Thursday, January 17, 2008

Flashback: Pre-Chicago Negotiations: A Possible Humphrey-McCarthy Ticket to Stave Off Disunity…a Secret Humphrey-McCarthy Meeting…And a Daley-Led Bid for Teddy Kennedy for President.

[Fifty years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].


As both he and Gene McCarthy prepared for the 3-day Democratic National convention in Chicago (August 26-29), Hubert decided after looking at the format that the McCarthy radicals could not sweep the convention. The only thing was to try to get some unity so as to make the nomination Hubert would receive worth having. McCarthy made the same determination but, reinforced by Abigail, had determined not to give up so as to keep the morale of his troops high. Meanwhile McCarthy’s effort developed three distinct groups. One was the “Children’s Crusade” led by…a surprise…Blair Clark (who had sworn off any more drinking with Robert Lowell), Curt Gans and Sam Brown. It was working on “youth power” by mobilizing pro-McCarthy sentiment around the country and to intimidate delegates into supporting McCarthy—threatening them with future punishment from young people if and when these delegates had any idea of running again.

The second group was headed by former Democratic National Chairman Stephen Mitchell who espoused “confrontation politics.” Mitchell’s strategy was to build an all-out assault on the convention’s machinery: credentials, rules and platform. In this group Jerry Eller was counted. The third was the orthodox effort headed by Tom Finney who wanted to cut deals with some of the bosses at the convention. McCarthy disagreed that the Finney stratagem would work so he refused to give him permission to deal and insisted that the best strategy was Mitchell and Eller’s.

McCarthy hoped the Mitchell-Eller strategy would convince the delegates that they would have to have McCarthy in order to win. A federal district judge, Miles Lord, who gave up the Minnesota attorney generalship for the post now surfaced, drinking sometimes with McCarthy people, sometimes with Humphrey people—acting on his own, trying to broker a deal with McCarthy and Humphrey. His solution: have McCarthy run for vice president with Hubert. The fact that both were from Minnesota which would be in violation of the Constitution could be easily handled by one or the other saying their residence was in Maryland (Gene had a house there) and Hubert in Minnesota: easy, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, both residents of Texas handled that one by Cheney reverting to Wyoming as his residence). Finally Hubert got tired of bumping into Judge Lord on his planes and told him, “Miles, stop trying forever to get us together. Gene and I meet on occasion and we’re both agreed that you’re the cause of all the trouble between us.”

Just before the convention convened, McCarthy was invited to Hubert’s apartment in Washington. Hubert said, “Gene, I only want to know one thing. If you get the nomination, I’ll support you. I’ll come right up to the platform of the convention and endorse you that night. I would only hope that you would do the same thing for me.” Gene mused that it would be impossible for him to go up to the platform that night and endorse Hubert but that if Hubert gave him a few weeks for a turn-around, he could do it. Hubert was discouraged to hear this, knowing Gene’s unforgiving nature. He said, “Gene, can you be sure you can do it sometime in mid-September?” Gene said yes. Hubert, knowing Gene full well, doubted that but said nothing. Gene said he knew Hubert had the nomination all wrapped up. But he said he had to keep faith with his supporters who expected him to exert maximum leverage on the platform and party “reform.”

Then they talked about Gene possibly taking the vice presidential nomination. Gene said he could not and said he’d appreciate it if there would be no more talk of offering it since it couldn’t be accomplished. Hubert agreed. On the Vietnam plank, Hubert expressed the problem. He would have to stand for a tough Vietnam plank because Lyndon Johnson expected it—but if the convention happened to pass a dovish plank, he, Hubert, would have to accept it. McCarthy thought about that long and hard. While he was sipping coffee, Hubert asked him if he would be running as a fourth party candidate for president (since George Wallace would be running as a third party candidate). Gene said no very quickly. Hubert was relieved since he felt McCarthy running as a fourth party candidate would kill any chance of the Democrats winning. On that note the secret meeting wrapped up.

LBJ Blows Up the Platform On Vietnam.

