Sunday, March 16, 2008

Flashback: McCarthy Gears for a 1972 Re-Run, Calling Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young for Support but His Campaign Once Again is Baffling.

[Fifty years of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren[.

Another Inexplicable McCarthy Campaign.

With lots of time on his hands…his main business consisting of picking up honoraria for speeches (I pitched in with university gigs and corporate events)…Gene McCarthy planned a reprise for 1972. Hubert was following the conventional route by running from the Senate. Already McCarthy was missing his Senate seat (he told me “a lot is boring about the job but it has a nice ring to it along with a nice mailing address) but he bestirred himself to telephone Jesse Jackson in Chicago and Andrew Young in Atlanta to see if they were interested in helping. He had come out for the Family Assistance plan which was a guaranteed annual wage. Young became an early enthusiast. He was thinking of running in 1972 himself for Congress from suburban Atlanta and we at Quaker were planning to finance a documentary of the campaign with me as chief writer and producer, aided by Charles Guggenheim productions.

But characteristically, McCarthy intentionally stepped on his own lines. He didn’t launch his campaign with a media-centric announcement of his platform and intentions. Instead on October 25, 1971 he released to the press the text of a letter he was sending out to liberal activists and fund-raisers who supported him in 1968. The letter wasn’t very different at all from his platform in 1968. He criticized the Cold War and national defense buildup…sounding not unlike Ron Paul. He wrote, “the whole militaristic thrust of our foreign policy continues to be…a principal obstacle to significant action to meet the domestic needs of our country: the needs of the poor, of our cities and of our environment.”

The letter got very little attention. It was almost as if McCarthy wanted to downgrade his efforts—something that I have never, ever been able to figure out why. In December, 1971 he filed as a presidential candidate in the Massachusetts primary. His statement to the press: “In Massachusetts, I suppose, I am a candidate.” I suppose? Then he wondered why he wasn’t taken seriously? Weird. So it was hardly surprising that the media gave him less attention than it devoted to Edmund Muskie, then the Democratic front-runner, George McGovern and John Lindsay (who had switched from Republican to Democrat). So he petered…there is no other way to describe it…along.

On December 17, 1971 McCarthy held a news conference in Boston to announce the opening of the “McCarthy for President” office in Massachusetts. He was asked if he was announcing his candidacy. “It’s kind of an announcement, yes,” he said. “I am running now in the Demcoratic party as I did in 1968. But whether or not I support the ultimate candidate will depend on what issues that candidate supports.” He said he would not enter New Hampshire because it is “too expensive, too time-consuming and too cluttered” with other candidates.

On January 5, 1972 standing in a small room next to his office at the Capitol Hill hotel he said his goal was the purification of his party and the cleaning up of the process as much as it was seeking the presidency. He promised to hold other candidates “accountable” for their records and cited Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Me.) who had announced his presidential candidacy the night before and who would be McCarthy’s major opponent in the March 21 Illinois preferential primary. Muskie “was the most active representative of Johnson administration Vietnam policy in Chicago,” said McCarthy. He issued a 9-point program that included immediate end to the Vietnam War and U.S. withdrawal of support to the Thieu anti-communist government of South Vietnam, amnesty for all draft evaders who left the country, an income support program for the poor, a shorter work week so as to make more work available for those who want it (an old McCarthy idea), and what he called “curbing of corporate power.” In addition he specified redirection of national resources away from military expenditure “and highways,” reorganization “of American medical practice,” prison reform and “a firm and unequivocal commitment” to a single system of justice.

As 1972 lengthened as he campaigned in the Wisconsin primary, McCarthy attacked both George McGovern and John Lindsay and gave every indication of embracing a third party candidacy. He received only 115,652 votes there, less than 1% of the total and finished seventh among 11 Democrats. The primary established George McGovern as the new leader of the Democratic Left but a Republican crossover vote put him ahead of Humphrey—otherwise they would have tied. The Republicans crossed over to vote for McGovern viewing, correctly as it turned out, that he would be the easiest for Richard Nixon to defeat..

Humphrey Faces Growing Anti-Vietnam Party.

Meanwhile, Hubert resolved to run in 1972 but it was clear that he had lost the verve and excitement he had enjoyed when he was a somewhat outside liberal in the 1960s. His loyalty to Lyndon Johnson as vice president seemed to be draining the potential supporters from him. Nonetheless he plugged along. Initially he misunderstood his popularity and planned to wait until the California primary in 1972 to enter the race and scoop up a mammoth victory. Now sniffing the atmosphere he knew he had to get in early and fight for the nomination as never before. In September, 1971 he wrote a letter to Pennsylvania Governor George Leader informing him and 50,000 other Democrats from his prior campaigns that he was available. The Steelworkers were signed up although the AFL-CIO was cool. In October his friends gathered in a rally for him at the Minneapolis Radisson hotel and pledged $800,000 for him if he would run—then a sizable amount of money…now just enough to carry one for a few months.

