Friday, February 29, 2008

Flashback: Humphrey on McCarthy and on Misguided “Reform.”

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

In 1970 after having been fired by Richard Nixon (which has risen higher on my resume as the years progress) and having served as number 3 in the Peace Corps in charge of public relations and winning approval for its budget, I returned to Quaker to re-assume my duties as director of its government relations, social responsibility and community relations functions. I was promoted and was put in charge of its PAC (political action committee). At an executive committee meeting of the company, the CEO said this:

“Now as you know there is no requirement for anyone to give to this PAC that Roeser is heading up. As a matter of fact it is against the law to make it a requirement or to suggest, even subliminally, that by not giving anyone would be disadvantaged in his job. Let me make this clear.”

Everyone looked up at the ceiling.

“On the other hand, if you don’t understand that everything the government does affects this company and others like it, you don’t understand this business. We process food which is dependent on agriculture which is affected by government. We safeguard the integrity of our product which is overseen by the Food and Drug administration which is a government agency, the nature of which changes through appointments by every administration, with regulations that can either drive us crazy or regulations we can and must adapt to. We advertise on television to the tune of billions of dollars, television watched over by the FCC. Our economic security is under the purview of the SEC. Our employment practices are judged by the EEOC. Our plants in 32 states of this Union are regulated by the Labor Department and OSHA. We manufacture toys with the Fisher-Price company and Marx toys which are zealously watched by the Consumer Product Safety commission. The other day we wanted to bring an executive in to run our toy division. He was an overseas national and we had to get him a passport super-quickly and we had to rely on help from our congressional friends because the goddamned State Department was taking too long. Why am I telling you this?”

Everyone looked at themselves, winking: why?

“Because as good Quakers you should understand how important government is to us. Now in this free system of elections, campaigns cost money. Lots of money. The system this country has embraced since its founding is that people voluntarily—and I stress voluntarily—give money to candidates, good candidates, so that good men and women will run. You should no more decline to give money voluntarily to good candidates than you should decline to vote. God knows organized labor has a requirement that extracts dues involuntarily that are put to the disposal of union stewards who see that the money is given largely to one party. We executives don’t belong to a union here. But we have an obligation to voluntarily—and I stress voluntarily—give to the PAC Roeser runs.

“Now let me tell you something. Some of you have been coming to him trying to earmark your money to see that he gives it to your own suburban congressman or somebody like that which is a quick and easy way to avoid giving on your own. He will not do that. His job for which I hold him accountable is to be sure that your voluntarily given contributions go to men and women who are outstanding candidates of both parties—not just Republican—who will take into account the fact that our company must survive in a dog-eat-dog world. So don’t go running to him to say that you want PAC money to go to some guy in Winnetka who is a sure-bet to be elected anyhow. That’s not how PACs are supposed to work. To tell you how they’re supposed to work and how this one will work, let me call on him now.”

So I told them that giving is VOLUNTARY, number one. Number two, the Congress was controlled by Democrats so don’t be stunned out of your wits if we give some money to Democrats who are our friends. Like for instance, I intend to give a hefty contribution to Hubert Humphrey who is running for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota, having been vice president of the United States. Don’t come whining to me that you’re a Republican and you can’t understand why your money is going to this candidate or that candidate. This is not a Republican front. This PAC is designed to be bipartisan. We are passing out a recommendation—a mere recommendation, not binding—of how much people should give to the PAC. About a half of one percent of your annual income including bonus. If you don’t want to do it, if you want to pass it up entirely, you can do so and there will be no disadvantage to you. This is NOT COMPULSORY. Everyone understand this?”

Everyone nodded and looked at the ceiling as the slips were passed out.

After question time, I went back to my office and the checks started rolling in—VOLUNTARILY. A guy came in and said, “I didn’t want to bring it up at the meeting but--.”


“My congressman, who represents my suburb, is an outstanding defender of the free market system. A good Republican. Were he to leave the House, it would be a tragedy.”

What’s his name? He told me. “He’s my Congressman. A solid Republican district. He only has token opposition.”

He said: “Well, you can’t be too sure. This could be a Democratic year.”

Tell you what.


I suggest you give to him personally. I do.

“Would I get the same credit as giving to the PAC then?

No. Giving to the PAC is your choice.

“I mean--.”

I know what you mean and the answer is no.


What did we say in the meeting earlier today?

Okay. I just thought I’d try.

