With Johnson Out, Bobby Tries to Cut a Deal with Hubert to Get Out in Return for Secretary of State Which is Refused McCarthy Runs a Campaign that Redefines Civil Rights Beats Bobby in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, Getting Trimmed in Indiana, Trounces Bobby in Oregon. Then to the California Debate.
[Fifty years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].
Hubert Stays Out of Primaries.
With Lyndon Johnson gone and Kings murder which set mobs to burning urban ghettoes, Hubert decided it was the smarter course not to enter any primaries and leave the infighting to Gene and Bobby. He was bemused at Kennedy arrogance when Bobby sent Kenny ODonnell to him to propose Hubert pull out and support Bobby in return for a big jobsecretary of statein the Kennedy administration. Then Gene triumphed over Bobby in Wisconsin Hubert was gladdened. Humphrey figured this way: as long as Johnson was in, Bobby was a figure of some romance. But with Johnson out and Bobby running against the Democratic establishment, the professional politicians were thinking that Johnson was a figure of some nobility and that Bobby was an opportunist Brutussort of against the system that had been represented by his brother Jack. Humphrey had some instant polling done and found that increasingly voters who liked Jack now felt Bobby was bent on destruction of the party. So Hubert decided to hold his cards to his vest and hope the two Irishmen finished each other off.
McCarthy Redefines Civil Rights.
With Lyndon Johnson gone and Hubert disorganized, Gene McCarthy turned on Bobby Kennedy, delivering him two smart whacks. One was in Connecticut where McCarthy forces discovered an archaic, but still effective, election provision that allowed people in towns and villages to force primaries to elect delegates to state conventions. They took the Kennedy people by surprise, getting a majority of the vote which embarrassed Kennedy ally John Bailey, state and national Democratic chairman. Then McCarthy turned to Pennsylvania where in its primary April 23 he received 71.6% of the vote--a terrible humiliation for Kennedy and elected a fifth of the total state delegates against the Democratic establishment. McCarthy prepared for the Indiana primary against Kennedy embracing what he called a new politics. The new politics gave a decidedly non-Kennedy-esque view of civil rights. Kennedy geared up to conquer McCarthy there.
In Hartford, Connecticut, McCarthy had challenged the basic concept of civil rights as embraced by liberal Democrats. He said some astounding, technically conservative, things in Hartford: first that blacks were a colonial people, who were not helped by landmark civil rights legislation that had passed under Democratic congresses. While Bobby Kennedy had talked about a consortium of public-private institutions rebuilding ghettoes, McCarthy said this reminded him of colonialism and the plantation. He called for a whole new set of civil rightsbased on FDRs Four Freedomsthat included the right to a decent job, home, medical care and education. In a sense it was more liberal than anything Hubert and LBJ had pioneered since they concentrated only on non-discrimination.
This was probably McCarthys highpoint. He and his so-called Childrens Crusade of amateurs had caused a president to involuntarily decline to run for reelection and was busily trimming the sails of a hitherto popular Kennedy. With sardonic wit he sat down with Shana Alexander of Life magazine, one of his favorite colleagues from The Little Sisters of the Media and shared with her an obscure poem he had written entitled Lament of An Aging Politician. Pay attention to this. This is classic McCarthy, the stuff I listened to from him for years. He wrote a poem for Shana. Here it is in its entirety.
I have left Act I, for involution and Act II/
There mired in complexity
I cannot write Act III.
When Shana said
as all of us have ever since
huh? McCarthy led her through the hieroglyphics.
