Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Flashback: Abigail McCarthy Quotes Lincoln “One Fundamental Principle of Politics is to be Always on the Side of Your Country in a War”;The Statement Endures. Hubert Besieged by His Liberal Pals Starts to Waver Again on the War.


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

Abigail: One Fundamental Principle.

In the Fall of 1965, Gene McCarthy’s press secretary (a close friend of mine), Art Michelson picked up Abigail at their home to take her to make a speech to the Democratic Congressional Women at the Statler-Hilton. As they rode along, she got on what was to be her favorite theme—the Vietnam War. Michelson had dismissed Jerry Eller’s concern that the two McCarthys were heading for a split over the war, saying, “what the hell, didn’t I just overhear you fighting with your wife the other day? Forget it.” And Michelson had fought often with his own wife, had been notoriously unfaithful to her with the then beauteous Wanda the Weather Bunny and had come back repentant. But now as he drove his car and heard her, he decided that the McCarthy’s were diverging over more than a strategic disagreement.

She had been reading a Civil War history and quoted Abraham Lincoln as saying, “One fundamental principle of politics is to be always on the side of your country in a war.” Michelson said: “Yeah, well he was a fine one to talk. As a congressman he criticized our involvement in the Mexican War.”

She shot back: “Yes he did. And he was a one-term congressman because of that. He found he couldn’t run for reelection in Illinois.”

Michelson said no, he had always thought that the Whig seat had been handed around and Lincoln’s time was up.

She said, “you know better than that, Arthur. Who would hand off House seats that way. Everything about the Congress is longevity.”

Well, he said, I wasn’t there so I don’t know.

But she held forth on it. It was a matter of character, she said. A war is a terrible thing but failing to support a country which is at war is even worse. It’s a matter of character.

He was going to quarrel with her about that but she was on her way to a speech and he didn’t want to get her excited. But as he drove he wondered how she was going to handle it: her husband becoming a critic of Vietnam and she with the belief that support of your country in time of war is the first lesson of politics. He didn’t attend the speech so he presumed she finessed it. Probably the women assumed she was on the side of her husband, he decided.

Not long later—in November—Gene called for a “full and complete investigation” of the CIA in its activities in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Cuba and other areas which, he said, “raise serious questions about the relationship of the agency to the process of making and directing foreign policy.” He tangled with Sen. Dick Russell (D-Ga.) on that point as earlier related and the Senate voted against the probe 61 to 28 with Vice President Humphrey actively working against the measure and hardly speaking to McCarthy when they passed in the hall.

Then McCarthy started a hail of fire against the administration. He criticized a letter to the “St. Louis Globe-Democrat” by the CIA’s Richard Helms, the same man who flunked McCarthy’s test of wine and flowers visa—vis James Bond. The letter lauded the paper for criticizing J. William Fulbright on his opposition to Vietnam. McCarthy started an uproar so that Helms ultimately had to apologize to Fulbright. On the floor McCarthy spoke with a voice dripping sarcasm: “This is one of the risks you run into when you promote career men. It’s a little like the trouble you run into with armed slaves—it takes a little while for them to adjust.” Maybe I’m dense (as I often was with a McCarthy epigram) but I never fully got the sense of the simile although The Little Sisters of the Media, particularly Marya McLaughlin of CBS thought it brilliant.

For one fond of handing out zingers, Gene was particularly sensitive. Not long afterward the appointment of Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach for undersecretary of state came up. Gene angrily stormed in committee and delayed approval of his nomination by demanding the source of an erroneous newspaper report about him to a casual Katzenbach comment made at a Washington cocktail party. Katzenbach told ABC’s Howard K. Smith that McCarthy had been absent on a paid-speaking junket in St. Louis when the Senate fell 10 votes shy of invoking cloture on the 1966 Civil Rights Act and cited him as one of those responsible for the death of the bill. It was the beginning of an administration payback to Gene but unfortunately it was wrong.

McCarthy had a legitimate beef. A year earlier Katzenbach, a Kennedy ally as AG asked McCarthy and a handful of other liberals to vote against legislation banning the poll tax in state elections because if it passed, it would confuse a pending important Supreme Court ruling of the Virginia poll tax that Katzenbach felt sure would end its legality. So in deference, McCarthy voted against the Ted Kennedy bill—only to be greeted with a rebuke by Kennedy on the floor. McCarthy got The Little Sisters of the Media to put it in proper perspective. Marya McLaughlin didn’t want to do it because it was arcane for a television program but McCarthy pressed her so she did. She pouted for a week but she got over it when he had Jerry Eller send her roses. “Jerry,” she said teasingly when the administrative assistant personally delivered them to her at the Capitol, “why are you delivering them? He’s the guy who got me mad.” Not only that, said Eller, but he made me pay for them! “What?” she said, McCarthy was a notorious tightwad. “You be sure you collect!” He did but it took a while.

Hubert In and Out of the Doghouse.

Meanwhile, Hubert was in his “feel sorry for Hubert” mood. His faux pas, saying that by no means would Johnson drop him for vice president in 1968 had earned a withering LBJ rebuke. Hubert’s loyal aide Max Kampelman said to Michelson: “Hubert’s a fatalist who tries to maximize his opportunities. I think he feels that if you do everything you’re capable of, virtue will triumph. He gives the president 18 hours a day; he doesn’t play golf; he’s working all the time and when he’s not working, he’s thinking. So, while he would be disappointed if history decided he’s not to be president, he wouldn’t be a beaten, depressed man. He’s service-oriented and he would want to serve in some other way.”

Just when Hubert felt he was getting out of the doghouse, something else happened. LBJ knowing his vice president was talkative gave orders that Hubert was not to be given any early knowledge of the 1967 State of the Union message until after the White House press was briefed on its contents. So every reporter in Washington knew what was in the document before Hubert. Just when Hubert was getting anxiety pains again, LBJ was asked at a news conference if he would keep Hubert as veep. “I’ve never known a public servant I’ve worked better with or one for whom I’ve had more admiration or one that the public can trust more,” said Johnson. Then Johnson gave Hubert the job of rebuilding the Democratic party which LBJ had ignored and sent him and Muriel on an international trip which Hubert loved because it was a chance to get away from the shop and pretend he was his own man again. But this time he didn’t have much of a picnic as there were anti-Vietnam demonstrations in almost all his European stops.

In Rome, Hubert met with Pope Paul VI who gave him a letter for LBJ. Typical of Hubert, he put it in his coat and never thought of it again. A week after he returned Muriel found it when she was preparing to send the coat out to the cleaners. Hubert had it sent to the White House and worried all night that he would catch the wrath of LBJ for the delay but it was never mentioned.

Hubert Calls it Privately a “Morass.”

A few of Hubert’s friends noticed his discomfiture in his job and on April 17, 1967—a balmy Spring night—they invited him to a stag dinner at the home of a longtime ally, Joseph Rauh, a co-founder of the ADA. They were all anti-Vietnam by then. Present were Presidential Assistant Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., newspaper columnists James Wechsler and Clayton Fritchey, “New Republic” editor Gil Harrison and Harvard economist and former ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith. Before Hubert arrived, Schlesinger advised they all go easy on Hubert. Well they did all during the dinner. Schlesinger kept it quiet but he had just come from a session with Robert Kennedy and felt Kennedy was in a tight spot—trapped between his opposition to the war and his reluctance to openly challenge Johnson in 1968.

After dinner they tackled the war and Hubert told them they could speak frankly. But he didn’t. Schlesinger began by saying that the administration didn’t realize that there had come to be great changes in Communism and it was still clinging to the view that Communism was a monolithic structure. Hubert disagreed heatedly. He said there was more progress made toward détente under Johnson than ever before and less USSR-baiting as well.

Then Hubert tackled Vietnam. He said that our stand in Vienam was a major factor in the anti-Communist resistance in Indonesia. Schlesinger exploded: “Hubert, you know damn well those generals were just fighting for their lives and would have been doing so whether we were in Vietnam or not!” Hubert restated his view. Schlesinger said angrily, “well, that’s shit and you know it!”

Hubert: I resent that language, Arthur.

Schlesinger (who had been drinking heavily): Oh you’re the big vice president on us now, huh?

Hubert: No. And you know I never pull that stuff.

Schlesinger: All right. I’m sorry.

Hubert: You don’t have to be sorry, just argue reasonably.


Hubert: Well, I will tell you that the military believes we should expand the bombings and that whenever we do, we start getting results.

Schlesinger: That’s shit, too.

They all exploded with laughter.

Hubert: Do you feel you’re better equipped than the generals on issues of this kind?

Schlesinger: You bet I do. I remember how certain the generals were on the Bay of Pigs among other things. They were catastrophically wrong.

Hubert: Now suppose I were president and you were my advisers. What would you tell me to do to get out of this morass?

They talked about this later. Hubert used the word “morass” at least twice that night. They all pitched in with advice.

Hubert: I guess all of you think we should stop the bombing.

Unanimous vote.

Hubert: On balance, I think you’re right. The risks we take for stopping the bombing is less significant than other factors. But the president’s advisers don’t agree.

He added: Don’t get the wrong idea. I only have periodic, short-range talks with the president on Vietnam.

Harrison: Hubert, do you think the president is capable of doing what Jack Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs and public acknowledge error.


Everybody stirred. For a while they thought Hubert hadn’t heard the question. But he had. He sat there for at least 30 seconds and then said—

“I don’t know.”

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps McCarthy was refering to a mob mentality or vigilante reaction to not only being free, but to have weapons on which to inflict "Pay Back"?

    Gene seemed to be into pay back--
    To promote a career man could be that he became "power crazed"?