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.

Posted in Robert F. Kennedy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Running for President More than Once

Senator McCarthy had a purpose in running for president again and again, During the presidential campaign 1992 quoting Plutarch, the ancient Greek historian he said:

”They are wrong who think that politics is like an ocean voyage or military campaign, something to be done with some particular end in view.”

Politics, a man’s involvement in the civic affairs of one’s nation, state or town, is an ongoing state of one’s being.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Scotch — Neat, No Ice

Every now and then, when entertaining myself with facts about Gene McCarthy, I come across a hint or two that he liked to talk and drink whiskey with his friends. I did not have much luck trying to figure what whiskey, he liked and how he took it. In one of my recent forays into question, I found what seemed an honest source. It is Banjo Hangout. This is what George Locke, a young reporter on the campaign, the author of the post, said about the issue in 2011.:

I flicked on the recorder and stepping boldly forward, I was about to nail this guy with the Bill Loeb question. I never got it out.

He looked straight at me with those piercing eyes, that Irish insouciant manner and commanded. “Kid. Go get me a scotch. Neat. No ice.” And he hurtled by me with [Sam]Brown in tow to land in the center of the room, beyond my view. [Emphasis added.]

My microphone drooped like a shell-shocked lover. My grand questions fell to the floor like so much cow-flap from a New Hampshire dairy farm.

I got him a scotch. I tried to find him and give it to him. But he had found a corner of the room where he held sway over everyone with his rumbling voice and solid advice. I couldn’t even get close.

So I drank the scotch. I didn’t even like scotch. . . .

Howdy Doody learned a lot that night. The biggest lesson?

He developed an affinity for scotch.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Poet Politician

Senator McCarthy, in politics, was a poet.  Think about that.  I know him as a person who wrote poetry.  This is not right, it is not enough.   As I learn more and think more of my fellow Minnesotan, I realize he was a poet politician. Such a man has within his being deep truths which we might do well to understand in these times of war and hardship and false gods.  It is such a man who gives us hints of that which is the substance of transcendent good.

Gene McCarthy wrote a poem for each of his and Abigail McCarthy’s children, Ellen, Mary, Margaret and Michael.   I loved these poems.  They have a deep meaning, a deep meaning as a gift to each child.

For now, I want to tell of the poem for Michael.  This poem has been on my mind for months.  It opens a window to the mind, heart and soul of Gene McCarthy and to the basic existential condition of a good man.

It is good to be careful, and wise:
You came home from your first day
Of preschool religious education
With advice for God.
. . .
Sixth-grade ancient history.
What would you have liked to have been
If alive then? The choices:
An emperor, a soldier, a martyr.
“No” you wrote, “a lion.”
And after the action,
You said to an old experienced lion,
“Those were brave people we just ate.”
“Yes,” he replied, “they were Christians.
They like to die for their faith.”
You conclude. “I wish I were a Christian
So that I could die for my faith.
But I am a lion.”

This poem must have been written when Michael was a very young – long before 1968 and New Hampshire primary and that which happened there, what had happened to the soul of Gene McCarthy.

My guess is that he was aware of some deep and lasting currents in his being.  The deep essence of his calling as a son of his parents and their character, his schooling at St. John’s in Collegeville nearby, and the eleven months as a Benedictine Monk Novitiate at St. John’s Abbey.  He knew of the meaning of the martyrdom, the truth of the martyr.  However, it could be he knew he was a lion which wished he was a Christian “so that he could die for [his] faith.”

This is what happened in 1968:  He challenged one of the strongest American Presidents, one who had a policy of war in an ancient land with ancient people and thier families and children the combatants and he prevailed.  President Johnson decided not to run again for Presidentcy, his conscience troubled by the war in Vietnam.  He challenged Senator Robert Kennedy in the presendential primary win in California which ended in the assassination of Senator Kennedy Sirhan Sirhan.  Did he, perhaps unknowingly, feel he was responsible for both losses?  I do not know, but I suspect so, suspect so in his subconscious.  One cannot forget the pained picture of Gene McCarthy alone head bowed at the funeral of Senator Kennedy.

Gene McCarthy  had been the lion, but knew that being a lion and surpassing others was not what was the truth.  The truth for him was the purpose he pursued, the single purpose he was committed to — the end of the war in Viet Nam.

In all of this, I think he became a martyr who died emotionally and spiritually because of his faith, his view of a personal purpose of Christian reason.  He was forever changed by the end of the spring of 1968.

“I wish I were a Christian
So that I could die for my faith.
But I am a lion.”

