Friday, February 1, 2008

Flashback: After the Convention, Hubert Tries to Reunite the Democratic Party but Fails as McCarthy Sits Out the Campaign. After Much Dismal Flopping Around, a Campaign is Launched that Very Nearly Defeats Richard Nixon. Huh? Woof and Warp?

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

Nothing went right for Hubert Humphrey for many weeks after the Democratic national convention. He couldn’t find a campaign chief. He asked Kenny O’Donnell, JFK’s former White House aide, but was turned down because O’Donnell felt it would damage his chances of running for governor of Massachusetts in 1970. He asked Orville Freeman who had left the agriculture department, to write a campaign plan; Freeman did and thought this meant he would be campaign chairman—but Hubert feared Freeman would botch it up since he had had no national campaign experience. Hence Freeman seemed on the verge of leaving him. Walter Mondale, the junior Minnesota senator, was angered because he wanted Hubert to separate from LBJ’s conduct of the war immediately and Hubert wouldn’t—so Mondale disappeared. In desperation Hubert turned to Larry O’Brien who had agreed just to run Hubert’s campaign up to the nomination. He offered to make O’Brien chairman of the campaign and also of the Democratic National Committee. Reluctantly, O’Brien accepted.

Relieved that he had a top professional to run his campaign, Hubert bundled everybody in a plane—Muriel, O’Brien, the Edmund Muskies (Muskie the senator from Maine was the vice presidential nominee) and headed for Minnesota and his home at Waverly where they would have a long-running skull session. When they arrived at the Twin Cities International airport, there were only 300 people on hand to greet him including one long-haired kid who hoisted a crudely lettered sign that read, “Go back to Chicago and Daley’s fascist cops, Humphrey!” One member of Hubert’s party lost his temper, reached across the fence, grabbed the sign and tore it up.

In contrast, Richard Nixon had a wonderful convention in Miami Beach (I was there, accompanying Illinois’ Republican National Committeeman, Bob Stuart who was also Quaker’s CEO). He started his campaign in Chicago on August 30 with a parade where 100,000 saw him. Demonstrations by peace people were very sparse. But in fact, Nixon was hoping they would picket since as the law and order candidate, the candidate to end civic unrest, he cold capitalize on them.

However on Sunday, September 1, 1968 two thousand turned out in front of the Waverly village hall to pay tribute to the Humphreys and the Muskies. Speaking to the crowd the vice president said, “We ought to quit pretending that Mayor Daley did something that was wrong. He didn’t condone a thing that was wrong. He tried to protect lives.” When he heard that, Gene McCarthy who was also back in Minnesota glowered. Hubert took off for New York to march in the Labor Day parade, passing up the traditional appearance of Democrats in Cadillac Square in Detroit because of the prospect of slim crowds. But in New York he had to sneak into his hotel by a side entrance to avoid angry crowds blocking the front door. Finally after marching 25 blocks in New York and hearing the jeering, he softened his approach to Daley’s crushing the demonstrators. He told the New York public TV station that he guessed the Chicago police “overreacted” and that he was certain Daley “didn’t want to condone the beating of those people with clubs”—adding, “I didn’t condone it.”

Back in Waverly, Hubert sat down to work with O’Brien and Joe Napolitan, a political ad man and a few others. O’Brien and his small staff sat up the entire night, fortified by coffee plotting the campaign that had already begun. In 1960, O’Brien had had two weeks to plan the JFK campaign against Nixon. Now he had one night. The campaign was not fancy or expensive, “rather like flying by the seat of your pants” said O’Brien. But the first thing they needed was money. They had spent $4 million on the pre-convention and O’Brien’s and Napolitan’s media plan called for concentrating the advertising plan in the last two weeks of the campaign.

On Monday, September 9. out went Hubert as a salesman across the country with poor scheduling, no money and scant plans of raising money, flying to Philadelphia, then Denver and Los Angeles. In Philadelphia he got heckled by hundreds before a disappointing crowd of 10,000—where they normally could have expected 100,000 from Mayor James Tate’s organization. Reporters goaded Hubert on how he planned to end the war. Hubert: “I think I can safely predict that unless there are any unusual developments, we’ll be able to start to remove some of our troops in early 1969 or late 1968.” In Denver he said a bombing halt would have to depend on a reasonable reaction from the North Vietnamese. Johnson fumed back in Washington, called Hubert and chewed him out on the phone. Secretary of State Dean Rusk told the media: “No one should suppose that a bombing halt is going to produce peace in a few days.” Later that week, making a speech at the American Legion convention in New Orleans, Johnson said curtly: “No man can predict when that day”—peace—“will come.” A direct repudiation.

