Sunday, November 25, 2007

Flashback: As Senator, Hubert was a Hawk of Hawks. But He Double-Crosses Johnson…Gene Loses Election as Assistant Majority Leader Because He’s Too Lazy and The Little Sisters of the Media Sympathize.

[Fifty years plus of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

Hubert and Gene’s Pragmatism Shaped Them.

Both Hubert and Gene were relativists. As we have seen, Hubert’s philosophy was pie-tin shallow and entwined with the psyche of an uncomplicated small town drugstore liberal who could hustle through the Depression and who wanted very much to go as far as he could in the political milieu including to the presidency. A patriot whose eyes could mist over when he saw a pumpkin pie cooling on a window sill (thinking of the old days in South Dakota), he was a Babbitt, imbued with a Rotarian’s upward ascendancy. His religious background was strictly Horatio Alger with Norman Vincent Peale thrown in. Born a Lutheran, he switched to Methodist, then Congregationalist, finally dying as a member of Dr. Robert Schuler’s televised evangelical “Crystal Cathedral” where it you feel good about yourself you save your soul (very simplistic but not far off from Gene’s more convoluted nihilistic New Age Catholic modern theology ala Godfrey Diekmann OSB, actually). About himself and America Hubert was a die-hard optimist. Not Gene.

Gene, of course, was schooled initially in the philosophical absolutes of Aristotle and Aquinas but after the Benedictine novitiate which he quit in objection to a critical novice master, he adopted a liberal Catholic version still regnant in some quarters where he did not seek to discover truth but attain a variant adaptable to his needs. Godfrey Diekmann OSB the liberal theologian at St. John’s both influenced McCarthy and was influenced by him. Godfrey was very big on theories that had some early Church Fathers writing into some gospels views that were not Christ’s. Whether true or not, it spurred all kinds of doubt about what in the gospels is true—for clarification of which, of course, one would have to go to the First Source to discover: Godfrey himself, of course, the Imperial Self. It imbued a kind of Catholic relativism in theology which you find in “America” and “Commonweal” magazines which Gene was happy to accept. In addition to his earlier wide reading of the Church fathers, McCarthy dipped into Yeats, Nietzsche, Foucault and Joyce. He regularly quoted obscure poetry very few read but which had the ring if not the resonance of profundity. He generated skepticism, depression with respect to the world and its faults, non-idealism and fatalism.

But still Hubert and Gene were pragmatists with compass needle always pointing to Self.

Hubert the Early War Hawk.

Until he became vice president, Hubert Humphrey was a Cold War hawkish liberal. Hubert’s hawkish-ness ended when he lowered his hand after taking the vice presidential oath. But his hatred for Communism never died; it stemmed from his Minnesota political history. He helped fashion a workable unity between the moribund and conservative Democratic party of Minnesota and the red hot radical, pro-Commie Farmer-Laborites of the `30s. To do so, he joyfully lopped off heads of old 1930s Lefties so his new party could get elected. He had no trouble identifying the Lefties. They supported the presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, were soft on the Nazis when Germany and the USSR had had a non-aggression pact, but became vigorously anti-Nazi when Hitler attacked Russia in June, 1941. They were the followers of Elmer Benson the last Farmer-Labor governor. Hubert went county-by-county with a list and conducted the purge which showed the Benson-ites the door and was pictured much as the old Renaissance painters depicted God the Father angrily pointing to the exit as Adam and Eve sorrowfully trudged out of the Garden of Eden. He was highly efficient in this purge which won him great attention and benefited his party enormously.

In the Democratic-run Senate, the young Hubert was more anti-Red in his foreign-defense policy than anyone else save Henry Jackson of Washington state. In the early 1950s and `60s, Hubert’s views were more clearly aligned with those of Barry Goldwater who crusaded on the theme “why not victory?” In January, 1950 Hubert told the Senate, “if we lose the south part of Asia…we shall have lost every hope that we ever had of being able to maintain free institutions in any part of the Eastern world.” The following year, 1951, he called the Indochina war “a war against the same Communism” as the war in Korea and compared the loss of Southeast Asia to the loss of Korea.

In 1953 he said: “The threat of international Communist aggression is most acute in Southeast Asia.” In 1954: “To lose Indochina to the Communists may be to lose all of Southeast Asia. It is unthinkable. It cannot happen. It will not happen.” Humphrey cooperated with Ike’s secretary of state John Foster Dulles to get a SEATO [Southeast Asia Treaty Organization] through the Senate, which ratified it 85 to 1. It led to the first initial involvement by the U. S. in Vietnam by the Eisenhower administration (700 military advisers). Three months later Hubert criticized the Eisenhower administration as being insufficiently dovish, not working hard enough to spare Vietnam from Communism, saying, “If we abandon free Vietnam we shall have abandoned all of Southeast Asia…If free Vietnam falls or if the Communist elements take over, then every country in the corridor of Southeast Asia will be in more difficulty and we shall not be able to stop it.”

In 1960 he warned against a belligerent Communist China: “I happen to believe that the most dangerous, aggressive force in the world today is Communist China…It is from the Chinese Communists that the Free World faces danger.” True he warned John F. Kennedy not to get overcommitted to Vietnam in 1962 but added “In all this activity there is grave risk but I say most sincerely that the greatest risk is Communist aggression, Communist conquest and Communist advance. This we cannot permit if it is humanly possible to stop it.”

In the Gulf of Tonkin resolution debate in August, 1964 he said: “The aggressor seeks to bite off piece by piece the areas of freedom…Our objective is to achieve stability in the area so that we can go to the conference table. But we ought to make it clear to the world that we do not intend to sit at the conference table with a gun to our heads.’ At this time he was greatly influenced by Edward Lansdale, a retired Air Force major general and counter-guerilla expert. He opposed withdrawal of the 16,000 U. S. troops in Vietnam on the grounds that “it would shake the other Southeast Asia nations.” He said, “we must stay in Vietnam until the security of the South Vietnamese people has been established.”

Earlier, it was Hubert who decided to be more anti-Communist than even Joe McCarthy who was terrifying the country by proving to the satisfaction of many that Reds had penetrated some high places in the FDR and Truman administrations. Hubert did this by introducing an amendment to outlaw the Communist party on an appropriations bill, something Joe never tried—which passed and was signed into law by Dwight Eisenhower. The only problem being the language had been written in such a hurry as to be confusing and hence un-applicable in the courts—but it earned Hubert the enmity of the Far Left. He touted this as a badge of honor to help his future as presidential candidate.

Vietnam’s Unpopularity Alarms Hubert.

It was his expectation that he would be a presidential candidate in 1968 that caused Hubert to reappraise Vietnam. Very soon after he was sworn in as vice president, and in contradistinction to what he had earlier pledged to Johnson, Hubert started to separate himself from LBJ on Vietnam. He was servile to Johnson, endured ridicule when he was forced to don a Stetson and ride a horse on Johnson’s ranch a few weeks after election. The media mocked him because he looked awful astride a horse. They began to regard him as so servile to Johnson as to be a buffoon and Johnson made fun of his lack of dexterity on a horse with the media when Hubert’s back was turned. The media decided that this was the end of the old fiery Hubert, that he had sold his soul for a mass of pottage to be vice president. They were far wrong.

He had decided that he would have to separate from Johnson on the Vietnam War, a very gutsy thing for a vice president to do. The reason was in his own self-interest. From the start he never believed Johnson would run for a second full term in 1968. Johnson’s health precluded that, he decided. He was right.

The first sign of dissent came on February 10, 1965 only a few weeks after inauguration. At a meeting of the National Security Council the question was what to do to retaliate for a Vietcong attack four days earlier on a U. S. compound at Pleiku and a nearby base. Nine Americans had been killed and more than 100 wounded. On the same day they raided an enlisted men’s barracks at Qui Nhon that killed 23 Americans. By the time of the meeting, we had already conducted two reprisal air strikes on the Vietcong. Up for discussion was the proposal for a joint U. S.-South Vietnamese strike at three targets in North Vietnam. Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin was in Hanoi and the National Security Council hawks felt it would be advisable for Kosygin to see that we would not idly dismiss the earlier attacks. The few doves, mainly George Ball, the undersecretary of state, worried that in the bombing Kosygin might be killed and that it would thus begin World War II on a global basis. Hubert agreed and advised to delay the attacks until Kosygin left for the USSR. LBJ was startled. This was the first break with his own views.

LBJ wanted to unleash the attack regardless of Kosygin and felt it would be good for Kosygin to feel the earth move under his feet from our bombing. But in deference to Hubert though gritting his teeth at the time, he agreed on a compromise-- to delete one of the targets, a bridge 75 miles south of Hanoi. Hubert still wanted to wait but Johnson, Robert McNamara and the Joint Chiefs wanted to hit the targets. They won the argument by winning LBJ to their side. This was the beginning of “Operation Rolling Thunder” which formally began March 2 which led to the massive American involvement in Vietnam.

Hubert decided to build a record in memo writing that could be used to substantiate his position for a future presidential run. He began writing privately to Johnson. The first one said the advisers had been advocating what in essence was “Goldwater’s position.” He spoke to Johnson privately and theorized a policy 180 degrees from what he had told Johnson his would be. He went farther. He argued that Korea should have taught us never again to become involved in a land war in Asia. He warned that since we no longer had an monopoly on nuclear weapons, there was a danger Red China would intervene in Vietnam. He expressed worry that Vietnam would drain resources from the War on Poverty which he enthusiastically supported. He pointed out he didn’t have much confidence in the government of South Vietnam since the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Johnson was, understandably shocked. He became turned off because this was a far different Hubert than he had been led to expect. It got so that Johnson told Hubert “we don’t need all those memos, Hubert. Frankly I don’t think you ought to let them lying around your office because there’s going to be people coming and going and as much as we put security controls on them, somebody always makes extra copies. There’s nothing you can put on paper that you can’t tell me personally and say it better.” That was a slam from the president. But Hubert didn’t change.

