Eugene McCarthy, the U.S. Senator from Minnesota whose maverick anti-war Presidential campaign in 1968 toppled Lyndon Johnson from power, was born on March 29, 1916, in the small town of Watkins, Minnesota. He took degrees from St. John's University (Collegeville, Minnesota) and the University of Minnesota before becoming a teacher. After a stint as a civilian War Department employee during World War II, he became a college economics and sociology professor. A omen Catholic deeply committed to social justice, he spent a year in a monastery. Eventually, he turned to politics.
McCarthy served 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives after wining election in 1948, then two terms in the Senate, elected in both 1958 and 1964. As a Congressman, McCarthy supported the U.S. intervention in favor of South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean Conflict, but he came out as an opponent of the Vietnam War. In 1968, he thew his hat into the ring in the New Hampshire presidential primary as an anti-war candidate, opposing sitting President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination. He stunned the nation and changed political history when he won the primary, racking up 42% of the vote. A humiliated Johnson soon withdrew from the race, leaving the field open.
A well-educated person, McCarthy was an extremely erudite individual, and he attracted support from not only anti-war youth but from intellectuals, and many celebrities, including movie superstar Paul Newman, who had actively campaigned for McCarthy in New Hampshire. McCarthy's chances at the presidency were diminished, however, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy came out against the war and joined the field. Despite being denounced by many as an opportunist, Kennedy was an attractive candidate and represented the legacy of Camelot, his late brother John F. Kennedy's presidency. Some McCarthy supporters, like Richard Goodwin, defected to Kennedy. RFK was despised by Lyndon Johnson, and the president threw his support to his Vice-President and McCarthy's fellow Minnesotan, Hubert H. Humphrey, a mixed blessing at best as Humphrey, a noted liberal, was left with the job of defending Johnson's war in Vietnam. Despite Johnson's support of Humphrey, the race initially evolved into a contest between the two Irish Catholic anti-war candidates, McCarthy and Kennedy, a struggle that was terminated by RFK's assassination.
Humphrey, with the backing of Establishment Democrats, won the Democratc nomination at the Chicago convention, which was the scene of what was later termed a "police riot" by Democratic mayor Richard Daley's law enforcement operations targeting the army of anti-war protesters that had descended on the City of Broad Shoulders and hard police batons. The debacle was symbolic of the wider conflict between idealistic youth & other anti-establishment elements and the old guard of machine politicians & entrenched, pro-war government hacks that tore apart the party created by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Norman Mailer, in his book about the party conventions "Miami and the Siege of Chicago", said that during the mêlées that took place between protesters and police in Chicago, McCarthy worried that Daley might have his children imprisoned, beaten or murdered. The Chicago convention, in which CBS reporter Dan Rather was punched in the stomach on-camera by a Chicgo plain-clothes detective, was one of the nadirs of American politics.
Hubert Humphrey narrowly lost the November presidential election to Richard Nixon in November. Third-party candidate George Wallace, an Alabama Democrat, had siphoned-off support from traditional Democratic demographic groups by running on a anti-integrationist platform. Capitalizing on the "politics of rage", Wallace effectively split-off parts of the old party base, the heart of the Solid South and many working class Democrats, by a blunt appeal to racism. It effectively handed the election to Nixon, who won with less than half the popular vote.
A revolution had occurred in American politics, the effects of which are felt to this day, with the defecting of the Southeastern states from their traditional home in the Democratic Party to what was once the hated Republican Party of Reconstruction over the issue of civil rights, and the wooing of the working class, traditional Democrats, by the GOP with the use of "wedge" issues that touched on social anxieties.
Eugene McCarthy declined to run for a third term in the Senate in 1970 (his seat was won by Hubert Humphrey) and devoted much of his time to writing, including poetry. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination four more times, in 1972, 1976, 1988 and 1992, but never came close to generating the enthusiasm of his first campaign.
McCarthy believed that the Democratic Party greatest achievements were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the enactment of the national health insurance programs "Medicare" and "Medicaid" as part of LBJ's vision of the "Great Society". However, he blamed the ratcheting up of Vietnam War by Johnson for the failure of part of the Great Society agenda, as it took the focus of revitalizing America. Not surprisingly, McCarthy was a critic of George W. Bush, whom he considered an "amateur", and Bush's war in Iraq.
Eugene McCarthy died in his sleep on December 11, 2005. He was 89 years old.
|Abigail Quigley||(5 June 1945 - 11 December 2005) (his death) 4 children|
Highly vocal critic of US participation in the Viet Nam War.
He and his wife separated after his unsuccessful run for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, but they never divorced.
Member of US Congress form Minnesota (representative, 3 January 1949 - 3 January 1959; senator, 3 January 1959 - 3 January 1971).
Nephew of Robert E. McCarthy
Father of three children: Michael, Ellen and Margaret.
Buried at Saint Paul's Episcopal Churchyard in Woodville, Rappahannock County, Virginia, USA. Additional information at Find-A-Grave (see Miscellaneous Links).
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 343-345. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
In October, 1969, his daughter, Mary Beth McCarthy married Peter Yarrow of the folk group "Peter, Paul and Mary". Peter's singing partner, (Noel) Paul Stookey wrote "The Wedding Song (There is Love)" as his wedding gift to Peter and Mary Beth.
Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important.
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