Then Hubert began to travel around the country taking soundings. He had gone to a new tailor and was outfitted in mod 1970s suits. He had gone to a new barber and had a reddish hue applied to his black dyed hair. Already George McGovern had been in the field for a year; Muskie had signed up 16 senators and key Democrats in every state. Hubert turned to organized labor, an old bulwark, and found it had hopped on the Henry Jackson bandwagon. His campaign manager Jack Chestnut who had played a major role in 1968 was on deck. They scrambled for support, picking up the leavings that weren’t accumulated by Muskie, McGovern or Jackson.

This time Hubert put Ben Wattenberg to work on a speech that was to be his stump oration. It was entitled: “Liberalism and `Law and Order’: Must there be a Conflict?” In the speech and a later book produced by Wattenberg, Hubert advised liberals to cool their preoccupation with youth, the poor and blacks and at the very least match it with concern for the middle class, declaring that liberals must fight social disruption and urban violence, must “condemn crime and riots and violence and extreme social turbulence and extreme social imbalance.”

Taken with this message he traveled to 26 states including Alaska but he met resistance. Party leaders loved him but feared he couldn’t win. So Hubert decided to make a real go of it in two primaries, Florida on March 14 and Wisconsin on April 4 to shake the loser’s image. A poll he had taken showed he was ahead of all Democratic candidates except Ted Kennedy who because of Chappaquiddick wasn’t running but whose name was still very popular. For sentimental reasons he chose Philadelphia for his announcement since it was at Philadelphia in 1948 that he electrified the nation with his civil rights fight and changed the character of the Democratic party forever. He announced there on January 10, the deadline for entering the April 25 Pennsylvania primary with its 182 delegate votes. At 11 a.m. on January 10, 1972 he announced for the presidency for the third time.

The Florida primary brought him bad news. He won only 19% of the vote and finished far behind George Wallace who led with 42%. But there were good signs. Muskie had showed serous weakness as a campaigner, getting only 9% and finishing fourth behind Henry Jackson. In Wisconsin McGovern came in first due to an orchestrated Republican crossover (other Republicans went for Wallace). Hubert came in third with 21%, behind Wallace with 22%. McCarthy’s low 1% result led him to decide to go either independent or third party.

Now it appeared to be Humphrey vs. McGovern. At this crucial juncture Hubert was low on money and had to fly to Manhattan with his finance director to sit down with a wealthy backer and take a $150,000 loan to meet payroll, pay hotel bills and continue to fly the campaign airplane. He got the loan but nothing more and thus had to concede New York’s 278 delegates to McGovern. He scraped enough together to campaign in Ohio and carried it! He was ecstatic. McGovern was the front-runner and Hubert number two. Both winged to California for the showdown, with McGovern tallying 900 delegate votes in Miami and Hubert 760 with 1,509 needed to win the nomination.

McGovern who had been a Hubert understudy was now flush with money. McGovern pictured himself as the voice of change…where have we heard that before…and Hubert shrewdly decided to represent the corporate, big labor traditional interests of the party. Hubert agreed to throw some hard punches at McGovern but he was worried.

Not worried that he couldn’t beat McGovern but he faced an old bugaboo—one that ruined him in West Virginia against JFK and that curtailed him in 1968 against Nixon: a dearth of money. Somehow the liberal Left of the party had the money now with the ideologues exuberant that with McGovern they could get change. Hubert would have to find some rich sugar daddies in a hurry in order to cream McGovern in California and win the nomination.

The McGovern Commission Rolls on in the Dark.

All this while during 1971 and early `72, Hubert kept a wary eye on the unfolding of the original work of the McGovern commission, the commission set up to “reform” delegate selection for the 1972 convention and beyond. There is no better study made of the evolving turbulence that has continued to bedevil the Democratic party from that time to now…with the baffling machinations between the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama forces…than a book published early this year which I have used and continue to use as a pretext to the misguided “reforms.” It is entitled “Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party” by journalist Mark Stricherz [Encounter: 2008]. Stricherz researched and wrote the work uner grants from the Phillips Foundation in Washington and the LBJ Foundation at the University of Texas. He appeared on my radio program to talk about it yesterday (Sunday, March 16, 2008).

Radical reformer Eli Segal was the executive director and one Hubert and his staff had particular concern about. Segal was pretending that the commission was drawing up guidelines after consulting with Democratic party leaders across the nation. Actually, behind the scenes Segal was dealing particularly with his close friends from the McCarthy campaign who were to become prominent in Illinois Democratic politics—Wayne Whalen and John Schmidt. They were given the assignment to ponder what would happen if state parties resisted the commission’s guidelines. He and Ken Bode the commission’s director of research wanted state parties to adopt proportional representation. Very important was the fact that with the Democratic party strapped for funds after the 1968 presidential campaign, the Commission relied largely on left-wing money from Hollywood. After a few stories about the divisive nature of the work of the commission, the media forgot about it and Segal and others worked on as they wished to—in the dark where they could accomplish their ends more easily.

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