Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Flashback: Hubert Delivers Six Major Pro-Vietnam War Speeches, Reflects on McCarthy. Lazy-lazy-lazy. A 15 Carat Phony.

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

Hubert Sounds Off.

All the while—and perhaps strangely—Vice President Hubert Humphrey didn’t concern himself much with Gene McCarthy’s preparations to run against President Johnson. In the Fall of 1967 he lost his only brother Ralph to cancer; he agonized as major racial violence erupted in Detroit, Newark and other cities; he worried that the war was becoming more engulfing; he was concerned about Robert Kennedy—another Kennedy—getting in the way of Hubert’s presidential hopes again. He made six major policy speeches that fall (including to one I attended, to the board of the Grocery Manufacturers Association in New York city where I represented my boss). We talked briefly about old Minnesota days before he went in to the pre-luncheon reception.

I looked him over: he was the same old Hubert—looked as he did in the old days in the Senate, looked like he was wearing chain store suits , Thom McAn shoes, one who felt uneasy with his Ivy League eastern friends, unlike packaged candidates like JFK and those to follow, a non-synthetic man, who until he was vice president didn’t know how to order in a posh French restaurant, a strange anomaly of intellectual brilliance, great natural gifts, extraordinary ability and energy and inexperience in the world at an elementary level (who confessed to me that when he stayed at Windsor Castle he had trouble closing the tap in the sink and worried that it would waste hot water by continuing to run). His aide, Bill Brophy and I caught a cup of coffee while Hubert mingled with the fat-cats, the CEOs of Proctor & Gamble, Kellogg, General Foods, General Mills et al. Brophy, who had gone to St. John’s with me, asked him about Gene on the flight to New York.

“Goodness me,” said Hubert using a favorite expression from the Huron, S. D. drug store circa 1938, “when you have an unpopular war it’s certain that people in the other party would want to take advantage of it. But what bothers me is that certain people in our party are not sufficiently willing to give the president a chance. There are always opportunists, of course—but I am concerned that there are so many people of stature in the Senate who are critical.” He made clear that by “people of stature” he meant J. William Fulbright, the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations principally. Fulbright’s eminence in the Senate was such that he becoming “disloyal” (Hubert’s word) he hurt the prospect of winning the war in Vietnam very much.

When his attention was directed to McCarthy specifically, Hubert told Brophy: “I cannot think for a minute that Gene’s opposition to the President is anything more than a personal vendetta and payback to his president, his party and his country for not having been chosen vice president. After all, when we were in contention together it was Gene who was saying that I would not be constant on the war and he would. He said as much to Connally [John Connally] and to others. Gene should be pleased as punch [another favorite saying] to see how he has succeeded so well in building a kind of aura as a disinterested, religiously motivated intellectual. To know him well is to understand that he is as strenuously motivated for personal and partisan gain as much if not more than others with one exception.”

Brophy asked: What’s that?

“Unlike many others, Gene is lazy-lazy-lazy and not prone to work very hard. He’s famous for being a work slacker. Let me tell you that when I united the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party in Minnesota I never worked so hard in my life; and without someone like Eugenie Anderson who helped me, bringing in funds and the like, we would never have gotten it done. That was somewhat before Gene’s time but when he got involved there was still a lot of work to do. I don’t remember Gene breaking his back for any cause other than his own…and even then he’d knock off work earlier than most—for example, his party chairmanship in Ramsey county [St. Paul] specifically directed toward his own running for Congress.

“I don’t remember Gene doing much in the House in the way of helping us continue to build the party in the state. When he got interested in the Range [Minnesota Iron Range] it was specifically to encourage people to help his candidacy for the Senate. It’s tied in with his super-enlarged view of himself. That famous crack of his about people who were mentioned for president in 1960: `I’m twice as smart as Symington and twice as Catholic as Kennedy.’ The words of a supercilious snob. In my old Lutheran Sunday school class the biblical term was `whitened sepulcher.’”

And then he imitated the prayer of the Pharisee: “Lord, I’m so grateful I am great and not like that publican over there who doesn’t have my bright ideas and doesn’t really have the brains I do.”

