Thursday, February 14, 2008

Flashback: The Final Days of the Campaign—So Temptingly Close for Hubert.


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

Although a political man from the tufts of white hair on my head to the soles of my feet, I have always discouraged any talk of my own possible candidacy, did so with my kids…and will do the same with my grandchildren. I think, however, participating in campaigns is an exhilarating experience but if you get too close and believe winning is everything, you can endanger your soul. As did I believe all the Nixonians from the presidential candidate himself down through John Mitchell and including my idol Walter Judd to Mme. Chennault herself.

Those who worked feverishly on this plot to reject the LBJ-sponsored peace talks had elevated political leverage uppermost, believing that the peace under the LBJ terms would have been dishonorable. But by interfering in the process, they violated U.S. law and contributed greatly to continued carnage of our troops and the populace of Vietnam with the result that when peace came in 1975 it was as disadvantageous. It is hard to estimate but probably 15,000 U.S. lives were taken between the torpedoed peace talks in 1968 and when peace actually came—at no significant improvement in conditions in 1975. There comes a time when partisanship asks too much and it did so as I witnessed it in 1968. I fully expect others who have a much different view will correspond about it.

As the Humphrey campaign wound down to election day, November 5, 1968 there were agonizing omens of Hubert’s possible success. When the campaign began, California had been written off for Humphrey but now a statewide poll showed Nixon’s lead had dropped from 14 points to one. The reason was Nixon’s entirely unappealing personality and his contrived, mechanical man approach to politics that showed he was a fish out of water. Once he saw the California poll Hubert began to believe that he could carry it so with the money flowing in at last, he began a 4-hour $300,000 telethon (big money in those days) in ABC’s Los Angeles television studio just twelve miles away from where Nixon was holding a similar telethon. Hubert took calls without screening as did his running mate Ed Muskie where Nixon, the consummate mechanical man, took carefully screened calls fed to him by Bud Wilkinson.

The Humphrey telethon ended on an up note. He had traveled more than 98,000 miles and visited 136 cities in 36 states. After the telethon he partied at the home of a supporter, former U.S. Protocol Chief Lloyd Hand attended by 300 friends, aides, politicians and movie stars. At 2:30 a.m. he board his charted Boeing 727 to return to Minnesota to vote.

He drove directly from the Minneapolis airport to the Marysville township hall, a tiny white frame building a mile from his Waverly home where he and Muriel marked their paper ballots and dropped them into a green ballot box. Then they went home to have breakfast, grab some much needed sleep. In the afternoon while Muriel went to get her hair done, Hubert drove to the village of nearby Buffalo, Minn. to drop off a suit at the cleaners and grab a hot chocolate at a local restaurant. That evening he and Muriel were driven through a snow flurry to the Leamington Hotel in downtown Minneapolis where he pushed through a mob of admirers and made his way to a 14th floor suite to watch the returns on three television sets.

By the time he got there, CBS had reported that he was 600,000 votes ahead, had carried New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan and was catching up to Nixon in electoral vote projections. But Larry O’Brien was not enthusiastic. Humphrey was falling behind in all but one states with a total of 140 electoral votes—California (40), Illinois (40), Ohio (40), Texas (25), New Jersey (17) and Missouri (12). His only hope now was that George Wallace would through his candidacy prevent Nixon from winning a majority of the 270 electoral votes and throw it into the House. But in the next hour Nixon moved up in all six states except Texas. O’Brien called New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes and asked if he was sure all the returns were in. Hughes: “Larry, that’s it.” O’Brien to himself: “Yeah, that’s it is right.” Losing New Jersey was the biggest shock to O’Brien. Now Hubert would have to depend on Ohio, Illinois and California.

Richard J. Daley had not pulled out all the stops in Illinois. He had bigger fish to fry than the presidency: that was to keep the environs of Cook free from prosecution and to accept a dour Republican governor who would be more inclined to support Chicago than his reformist Democratic predecessor. Thus there was no frenzy of crusade in Chicago politics for Hubert. Nor had Cleveland turned out enough votes to guarantee Ohio. Missouri fell. Hubert went down to the ballroom and gave no hint that he knew of the pending disaster. He went to be in the suite saying to Muriel and O’Brien, “well, the American people will find they have just elected a paper-mache man.” When he awoke at 8:45 a.m. Illinois and California were lost. Nixon had won 31,770,000 votes or 43.4% to Hubert’s 31,270,000 or 42.7% to Wallace’s 9,906,000 or 13.5%. Greeting the media in his Senate office with a book of Yeats’ poetry in hand, Gene McCarthy said “it’s a day for visiting the sick and burying the dead. It’s grey everywhere, all over the land.” Hearing that Good Friday, ashes and penance requiem, Humphrey said to Muriel, “that son of a bitch.”

The man who stalled his endorsement until the last minute when it was worth very little added: “If he had said a month ago what he said last week, he would have won.” That was a slippery attempt to get off the hook which prompted Hubert to repeat himself with the explective. Sardonic and wry to the end, Gene dismissed the media and read to himself in his somber office like a monk.

Abigail had no comment. She loved Muriel, loved Lady Bird although was suspicious of the Kennedys. She had never agreed with Gene’s resistance to endorsing Hubert early and felt their marriage was teetering. This was indeed a cold, frosty man she had married, one whom, as it turned out, she never fully understood. He was drifting away, spending much time with the Little Sisters of the Media, particularly Marya McLaughlin of CBS and frankly although it surprised her to examine her feelings about it, Abigail didn’t give much of a damn.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing- All these political stiffs, and not a one interested in our Country, just themselves-

    Is it the same today?