Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Flashback: Gene Scandalizes the Minnesota Delegation Party by Ridiculing Johnson and Hubert. Hubert Boards a Campaign Plane Dubbed “The Happy Warrior” and a Key Aide to LBJ Gets Snagged in a Men’s Room Prompting a Ferocious Hunt for Homosexuals.

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

After the bitter fight with his wife in their hotel room, Gene McCarthy went to the Minnesota delegation party honoring Hubert as the vice presidential nominee—but McCarthy performed so badly…making fun of Hubert and LBJ, behind Hubert’s back at the party, that the Democratic national committeewoman, Geri Hoffner Joseph (a one-time Minneapolis “Tribune” writer who married a multi-millionaire commodities broker, Bert Joseph but who was a fast friend of Hubert’s) decided to end the bitterness. She grabbed McCarthy and gave him un-shirted hell, telling him to stop acting like a child and asked where Abigail was. McCarthy shrugged. Geri Joseph then went up to the McCarthy room, knocked on the door and met with Abigail. Abigail told her she wasn’t coming down because of the severe toxic state Gene was in and she didn’t want to be a part of it. That’s when Geri Joseph figured that the marriage was coming apart.

The next day both LBJ and Hubert were nominated while McCarthy sulked. Hubert spoke first and delivered a scornful litany of Barry Goldwater’s voting record, winding up every sentence this way: “America wanted civil rights and it passed by a record vote. Senators voted for it from the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle—but not Sen. Goldwater!”

He went down a list of supposedly favorable bills, winding every sentence with: “But not Sen. Goldwater!” It was a brilliantly demagogic speech tailored for a convention of partisans and he blew the roof off the joint.

He stole the show from Johnson who was fit to be tied standing backstage. When introduced, LBJ delivered a lackluster speech and groused about being topped. Humphrey re-learned the lesson he should have absorbed knowing Johnson’s infantile personality: never overshadow the boss.

The convention wound up with an emotional documentary about John F. Kennedy, a slam-bang burst of fireworks and a $1,000 a plate birthday bash for Johnson.

The day after the convention, Hubert and Muriel boarded a plane paid for by the Democratic National Committee labeled, “The Happy Warrior” and zipped across the country, heading first for his hometown of Doland, South Dakota where he delivered a weepy speech but fired off rockets against the Republicans. Then become a full-blown Hubert he shouted to a crowd that Johnson as “the greatest president in the history of the United States!” (In his hyperbolic overstatements he could always make one want to imitate Art Michelson and stick a finger down one’s throat to gag).

Hubert avoided mentioning Vietnam in detail which was starting to be an unpopular war, concentrating on only this idea: “Our action in the Gulf of Tonkin is part of the continuing struggle which the American people must be prepared to wage if we are to preserve free civilization as we k now it and resist the expansion of Communist power.” Sounds somewhat like George W. Bush today (excepting the reference to Communism), doesn’t it?

McCarthy and Abigail never fully patched up their fight in which she scored his inordinate sense of pride, his fatal conceit. They went back to Minnesota and he concentrated on his campaign for reelection. He was 48 years old and seeking his second term. Relations between him and Abigail were very tenuous.

The Great LBJ Inspired Gay Witch Hunt.

It is difficult in view of today’s tolerance to reconstruct the witch hunt that swept through the national Democratic party in the Fall of 1964 involving the LBJ-inspired search for homosexuals on Democratic staffs. As a legacy from the Joe McCarthy era, gay men and lesbians were automatically denied security clearance (ironic because Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s top aide who had agreed to foster the denial of security clearance was gay and in fact died of AIDS). Anyhow, the pretext was that gays and lesbians could be blackmailed and in order to keep their sexual preference hush-hush could be prevailed upon, as the theory went, to sell out the country in return for silence.

Johnson was far ahead of Barry Goldwater in the polls on October 7, 1964 when Washington, D. C. police were called to the basement Men’s room of the metropolitan YMCA, a sleazy place. It was reported that gays were conducting liaisons there. There they picked up none other than Walter Jenkins, the most important and topmost staffer of President Johnson. Jenkins, 46, was by all odds the most influential staffer Johnson had or ever would have. He had the total confidence of his boss. He had begun with Johnson when LBJ was a first-term congressman in 1939 and stayed with him through the Senate years, as vice president and went to the White House as his top staffer. He was perhaps the equivalent of Karl Rove on strategy but he was even more important since he was the top administrator as well as political strategist in the place. Jenkins was the fellow who orchestrated the ridiculous “search for a vice president” under Johnson, playing Hubert against Gene McCarthy. It was done in order to make the Democratic convention newsworthy since the nomination of Johnson as president was a fait accompli.

Recognizing that his apprehension would build a charge climate on security risks, Jenkins tried to bribe and argue the Washington police into letting him go. They wouldn’t. Then he tried to keep his apprehension out of the papers. Johnson came to the aid of his assistant by hiring—who else?—Abe Fortas, Johnson’s personal lawyer (who had orchestrated LBJ’s winning the spurious Texas vote steal recount by 77 votes, his acquiring radio and television stations with a corporation headed by Lady Bird (but with Johnson pulling the strings).