The LBJ-stacked platform committee convened at the Statler Hilton in Washington on Monday, August 19, one week before the convention with a Johnson man, Rep. Hale Boggs (D-La.), the House majority leader as chairman. President Johnson said in a talk in Detroit that day that he would regard anything less than his own hand-written platform a personal affront. Hubert sent David Ginsburg as his representative. Ginsburg met with a coalition of anti-war forces representing McCarthy, the late Bobby Kennedy and McGovern and reported he thought the other side was reasonable. But any hope that there would be a compromise vanished the next day, August 20, when Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia. This gave the Johnson hawks an opening and LBJ called a midnight—yes, midnight—meeting of the National Security Council purportedly to deal with it. Then LBJ warned Hubert not to placate the doves at the convention.

But somehow a minority platform plank on Vietnam emerged with support from all sides: calling for an unconditional end to all bombing of North Vietnam, beginning of negotiation of a phased withdrawal of U.S. and North Vietnamese troops and encouragement to Saigon to negotiate a coalition government with the National Liberation Front. The draft was cleared with Dean Rusk and Walt Rostow who approved it; it was acceptable to Hubert. Hubert was exhilarated because it meant there would be no floor fight at the convention which would be divisive and endanger his eventual election.

But then LBJ intruded. A minion went to the Statler-Hilton, got the draft over to the White House and returned saying it was unacceptable to the president because it called for an end to the bombing of the North. Johnson wrote new language, saying the bombing of the North would stop “when this action would not endanger the lives of our troops in the field; this action should take into account the response from Hanoi.” Hubert called Johnson and said, “But Mr. President, the draft had been cleared with Rusk and Rostow.” Well, goddammit, it hasn’t been cleared with me, said Johnson and hung up. Immediately, Boggs rammed the Johnson version through the committee 65 to 35. McCarthy welcomed the division saying to the media that “the lines are clearly drawn between those who want more of the same and those who think it necessary to change our course in Vietnam. The convention will decide.”

Long before the convention opened, Hubert was concerned that Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, acting in concert with Johnson, was running a city under siege; rather than setting aside a hall for the demonstrators which Hubert wanted, Daley strung barbed wire around the International Ampitheatre, and with Johnson sent out some 30,000 police, firemen, National Guardsmen, regular army troops, FBI and Secret Service agents. The first day of the convention, I went to visit Hubert’s headquarters and McCarthy’s. I found McCarthy’s people relaxed and enjoying the festivities; but I couldn’t believe what was happening to Hubert. Here was the vice president of the United States and the putative Democratic nominee with so little control over the logistics that he had to send his son-in-law, Bruce Solomonson, to stand in line outside a minor convention functionary’s room to plead for convention tickets for his family. I was standing near the vice president’s room (2525A) one morning when Hubert came stalking out, jerked his head to me. I shook hands with him. He said, “You know what?” I said: what? He related the story of his son-in-law standing in line for tickets and said, “I understand McCarthy’s complaining he’s getting no service. Here I’m the goddamned vice president of the United States and I’m being treated like a [explective] Jugoslav peasant!”

Connally Tries to Run for Veep With McCarthy.

Larry O’Brien, the legendary JFK and RFK aide, had gone over to Hubert after Bobby’s murder. He was trying to gauge a rough count of delegates and figured out that Hubert had between 1,400 and 1,500 delegate votes, much more than the 1,312 required for nomination—but the counting was extremely complicated (the 3,099 delegates had a total of 2,622 votes). O’Brien urged Hubert not to oppose the unit rule, the device that gave the majority control of the entire delegation. But in an effort to placate the reformers Hubert issued a statement urging its abolition. Texas Governor John Connally came rushing up to him and said that this would destroy the delegations from the South and that if Hubert didn’t withdraw his view, he, Connally, would initiate a drive to draft Lyndon. He scared Hubert so he rescinded it and asked that abolition of the unit rule be put on the agenda for the 1972 convention. Connally was mollified.

