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 Lincoln’s 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. John’s 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 entrepreneur’s 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 McCarthy’s 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 Vietnam—a letter Abigail hated—McCarthy 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 did—as an insurgent—was 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, we’ve 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. McCarthy’s 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. John’s.

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 day—Feb. 1, 1967—moved 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, McCarthy’s press secretary, to review some speaking requests for her that they had received in the office. .

“I’m 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 isn’t, said the cynical Michelson. But he has a handle on using intellectual’s imagery and poetic allusions nobody knows. It’s a game. Tell me another who makes the quotations he does.

“That’s 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 up—which saves him from--. ”

He didn’t want the conversation to end like that so he caught the elevator door, surprising the elevator attendant and said: wait, I’ll 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 he’s 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 pals—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., James Wechsler, Clayton Fritchey, Gil Harrison, John Kenneth Galbraith and Joseph Rauh at Rauh’s 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 Hubert’s loyalty to Johnson would have a terminus.


  1. merry xmas tom and a safe and peaceful new years all..... so we finally get a look into the crooked daley family. the old man daley sr. said it was alright for a father to help his sons. but if daley jr. were just helping his son lkegally then why hide patricks name on the city disclosure. and why all of a sudden ship him off to war. you know that when the suntimes were sniffing around the sewer contract that daley then made the decision for the kid to leave the country. yes you can tell the army what you want and where you want to go, and when you want to do it. we are short staffed in the military. if i went to the recruiter tomorrow and said i will sign up only if i could hang around the states for a few years, and then serve one tour only when i am ready, they will say yes. because 1 tour from me is better than no tours at all. the flashlight is shining finally on the crooked daleys and the son it turns out is just as rotten. patrick and his cousin were not investors in the sewer deal, and more to come, they secured the contract and then asked for a payoff to sign it over. imagine what patrick fitzgerald knows, that we don't know yet about daley. i hope it is finally over so we can get jessie jackson jr. in as the next mayor. if he does lousy then we can worry about that later. but compared to daley, jessie jr. is a breath of fresh air...god bless everyone, all the honest hard working men and women who are not crooks like daly....

  2. tom, patrick daley is a partner with his cousin on the 63 million dollar pension fund money. daley knows he will be brought down if the people find out his sons involvement. he sent the kid away so all of the deals patrick is involved in will not become public. he does notr want his son pestered by the press. and the inspector general cant go to afganistan to question's up to the fbi now. it is gonna heat up now. this is the end for daley. thats why daley has been a nervous, grouchy wreck this past 6 months. the sooner the fbi gets involved the quicker this will unravel. and david, the head of the chicago inspector generals office knows that daley will get rid of him soon. on the ig's website is the suntimes article that says a rift is growing between daley and the ig. this inspector general will become a hound dog even more if daley gets rid of him.and daley will fire him shortly. i said to a friend of mine that daley will go down because he put a career fbi agent in charge at the inspector generals office. i said this when he was first appointed. daley put him in charge to show that daley was serious about cleaning up the city. problem is, daley appointed the man who will now bring him down... take it to the bank, it's over..