The paper contains a discussion of the biography former Senator Eugene McCarthy. It highlights on his political career and ideologies which his fostered in 1968. It also contains a brief discussion of the Vietnam War which he strongly opposed, the reason for the war and the involvement of the United States in it. The paper elaborates on the support which McCarthy and his antiwar policies received from the people. It also talks about his career failures in the political field.
Nineteen Sixty Eight
Nineteen sixty eight, Vietnam War, anti-war policies, a humiliated Democrat President and warm support of young protesters—these are what Eugene McCarthy’s political career is made of.
Eugene McCarthy, a two-term Senator and notable Democrat, is best identified for the ideologies he professed in 1968, the height of the Vietnam War controversy. This anti-war activist was born on March 29, 1916 in Watkins Meeker County Minnesota. His father, Michael McCarthy is the son of Irish immigrants.
His father was a progressive Republican who served as Watkins’ postmaster from 1900 to 1913. According to Rising (1997), the former Senator inherited his political savvy, biting wit and competitive nature from his father.
He studied in the public schools in Watkins Minnesota where he was known as the school baseball and hockey star. He graduated college from St. John’s University Collegeville Minnesota in 1935 majoring in English. It was in this school that he was given the title, Watkins’ wonder. He accumulated the best record in the school’s academic history by graduating before he even reached nineteen. In 1939, he graduated from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis with a master’s degree in sociology (Rising, 1997).
After graduation, he joined the Benedictine monastery at St. John’s Abbey under the religious name, Frater Novice Conan. He lasted in the monastery for nine months only reasoning that he only stayed in the monastery as an experiment. He thereafter served as a public high school teacher in Minnesota and North Dakota during the years 1935 to 1940 and as an economics and education professor at his alma mater, St. John’s University from 1940 to 1943. He was a sociology and economics instructor at St. Thomas College and worked as a civilian technical assistant at the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department in 1944 (US Congress, n.d.). As a civilian assistant, he worked deciphering Japanese codes for the Army Signal Corps (Rising, 1997). In 1945, he married Abigail Quigley to whom he had four children.
After his teaching stint, he decided to enter politics and was elected as a Democrat to the eighty first Congress. For the four succeeding terms, he served Congress as representative of his constituents in the fourth district of Minnesota and carried the cause of his fellow farmers. In 1958, he was first elected as a United States Senator and re-elected in 1964 (Rising, 1997).
As a Senator, he exhibited political prowess and savvy by challenging the issues which he deemed were wrong. He is known as a Senator who held liberal views and had a high interest in the cause of laborers. He was also one of the those who formed the Democratic Study Group. This study group provided alternative legislation for the Republican policies (NCS, n.d.).
McCarthy espoused for change in the political system and even challenged the ideals that his fellow Democrat, Joseph McCarthy, was advocating.
According to Tim Pugmire (2005), locking horns with Joseph McCarthy was a dangerous political move for Eugene McCarthy who was only beginning his Senatorial career then. Joseph McCarthy was a “red hunting witch hunter who was destroying careers left and right” (Pugmire, 2005). Nevertheless, Eugene McCarthy came out good in his fight against his fellow McCarthy. The two only share the same last name but they are not related by blood.
In 1960, McCarthy delivered a passionate speech endorsing Adlai Stevenson during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. This speech gave him the political boost that he needed but it also placed him in a negative light against the Kennedy administration. However, this speech was not enough to bring Stevenson to the Presidential race.
The Democrat Presidential candidate in 1964 was Lyndon Johnson, who later on preferred Hubert Humphrey over McCarthy as candidate for Vice-President. Both Johnson and Humphrey won the 1964 elections (Minnesota Public Radio, 2005).
In November 30, 1967, McCarthy announced his entry to the Democratic Presidential nomination against Johnson who was then buying for a re-election as President (Minnesota Public Radio, 2005). McCarthy’s political challenge to Johnson was fired by his anti-war policies and his opposition against the Vietnam war which was waged by the United States under Johnson’s administration.
According to McCarthy, the war has not brought any positive effect to the country. It only drained the resources of the country, destroyed the lives of soldiers who are defending the cause of the United States and pulled down the moral energy of the people (Pugmire, 2005).
In April 12, 1968, McCarthy placed second to Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic primary (Minnesota Public Radio, 2005). The support that McCarthy received from the said primaries is a shock to the nation because New Hampshire is known for voting the way their leaders dictate them to vote. The result show that the trend in the state has changed and the anti-war message which McCarthy delivered before the people of New Hampshire seem to have left an impact to their voting preferences. The divided support which the Democrats received prompted Johnson to leave the race.
In March 31, 1968, Johnson announced on national television that he was no longer accepting his party’s nomination for the Presidency (Pugmire, 2005). The New Hampshire was a humiliation to the President who held the highest percentage of the popular vote in American history and whose party controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate for three decades (Rising, 1997).