Though he found himself a lion, he knew it was not that he wanted to become one. He wished he was a Christian so he could die for his faith.  In a sense, that is what happened to him.  And, from that point on, in 1968, he lived as a martyr of the truth of Christianity.  His life from then on became a quiet unmistakable purpose. There was no truth for him regarding the impact of the 1968 primary on his friend President Johnson, nothing but remembrance of the good of his colleague, Robert F. Kennedy, or the possibility of struggle against his friend Hubert Humphey.  Life took a great turn for him.  I think I can see the deep source of that turn  in the Poem for Michael.

Note: The poem is printed in Gene McCarthy’s Minnesota: Memories of a Native Son was published in 1982 by Winston Press of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Amazon. It is a collection of sketches and poetry of Minnesota and Gene McCarthy and his family

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Politician as Poet

Peter Montgomery, Eugene McCarthy (March 29, 1916, Minnesota – December 10, 2005, Washington, DC), Beltway Poetry Quarterly.

This a fine article about Senator McCarthy.  The exact date could not be found.  Maybe digging for it later will prove useful.

There is much to think about Senator McCarthy in this piece.  It is an obituary.

It hints about the change which came over Senator McCarthy during the 1968 campaign to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

Senator McCarthy became a candidate to challenge President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  The challenge was not personal; the challenge was  to bring the nation to a decision of monumental proportion — a decision about the war in Vietnam.  That was the issue of utmost importance then.  It superseded any other issue before the nation.  It was an issue which told the world what sort of a nation we had become and were becoming.

That becoming is still taking place today.  America is a nation at war.  We still need to have the discussion Gene McCarthy wanted to have, wanted us to have.


Posted in New Hampshire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Eric Snowden

Is there much to say today? I think so. In the past several days, a young man stepped forward and disclosed a massive personal fact gathering program and institution of the United States government.  Every communication is open to surveillance. We did not know this a few days ago.

The person who made the disclosure is, Eric Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, who worked as a system analyst for the National-Security Agency Threat Operations Center. Snowden made information available to the Washington Post and The Guardian which consisted of classified material on top-secret National-Security Agency programs, including the PRISM surveillance program. “PRISM is a clandestine national-security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA)” dating back to 2007. Wikipedia.

From any perspective, one must be concerned about the extent and legality of government surveillance of United States citizens and companies. The constitution provides for the right of privacy. The right is found in numerous amendments to the United States Constitution, including the Fourteenth Amendment, which makes the Bill of Rights applicable to the states.  ACLU.

Once again, one sees, as unwise, our response to 9/11 and the so-called religious militants in the Middle-East and elsewhere who say they desire the destruction and annihilation of the United States. The violence inflicted on us, is the source of the creation of physical and death revenge against those we “can find” to be our enemies.

Senator Eugene McCarthy talked of a change which occurred when he was in the United States Senate. He said what was known as the Department of War was being referred to as the Department of Defense. He made it clear: One must have a war to have a department of war. One only need the notion there is danger, real or potential, to have a department of defense. In a way, he was alluding to President Eisenhower’s concern we were creating a “military industrial complex” which would become so powerful our lives would be subject and beholden to it.

Our present circumstances call for a department of defense – a segment of power in America which has a broad mandate to protect the nation. Yet, now we see we are using the department of defense to find out about all citizens of the United States. We, the people, have become the potential enemy. This would have been music to the ears of Senator Joe McCarthy R-Wisconsin and Congressman Joe Pool of D-Texas.

There is a certainty in all of this– there is no one in America, no American citizen or resident, who is not suspect. Citizenship does not remove the suspicion.

What we have has is an unelected group which holds the power of finding those who are a danger to that power. Those who are a danger are then targeted by those who hold the political power. Those who hold the political power are in power because of the money certain interests have devoted to their elections. Those who elected are beholden to, and think like, those who are the sources of their power.

Every citizen who stands up to this hegemony is an outsider, a bad person. He or she will be vilified and driven out of the community, out of the good graces of his or her fellows. Those in power and the apparatchiks of that power will shun and exclude and, in so doing, strengthen their power. An example, is the ad hominem attack on Eric Snowden by none other than a “liberal” “opinion-est” in the New York Times today, David Brooks, The Solitary Leaker, NYT June 11, 2013.

Looking at traditional knowledge, there is nothing very surprising about this. We are all “sinners.” The problem, it seems, is that certain sinners have taken power over the rest of the sinners. There is no humility in their effort. Today, leaders in Washington have said they are going to impose the full weight of the law on Eric Snowden. Eric Snowden, may well be a hero; instead, he is viewed as a horrible person, e.g., an enemy by the power elite.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Eugene McCarthy as I remember him


This is the image of Senator McCarthy I carry most often in my memory.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment