Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INTERVIEW WITH INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR EUGENE McCARTHY - 1968 DEMOCRATIC PARTY CONTENDER (7/11/96)
INTERVIEWER: I want to take you back, Senator, to the beginning of the decade, to 1960...
SENATOR EUGENE McCARTHY: Oh, yeah, I remember that.
INT: You were an Adlai Stevenson man. What did you think of Jack Kennedy?
EM: Well, I was a Stevenson supporter. I'd been for him in '52 and '58, or '56, and I thought he shouldn't have run the second time, in '56, that he should have saved himself for 1960: let it rest for a while against Eisenhower, because there was no way he could beat him. And I thought he was the best qualified person we had running. I didn't think Jack was quite ready. He and I came to Congress practically at the same time, and I didn't think I was ready to run for president, and I didn't think he was. And I thought Stevenson deserved to get a run at it. I think he'd have beaten Nixon, but in any case, elements of loyalty, and... I recall the standing ovation he got after I had nominated him, and it was strange, it was a strange-sounding ovation - it had a lot of false notes in it, you know. And I went up to New Hampshire some years after my so-called triumph there, and I got a standing ovation that had the same sound. About a third of the people, in Adlai's case, were for him; about a third had been for him, and they thought if they cheered for him, that would kind of wipe away their... betrayal may be too strong; and the other third were for the new candidate, and they thought if they cheered loudly enough, they wouldn't really be responsible for what they did; so they set up a kind of strange cacophony that didn't sound true, and I hadn't heard it for 20 years. And I heard it in New Hampshire two years ago - I said, "I've heard that sound (a few unclear words)." And that was kind of the attitude towards Adlai of the Convention: you know, they cheered him loudly but didn't vote for him.
INT: Was Jack Kennedy a quintessential Cold War politician?
EM: Well, his record was pretty strong on Cold War and anti-communism. He didn't have to express it very much, excepting in the Cuban thing, which was small change. And then, in each case he had the defense that Eisenhower had... at least he'd had... not an initial act, but in Cuba Eisenhower was initial. They said one of the problems was that Eisenhower worked from a digest and Kennedy was a speed-reader. So if you speed-read a digest, why, you're likely to miss a few points, which is what happened in Cuba. I don't know whether it was... whether it was the speed-reading that did it. And then the other, of course, I thought Kennedy was primarily responsible for the... passing the point of no return in Vietnam, in that Eisenhower sent in 900 advisers but you can take 900 out on one or two airplanes, but when you put 17,000 in, ground troops, why, you have to evacuate. And so, although the principle commitment was essentially the same as Eisenhower's, the quantitative factor was such that the Kennedy action made it easier for Johnson to say, "I'm only ... this is just implemental - I didn't make a new decision. I'm just doing what someone before me had done."
INT: Why did you oppose the war in Vietnam?
EM: Well, that was a strange war. You know, it wasn't a surprise to us: it had been around for... we began looking at it in 1954, particularly after the French were through. So it was like reading history, to watch it in the Fifties and on into the Sixties, and if you did it in that detached, you'd say, "But the fellows running this war don't know where they're going or what they're up to." You didn't have to make a great moral judgment on it - you could simply say, "It doesn't make any sense." And progressively, as time went on, we found that... Rusk, for example... well, (there was an?) occasion in '63... and this was kind of typical... We were out at the White House, and Johnson would put on... Kennedy had been assassinated... put on his Cabinet members, and if you were a heavyweight like Rusk, you'd get 10 minutes; if you were in agriculture, you might get five to explain what was going on. I think it was a Wednesday night. He... said, "We really have things under control," that General Kahn had stabilized things and the Buddhists were happy and the Catholics were happy, and peace had come... not quite that, but... And on Friday morning, the headline was that Kahn had been thrown out. And you say, "Well, this is the Secretary of State: on Wednesday he tells you he's got a stable government; on Friday it's gone." Are you going to believe what he tells you on Monday? And that was an extreme example. And McNamara was the same way. He... well, any number of times, but the example I use is: early '66, he was always precise, you know, [about] numbers... he testified, saying with the bombing of North Vietnam, they'd be able to infiltrate the spot up to 4,500 a month, and he talked about... I think "eroding" them was one of the words. And six months later, the reports were they were infiltrating 7,000. And he was asked how to explain the difference, and a normal person would have said, "Well, they're tougher than we thought, you know," and he said, "What difference?" And the questioner said, "Well, forty-five hundred and 7,000." And McNamara said, "The number they could infiltrate has always been more than 4,500," as though, you know, anybody would know that, but he said, "It's less than x." And he said, "X is the real number, which we haven't determined yet." So if your margin of error is between 4,500 and x, why, you've given yourself a pretty wide range at which to be in error. And that was sort of the way he operated. So, if this is the Secretary of Defense, who vouches for everything you do everything you do over there, doesn't know what he's talking about within the range of six months, and he allows himself, as I said, the difference between 4,500 and x, why, you can conclude that there are some pretty loose judgments...