Johnson claimed to have personal reasons for abandoning the race. But he also conceded that strife within the nation—particularly his own democratic party—had made him conclude that his candidacy would only increase the country’s political turmoil. Johnson’s withdrawal showed dramatically that liberalism, the new deal coalition, the Democratic party and the nation stood divided over many issues—most notably the Vietnam war and its Cold War roots of global communist entertainment (Rising, 1997).
The anti-war campaign of McCarthy received a warm support from the people. College students throughout the country helped in McCarthy’s campaign. They shaved their beards and cut their hair as they promoted the slogan, “get clean for Gene”. Many citizens also showed their support for the Senator by attending his rallies in the different states and listening to the speeches that he delivered (Pugmire, 2005). Unlike traditional politicians, McCarthy was a soft-spoken campaigner. He did not make any promises nor any deals. He instead centered on passion and patriotism (Clines, 2005).
However, as Johnson left the Presidential race, Robert Kennedy also registered his desire to take part in the Democrat’s nomination for President. Kennedy was a formidable opponent for McCarthy as he also advocated anti-war policies. The people’s support for the opposing parties suffered a great divide but this schism was ended when Kennedy was assassinated in June 6, 1968 (MPR, 2005).
According to reports, Kennedy was assassinated just before delivering his speech at the ballroom hall of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California by Sirhan B. Sirhan. His motives remain to be the source of controversies until this date. There were presumptions that the assassination had a direct link with his opposition of the Vietnam War and the advocacies that he promoted (Clark, n.d.).
After Kennedy’s assassination, Hubert Humphrey also posed his intent to join the Presidential race. On August 1968, Humphrey, who never won in any primary election reigned in the nomination registering a 67 percent vote against McCarthy’s 23 percent vote (Minnesota Public Radio, 2005).
During the campaign period, McCarthy did not show any support for Humphrey. In an interview, he said that it is impossible for him to give his support for the Democrat Presidential candidate because he had no idea on his position to the Vietnam War. Being an ally of Johnson, McCarthy suspected that Humphrey also espoused the same ideas as Johnson did. It was only when the election was nearing that he expressed his support for Humphrey. Many believes that if only McCarthy was not so stubborn and gave his support for Humphrey earlier, there would have been a high possibility for the Democrats to claim the Presidency (Pugmire, 2005).
As a result of the Democrat’s division, Humphrey, lost the Presidency and Republican, Richard M. Nixon was named as the 37th President of the United States. It was through the Presidency of Nixon that the Vietnam War ended.
The Vietnam War or the second Indochina war was the longest military conflict that the United States was involved in lasting from 1959 to 1975. It claimed 58,000 American lives, 3.2 million Vietnamese and 1.5 million Cambodians and Laos (MSN Encarta online encyclopedia, n.d.).
The war involved a conflict between North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front against the forces of the United States and South Vietnam. The forces of North Vietnam and the NLF, wanted to push for a unified Vietnam under a Communist rule. The United States, fearing that the establishment of communism in Vietnam would be the start of the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, aided South Vietnam to create an anti-communist government. The newly created government imposed repressive policies which ignited rebellion in the country. In 1960, the NLF was formed with the intention of overthrowing the anti-communist government and uniting the country under one rule (MSN Encarta online encyclopedia, n.d.).
The United States, fearing that the anti-communist government, which it aided in its conception, might collapse sent troops to South Vietnam. Unfortunately, the US troops were unsuccessful. In 1975, the country was unified under one rule and became known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the year after. The war is history’s reminder to the United States that like any other country, it can also be defeated (MSN Encarta online encyclopedia, n.d.).
Most scholars agree that 1968 served as a watershed year in the United States political history…just as 1968 served as a watershed year, Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign served as a critical catalyst for the events of 1968. The announcement of McCarthy’s candidacy allowed democratic critics of the Johnson administration to express themselves electorally… (Rising, 1997)
According to Vance Opperman (2006), many who hold public office in the present day would not be holding those offices if they had not gone through 1968 and they were not influenced by the ideologies that were prevalent then. The McCarthy movement fostered the subversive view that an ordinary citizen can bring political changes in the country through participating in mainline politics. McCarthy did not only energized the spirits of the young of 1968, he also changed political strategies that were prevailing at that time.
“When you went to a precinct caucus in those days, I don’t know, six or seven people might turn up. It was all fairly controlled and set, and nobody seemed terribly uncomfortable with that fact. But then when ’68 came and Gene ran, there was barely enough room to get into the people’s houses, barely enough room. The schools, the houses, the churches were bursting with people who had enough of the Vietnam War,” Klas recalled (cited in Pugmire, n.d.).
