Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Flashback: Hubert’s Wife, Muriel, Allows Herself to be Appointed Senator Until November, 1978. The Following Year She Re-Married and Had a Rather Cruel Thing to Say (I Think). Evaluations of Hubert. And As for McCarthy


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


The largely silent partner of Hubert Humphrey, his wife Muriel (born: 1912, a year after Humphrey), was named to Hubert’s seat on January 25, 1978 by Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich (DFL) and served until the next special election, on November 7 of that year. She was the first woman to serve in the Senate from that state. All of us who saw her as a demure spouse, dedicated to him, were rather surprised when after her appointment, she pressed for things Hubert didn’t really touch—like abortion rights. She said “There’s something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. I’m a liberal and I’m proud of it. In fact, I was probably a little more liberal than Hubert was. I just wanted to say that.”

She was born Muriel Fay Buck in Huron, S. D., attended Huron Collegeg and met Humphrey in 1934 when he worked at his father’s drug store and she was a bookkeeper. They had four children—Hubert III (Skip), Nancy, Robert and Douglas.

A year after his death when she had returned to private life, Muriel Humphrey re-married one Max Brown, a friend from childhood. She gave as her last public comment: “I don’t live a life of politics any more. Max and I have so much fun. We have a wonderful companionship that Hubert and I didn’t have, couldn’t have. We were so busy and it was so official almost all of the time.” Well, ex-cu-se me! She needn’t have said that. To this day I don’t know what that statement really meant. Sounds a little like repudiation, if you ask me. I didn’t know her well—hardly at all. But there is all the evidences of a woman who felt she was abandoned for her husband’s first love, a political career. In a very real sense, he widowed Muriel when he married her. The suggested epitaph for his tomb “Gone to Another Meeting” is apt. I think there were many times when he showed her…not be words but actions…that his mistress was politics, that his lover was politics not Muriel.

I suppose she was right but still, making a public statement like that struck me…and still does…as gratuitously critical of him.

She lived for nineteen more years, dying at age 86 (her second husband survived her) and was buried in Lakewood cemetery next to Hubert.

Evaluation of Hubert.

My conclusion is that he was very nearly a great man but not one. Yet he was a good one. One evidence that he was good is that he was so forgiving throughout his life. He forgave Gene McCarthy and met with him before Hubert became sick. They had a drink together and joked although I doubt McCarthy came to see Hubert when he was ill (although Richard Nixon did, let it be said).

I would have preferred that he had the courage to follow Vietnam through to a conclusion as Bush is doing with Iraq, not repudiating Lyndon Johnson and standing fore-square for victory. I believe that was a character defect for them both. Hubert so wanted to become president all his life…from his days as Minneapolis mayor to the end of his life…that seemingly he would sacrifice everything to that end. I think he would have been infinitely better off had he stuck close to the formula for Vietnam Johnson had set. But then, Johnson himself, became discouraged and seemed to fall back, calling truces and alternatingly bombing and canceling the bombing.

Nevertheless, Hubert was a patriot, far different than the breed of liberal today. He was probably one of the two finest platform speakers I have heard in my lifetime…the other being Ronald Reagan (born the same year as Hubert). The miraculous facility with the spoken word never left him. Judged as one of his finest speeches was his last 50-minute address to the Minnesota AFL-CIO convention, a half year before his death. He was a compulsive talker—not just orator. He could never stop talking. Riding along with him in the car I wondered as a young man whether he might be seized with compulsion and scream out for help, yelling “I want to stop this talking but I cannot!” One thing is sure: his speeches always sounded better than they read. All the same, he did use ghost-writers and sometimes had two or three different people write speeches for the same event. The purpose was to search for “grabbers” as he called them—ideas.

All the same, nobody could write for him. The speech he made that changed the Democratic party forever from a party that tolerated segregation from its southern patriarchal Senate chairmen to the populist party it is today was delivered with just a few notes. It is to Hubert’s great reputation that he effected that change of a party…and I don’t blame him for the pander-bear the party subsequently became: other men deserve the blame for that. I shall write more about him in the future.

McCarthy Always Striving to Get Even.

