Friday, January 18, 2008


McCarthy Entreats Kennedy to Run Saying “While I’m Doing this for Teddy, I Could Never Have Done it for Bobby”…But Teddy Refuses to Run…LBJ Jerks the Cord so Connally and Other Southern Leaders Fall Back into Line Behind Hubert. All this and the Battle of Grant Park.

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

Teddy Declines the Crown.

Spawned by Chicago’s Richard J. Daley and California’s Jesse Unruh, the Teddy Kennedy for President in 1968 began to gain momentum with their breakfast on Tuesday, August 27 and take the size of a possible “Draft Kennedy” move. Hubert once again began to suffer abdominal pains thinking that history would repeat itself with a Kennedy snatching the prize away from him. McCarthy aide Richard Goodwin contacted Kennedy brother-in-law Stephen Smith and arranged a meeting with McCarthy. Smith found McCarthy surprisingly willing to support Teddy and drop his plans to run. “I can’t make it,” Gene said. “Teddy and I have the same views and I’m willing to ask all my delegates to vote for him. I’d like to have my name placed in nomination and even have a run on the first ballot. But if that’s not possible, I’ll act as soon as it’s necessary to be effective.” He added a bit of the old McCarthy bitterness: “Understand while I’m doing this for Teddy, I could never have done it for Bobby.”

But Kennedy felt unprepared for the venture and telephoned Daley, Unruh and Hubert to say that not only would he not run but that he would withdraw his name if it were to be placed in nomination. Then and only then did Hubert know that he would get the nomination. Paradoxically, Ted Kennedy could probably have won the nomination and the election had he agreed to run—because the country was so torn up with the murder of the two Kennedys and the death of Martin Luther King. He thought he would wait until he got more seasoning but with the very next year—1969—came the episode at Chappaquiddick and his presidential hopes were dashed. In the afternoon of the 27th, McCarthy met with Publisher John Knight and said that in his estimation, since Ted Kennedy would not run, Hubert would get the nomination.

McCarthy speculated that Hubert had ascertained that his and Nixon’s position on Vietnam were so identical that the campaign would concentrate on domestic issues. Then McCarthy went to dinner and a long liquid period of reflection with the poet Robert Lowell during which he reflected that he’d probably support Hubert after a few weeks, that he might retire from the Senate when his term ended in 1970, that following his retirement he might want to run for president again and that he doubted Teddy, having turned down the nomination once, could get the nomination again. Jerry Eller went along and survived the drinking bout, falling asleep at the restaurant table as both recited poetry. Blair Clark had sworn off and stayed away. Abigail stayed in her hotel room with their three daughters and son, watching the convention’s procedures unfold on TV.

One of the highpoints of a dull evening was none other than the singer Anita Bryant (later to become the scourge of the gay rights movement) leading the convention in singing “Happy Birthday” to an absent Lyndon Johnson who had turned 60 that day (August 27. He would live to be only 65, dying in 1973; Hubert lived slightly longer, 68, dying in 1979). Hubert’s abdominal pains went away when he was assured of the nomination. He went to bed in his Conrad Hilton suite (2525A) inutes after 1 a.m. watching the demonstrators in Grant Park across the street parading with banners reading “Dump the Hump!” This gave him more abdominal pains.

But these were gone the next morning when he woke up and reflected that this was to be the day he would finally realize his dream come true—August 28. Muriel said “Daddy, it’s time to get up. The mayor wants to have breakfast with you.” She meant Mayor Daley. Not until then had Daley pledged his support and breakfast was being set up in the suite’s spacious living room. As he dressed, getting into a dark suit, pastel colored shirt (popular during those times) and dark tie, he saw the sunlight dancing off the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. Hubert had one desire and one only—to get Teddy Kennedy to accept the vice presidency with him which could get both of them elected. He started a series of phone calls to Teddy. But in the middle of the breakfast with Daley, Teddy called back and said no. Humphrey was downcast. He told Daley of his wish. Daley was laconic and didn’t tell Hubert that the day before he was consorting to try to get Teddy to take the presidential nomination.

It would be a great day anyhow, Hubert decided after Daley left. Louisiana Governor John McKeithen arrived for post-breakfast coffee and rolls and brought with him the pledged support of the Southern governors. Hubert had one thing in mind and one only—to try to get Teddy Kennedy to accept the vice presidential nomination.

Hubert had one more pre-nomination speech to deliver—to a caucus of Connecticut delegates at the nearby Pick-Congress hotel. There he said, “I’ve won a lot of elections and I don’t intend to lose this one to Richard Nixon.” On the way back to the Conrad Hilton surrounded by secret service, Hubert made his way through the packed lobby with his handkerchief to his nose because somebody had unloaded a group of stink bombs. A teen-ager stuck out his hand to be shook and Hubert did. The boy said, “Mr. Vice President, you’re a warmonger!” Hubert said quietly, “You know better than that, son.” The secret service moved the boy back, believing he was rummaging for something in his pocket but it was a handkerchief. Another teenage boy started the cry “Dump the Hump!” and it rang through the lobby as Hubert got into the elevator.

Back in his suite he decided he’d like San Francisco mayor Joe Alioto to place him in nomination and some staffers in an adjoining room began to write the speech for Alioto. Then he lunched with two black athletes, Jackie Robinson and Elgin Baylor after which he watched the Vietnam plank debate on two TVs in his room (attendants moved in two color TVs while he watched: color television being somewhat of a novelty). Hubert had the habit of talking back to television. When NBC’s Sander Vanocur refewrred to the “Ted Kennedy” boom the day before, Hubert shouted: “Shit! There wasn’t a Kennedy boom, Vanocur! There was a Vanocur boom for Kennedy!” He didn’t know at that time that the Kennedy boom was launched by the very same Richard J. Daley who had had breakfast with him.

Two floors down from 2525A where Hubert was, Gene McCarthy was in Suite 2320 with his two color television sets on. I got in there about 11 a.m. and found him playing mock baseball using an orange with his brother Austin, a medical doctor. The phone was ringing all the while and one of his aides Finney was arguing that he should go down to the floor and make a speech in favor of the peace plank for the platform. McCarthy said no. Finney said he should say he’d support the ticket if the convention adopted the peace plank. McCarthy again said no. Steve Mitchell called three times from the floor asking that he could to the convention. McCarthy said he’d only go if Lyndon Johnson showed up.

The Battle of Grant Park Begins.

At 5 p.m. the minority or peace plank lost 1,041 to 1,567 and the convention recessed until evening for the nomination itself.. McCarthy-Kennedy-McGovern delegates put on black armbands that somebody had ordered earlier and sang “We Shall Overcome.” The media sped to Grant Park where 10,000 demonstrators gathered and the first of the day’s two violent clashes with the police occurred. I had gone home for dinner and saw the stuff on TV (black and white; I didn’t have color). The crowds had been in the park for two days and once when I went over there they were taunting the cops. I saw one kid with a Harvard sweater open his pants and urinate on the shoes of an officer.

The cop swatted him with a stick that gave off a sickening thud as it hit his head like the sound of a hammer whacking an overripe fruit like a tomato. The kid fell unconscious to be hauled away; I thought he was dead. Maybe he was but there were no deaths reported so I guess not. But there was no fuss then. The media had not seen it. That came later. The assault made an enduring impression on me. The thing that bothered me was this: here was a Harvard kid, a kid of affluence, equipped to make a vehement and oracular protest to the cop who probably had never gone to college—and instead he urinated on him. I had very mixed opinions about a kid who resorted to that indignity to one who obviously had not the luxury of the kid. Did the kid deserve to have his skull crushed? Nope. But a child of affluence had many other recourses without urination.

At 8 p.m. the nominating process started at the International Ampitheatre. Blue-helmeted Chicago police clashed with demonstrators outside the Hilton. I watched it at home. What happened later and the next day will stay with me for life. It was in a very real sense the changing of the guard for a major political party—a changing of the guard that was made possible when Gene had decided to run for president and to lynch Hubert at a time when the country was at war—a lynching no matter what it cost.

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