However, despite this impact that he left to the people of United States during that period, this was not enough to bring him to the White House. McCarthy’s influence to the Americans remained in 1968.
In 1972, McCarthy ran for the Presidential nomination of his Democratic party but he was not successful. He lost to Edmund Muskie in the Illinois primary who received 63 percent of the votes; McCarthy received 36 percent (Minnesota Public Radio, 2005).
In 1973, he attempted to buy a Congressional post the Sixth District but he was opposed by the establishment of the the DFL. In 1976, he again attempted to run for the Presidential post, this time as an independent but he again lost receiving only 740, 460 votes or one percent of the total votes cast (Minnesota Public Radio, 2005).
After losing in the Presidential race, he tried his luck in the Senate but he lost in the DFL Senate primary. Not losing hope, he again tried his luck to the Presidency in 1988 under the Progressive party but like all his attempts, he again failed. He received a Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 1992 but he was not successful (Minnesota Public Radio, 2005).
Many consider McCarthy’s undying spirit to run for President as quixotic because the Americans did not take him seriously as a candidate.
As he withdrew from the political scene, McCarthy spent his time delivering lectures and teaching. He also devoted his time to writing, his passion. He wrote books and poetry delving on varied topics but always with a touch of 1968 (Pugmire, 2005).
He died in his sleep in December 10, 2005 in Woodville, Virginia. His son Michael said that his death was caused by complication of his Parkinson’s disease (Pugmire, 2005).
Remembering McCarthy can either be positive or negative. There are those who remember him as a failure and a loser, someone who wanted to bring change in the country but never did. He is a politician who showed a lot of promise and ended up with just his promising speeches and ideologies. Some fail to see the role that he played in bringing the Vietnam War to a halt and in changing the political system during his time. To some people, he is just an ordinary politician who aspired to become President but he never did. But there are people who also see McCarthy in a better light—an instrumental politician who had the courage to fight for what is right even though it would mean beating a seemingly unbeatable foe.
In the midst of the Johnson administration when everything that the government did was amenable, McCarthy rang his bell and served as a wake up call to many Americans. He brought sleeping America to its senses and see the hole that the government is digging for America’s future.
Had McCarthy failed to make a stand, the Vietnam War as well as America would have traversed a different future. But then, with only the few detailed Eugene McCarthy biographies written, it is not surprising that many fail to see the real imprint of McCarthy’s contribution to history. More than ever, McCarthy’s influence should be best remembered now that the United States politicians are at loggerheads with the Iraq war. His ideologies might help in enlightening the future of America and Iraq.
Clines, Francis. (2005, December 10). Eugene J. McCarthy, Senate Dove Who Jolted ’68 Race, Dies at 89. New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2008 from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/11/national/11mccarthy.html? _r=2&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1209812903-KYkZMgtDH6ek5bMV4NOA2Q
Kevin, Clark. (n.d.). Robert F. Kennedy Assassination. Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved May 2, 2008 from, http://220.127.116.11/search? q=cache:CFAChUAZDAMJ:www.museum.tv/archives/etv/K/htmlK/kennedyrobe/
Minnesota Public Radio. (10 December 2005). A Timeline of Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s life and political career. Retrieved May 2, 2008, from http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2005/06/15_newsroom_mccarthytimeline/
Microsoft Encarta online encyclopedia. (n.d.). Vietnam War. Retrieved May 2, 2008, from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761552642_3/Vietnam_War.html
NCS. (n.d.). “Clean for Gene”: Eugene McCarthy and the Presidential Election of 1968. Re trieved May 2, 2008 from http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:RjSdDJrLtcQJ:www.nc s.pvt.k12.va.us/ryerbury/wes/wes.htm+eugene+mccarthy+books+and +poetry;hl=tl;ct=clnk;cd=1;gl=ph;client=firefox-a.
Opperman, Vance. (2006). The man who led the 1968 McCarthy campaign on the U of M cam pus remembers the senator. Eugene McCarthy. Retrieved May 2, 2008 from http://www.eugenemccarthy.org/content/GeneLeavesUsAllBehind/tabid/58/Default.aspx
Pugmire, Tim. (10 December 2005). Eugene McCarthy, who galvanized a generation of war opponents, dies. Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved May 2, 2008, from http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2005/06/15_olsond_genemccarthy/
Rising, G. (2007). Clean for Gene, Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 Presidential Campaign. CT: Green wood Publishing Group, Inc.
United States Congress. (n.d.). Bioguide: Eugene McCarthy. Retrieved May 2, 2008, from http://22.214.171.124/search? q=cache:tI71qLkVrKUJ:bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl%3Findex %3DM000311+eugene+mccarthy;hl=tl;ct=clnk;cd=2;gl=ph;client=firefox-a