As we learned in the classics in college, the ancient structure for Greek drama called for statement of the problem in Act I, presentation of complications in Act II and a tragic resolution in Act IIIthe essence of Greek tragedy. He said Kennedy was an Act I man: He says theres a problem. McCarthy called himself an Act II man. Thats where I live, he said. Involution and complexity i.e. enfolding around a problem so as to solve it, like a carnivorous-leafed plant. In politics, I think you have to stay in Act II. You cant draw lines under things or add up scores. The complications just go on in different forms
.When you get to Act III you have to write a tragedy. Bobby is an Act I man. He says heres a problem, theres a problem. Heres another. He never really deals with Act IIbut I think maybe Bobbys ready to write Act III now. Bobbys tragedy is that to beat me hes going to destroy his brother. Today I occupy most of Jacks positions on the board. Thats kind of Greek, isnt it
All very profound but can you imagine it playing this year in politics? I cant. Shana Alexander thought it very profound and Life gave it a big play. It never meant much to menot even when I heard McCarthy tell it to me personally. Destroying his brother in Act III? Give me a break.
Dave Powers, a former aide to JFK and Bobby whom I met much later Harvard when he was elderly (he was running the JFK museum in Boston), told me Bobby didnt get it either when he read it in Life. His comment was, one Kennedy aide told me, this: Beats the [explective] out of me! But it entranced Ms. Alexander hugely although Abigail thought it worthless and even his raven-haired favorite Marya McLaughlin sniffed at it. Not worth the attention Shana gave to it was her view.
Bobby vowed to end this poetry business by cutting Gene down in Indiana. Humphreys stand-in in the election was the governor of Indiana, Roger Branigan, running as a favorite son committed to Hubert. Bobby aide Pierre Salinger got a fact sheet prepared by Citizens for Kennedy in New York which charged McCarthy was illiberal on civil rights, the oil depletion allowance, housing and social security (concocted with Huberts help). The Branigan people used the literature as well. It seriously maimed McCarthy.
The New York Times defended McCarthy; Kennedy disowned the fact-sheet but damage was done to Gene. McCarthy was forced to get on the defensive to defend his earlier stands. But lest Hubert enjoy the two Irishmen fighting with hopes that Indiana would be the denouement between the two Irishmen, none other than Muriel Humphrey stepped up to tell her husband (whom she always called Daddy) some unpalatable truths.
Humphrey Mingles New Politics and Old Pros.
Muriel Humphrey told Hubert, Daddy, the campaign style of our youth has changed. Its too old-hat for these swiftly changing times dominated by Kennedy and McCarthy. Lookit, Daddy, here is Bobby tearing up the landscape with kids, McCarthy being lionized by the kids and were sticking with the old, grey-haired pols. Hubert agreed. He responded by trying to Larry OBrien the ace Kennedy campaign manager to run his campaignbut she countered, goodness no, Daddy! Larry is as old hat as we are! Anyhow, Larry said he had to stick with the Kennedys as they were his bread and butter. He asked Dick Hatcher, the black Gary mayor to come out for him. Hatcher thought for a while and said no it paid more (he never explained what that meant) to be for Bobby. No, said Muriel, Dick Hatcher is an old pro too. We need some young, fresh faces!
Hubert pondered: how to get mid-20th century in a hurry to counter Gene and Bobby.
He went to Sen. Fred Harris of Oklahoma who had the reputation of a new-age politicianone of the most liberal lawmakers in Congress and a demagogic reformer --popular with the kids and whose wife, an exotically beauteous full-blood Comance Indian, LaDonna, a nut-brown looker raised on an Indian reservation, a kind of earth mother, was a sex idol of the left (she was the first Indian woman to testify before a congressional committee). This was not exactly what Muriel was thinking of when she said Hubert had to get relevant but she shut up. So he signed them up. Then being Hubert, he did two contradictory things at the same time which was his stock in trade.
He spoke in Louisiana and said how terrible it was that the two other candidates, Kennedy and McCarthy were kids, immature and that the time was ripe to keep an adult as presidentwith his own election. At the same time he huddled with Fred Harris and B. W. (for Beautiful Wife) LaDonna to find him radical kids to promote quickly to top-level status in his campaign. Then to keep an establishmentarian eye on the Harrises, he got the oldest young man he could find, 37-year-old Fritz Mondale (now a Minnesota senator and his loyal lackey) to (as he said with a notable slip of the tongue) keep them on the reservation.