INT: Do you think that Johnson was a victim of a Cold War mentality, that he himself couldn't think of a way of getting out of the situation?
EM: Well, I don't know about Johnson, whether pressure... He'd been a militarist all the time, you know, and supported the action of Eisenhower, I guess, and Kennedy and so on, so it was... And he would say, "I'm only doing what four presidents before me..." I guess it was four then: Truman... three presidents... as a kind of a defense. But his record in the Senate was pretty much that of a militarist. And he may have thought he could do what Kennedy couldn't do - I don't know. I don't want to get into that para-psychology about these guys, but there was a little bit of that, I think, in Lyndon.
INT: Why did you decide to stand against him?
EM: Oh, A number of us, you know, tried to kind of turn him off, or at least to get him to ease up, = and he just kept, you know, putting in another 100,000 and asking for more, and... And we had a vote in the Senate in '67, on the part of Senator Wayne Morse. It was really a proposition that we have a serious debate on Vietnam, bring up the talk... and we'd have a formal kind... we don't really have formal debates in the Senate here - I guess they do in Parliament, but the equivalent of it. And we got only five votes in the whole Senate, just to debate it. The rest were all against even debating it. And Senator Morse and... I said, "I think the only thing you can do is take it to the public in the primaries." And the question was who would do it, and you know, I make a big generalization, that if the Senate doesn't do what it should do, why, every senator has a responsibility to do what the Senate doesn't - just to put it in an institutional framework. But I did reason it to that point and said... And Johnson was... he was a kind of a barbarian: he had no respect for institutions, especially if they got in the way of his plan. He would destroy the institution, or he would create chaos, believing that he could work in chaos better than anybody else could, 'cause he knew what he'd done. And he was corrupting the Senate, keeping them from debating; he changed the House into kind of a Senate, and the Senate into kind of a House of Representatives. And as the criticism mounted, why, their defenses became extreme. Johnson made these speeches about how, if you weren't with him, you were in effect a coward. He generally used metaphors from how you drive cattle, and he would talk about "cutting and running" and... And Rusk said we were giving aid and comfort to the communists, so (unclear words) communists the cowardliness. And McNamara sort of talked as if, you know, "If you guys don't know that 4,500 is not a ceiling, you're not smart enough to be dealing with me." And Humphrey even went so far as to say we were racists because we weren't prepared to defend the yellow race, even though we'd been in Korea. So it got pretty rough, and the only way to do it was kind of call them.
INT: When Johnson decided to announce the fact that he wasn't going to run as president, did you feel you had a chance of securing the Democratic Party nomination?
EM: Well, we didn't really know... we never thought we had a chance. Maybe for four or five hours after New Hampshire; but once Kennedy announced, we knew that the whole nature of the campaign was going to change. It was... we had it pretty well defined on the issue of the war. And when Bobby came in, why, he brought in all kinds of issues and personalities against Johnson first, and then confused the whole campaign - split the anti-war people, and... And it was bound to happen when he came in, really. He brought in John Glenn, you know, he brought in a lot of props, he brought his dog. His mother went to Father (unclear words) home on Mother's Day. It was really not quite pointed at the issue of the war once he got in.
INT: How do you rate Bobby Kennedy as a politician?
EM: Well, I don't have a very high regard for him - as we say, a minimum high regard. But he was a destructive person, very different from Jack and different from... Teddy doesn't destroy anybody but himself, but Bobby would destroy other people. Jack was a positive person. I got on all right with Jack.
INT: In what way do you think he was a destructive politician? What examples do you think of when you think of Bobby Kennedy in that connection?
EM: Oh, well, he abused the Justice Department, even when he was Attorney General, so that the institution and character of it was... He shouldn't have been appointed, first of all. I think it was the first time that, at least in my observation... when you took your campaign manager and made him Attorney General, in the old days you might make him Post Master General, on the grounds that there wasn't much corruption in the Post Office Department that would hurt the Republic. But the Justice Department - now Attorney General is a different kind of office; and to sort of incarnate politics into the operation of the Justice Department was a mistake. And then (the way he operated in?) his campaigns - not against me, although he repeated them there, but he'd performed badly against Keaty when he ran against him, and I just didn't think he could be trusted with more power than he already had had.
INT: What significance would you attach to his assassination in June 1968?
EM: Well, it ended the campaign. There wasn't much you could pick up. Because his people, as it turned out in Los Angeles, about half of them went directly over to Humphrey. They were not really against the war, they were for Kennedy. They'd have been for him if he'd been for invading China. And it meant that the strength that we would have had on the issue of opposition to the war, about a third of it was lost when he was assassinated, it's just as a matter of counting. But it dispirited everyone. And it just kind of took the whole... Actually, he'd pretty well deadened the campaign as an anti-war campaign, by injecting other issues. But with the assassination, it was like, you know, you were just going through motions.
