Monday, February 4, 2008
Flashback: Huberts 2nd Greatest FeatConverting a Sure-Thing Election Debacle to a Photo Finish, Nixon, 43.4%, Humphrey 42.7% with 13.5% for George Wallace. Before That Was Attained, it was Hell on Earth. See You in Salt Lake!
[More than 50 years of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].
Hubert Humphreys greatest feat was, as a lowly Minneapolis mayor, to convert a segregationist, stand-pat Democratic party, a haven for southern Bilbos and haters on race to a progressive one with one speech at the convention of 1948 (chasing the South out which nevertheless solidified northern liberals). The country was changed dramatically and the two parties reshaped themselves because of it.
If that was his signal feat and a dramatic success, certainly a secondary one (and a defeat) involved taking his presidential campaign of 1968 then a total debacle and moving it to near victory by less than one percentage point with little money, despite the disapproval of his president and the media and the refusal of Gene McCarthy, once his friend, to reconcile. How did Hubert do it? Here was the staccato drum roll of bad news that he with Herculean effort almost overcame:
1. Gene McCarthy returned from a 10-day vacation on the French Riviera on Sept. 27, 1968 to declare flatly that he had no intention of endorsing Humphrey. He said he would campaign only for Senate candidates who shared his views on the war and reform but he saw no sign that Humphrey had changed his position on the war.
2. On the same day Gallup announced that he now trailed Nixon by 15
points and led George Wallace by only 7.
3. Before the day ended, he was subjected to another humiliation when
In the middle of a speech to students from Reed College and Portland State University in Portland Oregon, several hundred stormed out shouting Stop the war! and picketed his hotel that night.
Larry, he said on the long distance phone to his campaign manager Larry OBrien, a holdover from JFK, Ive decided I got to cut the tie with Johnson no matter how mad he gets. I need some dough to go on television. I need a half hour on one network.
Hubert, said OBrien, I think youre right but theres absolutely no money to buy the time. Youre talking $100,000 now and I dont have it and no prospect of raising it.
Hubert hung up and called Frederic J. (Freddie) Gates, a Minneapolis penny arcade owner with a grey reputation and a facility for rustling up money quickly if people didnt ask too many questions about where he got it. Campaign disclosure rules werent as rigid then as they are now. Hubert and Gates talked a long time about how the money would be obtained and how it could be hidden from questionable sources. No loose ends, he said. No loose ends, Gates replied. Goddamn it, Freddie, you gotta get it. Ill get it. How much? You said $100,000 didnt you Hubert? Yeah. $100,000 you shall have. When you need it? Monday next week. Monday next week it is.
He called OBrien and OBrien said I gotta have the dough first before theyll sell it to me. Youll get it. When? When Freddie calls me. Next week? Yeah. Okay, Ill start the negotiations. But Hubertwhat are you gonna say? Larry goddamnit I gotta write it. As soon as I do Ill send it to you. Make the commitments for the time. You understand they wont hold the time if I dont have the money. I dont have the money yet. Well, I think I can cut a deal where theyll hold the time in their back pocket but as soon as you get the money tell me. Okay.l
So he sat down and began to write the speech. He looked at his watch. He had to catch a plane for Seattle for a speech. What to do? He called George Ball, who had just resigned as UN ambassador, put him in touch with his office and had him consort with Ted Van Dyk of his campaign on a speech. Take what you have and meet me in Seattle tomorrow, Hubert said. On the plane to Seattle, Ball read the draft and hated it. Scribbling on the tray table he wrote his own version. When he got to Seattle he found Hubert had done the same thing on his plane. They had two drafts. In the Seattle airport Hubert got some scotch tape and pasted the parts together and had it wired to OBrien. On the way to the speech in Seattle at the Seattle Arena, he got a call from OBrien in his vice presidents car that the speech was no good. Hubert, said OBrien, listen to methe speech stinks. Its not worth $100,000 that it costs to televise it nationally. If thats all youre going to say, youre going to lose. Take it from me! And Im heartily sorry you got me into this mess! Im going to quit!.
Okay-okay, said Hubert. Larry, calm down. Dont quit. Sit down and dictate what you think would be good and Ill get back to you. For now dont quit. I have to get out of here and make a speech.
Huberts car stopped before the Seattle Arena where there were at least a thousand pickets and demonstrators. Mr. Vice President, said the Secret Service, we cant let you go out there, theyll kill you. Well, said Hubert, maybe thatd get me some good press at last. Open the goddamn doors and Im getting out.
