Thursday, December 13, 2007
Flashback: Gene Moves to Seriously Considering a Run for President.
[Fifty plus years of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].
With Abigail McCarthy frequently repeating Lincolns dictum that it is fatal for a party to oppose a war after which the country has been engaged in it and needs to win, Gene McCarthy continued to dabble with the idea of running for president. Several times during 1965-66 particularly in 1966 two close friends of Gene would sit down and plan a hypothetical campaign: Larry Merthan, a former staffer and executive with Pfizer and Martin Haley. Haley was a legend. He and I never met but when I was going to St. Johns and he to St. Thomas in St. Paul, his admirers said he would surely one be a multi-millionaire before 30. They were wrong. He did that feat before he graduated from college with an entrepreneurs eye for making money. By the time I first laid eyes on him, at a civic function which I was scouting as a Republican party operative, he was portly with a bulbous nose and had sworn off the hard stuff. He was head of something called The Martin Haley Companies which involved public relations and advertising. He was reputed to have been bored by material success by age 40. He was slightly younger than I but I cannot believe he is still alive sicne no dynamo could possibly operate at full throttle as did he--but would be gratified to learn if he is.
Merthan and Haley would sit down and draw up a prospectus for McCarthys running in either 1968 or ``72. This was done without the permission of McCarthy but he was aware of it. But ever since he had signed a letter urging President Johnson not to resume the bombing of North Vietnama letter Abigail hatedMcCarthy had been toying with the idea of running. By Christmas, 1966 the Merthan-Haley team brought him the prospectus for a presidential campaign which he barely sniffed at and never mentioned it again. The idea of him running as he didas an insurgentwas not in the blueprint. It turned on the supposition that Johnson was not in good health and would probably not run again, that Hubert Humphrey would and McCarthy would stand a pretty good chance of getting the nomination. Even that was highly problematical but McCarthy took the document home and studied it for a time.
By 1967, a year before the presidential contest, anger about the war from the Left captivated the media and convinced it that the nation itself was on the verge of revolt. Troops strength was nearing 400,000 and the war was growing in intensity. On February 1 an estimated 2,000 clergymen and laity from 45 states came to Washington under the rubric of Clergy and Laity Concerned. About half jammed into the New York Avenue Presbyterian church two blocks from the White House. Senators Gruening (Alaska) and Morse (Oregon) were invited to speak and they convinced McCarthy to do so. They spoke in anger; he spoke academically. But his speech was not exactly accurate though it sounded good. In every other war, weve had the support of what is generally accepted as the decent opinion of mankind, he said. That was not remotely the truth. The Revolution was; not the War of 1812, not the Mexican. The Civil War was but not the Spanish-American, nor World War I. But it sounded good.
He added: We do not have that today. He then proceeded to give a longish historical recitation that involved asking ourselves three questions to justify our objectives in Vietnam. First, we must ask if there is a possibility of victory? Second, will the cost of victory be proportionate to what is gained? And finally, will a better life emerge following our victory?
These questions show how far McCarthy had come in just the past year. These questions could not have been answered with surety for any of our engagements. The possibility of our winning the Revolution over Great Britain then at the height of its powers would have to be answered in the negative; and the same with the War of 1812. The second, if asked about the Civil War, might well prompt a negative response. The third question is always a pacifist one: does a better life emerge with certainty from any war? Not World War I which carried with it the seeds of World War II. Did World War II guarantee a better life with the inception of the Cold War, the rise of Red China, aggression in eastern Europe and Asia? These are questions that lead to questionable answers or likely negative ones. McCarthys questions show that he has become a pacifist along the lines of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement and the philosophy current under Fr. Godfrey Diekmann OSB at St. Johns.
Diekmann, incidentally, sent along a friend, a Jesuit priest, to meet McCarthy during the rally. Born in the iron ore mining town of Virginia, Minn., the son of a stolid union man who had disavowed his Catholic faith as impractical during the Depression, his son had always been fascinated by Catholicism. He was Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ. who agreed with McCarthy but who had resolved to follow a far more radical method of dissent from the government.
Although his speech was hopelessly dull, McCarthy that dayFeb. 1, 1967moved out of the realm of orthodoxy that Abigail had wished into opposition to the government. In doing so he very much pleased their daughter, Mary, who was an 18-year-old undergraduate at Radcliffe. McCarthy was definitely on the road to challenge Johnson if no one else could be found for the job.
Not long afterward, Abigail McCarthy had a meeting with Art Michelson, McCarthys press secretary, to review some speaking requests for her that they had received in the office. .
Im not sure I ought to do this, she said as she looked at the letters. Michelson knew what she meant.
Tell me, Arthur, she said as they walked to the elevator, why do so many people feel Gene is an intellectual? So deep? So different from any other politician?
Maybe he isnt, said the cynical Michelson. But he has a handle on using intellectuals imagery and poetic allusions nobody knows. Its a game. Tell me another who makes the quotations he does.
Thats it, then, is it? she asked with a smile as they waited for the elevator.
Yeah, I guess so.
And his stand on the war?
He hates it.
Or does he just want to reject people before they reject him? And he kind of gives upwhich saves him from--.
He didnt want the conversation to end like that so he caught the elevator door, surprising the elevator attendant and said: wait, Ill go down with you.
When they got to the lobby of the Senate Office building he tried to figure her out.
He asked: You think--.
I think hes a kind of backstabber, she said coldly. He has always wanted to get even. His opposition to the war is bogus.
The Last Supper.
After the dinner meeting with his old ADA palsArthur Schlesinger, Jr., James Wechsler, Clayton Fritchey, Gil Harrison, John Kenneth Galbraith and Joseph Rauh at Rauhs home in Washington on April 17, 1967 (while Mrs. Rauh sat in the kitchen with his two Secret Service men)Hubert Humphrey never met with them as a group again.
They had had their say on Vietnam.
As he had.
They had detected by his use of the word morass that he agreed with them and knew that he was in for very tough political times. He was terribly upset by their anger but knew he had pledged to be loyal to the president and that he would be.
But even Huberts loyalty to Johnson would have a terminus.