INT: What links did you and your campaign have with the anti-war movement?
EM: We didn't have any kind of formal links with them - you know, they were kind of doing their own thing. In fact, some of them were a little upset when we started the campaign saying we were draining off energy; they were more radical. And they weren't harmful, but they weren't much help to us. So... I wouldn't say we distanced ourselves from them: we just sort of let them do their own act.
INT: How did you come to be present during the Democratic Party Convention at Chicago in August 1968?
EM: Well, I didn't go. It was silly, anyway, it was kind of an... I said if the Democrats wanted to go some place where they could revive memories of something significant, they should have gone to Philadelphia, which is where they adopted the civil rights plank in 1948. And that was worth remembering. But to go to Chicago, where they faced a comparable moral challenge on the war, and they didn't respond the way they did in '48, was when they really split the party. It's still suffering from it. But it was, as Clinton says, the right thing to do. (Laughs)
INT: What about Mayor Richard Daley: what place does he occupy in your memory?
EM: Oh, he was no surprise to us, you know. Worse than the violence in the streets, the Daley stuff was what the party on the inside did to the principles and actually the rules and precedents of party procedure: taking delegates they didn't have a right to, and denying delegates that we had a right to, trying to kind of control the score so it would look good. In my mind, that had a much more serious impact on the Party, on the Democratic Party and politics than the stuff that went on in the street, which was... understandable. The inside stuff wasn't.
INT: You could see it from the Conrad Hilton, the violence in the streets. What is your recollection of the police behavior at that time?
EM: (Overlap) Well, I didn't see so much of them, but I see it on television. It was... about three or four years ago, someone had sent me an album he'd compiled - it was big book - and on one side he had pictures from Prague and on the other side he had pictures of Chicago, and if it weren't for the uniforms and... they were shooting live ammunition instead of tear gas... you really couldn't have distinguished between Prague and Chicago - it was that violent. And... it was hard to believe it then. And it was really... well, this is your story, but it was really kind of a fascist-run convention from the outside. When I moved into my headquarters in the hotel, I had a secret service - they were very honest people - and they said, "Look, this room is not bugged; you can say anything here. But don't talk on the telephone, 'cause you've been tapped, we know you're tapped." And the last day, we were leaving, or planned to leave, they said, "You can leave today if you want to" - that was Friday - "but as soon as you're out of town, the Chicago police are going to arrest everybody who has any McCarthy identification and charge them with disturbing the peace." So we stayed over and put the word over and said, "Get out of town - or at least get to the airport, where Daley has no jurisdiction." We had no idea until we got there, they'd have barbed wire up, that they had... that the National Guard was coming, and... I don't know ... people say, "Well, would you have done differently?" I don't know - I think if we'd known the Guard was coming, then we would have refused to go to the Convention. There was no need to have the National Guard with live ammunition or irresponsible people. Anyway, most of them were like Quayle: they were avoiding the war by being in the National Guard. And we learned later that even Lyndon had alerted some of the army reserve units in the suburbs, as though there was going to be a third line of defense, that we were going to threaten the whole republic. So...
INT: Was the outcome of the Convention a huge disappointment to you?
EM: Well, the outcome... we never expected to win, we never expected to win, even in the beginning. In fact, if we hadn't done as well as we did, we might have had more impact. If instead of beating Johnson and driving him out, we'd gotten 25 or 30%, they would have had to say, "Well, you got 25 or 30% - we can try to accommodate you." But when you beat him, we couldn't say, "You fellows can have half a war," or they couldn't say we could have half the war. So that it got to be kind of like civil war at that point; there was no reconciliation. And they had the idea that if they could build up a big vote, they could say, "Look, it's two to one against the war; therefore nobody should be against the war." And that warped kind of the whole operation of the Convention, and moved them to take delegates... I think we challenged 19 or 20 State delegations as being illegal or unconstitutional or contrary to the rules of the party, and we were essentially right on all of them.
INT: What damage do you think the Democratic Party suffered in the long term as a consequence of that convention?
EM: Well, it destroyed kind of the... kind of the disposition to accommodate within the Party and to compromise and work things out, and you got into this whole series of reforms, sort of in justification for what they did in violating the rules in '68, and they rewrote the rules for '72, and McGovern rewrote the rules and got nominated. They rewrote the rules for '76... Jimmy Carter rewrote the rules for '76; he got nominated. They rewrote the rules for '80, they rewrote them for '84. So it got to be a game of writing and rewriting the rules so that you could control the process. And the final act was when the governors took over the party; it's been controlled by state legislators and governors for the... ever since Jimmy Carter. And, so in fact, Clinton actually ran for Governor of the United States, he didn't run for President, and changing the Federal Government kind of into an adjunct to the State Government. I mean, that started really in part because of the abuse of the rules in 1968.