Then back to practical terms. “The payoff to me [“payoff” was the word Humphrey would use that would not mean exchange of money but “proof”] of Gene’s total absorption into his own destiny to the detriment of his party or anyone else occurred when he decided he wanted to be Senator. A person far ahead of him in foreign policy and public policy skill…in dedication, in working hard, in personal skills, in depth of compassion and humanity… was Eugenie Anderson. She had been an ambassador and a loyal, hard-working leader of our party who was conversant in a wide range of issues and who knew the state of Minnesota very well—far better than did Gene.

“Well let me tell you that from the outset as a Congressman he acted as if the Senatorial endorsement was his by a kind of divine right. I, frankly, never saw the equal. It was almost as if this was his right by inheritance! I should have told him that I would side with Eugenie. Instead in an attempt to be a peacemaker I took a neutral position. Let me tell you he regarded this as a kind of breach of fidelity! That’s what he said. Breach of fidelity! He got involved in Ramsey county through my introduction; got made chairman through me and used my name throughout—sometimes illicitly—as he fought for the endorsement. If anyone owed something, it was Gene to the party!

“He behaved shamelessly after he won the endorsement—shamelessly to Eugenie and to the whole convention some of whom immediately began to regret their endorsement! Wasn’t man or gentleman enough to come before the convention to accept her handshake and congratulations. I told his friends: just who the hell does he think he is anyhow—a distant relative of Jesus Christ? Orv Freeman and I helped him enormously against Ed Thye with whom we had good relations. . Helped him raise money, spoke for him.

“I endangered some of my relationships with Republicans in the Senate to get him to beat the senior Senator of my state, a Republican who was always good to me and who was liked by other Republicans with whom I had to work, never, frankly, never got much of a thank-you. Then when Lyndon, er, the President decided to consider both of us for the vice presidency and chose me, you had another spoiled child routine when Gene went to the delegation party at the conclusion of the convention and attacked both of us—the nominee for president and the senior senator of his own state—with a lot of snide, back-of-the-hand comments. Abigail didn’t even want to come downstairs to the party because she was ashamed of his performance. And Abigail isn’t too crazy about his actions in this Vietnam endeavor, tell you me [another Hubert down-home expression].

“So what do I think of him? Listen—there are plenty of people in the Senate who if they ran for president against us right now, I’d say I’m disappointed in but I recognize their qualities and their capacity to be president. People like Bill Fulbright—even Bobby. Dick Russell if he weren’t so conservative: but he’s able. Very much so. Do I think Gene is qualified for the presidency? I do not. Because he doesn’t have the drive or the decisiveness. Jerry Eller does if you clean him up--tell you me. But not Gene. I have seen him in the Senate while I’m up there presiding, seen him slip out for leisure activities in the afternoon, seen him shirk some of his duties on committees, have felt his scorpion’s tongue at my back [mixed metaphor]. No sir. I must say I don’t think he’d be a very good president at all. If creativity and interest in the job counts for anything—and it does—he’s way down the list. He is…let me say…a 15 carat phony who wants everything he can get out of his party and friends and who will not hesitate to stab them to get what he wants…all wrapped up in the Catholic Brotherhood of Man and Fatherhood of God religiosity that’s supposed to be deep or what the Little Sisters of the Media think is deep. That’s about as much phoniness as I can stand.”

A final comment as they were getting ready to land in New York. “If he runs he’ll come to a bad end. He’ll likely be ruined in Minnesota. He won’t get reelected; he ran far behind me the last time as it was. He won’t defeat Lyndon and he won’t get to be president. He’ll be satisfied to hurt his country’s initiative in the war effort, to ruin his party’s chances of continuing in government. It’s ruin or rule with him tell you me.”

By October 7 he was enplaned for his second trip to Southeast Asia, leaving the very day McCarthy told the students at Berkeley that he might well challenge Johnson. Hubert would be on a 10-day tour taking him to South Vietnam for the inauguration of President Nguyen Van Thieu and then to Indonesia and Malaysia. “If Vietnam is a failure,” he said at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, “I know what happens to me but I’ll accept it.”

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