[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].
The McCarthy-Eller Tease for Dough. .
On December 2, 1967 at a meeting of a rump, anti-Vietnam group, the national Conference of Concerned Democrats at the Conrad Hilton in Chicago, McCarthy purposely acted the anti-herosomething, perversely, he liked to do. After Allard Lowenstein and Rep. Don Edwards, a liberal Californian who had become the first member of Congress to publicly endorse McCarthy, revved up the crowd to a fever pitch, the senator was introduced and let all the air out of the balloon by speaking abstractly like a university professor. Maddening. The group wanted McCarthy to announce he would enter the New Hampshire primary which would be held March 12, 1968. But following Jerry Ellers plan to go slow, McCarthy told the group it was time not for storming the walls but for beginning a long marchand everybody wondered what those words meant. He seemed to delight in letting them guess, something he had done all his life and which drove Abigail to distraction. But then she was a normal person.
Eller hugely enjoyed Gene in this, which led me to believe Eller was a bit dotty. His answer was he was wary of excitable pronouncements and wanted to dampen expectations, stimulating contributions to convince them. So McCarthy with Ellers help began to tease the Democrats. He wavered and said at first he wouldnt enter New Hampshire because he didnt think it important. Enthusiasts responded: oh yes it is, Gene! And the money started to flow. I dont know, maybe Eller was right after all.
When the Massachusetts Democratic executive committee voted 44-4 to support Johnsons Vietnam policy, Eller was elated. Why? Because the Kennedys had failed to show strength in their own state and, he said, it would be more advantageous for McCarthy to enter that states primary than New Hampshire to prove his was not a stalking horse for Bobby Kennedy. McCarthy entering Massachusetts, the Kennedys turf? Incredible. It was But that too was a ruse. As the papers reported that obviously nutty idea and doubted McCarthy would enter New Hampshire, more money flowed tied to appeals to enter New Hampshire. No-no, Eller said to the pundits in his tease: New Hampshire was too hawkish, too Republican and had too many defense industries linked to the war to be a good test. Much more money came in to persuade Gene to enter its primary on March 12, 1968.
While McCarthy was in Chicago, two McCarthy stalwarts came to him and urged him to run in New Hampshire. New Hampshire was the state that could capture national attention they said. They were David Hoeh, a Dartmouth college faculty member and Garry Studds, a teacher at the exclusive St. Pauls Boys School near Concord. (Studds later became a congressman from Massachusetts, was tied to a homosexual affair with a male page in the House, turned his back in defiance on the House after he explained things, refusing to apologize and was steadily reelected despite the scandal until he retired many years later).
Studds and Hoeh showed McCarthy a budget attesting that McCarthy could run in New Hampshire for only $55,000 total: which shows how small campaign expenditures were in 1967 versus the mega millions they have become now. But even so the figure was ridiculously low: $175,000 was actually spent, even so, a fraction of todays New Hampshire budgets. They said that McCarthy didnt have to win the primary but anything he got in excess of from 3,000 to 5,000 votes could be trumpeted as a psychological victory because the media were so against Johnson and the Vietnam War. In this they were right. Media can concoct anything they favor as a victory.
Super Liberal Elitist: Blair Clark.
Studds and Hoeh sent their memorandum to Blair Clark, a former CBS News executive who had been a close friend of Jack Kennedy because they had heard Clark was to become national McCarthy for president campaign director. The 50-year-old media executive had sent a modest check to McCarthy; he had once published a newspaper in New Hampshire and was familiar with the state. He also had a long litany of liberal social contacts with the Kennedys that impressed McCarthy.
If ever there was a stereotype of left-wing, over-cultured elitist snob, it was multi-millionaire by inheritance Ledyard Blair Clark, born in East Hampton, N. Y., attended St. Marks prep with the future poet Robert Lowell and later Harvard where he served as president of the Crimson. He was born to old money and never was dependent on a job for his living. He reported as a multi-millionaire dilettante for a time for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then served in the army 1941=46. As a dilettante, he joined CBS News in Paris (where else?), anchored its prime time radio program The World Tonight, and was made CBS Newss general manager and vice president where he was astounded to learn that he was expected to work very hard.
He did for a time. He was responsible for the hiring of a good many big name correspondents at CBS and worked closely with Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Later when the work grew too mundane and dreary, he took his inheritance and edited a small paper in New Hampshire for a time, then became associate publisher of the then very liberal New York Post. Following which he became editor of The Nation, the countrys oldest, most venerable left-wing magazine. Clark agreed with the Studds-Hoeh memo that McCarthy should enter New Hampshire and came to see McCarthy and Eller. One thing about Blair Clark: he had good common sense politically and was not eccentric as were McCarthy actually was and Eller pretended to be (but Eller was also a genius which McCarthy was not).
After drinking until the wee hours of the morning with Clark, McCarthy and Eller allowed themselves to be persuaded to enter the New Hampshire primary. The campaigns headquarters opened on January 2, 1968 in a drab former electrical supply store in Concord, with a total bankroll of $250, contributed by an uncle of David Hoehs wife. Then while Clark phoned for more campaign contributions, Eller called me. Called me a conservative Republican for help. Why?
Eller called me in Chicago from the headquarters in Concord with an interesting proposition.
Heres a chance to see your hideous Repuiblican campaign bucks do double duty, he said. He argued rightly that for Republicans facing the possibility of winning the presidency in 1968, the battle over the Vietnam war and the McCarthy challenge would be great fun. If I could get some Republican money for McCarthy to allow him to destroy Johnson, the money would be well spent for Republicans would face a shattered Democratic party no matter who won. If Johnson turned back McCarthy he would still be weakened. If McCarthy defeated Johnson the Democratic party would be seriously damaged. Why not pony up some money to participate in the funmoney McCarthy could use. This was doubtless the most cynical overture for money I ever received but knowing Eller as a political realist, it made extraordinarily good sense.
In fact the money I ponied up helped McCarthy split the Democratic party in New Hampshire from which it never recovered for the entirety of 1968 doubtless helped to cause the razor-thin election of Richard Nixon. (Looking back on how bad and mad Nixon was, I wonder if I was right then: but I did worry about hurting Hubert whom I would have preferred on the matter of character only to be president over LBJ, McCarthy and Nixon
and still do. You must remember: this was five years before Roe v. Wade and no Democratic or Republican had endorsed abortion, not even Nelson Rockefeller, giving me more choices in voting. In those innocent pre-Roe v. Wade years the Democrats were as good as, and in some things better, than the Republicans on social issues. But oh well, thats history).
The flaccidly weak nature of federal campaign disclosure at the time made getting funds without much accountability very easy. Republicans could easily give money in circuitous fashion without their names being used. Then a dummy account was set up by Eller and I was more successful than I had ever imagined in getting Republican money funneled to it. For a time I was responsible for the biggest pile of contributed funds the McCarthy people had albeit again not remotely big by current mega-million standards. So I was feted by both Eller and Clark (this was Clarks 50th birthday) one historic (for me) night in Concord.
Do you know that you top the list of contributors to Gene this week with your Republican reactionaries? said Eller. I reaffirmed that the money was given in the hope that the Democratic party would be splitan event that actually happened.
I looked wry and Eller added: Aw, what he really wants is for LBJ to quit and Humphrey to get the nod and win, right Tom?
No, I lied. I want Nixon.
So be it, Clark said. We can use it to do Gods work now. He was very hopeful that Gene would make a signal difference even if he didnt win New Hampshire. After all, the LBJ forces had planned to sponsor a write-in for Johnson and the write-in could conceivably top Genes vote. But, as Eller wisely considered, the media would trumpet Genes tally as a moral victory. At that dinner Eller broached the idea that in all likelihood if the challenge were at all successfuland they didnt have to defeat Johnson but do well-=Johnson would butt out of the race leaving the job to Hubert. It made me feel worse than ever thinking that the money I brought would screw Humphrey (as it ultimately did).
Dont tell him that! said Clark. Hell take back the damn Republican money!
Eller, who had a way of seeing the future clearly saidand at the time I was struck with the fact that it might happenthe worst that can happen to us
all of usBlair, Roeser and meis that we win the primary and it gets Bobby to join the fray and beat all of us
McCarthy, Humphrey and Nixon!
We laughed and drank up. How ridiculous.
Not crazy, Clark said darkly as he put down his glass.
Johnson was playing it so coy that he had not registered his candidacy in New Hampshire and would run a write-in. Even so the chances would be that as a write-in, Johnson would beat McCarthy on the ballot. I was incredulous: did they think that a Johnson write-in beating a McCarthy on the ballot would be heralded as a great victory? Clark who knew the liberal media said quietly: of course. We parted ruminating on one bleak thing: that Bobby Kennedy would decide to jump in late and possibly get the nomination. I went to bed, thought about it again, said naw it cant happen. And went to sleep.
They Thought of EverythingBut Delegate Selection.
But smart as they were, it is significant that Eller and Clark had no thorough understanding of the factsomething they learned to their sorrow much laterthat no matter how well Gene would do, the delegate selection of the Democratic party was largely controlled by static forces: fairly conservative people, labor leaders, big city mayors, governors and this is what gave the Democrats solidity since the time of FDR
and which had won for it many elections. The FDR-Truman system insulated the party from the cross-currents and emotionalism of movements and hence the Democrats were entirely acceptable as vehicles of governance to independents and to business.
In essence, the challenge by McCarthy was a lost cause anyhow because thanks to FDR and Truman, in state after state, delegates were chosen by a variety of wayssome by favoritism, some by haphazard methods but most controlled by regular Democrats.
Blair Clark as a true liberal media executive, was the media, believed that if McCarthy made a good showing the FDR-Truman old guard Democratic partys house of cards would fall. He had convinced Eller of this fact as well. Their only fear was, as I have said, that Robert Kennedy could stampede into a few primaries and ultimately the national convention. Hence two very sophisticated strategists believed that if McCarthy scored significant victories in the popular votes in various states, the Democratic convention in Chicago would be up for grabs. That was not even nearly the case.
Proceeding at a leisurely pace, after chatting with Blair Clark about the latest Robert Lowell poem, McCarthy decided on January 2, 1968 when he got around to it, officially that he would enter New Hampshire with his name on the ballot for the election, March 12. He didnt get around to coming to New Hampshire until January 25, the same day a Gallup poll showed that if the election were held that day he would draw only 12%, which Clark thought was very good (I didnt). No, said Clark to me, you dont understand. This is going to be a populist revolution for peace and the media will play a key role in it. He added: I know. Im talking to Cronkite all the time! Oh.
McCarthy asked to testify before the Democratic National Committees planning session in Chicago on Jan. 7 as to why he was running but DNC chairman John Bailey said the session would not deal with Vietnam and that Lyndon Johnson was as good as nominated and thats that.
Clark set up a national McCarthy for president headquarters two blocks from the White House and hired a small staff including two later big names in liberal politics: Curtis Gans, 30, who was put in charge of searching for delegates and Seymour Hersh, 30, to handle media (he had broken the story of the My Lai massacre for the AP). As a good soldier, Abigail McCarthy organized a womans volunteer mail-answering battalion. And the money started coming in. There was no serious limitation: Martin Peretz, a young Harvard professor who had married the heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune; Arnold Hiatt a Boston shoe manufacturer and Howard Stein, supposedly the boy wonder of Wall Street, head of the Dreyfus mutual fund (who had hired Art Michelson on his own tab and allowed him to be McCarthys press secretary). McCarthy was receiving $1,000 a day in campaign contributions rising steadily until it crested at $14,000 a day.
The Tet Offensive Decides It.
McCarthy began to make his way through New Hampshire, stumping as he went. He spoke at St. Anselms college in Goffstown, a Benedictine place where he became almost poetic, saying that his victory could lead to an America again which is singing, an America which is full of confidence, which is full of trust and which is full of hope. Not just an example to the world but a genuine help to the world. In talking to the media he said something prescient: You fight from a low crouch. You wait for events. You let it come to you.
The man who talked to Walter Cronkite regularly, Blair Clark was right in a sense. Cronkite seemed to tip the balance for McCarthy when he announced as Americas most trusted oracle that we should pull out of Vietnam. All because of a climatic event Cronkite and others misjudged. Either naturally or willfully.
The event came to be known as the Tet Offensiveso called because the battle was timed to begin in the early morning of Jan. 31 on the lunar new year holiday. It continued through Sept. 23. It is remarkable in that history now records that it ended as a decisive U. S. tactical victory but that the assault was labeled as a decided North Vietnamese one, with Cronkite declaring it a disaster. The initial attack surprised our forces but was beaten back with massive casualties inflicted on the National Liberation Front. Thus Tet was the only battle in U. S. history which was won on the ground but lost by the news media which convinced the American public Vietnam was unworthy of further sacrifice.