Then excluding the Harrises, Hubert sat down with the old pros to sketch out the political execution of Bobby. The profile they drew which they peddled pretty successfully in the media: Bobby had made himself the articulate instrument of the dissenting far left. Not content to wait his turn, he moved aggressively to ruin the term of his brothers successor. While John Kennedy had been cool and reserved, Bobby spoke out passionately to the two groups most dissatisfied, the young and the blacks. He called his early support of the Vietnam war a mistake. He was now 42, the same age as John when he captured the White House.
Hubert got the columnist Murray Kempton, an ally, to survey Bobbys ruthlessness and Kempton wrote that Bobby was the kind of marauder who come down from the hills to shoot the woundeda famous analogy that never left Bobby. Hubert and his staff leaked incessantly to frighten the partys old pros, the image of Bobby with his tousled hair going to the college campuses riling up the kids. Here Hubert aimed to anger Chicago Richard J. Daley (although Daley never took to Hubert). Then he had a burst of good luck. After Hubert leaked the story that Bobby with his mother was trying to buy the election, Rose Kennedy, in the state to help Bobby, burst:
Listen, its our money and were free to spend it any way we please! You could almost hear Bobby cry out from the wings: Mother! Please!
Hubert clapped his hands in joy at that one (as did McCarthy) and both sent his legion of publicists out to emblazon it on the media.
The Politics of Joy? Awful!
Now Hubert was ready to announce formally. But he goofed it up as only the politically bipolar Hubert (one foot in the old pro camp and the other deftly in the kids sector) could. He set April 27 for the day of his big announcement. He put together a hydra-headed monster of an organization, over-muscled on steroids. The Harrises, Fred plus B. W. and Mondale would head up United Democrats for Humphrey. He mish-mashed a group of old pros laced with some nerdy pro kids and hauled them all down by Archer-Daniels-Midland paid charter plane to Key Largo, Florida where they all convened at ADMs Duane Andreas huge mansion during EasterAndreas a very-very old pro and corporate fixer. When all was in readiness paid for with lots of ADM money squirreled away where it couldnt be accounted for by the old finance laws, Hubert unveiled a fund-raising and announcement curtain-raiser at a Washington hotel with Harry McPherson, Charles Murphy of the White House, New York editor Norman Cousins and Long Island editor Bill Moyers all contributing drafts for his speech. It was designed to curb Huberts garrulity--a text riveted only 27 minutes long, honed to the last comma. Hubert stuck to the script until the end. Everybody was ecstatic with is brevity.
Ah but when the cheers deafened his ears instead of quitting he rambled on at a stentorian pitch, winding up with a very unfortunate line: Here we are! The way politics ought to be in America! The politics of purpose! The politics of happiness! The politics of joy!
The politics of joy! Pure Hubertbubbling, effervescent but delivered while the wooden boxes carrying the bodies of our troops were coming back from Vietnam, when cities were burning, beset with arson and looting. Bobby Kennedy retorted: It is easy to say this is the politics of happiness! But if you see children starving in the delta of Mississippi and despair on the Indian reservations, then you know that everybody in America is not satisfied. LaDonna rushed over to Hubert and said, I love you but listen, I could scalp you! Hubert could never leave brevity alone.
Bobby felt he was rising in Indiana. Branigan running as a Hubert clone helped him, with Bobby campaigning against Boss Branigan. The strategy worked. Bobby got 42.3% while Branigan (for Hubert) took 30.7% and McCarthy was at the bottom with 27%. But when the papers got hold of it Huberts and McCarthyspin won the day, the media playing it as an indecisive win, falling short of a majority against Branigan and McCarthy, falling short of John Kennedys win in Wisconsin. McCarthys 27% showing was respectable and the papers said he did well among college grads and older folks and also some Republicans.
Genes Animal and Chinese Stories for Shana.