By February, 1965 while being publicly ridiculed as LBJ’s lap-dog, Hubert was privately at odds with Johnson over the war but he really didn’t care. He was not the senator now but one who was thinking of how he would defend the war later. So it took him a little while to find out that he was being excluded from the so-called “Tuesday luncheons” where Johnson and his military and political advisers crafted policy on the war. Hubert’s foreign affairs top staffer, John Rielly (a fellow graduate of St. John’s, a St. Cloud native, a friend of mine who later became president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations) says that there was a stretch of at least eleven months where Hubert didn’t know it but months where he was almost totally out of the foreign policy loop.

All the While, Gene…

At first he kept his counsel on Vietnam to himself, concentrating only on droll sarcasms making fun of Hubert and Lyndon. Then he sought the assistant majority leader’s job…Hubert’s old job…but he was famous for his lackadaisical approach to hard work and disappearing after lunch to the Carroll Arms hotel sandwich shop. So he lost. Russell Long got the post he coveted but as a consolation prize the Dem elders gave Gene a seat on Foreign Relations as well as Finance, turning down the new senator from New York, Bobby Kennedy who also wanted the seat—a fact that cheered McCarthy.

Abigail told him that the combination of petulance and refusal to buckle down and work hard was a loser’s trait. She was right which alienated them all the more. Gene was preparing to split with Johnson all the more because of her—since Abigail was such a party regular.

Gene made his first departure from the Johnson Vietnam policy the same month Hubert did—February, 1965. That was when he was called to a meeting in Humphrey’s vice presidential office for a report on Vietnam with McGeorge Bundy (the national security adviser to LBJ). Bundy had just returned from Vietnam and gave a glowing report. Yet, Bundy the aristocratic former dean of Harvard had a knack of treating those who differed as dull witted. This irritated McCarthy who was always sensitive to how he was being treated. So he sat down for drinks with The Little Sisters of the Media (he never had a liquor problem, could make a light scotch last an hour) and leaked his discomfiture which gained some currency.

Then on Feb. 18 McCarthy went to the White House for a briefing by McNamara. Secretary of State Rusk and CIA Director John McCone. All of them said the political situation had stabilized over there but the next morning the government of Gen. Nguyen Khanh was overthrown. This gave Gene the pretext for a bushel of wisecracks which he shared with the Little Sisters of the Media, particularly with one whom he took to taking drinks with privately one-on-one, comely, dark-haired Marya McLaughlin of CBS-TV who thought him excruciatingly funny.

In contradistinction to Hubert, Gene was developing a much more passive regard for government, developing a libertarianism and a powerful skepticism about the bureaucracy and policy makers. Gene also further developed a cynicism about most things—his marriage (the problem was that Abigail thought she was more politically astute and a far better writer than he, which was the truth), the Church, the Vietnam war, the Democratic party. He began to memorize Yeats’ poetry and recite it by the yard as he sipped scotch. Things were brewing in his mind on how to get even with a great number of people—LBJ who spurned him, Hubert who got the vice presidency he wanted, Bobby Kennedy whom he believed (wrongly I think) iced the deal for Hubert taking the vice presidency and the majority of the Senate Democrats for voting down his bid to be assistant majority leader. Even smart Aleck Abigail who sometimes publicly disagreed with him when friends wanted to idolize him.

He thought a lot about retiring from the Senate—but Abigail who was drawing some big-time fans for herself in Washington society would be outraged and he couldn’t bear that. And too, he was drawing pretty big honorarium fees for his speeches (then this was quite legal) so he couldn’t afford to do so.

Thus by the end of 1965 two protagonists who had vowed eternal loyalty to LBJ and his war were well on the way to total disagreement: one motivated by his desire to be free to impediments on Vietnam when he would run for president…the other by pure vindictiveness masked by a veneer of opposition to the morality of the war. Sadly, Gene was also becoming not just cynical but depressed and fatalistic about the human condition as well as being rather cavalier about accepting luxuries, side benefits and gratuities from big business which gravitated to him because of his seat on Finance. .

The fatalism spurred a profound skepticism about political reform. He often used this line: “When you purify the pond the lilies die.” Brilliant line. He then told this story taken from Gibbons’ “Decline and Fall.”

