COURAGE AFTER SIXTY
by Eugene McCarthy
Now it is certain.
All cards drawn,
All bets called.
The dice, warm as blood in the hand,
Shaken for the last cast.
The glove has been thrown to the ground,
The last choice of weapons made.
A book for one thought.
“Broken things are powerful.”
This past weekend, largely unnoticed by the nation and pointedly ignored by the Democratic Party which considered him a traitor, Eugene McCarthy folded his last campaign tent at a nursing home in Washington DC at the venerable age of 89.
McCarthy was a Congressman and later a Senator from Minnesota, but he is most remembered for his role in the 1968 Democratic primary, where he appeared on the scene as the voice of anti-war youth, mounted an astonishing grassroots campaign with hippies sacrificing their facial hair to the razor so they could take his message door to door. He almost caught Johnson in New Hampshire, and was then picked to bits by the party establishment, though he did scare them into halfway embracing the almost as radical Bobby Kennedy until he was conveniently assassinated, leaving the party convention in a shambles, with McCarthy facing Hubert Humphrey for the nomination. McCarthy had the most electoral votes of any remaining candidate, while Humphrey had come in late and had none at all. Notorious Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago held all the cards. He kept McCarthy’s vocal young supporters out of the convention hall with police thugs barricading the doors and busting heads on national TV. Then Daley basically handed the nomination to party-insider Humphrey in a scandalous backroom deal which put a stain of corruption on the soul of the Democratic Party which has only grown since that time. The stench of Chicago was so great that people could actually feel cleaner voting for Richard Nixon for the first time in history.
McCarthy ran for president again in 1972 – I remember attending a rally for his hopeless but inspirational campaign – and in subsequent years he became increasingly marginalized and alienated from his own party. Throughout his career he stuck with the grassroots idealism and non-traditional thinking which had been the hallmark of progressive democrats in the pre-Wilson era and which made him part of a shrinking and unpopular faction within a more and more institutional party. His beliefs were a mixture of populism, libertarianism, goofy idealism, irrational optimism and pure enthusiasm. McCarthy always said what he believed and even if you didn’t agree with him you had to respect his honesty and integrity. His own party never forgave him for rocking the boat of party politics in 1968, and became actively hostile as he drifted away from them and became an outspoken political independent, running without a party in 1976, endorsing Libertarian Ed Clark (whose campaign I worked for) in 1980, and supporting Reagan and many of his policies in the 1980s. He ran for president again as a token progressive voice in 1988 and 1992, fighting to break up the restrictions of the party system and campaign finance laws and open up the presidential debates to all candidates. He wasn’t terribly successful in any of these fights, but they were good causes and highlighted the major problems in our political system which we still face today.[ADBLOCKHERE]Today’s Democratic Party of mediocrity and mendacity is the direct result of the decision made by party leaders in 1968 to crush McCarthy and stick with their tried and true politics of backroom deals and special interests. Had they possessed the strength of will to change and move forward as a better, more principled party with McCarthy, both parties and our entire political system would be less corrupt and more admirable than they are today. The young leaders of the future would do well to look towards the careers of those who might be called heroic failures like McCarthy and Barry Goldwater for examples of how to revitalize their parties and give the people something to believe in again. Powered by Sidelines