Day by day and week by week the campaign news continued to be terrible. Defense secretary Clark Clifford called to chew Humphrey out on the war situation, saying his off-the-cuff remarks were inaccurate. When he arrived in Texas, Hubert looked in the crowd for Governor John Connally who didn’t show up. In California he searched the crowd for Jesse Unruh: a no show.

When he came to Boston on September 19, he was gratified to learn that Ted Kennedy would be on the speaker’s stand for the first appearance since the assassination of Robert Kennedy. But hundreds of college students booed Hubert despite the fact that Ted Kennedy was on the stage. Some shouted “Shame on Teddy!” and “Sellout!” as Kennedy introduced Hubert and declared his support for him. Humphrey’s 20-minute speech was almost drowned out by protesters. Angered, Hubert turned to them and shouted, “We will not move this country forward if it is plagued by those who deny freedom of speech and who deny freedom of assembly to those who offer appeals to reason!” Their answer: “Bullshit! Bullshit!”

He turned around and flew to South Dakota for the simple reason that Sen. George McGovern had agreed to introduce him. But he and Muriel were severely jostled by pickets in Sioux Falls. Humphrey told the media “these are intentionally mean anarchists who are determined not to let anyone speak!” As he tried to be heard, he turned and told the media: “They have met a tough guy. I have no intention of being intimidated, no intention of being shouted down. Take a look at them—filled with hatred, bitterness, bigotry. Look at their faces, filled with violence. They will never live long enough to run me off the platform, the cowardly bastards!”

In Springfield, Illinois Hubert decided to change the subject and attack Richard Nixon who was cruising along unruffled as the Republican nominee, having informed the media that he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam war—and win it—but one he wouldn’t divulge for now. . Standing on the steps of Lincoln’s home, Hubert said, “I think it’s time we stopped passing like ships in the night. I think it’s time we discussed our differences—in Peoria, in Springfield or on a television network!” He was echoing back to the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Kennedy-Nixon ones. In Louisville, Kentucky he added: “Mr. Nixon where do you stand? Every day you read about that cool, that confident that composed and that smiling Mr. Nixon—the man who campaigns without running, the man who takes it easy and never makes a mistake, who either evades or straddles every major issue. Is it confidence when he refuses to join me in a direct television debate on the issues or is it something else?”

However, sunning himself on a beach in Nice, France, Eugene McCarthy was finally quoted on the political campaign. Reporters gathered when he returned in his bathing trunks covered by a long terrycloth robe to his hotel. With pencils poised they asked him for a comment on U. S. politics and the presidential campaign. McCarthy paused to think of a suitable epigram. Then he had one. He said, “Nixon doesn’t have woof. Humphrey has lots of woof but no warp.” Then he disappeared in the elevator. The media pondered this before someone explained it to them: “He’s referring to the lengthwise threads in the weaver’s loom—warp—and the crosswise threads—woof.”

Reading this in the “Washington Post,” Hubert turned to Muriel and speculated about McCarthy’s ancestry in scatological terms.


  1. This series of the 1968 campaign has really been an education of sorts. While I was familiar with Humphrey, Nixon and Wallace, like many people I fell into the (false) assumption that a McCarthy administration would have idealistic in the extreme. After reading these entries, I know that such utopian fantasies are no more substantial than cotton candy. I sometimes wonder if the current generation of daydreamers will wise up to the empty platitudes being peddled by the soft soap artist Barack Obama before he is nominated.

    There used to be a forgettable syndicated sitcom called "Platypus Man." I have appropriated its title for "Platitude Man" Obama. I think that he is marginally worse than Hillary because no one knows what he stands for and the media wants to keep it that way.

  2. As I have said before, "A day without Flashback is a day without sunshine."
    With the recent unpleasantness, things were murky for quite a spell.

    You must write faster Tom, as today The History Channel (Ha Ha Ha) airs footage of the 1968 Convention, early pics of Hubert, Pat Buchanan, interesting!

    If they would stick to actual history, and less Nostrildamus, Flying Saucers, Mayan predictions of the end of time (they couldn't even predict the end of their own time) they might be a good resource. Try sending them a comment on their inaccuracies- Impossible!

  3. If someone lurks about ready to criticize, Nostrildamus is by no means Nostradamus.

    The latter being a mystical bs artist, the former a great philosopher, ie.
    "One can pick one's friends. One can pick one's nose. One cannot pick thy friend's nose." How profound!

    Forgive me- It is boring to be "on the mattress" as they say out here, waiting for the next event .

  4. I think it's warp and weft. I doubt McCarthy misspoke; perhaps you misremembered?