Thursday, January 24, 2008

Flashback: An Emergency Room is Set Up in the Conrad Hilton to Treat the Injured from Grant Park Melee; McCarthy is Placed in Nomination, Humphrey Wins Nomination But Rails At TV for Biased Coverage. The Raid on McCarthy’s Staff Quarters.

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

A Whiff of Tear Gas for the “Fresh Air.”

On Wednesday, August 28, 1968 Gene McCarthy got a whiff of tear-gas through the open window of his hotel suite from the struggles in Grant park across Michigan avenue. He put his handkerchief to his nose as he watched the crowds of kids fighting with the cops and National Guardsmen, commenting on the irony of the sign hanging on a monument across the state reading “Gene McCarthy—a Breath of Fresh Air!” as the kids fell back from the tear gas gasping. He said he thought it resembled the battle between Hannibal and the Romans. “It didn’t have to be this way,” he said to Abigail. She remained silent. They closed the window and returned to the TV, watching his nomination speech by Gov. Harold Hughes of Iowa: “The McCarthy campaign caused a clean wind of hope to blow across this land. The people found Gene McCarthy for u. They found him, they followed him and they have urged him on us. He is more accurately the people’s candidate than any other man in recent history.”

His nominating speech was seconded by Julian Bond and John Kenneth Galbraith. Abigail called McCarthy to the window again and he saw even more violence with paddy wagons arriving carrying more cops. He decided to withdraws his name in the hope it would reduce tensions but his floor lieutenants, Blair Clark and Dick Goodwin, disagreed.

The balloting opened and Gene could see he was losing badly. Somebody in his suite made a comment about Hubert; Gene said, “It’s no use being bitter about Hubert. He’s too dumb to understand bitterness.” Meanwhile in his suite at the same hotel, Hubert was watching the same show on TV and alternatively going to the window looking out on Grant Park. He was in a rage, storming that the demonstrators “don’t represent the people of Chicago. They’ve been brought in from all over the country. We knew this was going to happen. A kind of sideshow.” He watched clips of the violence being interspersed with nomination speeches and fell into his habit of talking back to the television set: “I’m going to be president someday! I’m going to appoint the FCC—we’re going to look into this!”

(It was the same view Richard Nixon had later when he was president to use the FCC to deny the “Washington Post” the right to make certain television and radio station purchases in punishment for the paper’s Watergate coverage). He thundered back at the TV when after San Francisco mayor Joe Alioto’s nominating speech of him and Carl Stokes, the black mayor of Cleveland came on to praise Hubert’s civil rights record, the TV cameras switched to the fighting in the park. He was apoplectic and conspiratorial, sure the TV coverage was engineered by technicians to denigrate his civil rights accomplishments.

At 11:19 p.m. on the 28th the balloting for president began. Muriel Humphrey occupied a box seat at the International Ampitheatre while Hubert stayed decorously in his hotel suite surrounded by aides and press people who wanted to record the scene.

He pulled out his sheet of projected votes and compared the actual tally with them. No surprises. He was 100% accurate. From Minnesota he got exactly 38-1/2 votes to 13-1/2 for McCarthy, exactly what he figured he’d get. Then his tally fell slightly into error. He had projected he’d get 61 votes in New Jersey; he got one more, 62. When the convention roll-taker called “New York,” Hubert called out “ninety-six!” It was 96-1/2. When Pennsylvania was called, Hubert leaned forward and took a sip from his Coke. He had calculated Pennsylvania would carry it for him. It did at exactly 11:47 p.m. It was sweet revenge because McCarthy had carried Pennsylvania in its nonbinding primary by more than a half million votes, yet in the convention Pennsylvania gave Hubert 103-3/4 votes. He was nominated and just then Muriel appeared on the screen.

Hubert, to the end of his life an old-fashioned South Dakota small-town sentimentalist, ran over to the screen and shouted “There she is! I wish Momma were really here! She how pretty she looks!” With that he impulsively bent down and kissed her image on the screen as “Life” magazine photographers recorded the scene. The phones were ringing crazily. One call was from President Johnson who congratulated Hubert. Hubert replied “bless your heart!, Thank you!” The other came from Richard Nixon in response to Hubert’s calling Nixon weeks earlier after Nixon was nominated in Miami Beach. The convention roll-call droned on even though the magic number for Hubert’s nomination had passed. The official tally was: Hubert 1760-1/4, McCarthy 601, McGovern 146-1/2, Rev. Channing Phillips, Washington D. C.’s favorite son, the first black ever to have his name placed in nomination for the presidency 67-1/2, Gov. Dan Moore of North Carolina 17-1/2, Edward Kennedy 12-3/4, and others 16-1/2.

Mulling Over the Vice Presidents on the Throne.

Then Hubert went to the bathroom to be alone and while sitting on the throne in solitary splendor considered his possible running-mates. His first choice was Ted Kennedy and indeed had a plane all set up on Meigs field ready to fly to Cape Cod if Kennedy accepted to pick up the young senator and take him to Chicago, but there was no hope, Kennedy refused all offers. There was even a more daring variant of that plan. Larry O’Brien had suggested that a moment of electricity would come if Hubert would resign the vice presidency immediately, fly to Massachusetts the next day and appear with Teddy as his anointed vice president. Hubert considered this for a half hour while sitting on the throne but felt it was entirely inappropriate.

