The phenomenon of an elderly Jewish East Coast liberal vying for the Democrat Party’s nomination for President of the United States reminds one of another campaign a few years back—well, more than a few.
Eugene McCarthy, the senator from Minnesota, though non-Jewish, and non-Easterner, captured the imagination of the liberals in 1968 by challenging the powerful President Lyndon B. Johnson in an energetic anti-war campaign.
Almost overnight, McCarthy won the hearts and minds of America’s youthful voters—some, as I, voting for the first time in a presidential election. I liked the way McCarthy stood up to the powers that had cranked up the war in Southeast Asia, primarily Vietnam, creating a mountain of body bags of American soldiers.
The war was problematic from the beginning, and using conscripted teenagers as fodder in a quagmire-style war, was ill-advised to say the least. Vietnam meant nothing to America except a place to exercise what President Eisenhower warned against—the military industrial complex.
In fact, war profiteers were everywhere, sucking the millions of dollars from the treasury on top of the bodies of young American men. The war was proving nothing and the world could see it.
McCarthy railed against the war and he was right. However, a one-issue candidate rarely, if ever, can sustain enough support across the wide-spectrum of the American public’s needs and wants.
For example, McCarthy wanted to solve the problem of racial inequality in housing, by forcing the removal of black families from their neighborhoods into white neighborhoods, although how that could be done never quite got explained. Of course, that issue alone raised all kinds of problems. Would white people have to move out of their homes to make room for black families? Would the government buy homes for black people in white neighborhoods and give them to the families? And so on.
McCarthy also advised that he would not be opposed to having Communists incorporated into the South Vietnamese government as part of a coalition of political parties. This was said in the era of the Cold War when our very existence depended on standing up to the Russian Soviet Communists who had nuclear missiles aimed at all of our major cities. It was Russia who was backing North Vietnam. It was a Communist army killing American kids.
We are faced with a similar problem today in the Middle East with the challenge of ISIS and other militant armies.
Bernie Sanders is repeating some of the conversation of Eugene McCarthy—which isn’t a bad thing, but it is not a winning message. He says things that will get everyone cheering (much like Donald Trump does at the other end of the scale). However, none of Sanders’ proposals would win approval in Congress as it is now constituted.
Even with a Democratic Congress, it is unlikely his ideas would survive what would be a heated debate. Once again, his proposals are not bad and in fact they are quite “progressive” but change comes slowly.
If he had a Democratic Congress, he might be able to get the health care issue changed over to the originally-fine idea of a one-payer system like Medicare. Of course, Hillary Clinton would do the same.
McCarthy’s failure was his total lack of ability on foreign policy issues. At that time in our history, keeping the world from falling into a nuclear holocaust was essential. The U.S. was faced with challenges in Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.
At home we had challenges in the civil rights for minorities and women. Don’t forget, it was a decade when large cities, including Detroit, erupted in rioting and violence. We are at that point again.
While Eugene McCarthy would have lost the Democratic nomination to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the convention, once Kennedy was assassinated, the challenge was filled by the Vice-President and fellow Minnesotan, Hubert Humphrey.
Humphrey was a good man who thought his upbeat personality would be useful in the Johnson administration, but he was shuffled aside most of the time until Johnson decided not to seek reelection. Even then, he didn’t want to run, but when Kennedy was killed, he became the only man who could reunite the party.
He almost did it, too. His problem was running against both the foreign policy disastrous legacy of Johnson and the devious and conniving rhetoric of Richard Nixon. Even at that, had the election been held three weeks later, Humphrey would have won. Instead, we were stuck with Tricky Dick, an extended war and Watergate.