Nice try.


Since former vice president, former longtime senator and now once again a first-termer Hubert was on the Ag committee but with a lot more influence than any other first-termer, I made out our PAC check for his campaign committee, tucked it in my file along with the others. The next time I went to Washington, I called him, said I had a check for his campaign. The rules said you can’t give it to him in his congressional office so we met at the Carroll Arms hotel, across the street from his office at 3 p.m. When I got there the bar was all but empty. He was sitting at a table with an iced tea looking at a sheaf of papers. I gave him the check—maximum for a PAC, $5,000.

“Very nice,” he said. “You and I have gone a long way. I once tried to hire you. I’m glad I didn’t. You were always too Republican anyhow which I didn’t perceive at the time—but, but look at this, you could never give me five grand if you were working for me.”

Very true, Hubert. (I didn’t tell him that I had collected money for Gene McCarthy from various non-Quaker sources in the early primary days and gave it to Blair Clark which gave Gene a leg up in New Hampshire).

What are these papers you’re looking at?

“I’ll tell you. You want an iced tea or something stronger? I’m buying.”

Iced tea.

“What I’m looking at here is a breakdown of votes that my campaign manger Jack Chestnut provided for me—votes going back through history. You’re Catholic so this will interest you. Look at this: massive support from Catholics for Democrats in all the presidential elections from Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden, Al Smith, FDR, Harry Truman and John Kennedy. Catholics gave a majority of their votes to Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. See here?” and he led my finger over to a column of votes.

No surprise.

“Why have Democrats been successful? Simple reason and I reason I can’t say in public. The New Deal and Roosevelt coalition, the electoral alliance of white Southerners, northern Catholics, Negroes (after FDR’s second term), intellectuals, laborers. There are inconsistencies of course. White southerners and Negroes, intellectuals and laborers some of whom can hardly read. Now take a look here” and he pulled out another sheaf of papers.

“This is the pre-New Deal era from 1896 to 1928. Terrible. Now this is what I noticed when I ran against Nixon in `68. As I traveled around, although I damn near won, I could sense that the principal force that was breaking up the New Deal coalition was the Negro socioeconomic revolution and the remainder of the FDR coalition’s inability to deal with it. We in the Johnson administration aligned ourselves with so many Negro demands that we triggered conservative opposition among other parts of the New Deal coalition from the South, the West and Catholics. Lookit here, Mississippi and Alabama didn’t give us a single presidential elector since 1960 while at the same time, many northern states like your Illinois and Michigan voted Republican out of racial concerns. The overall white vote as you will see here and here and here didn’t go Democratic in 1964 or in 1968 with me. Now lookit here.” He unfolded another sheet.

“This is Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania. We carried this county every time since 1932 but do you see how the margin is trailing off? Now here is West Virginia. This heavy white state has consistently gone Democratic but do you see the falloff? There’s going to be a time if things go this way that Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will go Republican.”

What does that tell you, Hubert?

“It tells me a very politically unpalatable truth. That we in the Democratic party are going beyond our base and are losing the FDR coalition that elects us. Frankly, I think we have done all we can for the Negro. The 1964 bill I passed and the one we passed in 1967 were sufficient. The major gains now will come from the Courts. But we have to retrench. So the retrenchment shouldn’t have to come from pulling back on civil rights. It has to come from cutting back on all the other exotic liberal things that our younger friends in the Democratic party espouse—abortion rights for example. You start losing the blue-collars, the Catholics and we’re up the creek without a paddle.”

Where do you see the danger?

“When we had all the trouble with seating Negro delegates in 1964, we—the Democratic party—set up a reform commission. First it was run by Dave Lawrence, the mayor of Pittsburgh. Good man. But he died in 1966. Then we had all this trouble with Gene and his people. He won some primaries but the rules concerning delegates weren’t tied to the primaries. Now there is a great push in the offing. Another so-called reform commission to be headed by McGovern. You know what this means?”

He didn’t wait for me to say no.

“The very insurgents have a heavy representation. You know how many on the Commission represent organized labor? One. One! You know where this could lead? It could lead to the gradual elimination of people from the party councils—the mayors, people like Chicago’s Jack Arvey who is 73 years old, people who have won for us all the time. The McGovern commission is turning this political party, a great party, into a goddamn left-wing movement, that’s what they’re doing. Don’t quote me.”

And I didn’t. Until now.

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