He returned to the parlor and sketched out other names on a pad: Oklahoma’s brash young liberal senator Fred Harris with the beautiful full-blooded Indian wife—but Harris was too inexperienced and Muriel had a definite question about the wife. He thought about Sargent Shriver, the Kennedy brother-in-law but Larry O’Brien had checked and found that the Kennedy family opposed this strenuously. He wondered about Terry Sanford the progressive governor of North Carolina but while Sanford was progressive for North Carolina he wouldn’t make muster as a national running mate for Hubert because he had had a number of contradictions—so he crossed that name out. Earlier he had even wondered about the possibility of getting New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican and had asked Massachusetts Gov. Endicott Peabody to approach him. Peabody did but Rocky decided no. He thought about New Jersey’s Gov. Richard Hughes (not to be confused with Iowa’s Gov. Harold Hughes who was for McCarthy) but John Connally had vetoed this because he felt Richard Hughes had short-changed the Southern delegations as chairman of the credentials committee.

There was one other possibility that seemed good. Maine’s Ed Muskie was like a big, forlorn, long-faced moose. He had been close to McCarthy but split with Gene on the issue of the war. Muskie was a Pole and a Catholic. Hubert decided to pick him for vice president. That decision was later adjudged, as Hubert said, as “damn good.” Muskie was a superb performer for Hubert in that capacity. He called Muskie on the phone, got his agreement and made plans to go immediately to the convention where he would meet Muskie on the platform the next day

By early afternoon of Thursday the 29th , McCarthy held a news conference and used words that were prescient. He said his defeat a “was only a temporary setback to our cause. I think we opened up a new kind of politics for America. I think it will manifest itself after the convention and make itself felt in the next four years.” He called for “one man one vote” at the next convention and when someone yelled, “forget the convention!” he replied “we’ve forgotten the convention, we’ve forgotten the vice presidency, we’ve forgotten the platform and we’ve forgotten the national chairman of the Democratic party!”

“The Government in Exile.”

Then, escorted by secret service, he walked to Grant Park, walking silently past the National Guardsmen with their sheathed bayonets and standing under an elm tree on that hot afternoon (where I had come over from my office in the Merchandise Mart to watch) said “I am happy to be here to address the government in exile.” He added: “My message on this late afternoon is that I will not compromise. All the way, I say! I have not departed from my commitments to you nor have you departed from your commitments to me. And so we go on in this same spirit!” And so I watched the catastrophic change in the oldest political party in the world. From that time on, movement people and movements would begin to supplant political leadership which had chosen so well its candidates of the past including Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.

That evening Hubert accepted the nomination surrounded by hundreds of newly printed green and white Humphrey-Muskie signs plus a huge banner unfurled on the convention floor, “We Love Mayor Daley!” Hubert: “I proudly accept the nomination of our party!” Hubert reviewed the party’s accomplishments and cited its leaders who stood where he was standing including Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy—and, he added, “Lyndon Johnson.” The hall exploded with a cacophony of cheers and boos and catcalls. He continued: “I truly believe that history will surely record the greatness of his contribution s tro the people of this land and tonight to you, Mr. President, I say thank you! Thank you, Mr. President!”

Then, true politician to the core, he followed that effusive “thank you” to LBJ with a hint that he would separate from his policies in the future on Vietnam. “If there is any one lesson that we should have learned, it is that the policies of tomorrow need not be limited by the policies of yesterday. My fellow Americans, if he becomes my high honor to serve as president…I shall apply that lesson to search for peace in Vietnam as well as to all other areas of national policy.”

He applied a bit of what he hoped was healing salve: “To my friends—and they are my friends and they’re your friends, and they’re fellow Democrats—to my friends Gene McCarthy and George McGovern, who have given new hope to a new generation of Americans that there can be greater meaning in our lives…to these two good Americans I ask your help for our America and I ask you to help me in the difficult campaign that lies ahead.”

The summation: “I say to America: put aside recrimination and dissension. Turn away from violence and hatred—believe what America can do and believe in what America can be. And with the help of that vast, un-frightened, dedicated majority of Americans, I say to this great convention tonight and to this great nation of ours—I am ready to lead this country!”

And flanked by Edmund Muskie and George McGovern, he waved his support to the convention. There was no Gene McCarthy who had unsurprisingly turned down Hubert’s invitation to come to the podium. Abigail had urged him to reconsider but he would not.

There was one more episode that fueled the McCarthy bitterness. At 5 a.m. the next morning police and National Guardsmen raided the McCarthy staff headquarters on the 15th floor of the Conrad Hilton—Suite 1505A. They charged that objects were being tossed from the windows of the suite. They broke open the doors, beat McCarthy workers with clubs and herded them into the elevators and to the main lobby of the hotel. McCarthy had risen early with the intention to pay another visit to Grant Park where the kids had spent the night but was told of the intrusion on the 15th floor. He went there and found a number of his young campaign volunteers in panic and a number of young women, including his niece, Marybeth McCarthy crying hysterically. He said to Abigail, “what do you think now about reconciliation?” She answered, “I always thought it a good idea.” He had no comment. It seemed they were approaching a parting of the ways.

He demanded that someone call the Humphrey suite to restore order but Hubert was sound asleep and his press secretary, Norman Sherman, refused to awaken him. Later Hubert defended the cops in the same general tones that Mayor Daley used:

“I got to looking at this people and thinking: `Well, they’re just not decent people.’ When they throw stink bomb in the lobby of the hotel and when they stand under your window and utter the most foul profanity all night long, I don’t consider that peace-making. I don’t. I think it was a terrible thing.”

1 comment:

  1. Who says the Greeks or Will Shakespeare have a lock on writing trajedy?

    Let the word go forth across this land that Tom Roeser can equal them in at least this sad testament to vain glory! While the Nation listens to bs from the networks the USA can drift about, Gene steering us upon the rocks of the future-