a lobbyist with Pfizer), George Agee of the Committee for a More Effective Congress, Johnson operatives and Mrs. Edison Dick, a wealthy Stevenson backer. Then McCarthy appropriated a watchword coined by his old friend Fr. Godfrey Diekmann OSB of St. John’s—a word that went right to Johnson’s secret heart. The watchword:

“I think people will be watching the kind of man President Johnson chooses.”

McCarthy asked Patrick Crowley and his wife Patti, both prominent Democrats and Catholics who lived in Wilmette, Illinois, the co-founders of the Christian Family Movement (Patti the heiress to the O’Brien house paint fortune) to arrange a meeting with Mayor Richard J. Daley for McCarthy. He flew in and spent 45 minutes with Daley, Daley saying he was “partial” to McCarthy. McCarthy said to his friends, “To have an Irishman say he is partial to you, well, if he were talking to a girl it would almost be the same as saying you’re engaged.” Not quite with Daley but for some reason Daley was never “partial” to Hubert—either in 1964 or 1968. Or ever.

Still being cute, Johnson fantasized that he could solve the Catholic and Kennedy problem with one fell swoop by picking Sargent Shriver, head of the Peace Corps, JFK’s brother-in-law and a Catholic. Bobby foiled that by coming out personally for Hubert Humphrey and leaking that the Kennedy family would regard the selection of anyone but him as an act of enmity. Bobby was putting the kibosh on the notion that a Catholic should come close to the presidency until he would be ready to run for president. He had privately decided to run for the Senate in New York in 1966 so that he would be ready in, say, 1968, thus wishing to keep the “Catholic-returns-to-the-White-House” franchise for himself. To stress the point, Kennedy said he would lead the floor fight for Humphrey at the Atlantic City convention if Johnson had decided otherwise. Hubert was impressed with the intensity and fervor of his latest ally who had hired FDR, jr. to harpoon him as a draft dodger all through West Virginia.

Johnson then dispatched Rowe on another mission to Hubert and that was to question him on every aspect of his personal and political life which could possibly be embarrassing to the ticket. That included his finances, his debts to contributors, his lack of war record and especially why conservatives like Goldwater were running around blasting him as “Hubert Horatio and his Curious Crew.” Curious—what did that mean? Johnson asked anticipating a later question directed to Goldwater himself. Homosexual? For some reason Johnson asked further in embarrassing delineation: did Hubert or does he like little boys? It was horrendously embarrassing for Rowe to have to ask these things of Hubert and he decided he couldn’t ask Hubert without dying of mortification. So he checked around and got the vehement answer he expected—no.

Hubert didn’t mention her but Rowe did stumble onto the story of Wanda the Weather Bunny, the once beauteous Norwegian-born former weather girl in the Twin Cities, who had been a close friend of both Hubert and later of TV reporter Art Michelson (now working as a publicist for McCarthy). Rowe was worried about this at first but found she was out of circulation with Michelson, happily married, on the way to being 300 lbs., driving a Cadillac with a Goldwater sticker on it and hustling Art Linkletter’s drink “Goldwater” which came in tin cans. Her marriage to a wealthy Republican with candidate intentions precluded her going public with anything like this. Michelson’s lip was buttoned up because of what Wanda could spring on him. Anyhow Rowe decided the media would regard her as a crude partisan plant anyhow and a hugely (no pun) unlikely femme fatale if she ever opened her mouth but he reported it to Johnson anyhow but Johnson who had had several girl friends on the side in his past didn’t think it was fatal. As he told Rowe he was rather relieved. Rowe wondered what that meant.

Gene: Can’t Trust Hubert on Vietnam.

Always being torturously cute, Johnson dispatched Connally (no Catholic, despite the Celtic name) to tell Gene to keep his powder dry, that he was still in the race. He found Gene steaming mad that Bobby had endorsed Hubert, regarding it—correctly—as a block against him and trying to preclude another Catholic from running.. But Connally had another issue that he said would be far more important to LBJ. If the war in Vietnam got to be very unpopular (which it would ultimately be), Johnson wanted a vice president with the guts to stand with him and not go South on him. It was then that Gene sank the dagger in Hubert’s back.

Congress had just passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which both Hubert and Gene voted for. Gene told this to the hawkish, ex-oil man Connally:

You know Hubert, always moving from one deal to another depending on what the circumstances are. We both know him well enough that if the war becomes unpopular, he would tell the editor of “The New York Times” he supports it but off-the-record add that he has to say that—but privately we ought to be doing something different.

Connally agreed with Gene: Hubert was a slippery one in contrast to true-blue Gene who you could count on. Or so he believed.

So Connally reported back to LBJ that McCarthy would be more likely to stand firm with the administration if things got tough with Vietnam than Hubert would. We’ll never know since Gene gauged everything through the lens of resentment. Maybe he’d have stood with LBJ longer than Hubert.

Still there was the height of irony in what Gene told Connally. Going South on the Vietnam War was what Gene himself did by 1967…running against LBJ, causing him to reject running again which paved the way for Bobby and ultimately McGovernism which continues to dog the Democratic party on laxity of national security to this day. Gene did it to get even with both LBJ and Hubert. Later Hubert himself would go South somewhat on Vietnam and endorse a cease-fire midway in the 1968 campaign to LBJ’s great ire

But by his run against Johnson, Gene was the guy who opened the doors of the Democratic party…a party unusually hawkish since FDR and Truman…to the anti-war Left whose prisoner it is to this day.

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