Friday, April 4, 2008

Flashback: Hubert Prepares for 1976 Race for the Presidency. McCarthy Plans to Run as an Independent, Challenges Legality of 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act in Supreme Court.

[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].
For the First Time, Humphrey Falters Over a Decision to Run.

The more he and his advisers thought about it, 1976 seemed like it could be the Democrats’ year—and Humphrey’s. In January, 1975 he assumed chairmanship of a committee he could make into a newsmaker: the Joint Economic Committee. In the past it had been a dusty repository of economic statistics because it was not a legislative committee—but it had the potential of commanding news media attention. Hubert shrewdly tailored it to modern media adaptation. He took it on the road and held hearings on everything from medical care to energy. For Hubert it was a natural. Here he had come to Washington proposing to hike Social Security benefits to $50 per month for which he was called a far-left liberal spendthrift. He was the father of Medicare and food stamps. Now he introduced a bill known as “Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Natural Growth Act” that ordered for the first time that national goals should be oriented to this objective.

On the road he went, answering conservatives who feared government had become too big by saying “only a government that is big and strong can possibly stand up against the powerful corporate interests that control our economy.” First, decorously, he suggested that his colleague, Walter Mondale, run for president. But Mondale declined saying he had no liking for the primary ordeal, “all those nights in Holiday Inns.” Now after Watergate there were few alternatives in sight except Hubert. Ted Kennedy was still licking his wounds from Chappaquiddick, McGovern was a dead letter, Ed Muskie was too. Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson of Washington was viable and probably Hubert’s big threat. Still, Hubert was better known than Scoop. And Watergate had sent Republicans into disrepute. Hubert’s stock began to rise. News media and politicians began to call him and talk about him. George McGovern came to him to propose a Humphrey-McGovern ticket in 1976 to unify the party. President Gerald Ford publicly suggested that Humphrey would be his opponent in 1976.

The major contender was an unknown—former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer. Hubert held back. He didn’t have to go through the primary route, he thought: he was too well known and could wait for the convention to pick him. Then Carter started out by taking the Iowa caucuses where he, ambiguously, convinced conservatives he was pro-life. Then he carried Florida. He won Illinois (Richard J. Daley hated Hubert and kept his hands off) and defeated Jackson in Pennsylvania. Suddenly “Jimmy Who?” became a media phenomenon. Old-line liberal Democratic regulars told Hubert that he was needed to enter the New Jersey primary on June 6 and beat Carter. Then the nomination would be his.

Hubert aid he would make his decision known by April 30, 1976, Two party regulars (then regarded as moderates), Joe Crangle, party chairman of New York and Congressman Paul Simon of Illinois, became his co-chairmen. Crangle reported to Humphrey that he would win New Jersey 2 to 1. Humphrey booked the big Senate Caucus room where John Kennedy and others had announced for the announcement for 11:30 a.m. April 30. Day in and day out Hubert talked with his wife, Muriel. She told him that they didn’t need the aggravation a presidential campaign would bring, but as always if he wanted to do it, she would support it. Humphrey said he wanted it but inside he knew he was fooling himself. He basically wasn’t feeling good about running.
He hadn’t told his doctor he had detected traces of blood in his urine and he didn’t want to think about it. Even before that episode, he had a disturbing feeling in his innards, something he couldn’t explain but which he feared. He wondered how smart it was to go into a race with the possibility that he would have to drop out. He wondered how moral it would be…to run and maybe to win the presidency…and check out with cancer. He would have to pass up running for reelection to the Senate in 1976 in Minnesota where reelection was a sure-thing. If he ran for president and lost and he came down with cancer and had no Senate, nothing to do, what would happen to his psyche? He pondered.

There were other things. He had not been deluged with offers of contributions—the old Humphrey bugaboo. Jack Chestnut, his last campaign manager, had gone to jail for financial irregularities and Hubert had him and his wife over for dinner before he left and broke down and wept saying he was the cause of it all, he put so much stress on Chestnut that he broke the law.