After Gene decided to serenade the press by going once more to Shana Alexander, she of The Little Sisters of the Media. Not content with the Greek tragedy analogy he concocted another one to Shana who put it in Life with a big spread. It led her New York editors to ask her, Shana what the hell is this? But she was then so much a Big Foot commentator who was also on CBS debating at the conclusion of 60 Minutes with James J. Kilpatrick, she got away with it by saying, really, if you dont know analogies that are profound, dont bother me with your obtuseness. They printed it.
This one had animal images of McCarthys two rivals. One is a dog who wants a bone so badly he sits up without being asked: Hubert. The other is a wolverine. He is kind of like a torn animal. It really doesnt know its identity. It fouls up traps or destroys whats in the trap and its frightening snarls scares trappers in lonely camps. That would be Bobby. (Dave Powers told me Bobby read that one and had the same comment as he had with the Greek tragedy: beats the [explective] out of me.) Then McCarthy had yet another analogy for himself. He told the raptly attentive Shana to look up the ancient Chinese poem about cranes. When she did she found that the crane was sacred to poetry and peace. The crane takes nine steps to launch a flight. She called Gene for an explanation. The nine steps, he said, are pertinent to me. Seven remaining primaries, the national convention and election. That was him: the crane. In contrast, a pigeon just jumps up. Like Bobby. As her editors groaned she put that in Life as well.
Despite the animal stories, Kennedy gave McCarthy a drubbing in Nebraska, May 1451.7% to 31.2%. With true hubris, Kennedy celebrated his victory by sticking out his chest and telling the press he would either win in Oregon or get out. McCarthy took that as a great incentive. He got some new blood. He sent Blair Clark to manage Florida. My classmate Jerry Eller remained as a Senate aide and close McCarthy confidant. McCarthy picked a new national campaign chairmanan old pro with a young face, Tom Finney, a youngish partner in Clark Cliffords law, extra-heavy lobbying firm. He added old pro Maurice Rosenblatt, the Washington rep for the Committee for a More Effective Congress; old-old pro Washington lobbyist Larry Merthan with a big contract from Pfizer (another classmate of mine), John Safer, a wealthy Washington. D. C. real estate man and Thomas McCoy an ex-CIA official known for dirty tricks (and yet another ex-classmate of mine).
Meanwhile Abigail, fearing (as do all political wives) that the campaign, if failed, would leave them with a mountain of debt, got her brother, Steve Quigley, to take a leave as commissioner of administration for the state of Minnesota and try to curb the licentious over-spending going on in the chaotic McCarthy campaign. One item: speech-writer Richard Goodwin left his hotel in New Hampshire without checking out and, to make matters worse, forgot his rented car which was in a public garage, remaining there for weeks while drawing huge bills from Hertz. With McCarthys concurrence, Finney decided to see if he could make a deal with Hubert to stop Bobby, reasoning that if Hubert changed his views on Vietnam, McCarthy could support him and they would gang up on Bobby and McCarthy would wait to `72 for another shot. McCarthy seemed amenable because he was getting tired.
Humphrey was not interested, as it turned out. But on a plane to Oregon, McCarthy, so tired he started talking dizzily, told some media people he might in fact actually get out if Hubert changed his tune on Vietnam. Then he faced an incipient rebellion from his staff in Oregonso he decided to make a big speech at San Franciscos Cow Palace to set the record straight.
Gene McCarthy as Forerunner of Ron Paul.
In that speech of 40 years ago, McCarthy sounded very much like the current Ron Paul and argued that Vietnam grew out of a systematic misconception of Americas role in the world that had developed since World War II. He assailed Hubert Humphrey for /assuming Americas moral mission in the world; the great threat of China; the theory of monolithic Communist conspiracy; the susceptibility of political problems to military solutions; the duty to impose American idealism upon foreign cultures, especially in Asiaall these myths and misconceptions, so damaging in their consequences have had, I must say, the enthusiastic support of the vice president.
