Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy

Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy —

Information about the views of Robert Kennedy concerning Eugene McCarthy may be found in In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, by Joseph A. Palermo. (2002).  See chapter,“The Hottest Place in Hell”: Kennedy, the Democrats, and the McCarthy Candidacy, 77 and following.  Mr. Palermo discussed his book on C-Span in 2010.

According to Mr. Palermo’s research, Kennedy did not have a very high opinion of Senator McCarthy.

On November 30, 1967, McCarthy announced his entry into the presidential primary races. Kennedy’s friend and colleague, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, believed Kennedy became “terribly distressed” at the news because he could foresee the trouble it was going to present to him.10 …

The political pressure continued to increase to the point where Kennedy could no longer credibly support Johnson in 1968 unless the Administration drastically altered its Vietnam policies. Neither could he throw his support behind McCarthy because his inevitable defeat, no matter how important symbolically, would only weaken Kennedy’s standing in the party without gaining him anything. He was caught in a political double bind. Given Kennedy’s pride and feelings of carrying the banner for his brother, he could not play second fiddle to any insurgent, especially McCarthy, who had supported Adlai Stevenson over John Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic convention. Kennedy clung to the belief that he must avoid splitting the party regardless of his personal feelings toward Johnson’s leadership and the war. His friend Averell Harriman pointed out to him that he was obligated to protect the party from “the deadening hand” of the Republicans in 1968.12

There were other reasons why Kennedy declined to back McCarthy. Perhaps most importantly, he withheld his endorsement because he simply did not believe McCarthy would make a good president. According to Peter Edelman, Kennedy thought McCarthy, in addition to being a lazy politician, was “less than totally honest in his politics on the Senate Finance Committee,” and that he was a “lousy senator, willing to bend to special interests to finance his campaigns.”13 Moreover, McCarthy ran an essentially singleissue campaign that masked some of his past inconsistencies. After a little investigating, Dolan informed Kennedy that one “unhappy development resulting from the McCarthy candidacy is that liberals will research “the” McCarthy voting record, and will become disillusioned when they find out that he isn’t all that liberal.”14

 Although McCarthy became a hero to segments of the New Left and the campus antiwar movement, he was on the wrong side of many important progressive issues. He had voted against an amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawing poll taxes; he sided with the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) with votes against gun control; he rejected an amendment to a bill requiring members of Congress to disclose their financial assets; he voted against limiting draft extensions to two, rather than four, years; and he also voted against Edward Kennedy’s motion to cut a wasteful defense appropriation for gratuitous rifle training, an N.R.A. pet project.15 McCarthy earned a voting rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action of 62 percent in 1967, while Robert Kennedy’s A.D.A. rating always stood at 100 percent.16

 In addition, McCarthy had simply not shown up for key roll-call votes in the Senate on legislation relating to welfare, civil rights, and Social Security; he voted on vital Social Security legislation only two times out of eight.17 President Johnson and his advisers noted that during the prolific 89th Congress, McCarthy missed 106 out of 259 roll-call votes during the first session, and 39 out of 238 in the second. In the 90th Congress, through November 21, 1967, McCarthy had missed 85 out of 274 roll calls.18 Kennedy observed McCarthy in the Senate, and saw his languid leadership style as a severe detriment to any serious presidential bid.19 Johnson and his advisers agreed with Kennedy; White House memos privately referred to McCarthy’s “laziness” as “abominable.”20 Workaholics like Johnson and Kennedy had difficulty fathoming the more whimsical aspects of McCarthy’s personality.

About Steve Eugster

I am Stephen Kerr Eugster, my family on my mother's side (Kepner and Kerr) come from Swift County. I am a lawyer. I practice law at my own law firm, Eugster Law Office PSC. I have practiced law in the state of Washington since the fall of 1970. I am mostly a public trust, public interest lawyer these days.
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