As the Roman Emperor Pertinax learned after he followed a succession of corrupt tyrants to the throne. Pertinax adopted a zero tolerance quotient on corruption so that the wheels of commerce threatened to stop in Roman commerce. The fruit and vegetable vendors who paid a pittance to get favorable sites for their wagons to sell their wares near the temple of the gods were told henceforth things would be on a first-come-first-served basis: no gratuities to Roman guards. That meant that some from out of town would have to arise at 2 a.m. or so to get their place. Outrageous.

As Gibbon and other historians report, stringent virtue like this disturbed Roman business and the middle class--so that by general consent one night when Pertinax was praying to the gods a Roman guard slipped up behind him and strangled him—which was the end of the too-virtuous emperor. But understand, strangled him with a golden cord in deference to his rank. After that the progression of emperors reverted to embrace some—but not all—of the old ways and commerce improved. This the latter day ironist McCarthy said he approved.

The Latter-Day Gene McCarthy Resembled Ron Paul.

I guess I’m responsible for giving people who support Ron Paul for president the idea that he is the nearest thing to the late Sen. Robert A. Taft. Bad comparison. I compared him to Taft because the Ohio senator was the last conservative to be a minimalist in foreign policy. But there are great differences.

General comparison between Taft and Paul are inexact for many reasons whereas the similarity between Gene McCarthy and Ron Paul are great. You would never find Taft advocating term limits (he believed the voters should exercise that at the ballot box). Likewise he would never be caught dead serving ten terms in the House while advocating term limits, an anomaly. Taft, the patrician constitutional lawyer, son of a president who went to Versailles as an aide to Herbert Hoover, was far more intellectually complicated than Paul— precise than Hubert (who was broad brush), more of a workmanlike legislator than Gene and Paul. These five points tells you Taft’s complexity which was the bane of his campaign managers.

First, Taft bitterly opposed the way FDR maneuvered us into World War II by instilling an embargo that made it inevitable that Japan would strike us from the standpoint of preservation of its honor if for no other reason…a matter FDR the consummate deceiver knew full well. To oppose the war and continue with the argument even when it was being waged, as Taft did, was hugely courageous and political poison but he never vacillated. He supported the winning of the war but never forgot the duplicitous nature of our involvement. He was dead on right here.

Second, he opposed our entry into the Korean War as an illegal act. This was a war in which the Congress utterly had no voice, no resolution to be considered or anything. To Taft, with Korea already at war we had no right to send troops to a nation with which we had no treaty to defend it against an attack by another nation unless “some other direct authority was obtained.” Meaning a resolution. Meaning he would have accepted a resolution similar to Iraq (with Korea there was none). With Iraq he might or might not have voted with the resolution—it is uncertain.

Third, Taft opposed our joining NATO, another unpopular stand. But his opposition was not that he felt opposing Communism in western Europe was not our fight (similar to Paul’s views now). It hinged on the “lack of the right of the president to merge American forces with an army which he cannot exclusively command unless there be congressional authorization.” There was a vote to join NATO but not the authorization and Taft was right once more. .

Fourth, Taft opposed several very popular moves. The Nuremburg trial of captured Nazi leaders on the basis of ex-post-facto law. He opposed Truman’s attempt to take over the railroads by federal order and draft the strikers which came at a time when the country was seemingly paralyzed by the strike. Right once more. He opposed Truman’s taking over the steel mills during a national emergency by fiat as unconstitutional—unconditionally right.

Fifth, Taft favored the UN and in fact had favored us joining the League of Nations (where Paul wants us to withdraw) but criticized the UN charter and said that until proper amendments were added to it, we should rely on military alliances which is anathema to Ron Paul people. He was right about the alliances. Ron Paul would not agree.

As we will see, Gene McCarthy in his late years is the proper role model for Ron Paul. So much so I wonder why I never thought of it before.

1 comment:

  1. 1) FDR's correspondence with Churchill shows he did not want to goad Japan to war. FDR and Churchill wanted the U.S. free to concentrate on Germany; FDR's Asia policy was supposed to keep Japan quiet. Japan's national "honor" was not affected by the embargo, only the "honor" of the militarists who forced Japan into a criminal war. In any case, Japan was almost broke and could not have paid for more oil. They had to steal it.

    2) American troops in Korea were attacked and fought back. Congress never voted an authorization to fight, because they were already fighting.

    3) Taft was afraid of U.S. troops being put under foreign command, which never happened and was never really possible.

    4) The 1927 Kellogg-Briand Treaty (which Germany signed) declared aggressive war to be a crime against the law of nations. The Hague Conventions defined war crimes. What the Nazis did was established as crimes long before 1945. Far from being a kangaroo court, the Nuremberg tribunal required the Allies to present concrete evidence against the Nazis, allowed the Nazis to challenge the evidence, found varying degrees of guilt, and acquitted three defendants (Schacht, von Papen, and Fritzsche). Taft's scruples over the basis of the tribunal were seriously misplaced.