McCarthy got an enthusiastic reception for that speech, particularly in Oregon. Citing Bobbys prediction that he would leave the campaign if he didnt win in Oregon, McCarthy saw the percentages now running in his favor in the state due to his neo-isolationist stand and said, Bobby has threatened to hold his breath unless the people of Oregon vote for him. Bobby was campaigning with his dog Freckles and Astronaut John Glenn. Gene scoffed at this, found out that Bobby with Glenn and Freckles would be at the Portland Zoo one Sunday and challenged Kennedy in full view of the cameras. Kennedy fled the confrontation as McCarthys aides, led by Eller, yelled chicken!
Fifteen minutes after the polls closed in Oregon, McCarthy knew he had won the primary which would be his second great victory of 1968. He got 43.9% to Kennedys 37 %. Johnson and Hubert had involuntary write-ins, Johnson 12.4% and Humphrey less than 1%. From the end of the Oregon primary to the beginning of the California primary in early June, it looked to some observers that McCarthy, not Kennedy, would command the pro-peace turf.
With Californias primary set for June 4, a national television debate between McCarthy and Kennedy was scheduled for Saturday afternoon June 1. Kennedy seemed on the ropes, doggedly saying that Hubert was the front-runner. McCarthy scared his staff stiff by spending hours when he should have been prepping for the debate with dissolute but internationally celebrated U.S. poet Robert Lowell, reciting poetry and singing Irish songs along with Blair Clark (by then fully drunk), Jerry Eller and two women from The Little Sisters of the Media, Shana Alexander of Life and Mary McGrory of the Washington Star who later became a temperance advocate.
GOP Candidates Drop Out for Nixon with Wallace Wild Card.
All the while, there was a wildcard running for presidentformer Democratic Alabama governor George Wallace. In 1966 he executed a political coup by evading the one-term limit on the governorship by running his wife Lurleen who won by acclamation. Master of his state and overwhelmingly popular in the South, he decided to run in 1968 as a third party candidate, as one unalterably opposed to desegregation. He threatened to carry all the southern states but had a viable component in northern areas riled by busing and desegregation.
At the same time, the Republican race was becoming simplified. George Romney of Michigan (the governor and father of the current Mitt) made a gigantic gaffe by saying he had been brainwashed by the Pentagon on Vietnam and so lost the confidence of the Republican electorate that he stepped down (Gene McCarthy had the best comment on Romneys brainwashing, saying snidely, George brainwashed? Why, only a light rinse would do). Then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York pulled out, leaving Richard Nixon who while not the favorite of either Goldwater or Rockefeller wings was at least acceptable to both.
So thats the way it was going into the TV debate before California. McCarthy appearing to have the momentum, Bobby down on his luck after losing Oregon, Hubert back in Washington gnawing his knuckles, Lyndon Johnson fearing all this would give the election to Richard Nixon. And Gene, though with no drinking problem, could, still, pour `em down in fine fettle with poet Lowell, born 1917, a Boston Brahmin and descendent of two great poets, James Russell Lowell and Amy Lowell, whose lineage went straight to a signer of the Declaration and earlier than that to Jonathan Edwards. A conscientious objector in World War II, Robert Lowell served three years at Danbury prison in Connecticut. He was a grade A certified alcoholic plus manic-depressive, on wife number 3..
As a the pre-primary biggest contributor to McCarthy with dough supplied by Republicans who wanted to cause mischief in the Democratic partywhich proved out--I called Eller before the California TV debate. When I got him on the phone he had been drinking with Lowell and McCarthy but couldnt keep up. He had recruited Blair Clark to the fray to put a lid on the celebration.
This guy Lowell is ruining all of us, he said. Gene doesnt have a drinking problem but he seems to want to keep up with Lowell in all departmentsreciting poetry and throwing back drinks. I thought Blair would instill discipline but hes babbling wildly and is over-served.
God help us, were his words to me before he hung up. All I can say is that my guy is totally unprepared and working a hangover. Just watch us on TV and say a prayer.