Fighting the crowd while the Secret Service linked arms to let him get in the Arena, Hubert, who was supposed to introduce Sen. Warren Magnuson (D-Wash.), found the man known as Maggie who shouted in his ear Hubert, lets get the hell out of here! Well be killed! No, said Hubert, Im going to introduce you.
He got up on the stage and started when a gigantic bullhorn reared up out of the crowd and a voice said, MR. HUMPHREY! IN VIETNAM THERE IS A SCREAM THAT DOES NOT END!
Yes, yes, said Hubert. Im listening. Go ahead.
Im getting the hell out of here, said Magnuson. Bye Hubert.
Now there were boos from the crowd, one portion that wanted the bullhorn to be silenced.
No-no, said Hubert. One set of bad manners is enough. Well keep quiet. Were going to let this fellow talk! Go ahead!
Bullhorn: IN VIETNAM THERE IS A SCREAM THAT DOES NOT END. THERE IS A WOUND THAT DOES NOT CEASE ITS BLEEDING. IM TALKING ABOUT THE SCREAM OF DEATH AND THE WOUND OF WAR. WHY IS THE SCREAM BEING HEARD IN VIETNAM BY OUR SOLDIERS AND INNOCENT VIETNAMESE PEOPLE? BECAUSE IT IS NOT A WAR FOR DEMOCRACY BUT A WAR THAT SUPPORTS A PUPPET GOVERNMENT WHERE THE NO. 2 MAN HAS SAID HIS HERO IS ADOLF HITLER! YOU HAVE SUPPORTED THIS MAN! YOU HAVE SUPPORTED JOHNSON. YOU HAVE SUPPORTED THIS NEEDLESS SWAR, THIS MURDER. WE HAVE NOT COME TO TALK WITH YOU, HUMPHREY, WE HAVE COME TO ARREST YOU! YOU HAVE CAUSED THE POLICE BRUTALITY!
Humphrey: There is no police brutality here!
Bullhorn: WHAT ABOUT THE POLICE BRUTALITY IN CHICAGO?
Humphrey: This is not Chicago. This is Seattle. Shut up!
Bullhorn: HUMPHREY, YOU ARE BEING ACCUSED NOW OF COMPLICITY IN THE DEATHS OF TENS OF THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF VIETNAMESE. THIS IS NOT A JOKE TO US, IT IS NOT A PLOY! THIS IS SERIOUS. WE CHARGE YOU WITH CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY. THEY DID NOT ESCAPE. YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE. WILL YOU COJE TO STAND TRIAL BEFORE THE WORLD, BEFORE THE UNITED NATIONS? DO YOU DARE TO DO THAT? DO YOU DARE TO STAND FORTH BEFORE THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD AND LET THEM TRY YOU?
Humphrey: Are you through, sir?
Bullhorn: I HAVE ONLY BEGUN BUT FOR THE MOMENT ILL BE QUIET.
A scuffle broke out between the bullhorn guy and people who wanted him to continue and others who wanted him to shut up. The Secret Service raced in as Magnuson raced out. Battling, slugging while the crowd shouted Dump the Hump! It took a half hour but the demonstrators were ejected. Humphrey began his speech:
I hope my campaign has not peaked too soon! The remark was dry irony worthy of Harold McMillan. Huberts speech was a plea for rationality. A modest applause.
At the Portland hotel, he called Freddie Gates. How ya doin, Freddie! I got half of it said Gates. Other half tomorrow. Good. See me tomorrow night in Salt Lake City, the Utah Hotel. Dont come if you dont have the dough.
Gotcha, said Gates. Ill have it. Dont ask me how--.
Forget it, Freddie. Be there.
Hubert called OBrien. I got a hold on the time, said OBrien. But I gotta see you on this speech. Where do we get together? The Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City tomorrow night, said Hubert. Bring(and he listed a few). Listen, said OBrien, were booking people on credit cards which we cant pay but well be thereall 14 of us. Me, Fred Harris, Van Dyk, Connell, Jim Rowe. But listen to me, Hubert. I say you break with Johnson or its all overall over for me and for you, got it? Sorry to be unpleasant.
Larry, said Hubert, after what Ive been through today, theres no unpleasantness. None at all. See you tomorrow in Salt Lake.