Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Flashback: McCarthy Continues Down the Nihilist Track, Saying it Wouldn’t Be So Bad to Lose an “Unjust War” Verifying the Godfrey Diekmann OSB View…Hubert Becomes the Old Hubert Again...

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

Split from his wife but never to divorce, Gene McCarthy moved from his three-story home across from Washington’s National Cathedral to a $450 a month apartment in a nearby hotel. Their four children continued to live with their mother when not away at school. Abigail was active with Church Women United, an ecumenical liberal group, and served for a time on the board of the Dreyfus corporation headed by Howard Stein who was a major funder of McCarthy’s presidential campaign. She began writing her autobiography. In 1970, Gene was sent on a three-nation South American trip by a foundation to meet with governmental, civic and business leaders. When he came back after eleven days he held a news conference in the Old Senate Office Building’s caucus room, the place where he announced his presidential candidacy, and said he noticed nothing new about the Nixon policy anent Vietnam. “If the president does have a new policy, he should tell us what it is. If he has a secret policy that he cannot tell us about, as in the campaign, he must run the risk of criticism while carrying it out.”

McCarthy Embraces U. S. Defeat: A First.

Then in a little-noticed event (October 15, 1970 the same day as a giant peace moratorium in Washington), McCarthy delivered a speech at Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ that formally broke with earlier elements of the peace movement to embrace non-patriotism, or as he might say, non-chauvinism. Heretofore the movement had embraced the idea of withdrawal from Vietnam as a kind of declaration of victory, leaving Vietnam to itself. Now McCarthy formally embraced U. S. defeat. Speaking to more than 4,000, McCarthy criticized Nixon for saying he would not be the first president to preside over the military defeat of America. Then he said—and this is an historic rupture with the past: “None of us feel history would be badly served if Richard Nixon did preside over the first military defeat of this country.” The comment evoked a one-minute long standing ovation. This was the beginning so far as I can ascertain of a downturn from patriotism on the part of the Left. Before this speech, pro-peace people wanted us to pull out of Vietnam. With this speech, the more radical of them echoed McCarthy saying (in some cases) the U.S. as a kind of war criminal deserved to be defeated. A whole new generation was spawned by the McCarthy speech at Rutgers. In a very real sense it was the birth of a new breed of Left which owes fealty to global peace, lassitude and anti-poverty rather than national self-interest. McCarthy, ever his enigmatic self, deviated on occasion from this view but his pronouncement of it at Rutgers was a turning-point.

He then said that he doubted without a “reform mechanism,” the Democratic party could mount a satisfactory opposition to the war. Thus, he said, “if party procedures are not reformed, both in the Democratic and Republican party, I anticipate that a third or fourth party will develop on the liberal side with the same strength and thrust that the George Wallace party had on the conservative side in 1968.” He told a television interviewer that he questioned whether he could be useful to the Democratic party in the future, saying “it is a little like they say with Lazarus when he came back from the dead. They didn’t want to deal him into the card game. They said, `Look, we don’t play with you any more. We don’t know what you’re up to.’” (This is really a funny parody. It’s not biblically based but McCarthy’s conjecture of what possibly happened after Lazarus was raised. I smile at this whenever I think of it).

Hubert: the Rebirth of the Intensely Political Man.

If McCarthy became the spokesman for a brooding, enigmatic anti-establishment, anti-U.S. view, Hubert Humphrey was not so complicated. Always the peppery corner pharmacist, he grew tired of teaching at Macalester and grew tired of consulting with the Encyclopedia Britannica people even if the pay was excellent. He was, after all, not in any sense an intellectual but a pragmatic politician. He put a lot of energy into his plan to run for the Senate in 1970 to replace McCarthy. At a dinner meeting with Jack Germond of the Gannett news service, he admitted he was intoxicated by politics so much that he was like an alcoholic eyeing a fresh drink. He denied he was thinking of running for president in 1972, saying first-things-first (the Senate in 1970) but he talked about having Ted Kennedy run with him for vice president to rehab Kennedy after Chappaquiddick.

At first he advocated a unified front on Vietnam with Nixon (and met with President Nixon for an hour on the issue). He was appalled at Nixon’s and Kissinger’s anger at the peace movement but held his tongue. He looked at his having lost six states in the South that JFK had carried and privately warned that the Dems should avoid looking like McCarthy, McGovern, John Kenneth Galbraith and Gloria Steinem. But he didn’t know, frankly, how to unify the party. Instead he said the hell with it and resolved to let events decide. He announced for the Senate on June 13, 1970 and did not rule out seeking the presidency again. He faced a black radical, Earl Craig, a University of Minnesota instructor, for the nomination: Craig having been active in McCarthy’s campaign and beat him in September easily—by 250,000 votes.

