Friday, Aug. 30, 1968: McCarthy rallies supporters

Posted on December 11th, 2005 – 8:54 PM
By Ben Welter
McCarthy in August 1968

With Minnesota’s two U.S. senators vying for the presidential nomination, the Minneapolis Tribune sent two reporters and its Washington bureau chief — plus columnist Robert T. Smith — to cover the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

Smith filed an odd column in which he “interviewed” Max, a gorilla at the Lincoln Park Zoo who complained about the riots during the convention. “For four nights I’ve watched human beings hitting other human beings, then hitting them again after they were down,” Max told the columnist. “I’ve choked on your tear gas, and there’s Mace all over my bananas.” He wondered: Was there room for him at the Como Zoo in St. Paul?

Back to reality: Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978) secured the nomination at the contentious convention, defeating Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005), whose antiwar stand found favor with the demonstrators outside the convention. The Tribune’s Richard Kleeman captured the mood of McCarthy and his supporters on the night that Ed Muskie was chosen as Humphrey’s running mate.

McCarthy, Shunning Parties,
Cheered by ‘Exile’ Regime

Minneapolis Tribune Staff Correspondent

CHICAGO, Ill. – From the back of the steaming room jammed with staff, delegates and correspondents who have followed the McCarthy presidential campaign, a voice called out, “Forget the convention.”

Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy picked it up:

“We’ve forgotten the convention. We’re beyond the convention.

“WE’VE FORGOTTEN the Vice President. We’ve forgotten the platform.

“What we’re going to do is to go on and present to the people between now and November the issues we’ve been raising for nine months.”

Thus did the Minnesotan declare his independence of the Humphrey-Muskie Democratic ticket. He called that cheering group “a meeting of the government in exile.”

LATER, McCarthy crossed through cordons of police and National Guardsmen ranged along Michigan Av., climbed upon a park bench and spoke to wildly enthusiastic thousands of young demonstrators.

That group, which alternated its chants between “We want Gene” and “Dump the Hump,” McCarthy called “the government and people in exile” – and the crowd loved it.

McCarthy in 1935 An excellent athlete in his younger days, McCarthy captained the St. John’s University hockey team that won a conference title in 1935.

To make his political stance still more clear, McCarthy told the hippies, yippies and other protesters, “We’re going to try to improve things, not within the political parties necessarily.

“MY POSITION is that I do not endorse either one of them (Humphrey or Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee) and I am prepared to stay with these issues as long as I have a constituency – and I see I still have a constituency.”

The crowd loved that, too.

McCarthy did not go to the convention session last night, nor had he done so all week.

AN AIDE said “I suppose he was” when asked whether McCarthy had been asked by Humphrey to attend the evening session, in a display of unity along with Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., the other major unsuccessful candidate for the nomination.

McCarthy also would have no part of a protest march to the auditorium that was organized by author Norman Mailer, according to his spokesman.

McCarthy’s messages to his disbanding staff, to the Grant Park demonstrators and in a brief stop at the Minnesota delegation reflected a get-on-with-it attitude that pervades the McCarthy camp.

“We’ve had a great victory to this point,” he told the first group.

“We’re stalled now, but we’re not stopped,” he told the young people, in what was billed as a “cool it” talk but sounded more like a rallying call.

McCarthy assessed his claimed victory to date against the issues he had promised to raise when he started his campaign nine months ago: The Vietnam war, reviewing national priorities and appraising the American political process.

“THE COUNTRY has passed a judgment on the war,” he declared, “and our failure was not with the people but only that the judgment of the people could somehow not be put through the procedures of government in 1968.”

The party procedures have been “purified and perfect,” the senator said, singling out the abolition throughout the party affairs of the “unit rule,” a winner-takes-all process that gives a majority complete control.

A McCarthy-supported minority report, ruling out the unit rule in the process of choosing delegates for the 1972 Democratic national convention, was adopted here – the Minnesotan’s only major victory on the convention floor.

HIS PLANS between now and election, McCarthy said, call for actively supporting candidates – particularly for the U.S. Senate – who support his views.

He mentioned in particular Paul O’Dwyer, the underdog New York Senate candidate who has who has said he will not support the Humphrey ticket; Iowa Gov. Harold Hughes, who is expected to back the party candidates; New Hampshire Gov. John King, seeking a Senate seat, and for re-election, Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon.

If Julian Bond, the Georgia Negro legislator, were a candidate for the Senate, McCarthy said he would support him, too.

ELECTING such antiwar candidates, McCarthy pointed out, would help the Senate “determine the foreign policy in Vietnam for either Richard Nixon or Hubert Humphrey.”

McCarthy regretted the fact that O’Dwyer – who is opposing Republican Sen. Jacob Javits – is not qualified to run for president because he was born in Ireland, “but we have in mind to offer statehood to Ireland.”

Of Bond, who delivered a rousing seconding speech for him Wednesday, McCarthy said, “Until now I have had the reputation of having given the finest nominating speech of the century, but for the good of the cause I was willing to see that reputation destroyed.”

(THIS WAS a reference to the speech McCarthy gave in 1960, nominating the late Adlai Stevenson at the convention at which the late John F. Kennedy was selected.)

Humphrey forces reportedly had wanted McCarthy to address the demonstrators after Humphrey’s evening acceptance address at the amphitheater, in hopes of avoiding rioting outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel like that Wednesday night.

But McCarthy aides advised him against speaking in the park after dark.

Summarizing the broad sweep of his nine-month campaign, McCarthy yesterday declared:

“We can say we were willing to open the box and see what America was. We had that kind of confidence, and when we opened it, we found the people of this nation were not wanting.”

MANY YOUNG MEMBERS of the McCarthy staff were wearing blank white campaign buttons – indicating whom they would support in November – and black armbands, in mourning for the defeated strong antiwar platform plank.

Mrs. Hubert Humphrey paid a call on Mrs. McCarthy at her suite yesterday, but what took place between the two old Minnesota friends was not disclosed.

McCarthy is scheduled to fly to Washington today and may visit Minnesota this weekend.

Chicago 1968
Protesters used park benches to construct barricades against Chicago police during the convention in Chicago in 1968.

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