Mollified but not through playing games. Connally (a close friend of LBJ) was playing a wild game of cards with his own future. Ostensibly loyal to the president, Connally was never one to count himself out of the presidential sweepstakes. He happened to like Gene McCarthy a lot—much better than he liked Hubert. He concluded that if McCarthy cut a deal with him (Connally) and would announce that he wanted Connally to run for vice president with him, Connally would be able to sell it to LBJ. So Connally set up a meeting with Dick Goodwin (a onetime McCarthy aide who switched to Bobby then came back to McCarthy after Bobby’s murder). Goodwin believed an alliance between McCarthy and Connally wasn’t credible. So Connally got hold of Patrick Lucey, the former Wisconsin lieutenant governor and a liberal friend of McCarthy to broach the idea to Gene.

Gene didn’t give it a second thought. It wasn’t credible he told Lucey. When Connally heard of the rejection, he went to Hubert and tried to wheedle himself as a vice president with him—but Hubert had had his belly full of Texans. Connally went back to his delegation thinking: well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Daley and Unruh Decide on Ted Kennedy.

What was going on in the fertile mind of Richard J. Daley, mayor of Chicago all the while? Daley kept his own counsel but agreed to have breakfast with another boss—Jesse Unruh of California who had the entire state delegation tied up. Unruh was still broken up over Bobby’s death and was against the war but they didn’t get into a discussion of issues at the breakfast. Unruh asked Daley on the basis of a longtime friendship what he really thought. Daley said he didn’t like McCarthy at all but he felt sure Hubert couldn’t be elected. Unruh said: “Well, that’s one hell of a note, isn’t it?” Daley said yes—but. They ought to find another candidate. Daley hemmed and hawed around while Unruh fiddled around buttering his toast. Finally Daley said, “Humphrey’s a lousy candidate. You know, if we’re going to have another Lyndon Johnson, let’s draft the real thing.” Unruh said no-no-no, Johnson was unacceptable. He was ready to pick up the check when Daley said: “I could go fer Ted.” Ted who? Ted Kennedy. So could Unruh. A draft Teddy Kennedy movement.

“Tell you what,” said Daley to Unruh. “I’ll delay Illinois’ decision to give you time to do something along that line.”

The news got to Goodwin very quickly. Goodwin asked McCarthy what he thought of Ted Kennedy. Surprisingly enough, McCarthy didn’t veto it. He’d rather see Teddy drafted and him rejected in preference to Hubert’s getting the nomination. Maybe a Ted Kennedy-Gene McCarthy coalition to block Hubert’s nomination and give it to Ted Kennedy would work. But Goodwin said, wasn’t Ted too young? Kennedy was 36. No, said McCarthy, “after all, experience isn’t really important in a president as long as he has the right advisers. Of course he’s young but, then, those fellows in the Revolution were young, too—Hamilton and Jefferson. But Jefferson had to wait a little while to be president. Still, that’s not important. Let’s see how things develop.”

Goodwin was really excited now. The third Kennedy would emerge. That would confound old LBJ in the White House and Hubert as well and give Richard Nixon a kick in the pants. What a deal! If it could only work!

When I heard the rumor in the Hilton coffee shop, I got hold of Eller. “Aw, Gene never really wanted to be president,” he said. “He wanted to [scatological] Johnson and Hubert. It might work, who knows?”

Since John Connally was famous at the convention for trying to deal himself in to any coalition so he could get something out of it, I said: “Hey—maybe Teddy and John Connally for veep. What about that?”

“Listen,” said Eller, ”that’s the only thing that would queer it. I would not be surprised if after he leaves this convention, Connally would try to work some deal with Nixon for his cabinet and then run for president as a Republican!”

It was so outrageous we laughed heartily.

But a few years later, that’s exactly what happened. Connally became Richard Nixon’s secretary of the treasury and once he beat the milk fund rap, he ran for president as a Republican in 1980 with a variant of Republican fixers (including many from Illinois) on board.


  1. Miles Lord was so vain that he was reported to be in the habit of signing legal papers, as both an attorney and judge, "The Lord."

  2. The Swimmer as President-- Shiver me timbers!

    Tom your great tome does such a service to all Americans by pointing out that with all the double-dealing crooks trying to (and getting) elected Great God (so far) has protected us from complete disaster-