In contradistinction, I feel Gene McCarthy was probably the most colorful public man I knew—more colorful than Hubert…but neither a great man nor a good one. That is difficult to say but I have thought it over for a long time and come to no other conclusion. In her autobiography, “Private Faces, Public Places,” Abigail McCarthy summarizes Gene’s departure from her life by saying, “Gene has said that he cannot remain faithful to anyone.”

I fully believe that to be the case. He was unfaithful to those who believed in him and helped him. He was antiseptic. I do not feel he was a good legislator but at most a highly literate English major. He loved poetry but wrote bad poetry. He had the ability to win people to his side but equal with that was his disinclination to remain loyal to them.

I would blame Godfrey Diekmann OSB for this but I cannot since they were contemporaries and Godfrey was by no means Gene’s mentor. As a matter of fact, Gene came closer to being Godfrey’s. But their view of the Catholic Church is assuredly not my view. Their Church is infinitely flexible with very few absolutes. Just yesterday, a former priest of their general era, Robert McClory, wrote a piece for “The Tribune’ about Benedict XVI’s coming to the United States. McClory, a true disciple of Diekmann whether he understands it or not, pretended to write a suggested speech for the Pope in which the pontiff said he was appointing a worldwide committee of bishops, theologians, lay leaders etc. to come up with recommendations on the salient issues of the day that are dividing the Church; like the morality of embryonic stem cells (somebody should tell McClory that one is redundant given the latest developments along that line0, homosexuality et al.

That is the nature of modern relativist liberals in the Church. They cannot accept as given any finality of the moral law. There should always be a convocation of great thinkers and always a plebiscite. Gene McCarthy would have endorsed this as would Godfrey Diekmann.

Probably one of the most creative ideas Gene ever had was enunciated at my house in 1976. After he disclosed the plan at my house to use his candidacy to elect Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter (discussed earlier in these memoirs), I marvel at how close he came…and the fact that had Dick Ogilvie sanctioned us finding some contributors, the outcome could have been different. Even with his sparse funds, McCarthy delivered Ford twenty electoral votes in three states—Oregon, Maine and Iowa. In New York, McCarthy sought strenuously to get his name on the ballot which, if it had appeared, would have certainly changed the outcome. Democrats spent more than $50,000 in legal challenges that kept his name off. If he had equal resources to spend…and if that damned Dick Ogilvie would have lifted one little finger and allowed me to go to his rolodex and get contributors…the country could have been spared Jimmy Carter—for which I shall never forgive Ogilvie so long as I can remember him. Opinion polls in New York always put McCarthy’s support in the state at more than 5%.

Why did Ogilvie seem so intransigent? Because his goal was not first to see Carter defeated but to guard himself against any personal taint—although the taint, were it to come, would be illusory and insubstantial. Ogilvie was not (a) great, nor (b) good nor (c) anything more than a cold-hearted opportunist of no fixed principle. He died a very lucky man as the Feds were on the verge of…but that is for another day. .

There is more to write about McCarthy for our paths crossed many times after 1976. But for now this is all I will supply.


  1. Interesting as always, Tom, but unless I am mistaken I believe that Wendell Anderson (DFL) was the Governor of Minnesota when Muriel was appointed to the US Senate. The departure of Walter Mondale from the Senate (following Carter's election) set off "The Minnesota Massacre." Anderson resigned as governor and his lieutenant governor, Rudy Perpich, assumed office and promptly appointed Anderson to the US Senate vacancy. This chain of events offended Minnesota voters and they responded by ousting Anderson and Perpich from office as Rudy Boschwitz and Al Quie were elected as Senator and Governor at the next election with Dave Durenberger winning the special election to complete the balance of Humphrey's term after Muriel packed it in. At the time, this was a rare coup for the Republicans in the Land of Lakes. Quie served only one term and did not seek reelection (Perpich returned to office afterwards), but the two Senators were able to hold office for several more terms (Boschwitz and Durenberger both served two full terms). The fortunes of the Republicans in Minnesota have improved since those times when the DFL simply dominated everything.

  2. What would it have taken to be delivered from Jimmie "The Peanut" Carter-- Doing his thang twoday!
    "For wont of a nail the shoe was lost-" etc.

  3. The story I heard was the Thompson was about to indict Ogilvie, but Ford named him his Illinois chairman that day.