The psychological blow rained on the voters of New Hampshire as the Vietcong briefly invaded the U. S. embassy compound in Saigon and battles ensued in the capitals of all South Vietnams 44 provinces. It was grist for the McCarthy campaign mill. In February as he campaigned he said hollow claims of programs and victories in Vietnam have no proven accurate. For the fact is that the enemy is bolder than ever, while we must steadily enlarge our own commitment
Only a few months ago we were told that 65% of the population was secure. Now we know that even the American embassy is not secure.
In the last week of February, Time put out a poll of New Hampshire Democrats showing McCarthy far behind with only 11% of the vote. Clark and Eller told me it was far wrong. They were correct. When the balloting was held on March 12, the poll and Time were repudiated. The final figures were 27,243 write-ins for Johnson or 49% and 23,380 for McCarthy or 42%. With Republican write-in votes5,511 for McCarthy and 1,778 for Johnsontaken into account the gap narrowed to less than one percentage point. The media trumpeted this and the man America trusted most, Cronkite hit home the idea that McCarthys student power which has been cited as a powerful voting factor ever since: more than 10,000 had come to New Hampshire. In fact the mis-reading on Tet by Cronkite and others did.
The McCarthy Let Down.
The New Hampshire primary was the firstand most decisivesince it rocked the Johnson presidency to the core. There were 13 other primaries to go but only seven proved of significance: New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota and California. But just as enigmatic he was as a man, Gene McCarthy was the same after New Hampshire. The McCarthy senatorial office was moving at a crawl. Allard Lowenstein discovered it had received more than 100,000 letters of support which had gone unanswered. After the victory in New Hampshire, McCarthy was asked to go on Meet the Press but he turned it down because he was miffedhe was not the first selection but Bobby was and Bobby had turned it down. Then Blair Clark, when he heard of it, said, I think we may have a fraud on our hands, meaning the candidate. Clark was a regular Democrat to this extent: you dont turn down Meet the Press no matter if youre the fifth guy theyve asked. But diffidence and an inner bitterness, a cold anger at disapproval, was McCarthys way. God help us if he had ever become president. You think Nixon was nutswhew.
McCarthys diffidence worked against him as students and anti-war activists wondered if he had the stamina to go all the way against Johnson. And what was that cavalier way in which he let the air out of balloons? No one has explained it yet to me.
At one fund-raising party I attended, he made a brief circle of handshakes and then left, sipping drinks in the hotel bar and making epigrams. Small wonder then that when his plane from New Hampshire via Boston landed at Washington National airport, Jerry Eller bounded up the steps to the cabin and said, Bobby wants to see you. Hes going to tell you hes going! He gave McCarthy a carbon-copy from a news ticker that quoted Kennedy as reassessing my position as to whether Ill run against President Johnson.
McCarthys jaw muscles tightened. Resentment and coldly bitter anger was one emotion he could handle. If he couldnt get the nomination, he would see it wouldnt be worth a plugged nickel.
Earlier, even before Tet and New Hampshire, although few knew it, Lyndon Johnson had talked with John Connally about not running again; as a matter of fact he even mentioned resigning and turning it over to Humphrey. Why? He was a moody, mercurial and frustrated man who brought up the resignation possibility to encourage Connally to say no-no, youre indispensable! This Connally did. Johnson brought it up to Hubert whose heart skipped a beat but he played down his joy. Then Johnson told Valenti: I wont be around in 1968
They would say I was playing politics if I resigned and gave the job to Humphrey. My own party has turned against me and the Republicans are chiming in. We probably need a fresh face. Humphrey would start with a clean slate; he would be fresh. As it is now, I have lost Congress. Then at his ranch in October, 1967 he dictated a draft resignation letter and sent it to George Christian his press secretary with instructions to show it to Connally. Connally called Johnson and said burn the damned thing. Johnson did.
The next primary would be in Wisconsin, April 2. Seven thousand volunteers fanned out across the state to help McCarthy. The media was echoing Cronkite. Hubert had heard rumors of Johnsons depression. He was exultant at first, then turned thoughtful as he wondered how he could, as the nominee, handle Vietnam so as to get elected. He decided hed flip-flop again and work to cease the bombing in the hope that this would encourage the North Vietnamese to go to the bargaining table. He had utterly no worry that McCarthy would be his opponentjust Bobby. Knowing that the party leaders controlled delegate selection, Humphrey thought they would like a Hubert-Bobby ticket in 1968. As for McCarthy, he recognized that Gene carried within his psyche the seeds of his own destruction.