On the very day of the announcement when the Caucus Room was filling up with media, cameras and notepad scribblers, Hubert sat at home and finally confronted his wife with his worries. She said: Well, Hubert, it’s a hell of a bad way to start a campaign with these worries. In the past you were straining at the leash. You’re not doing that now. You’re 65. We don’t need it. . Why don’t you scrub it?
So he walked jauntily into the Caucus Room at 11:30. . The cameras turned on and he announced he wasn’t going to run. Among his supporters there arose a great wailing. But Hubert felt good about it. His passing up the run made Carter’s nomination all but inevitable. Carter trumpeted that he was disappointed Hubert didn’t run because he—Carter—was looking forward to trouncing Humphrey in New Jersey. In his dreams. He never would have. But Hubert let it pass. He won renomination in September, 1976 and campaigned in Minnesota joyfully. He was overjoyed when Carter picked Mondale for his vice president. Then on September 27, out stumping in western Minnesota, he went to the bathroom and afterward went to the phone. He was urinating blood badly. This time it was invasive cancer.

Dr. Edgar Berman spent two days going over the details with Hubert as he lay in his hospital room. He’d have to have an ostomy on his abdomen, a bag to void his urine. A big operation and for one of such impeccable cleanliness about himself, a kind of humiliation. He agreed, of course. The operation was performed at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital Center. In a six-hour operation, Dr. Willet Whitmore removed his bladder, an inch-long tumor attached to its base and his prostate. He was left with an external pouch in place of his bladder. His recovery initially was remarkable. But in post-operational tests cancer was again detected in nearby lymph glands. He underwent chemotherapy. On October 30 he was discharged and on November 4, 1976 won his fourth Senate term by more than 800,000 votes.

McCarthy Plans Independent Run for 1976…

Unconcerned about his old colleague Hubert’s well-being or health, the antiseptic Gene McCarthy was absorbed in himself. Since he had alienated all important vestiges of the Democratic party, he determined on an independent challenge in 1976. He had a few friends left. In 1974 after he scrubbed plans to run for 6th district Congress in Minnesota, he announced formation of the Committee for a Constitutional Presidency or CCPP, an organization that would be dedicated to the nomination of an independent candidate (himself) who would offer “realistic choices” on issues and “break with the dogma” of the two major parties in 1976. One backer was William Clay Ford, the Ford Motor Company heir and owner of the Detroit Lions.

....and Rightly Challenges the Restrictive Federal Campaign Law.
The next year he focused on challenging the Federal Election Campaign Act in the Supreme Court. The Act, a reaction to the Nixon fundraising scandals of `72 set strict limits on campaign contributions and spending and for the first time candidates would have access to independently-contributed federal campaign subsidies.

James Buckley, the Conservative-Republican Senator from New York, was interested in mounting a legal challenge to the act and his team needed a liberal for window-dressing. McCarthy signed up and not just as a token; his only hope would be to rally some of his old backers like Stewart Mott, the General Motors heir, who could give unlimitedly. After all his challenge in 1968 was through the heavily donations by Mott and without them his campaign would have been inoperative. He joined with the New York Conservative party, Mott, the ACLU of New York, the Mississippi Republican party and the Libertarian party. He had a very good point. The best campaign fundraising reform has always been disclosure, not limits which breed corruption. The court case proceeded under the name “Buckley v. Valeo”—Francis Valeo being the secretary of the U. S. Senate who was ex-officio member of the Federal Elections Commission, Valeo representing the U. S. government. While his challenge was definitely in his self-interest and wouldn’t have occurred to him had he remained a Democrat, it was an exceedingly valuable effort.

On January 30, 1976, the Supreme Court handed down a verdict that upheld the provisions of the law regarding public disclosure, limits of contributions and federal subsidies but the limits on overall campaign spending was stuck down. However the verdict was not a victory for McCarthy and his allies. He described it correctly as saying, “We’re going to give you freedom of religion and then saying you have two choices—Episcopal and Anglican.” Thus for his presidential race in 1976 it would be an uphill battle.

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