Fortas gasped when he discovered that not only had Jenkins been picked up in the Men’s room, he had run into similar trouble in the same Men’s room of the YMCA some years earlier which news had been quashed. Also that of all things, Jenkins had been a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve which was commanded by Barry Goldwater (a top Reserve pilot). And finally that Jenkins had maneuvered as an Air Force officer to reinstate a fellow officer dismissed for sex offenses. Probably no lawyer had more difficulties than Fortas had trying to keep an item like that out of the paper—and he failed. He succeeded with the “Washington Post” as Kay Graham was a friend of Johnson’s but failed with the “Washington Star.”

While Republican nominee Goldwater disdained to use the scandal, Republicans in Congress saw their chance in an otherwise dismal election year to embarrass Johnson and the Democrats. They pressed for an FBI investigation of the case, blasting the FBI as well, pointing out that the FBI had been unaware of Jenkins’ having been involved in the earlier Men’s room incident. Johnson the ace wheeler-dealer got on the phone to his buddy J. Edgar Hoover and arranged that the so-called FBI report on the matter “cleared” Jenkins of any suspicions that he had compromised national security. Johnson had in fact virtually dictated the FBI report that cleared Jenkins. But Jenkins had to go, of course and Johnson thought it would be prudent to use the FBI to investigate staffers on both sides of the congressional aisle to possibly find out any Republicans who might have gay staffers with access to national security secrets.

After the scandal broke, as a Quaker exec, I went to Washington and stopped in as was my wont to see the McCarthy (and Humphrey staffs) where so many of my old classmates worked. I never saw the McCarthy office--which was about as relaxed as Gene was, never in a hurry and meandering around—more worried, agitated and upset. I asked Jerry Eller, McCarthy’s top staffer, why.

He said, “because Joe is gone. Remember him?”

Sure. He was one of our classmates at St. John’s. Thin, wispy-haired, graying although young, looking like an advance man for a famine, he was a dogged researcher for McCarthy, was quiet as a Cistercian monk, never had fun, took not a drop of the brew or the grape. Never smoked. Supposedly, his idea of a evening ripping with fun was to get a chocolate sundae, cart it home in a paper container, prop himself up on an easy chair and read a book while he slurped it with his recording machine playing Beethoven.

“Well,” said Eller. “This happened this morning before you came in. The FBI guy was here. Strictly routine. This whole investigation was pushed by your friends the Republicans in Congress. All I said to the staff before the guy came in was: he’ll ask you if you’re homosexual or lesbian. Just answer and he’ll get out of here. Purely routine.

“The guy comes in. I gather the staff—everybody from McCarthy himself to the top assistants and even the guy who turns the crank on the mimeograph machine to come into our work room. The FBI guy is bored and he pulls out a paper and starts reciting some legal junk about how strictly pro-forma this is and how he hates to ask anyone if they have same-sex attraction when—as he was reading it—Joe stands up, his eyes take on a wild kind of frenzy and he says, `I’m one!” The guy says, `huh?’ I say, “sit down!’ McCarthy’s eyes are bugging out and Joe —excitedly--`you got me! You got me! I’m one I tell you!’ Something to do with Catholic guilt I guess. The FBI came back with word that by God he was part of the cozy group in the Men’s room at the Y. So I had to fire him.

“Get this. Then he decides he wants to stay! He says `McCarthy in the House introduced legislation to protect us from being fired.’ McCarthy looks at me wondering how to answer this and I answered, `Yes but that doesn’t pertain. He says, why not? I say, `it didn’t pass and more important my friend in all American history thus far nobody working for a congressman or senator volunteered they were queer in the middle of a goddam campaign! You can check it out.’”

I asked: did you know he was a homosexual, Eller?

“Sure! Last winter he parked his car on a hill in Georgetown where he lives and he forgot to put the emergency brake on. He gets out of the car and it starts to roll down the hill toward him. You know what he does? He sticks out his arm to stop it and breaks his wrist. I told him then: `You’re the limpest wrist in this office anyhow—why did you do that—stick your arm out like that?’:

That didn’t exactly tell me how he knew about Joe but that was as much as I could get out of him.

The big security risk issue either against Johnson or McCarthy didn’t didn’t take. Johnson got J. Edgar to write a white-wash of Jenkins when in fact Jenkins was in touch with as much and probably more security stuff than Johnson since he read all the stuff before it got to Johnson’s desk. The interesting thing was that when he was telling J. Edgar Hoover to write a bogus report, the taping system was on in his office and Johnson is recorded on tape as dictating it to Hoover. So Nixon wasn’t the only one foiled by the tape which he forgot he had installed.

Anyhow, Johnson and Humphrey won a landslide and McCarthy took the largest majority ever in Minnesota up to that time—325, 420 or 60.3% of the total. With Lyndon elected to a full term on his own and Hubert his vice president, the Democratic party was sure it was on a perpetual winning streak.

Gene McCarthy, distant from both and now even on cool terms with his own wife, now hanging around with the Little Sisters of the Media who twittered about his epigrammatic witticisms which made fun of Johnson and Humphrey, would have something to say about that.

1 comment:

  1. We can't find any way to contact you other than a comment on your blog. Our daughter was employed by former MN Gov. Elmer Andersen for several years before his death and has worked for Eugene McCarthy. You know her.

    That was a wonderful dissertation of the events in the "olden days of '68."

    We would like hear from you.

    R and G S_______