Eugene McCarthy (1916 - 2005), native rural Minnesotan, poet,
World War II veteran, one-time Benedictine novice and, in 1967, an
American disillusioned by President Johnson and the escalating war
in Vietnam, declared his candidacy for the Democratic Party
I am hoping that this
challenge I am making, which I am hoping will be supported by other
of the Senate and by other politicians, may alleviate the sense of
political helplessness and restore to many
people a belief in the processes of American politics and of
Heading into the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy, dismissed by
the mainstream press who doubted he could beat Johnson, nonetheless
attracted waves of anti-war college students from around the
country. They would influence the 1968 campaign in ways no one
could have imagined.
Escalation is a word
that has no point of interruption. By the time you raise the
question the flag has gone by.
Hoping to shake the image of the hippie protester, many who
volunteered to canvass for McCarthy in New Hampshire chose to shave
their long hair, beards and mustaches, leading to the unofficial
campaign slogan "Get Clean for Gene."
This is, I say, the
time for all good men not to go to the aid of their party, but to
come to the aid of their country.
After the disastrous Tet Offensive, the quixotic anti-war
candidate and his "children's crusade" seemed less like a novelty,
to both the press and to Democrats looking for an alternative to
Johnson. McCarthy would go on to take 42% of the vote with Johnson
securing 49%. A loss, but a definite signal that dissent within the
Democratic Party left Johnson vulnerable. Suddenly the anti-war
movement wasn't just hippie kids and left-wing activists.
Mainstream America began to openly examine what America was doing
in Southeast Asia.
We do not need
presidents who are bigger than the country, but rather ones who
speak for it and support it.
Stunned by his near-defeat and realizing that his party was
rapidly losing confidence in him, Johnson announced that he would
not seek another term. Another man saw that vulnerability, too -
Robert Kennedy, who declared his candidacy three days after the
McCarthy won several primaries, but in June lost California to
Kennedy, who was assassinated shortly after. McCarthy faced an
uphill battle against party favorite Hubert Humphrey, who
eventually was nominated as the Democratic candidate. Humphrey lost
to Richard Nixon.
Though McCarthy sought the Presidency three more times, as recently
as 1988, his legacy lies on the wintry, well-worn streets of Dover,
Portsmouth, Nashua, Manchester ... where every four years volunteers
from around the country still descend by the masses ... and where
nearly 40 years ago a man who challenged his party and his
President, and an increasingly restless movement desperately in
need of a leader, drew together for a brief moment in time to spark
a fire of dissent that would transcend the New Hampshire primary
and even the 1968 Presidential campaign.