Minnesota Republicans nominated Rep. Clark MacGregor who represented the tony Minneapolis suburbs. The left-tilting Minneapolis “Tribune” editorially sensed a drift to the right by Hubert which he indignantly denied. He easily defeated MacGregor by 220,000 votes or nearly 59% of the vote in an election where the DFL elected the nation’s youngest governor, 37-year-old Wendell Anderson. So Hubert returned to the Senate. Never before had a former majority whip, vice president and presidential candidate returned as a freshman senator. He was sworn in on Jan. 21, 1971 as the new junior senator from Minnesota, the oldest of 10 freshmen. He had been 17th in seniority when he became vice president. Now he was 92nd. He settled in Gene McCarthy’s former suite in the Old Senate Office building. He found it somewhat discomfiting to be a new kid after all his earlier service. He wanted Appropriations as a committee assignment but got the ones he had when he was a freshman in 1949—government operations, agriculture and joint economics. He hoped to get a larger staff befitting his having been vice president but he didn’t: the staff was only a fourth of his veep staff. He had a big speech to deliver on the first day by Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the whip, stuck to the 15-minute rule.

He was in the habit of coming up with ideas and having a Humphrey amendment to this or that but times had changed. In the old days a Humphrey amendment would be swiftly prepared. Now he staff would tell him, “Hubert there’s already an amendment like this submitted.” “Goddamnit, I want my own!” he’d say. “See to it!” Then as a freshman his proposals would get short-shrift in the media. He wanted to get a group of House members to support his idea of a national health insurance plan, which he had first suggested 20 years earlier, but a bipartisan group sniffed at it and decided to go with a similar bill introduced by Ted Kennedy.

I met with him at this time, as a lobbyist for Quaker Oats. He said, “Tom, don’t ask me to do anything for you because I don’t think there’s a damned thing I can do.” I said: I just stopped by and say hello. Yeah, he said, that’s what everybody else does—say hello. Hubert, I said, is it possible that you can ever be happy? I mean, I’ve known you for 30 years now.

He said, “I was happy when I first came to the Senate.” Oh? “Then I ran into Harry Byrd and was boycotted.” Yes, were you happy then? God, no. I worked myself out of it. Then—then, I wanted to climb the leadership ladder so I ingratiated myself with guys like Lyndon who wasn’t higher in seniority to me but who had the ear of Dick Russell. Now they just buried Dick Russell today, did you hear? Were you happy then as you rose through the hierarchy.

Yeah, I guess so. Then I wanted to be vice president. Were you happy then when you got it? Happy? The worst years of my life except when I was the building super in Minneapolis starting the furnace every morning at 4 a.m. before I’d go to the university. Hubert, I said, I concluded you can’t be completely happy but you love the thrill of the chase.

Yes, he said thoughtfully, I guess so. Did you hear—I have an idea where I can get more staff! I can make a deal with the government ops chairman to have some detailed here. More staff, that’s what I really need!

Not long later a journalist I knew from Minnesota—a writer who was as close to Hubert as Charlie Bartlett was to JFK, a confidant who would never write anything bad about him--popped in and found freshman senator Humphrey disconsolate. What’s the matter, Hubert? Well, said Hubert, you must keep it quiet but Muriel has left me.

“Muriel has left you! WHAT?”

Well, said Hubert, maybe left me isn’t the right word but she’s gone back to Minnesota. We’re in love, of course, but she’s had it with this life. So I knock around in the condo out here all alone at night. Turning 60 and all alone.

The journalist grew worried and when he came back to Minnesota he looked up Muriel.

“Good God, did you LEAVE Hubert?”

She laughed and said: . That’s what he always says when he’s feeling sorry for himself. I told him I’d always be around for him but we have grandchildren now so I want to spend some time with them. Let me tell you about Hubert which I learned after more than 30 years of marriage. He gets up in the morning and says he has so much work that nobody can help him with, he doesn’t know what to do. HE ENJOYS PROBLEMS, you know? He comes home after the Senate, changes his shirt and goes out to a series of events in Washington with visiting firemen, the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the Minnesota Chamber and once again is dreaming of running for president. So I said, “Hubert I’ll always be here for you but I don’t want to hang around in this place at home by myself and I’m sick of banquets with visiting firemen. So you know where I’ll be. I’ll be home with our grandchildren. I’ll come back when I’m ready but I’m 60 years old too and I need to be with family.” Upshot, no family trouble: Hubert was once again feeling sorry for himself, something he innately enjoyed.

1 comment:

  1. New Brunswick, New Jersey, not Connecticut