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Eugene Joseph McCarthy

Eugene Joseph McCarthy

Eugene Joseph McCarthy (born 1916) had a long and influential career in American politics. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives he stood up to the Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In the late 1950s he chaired the Senate Special Committee on Unemployment, part of an effort to investigate the causes of and solutions to unemployment. He also opposed incumbent President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1967 in an effort to force debate on Vietnam. Since leaving politics, McCarthy has enjoyed a second career as a prolific writer.

Eugene McCarthy was born March 29, 1916, in Watkins, Minnesota. He received his bachelor of arts degree from St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota (1935), and his master of arts at the University of Minnesota (1939). From 1935 to 1940 he taught in the Minnesota Public Schools, returning to St. John's University in 1940 as an instructor in economics. From 1946 until 1949 he taught economics and sociology at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1945 McCarthy married Abigail Quigley. They had four children: Margaret, Michael, Mary and Ellen.

Organized New Party

McCarthy entered politics in St. Paul in 1947 as an organizer of the newly fused Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. The following year he ran for Congress in Minnesota's traditionally Republican Fourth Congressional District and won by 25,000 votes. During his 10 years in the House of Representatives, McCarthy built a solid liberal-internationalist record. In 1952 he showed great courage by debating the Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy on national television. On numerous occasions in the House, he attempted to curtail the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His chief goal was to reorganize the House to facilitate the passage of liberal legislation. But by 1958 McCarthy had grown tired of the House. "The House," he remarked, "is not a home."

Chaired Committee on Unemployment

McCarthy won a Senate seat in 1958 following another of his low-budget campaigns. While a senator, he chaired the Special Committee on Unemployment. The committee dedicated itself to studying the causes of unemployment—and ways to alleviate them—holding hearings in McCarthy's native Minnesota, as well as in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

"Unemployment," he said in 1959, "is first of all a human and social problem, affecting the welfare and happiness of individual workers and of their families." He was critical of the government's lack of urgency about maintaining full employment. He said, "there has been no real recognition of the basic fact that to be strong and healthy and secure an economy must expand and grow dynamically" (from committee archives, Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI).

McCarthy supported Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 Democratic primaries, nominated Adlai Stevenson at the Democratic National Convention, and traveled cross-country in support of John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency. In the Senate, McCarthy was more concerned about the general quality and direction of policy than with the detailed work of committees or the drafting of legislation. This aloofness made him an intellectually effective, yet totally unconventional, member of the Senate. Until the selection of Humphrey as the vice presidential nominee in 1964, many Democratic leaders had considered McCarthy the logical choice for the nomination. President Lyndon Johnson himself had led McCarthy to expect it.

Tried to Force Vietnam Talks

During his second Senate term McCarthy emerged as one of the country's leading foreign policy critics. He first broke with the Johnson administration in 1965 over American intervention in the Dominican Republic. Possessing no special knowledge or interest in Vietnam, McCarthy at first accepted administration rationalizations regarding American participation in that conflict—even after other senators had begun to condemn United States involvement. In 1966, however, McCarthy became convinced that peace in Vietnam required a political settlement with the Vietcong. He began to oppose American participation in the war at every turn.

Unable to affect policy, McCarthy entered the presidential race on Nov. 30, 1967, in order to force a debate over Vietnam within his party. Supported by students and suburban volunteers, McCarthy ran a close race against Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, took the Wisconsin primary easily, and defeated Robert Kennedy in Oregon. He lost to Kennedy in California. McCarthy's low-key, polished style, and his frequent insistence on a coalition government in South Vietnam, made him a symbol of the nation's widespread dissatisfaction with the war. As a way of attempting to force Humphrey to adopt his positions, McCarthy withheld his support until late in the 1968 campaign. Shortly after the presidential election McCarthy announced that he would not seek reelection to the Senate.

McCarthy has written numerous books on American politics and foreign policy: Frontiers in American Democracy (1960); Dictionary of American Politics (1962); A Liberal Answer to the Conservative Challenge (1964); The Limits of Power: America's Role in the World (1967); The Year of the People (1969): The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions (1975); A Political Bestiary: Viable Alternatives, Impressive Mandates and Other Fables (1978); America Revisited: 150 Years after Tocqueville (1978); The Ultimate Tyranny: the Majority Over the Majority (1980); Gene McCarthy's Minnesota: Memories of a Native Son (1982); The View from Rappahannock (1984); Up Until Now: A Memoir (1987); Required Reading: A Decade of Political Wit and Wisdom (1988); Nonfinancial Economics: The Case for Shorter Hours of Work (1989); and A Colony of the World: the United States Today: America's Senior Statesman Warns His Countrymen (1992).

McCarthy's writings have not been limited to politics. In 1977 he published Mr. Raccoon and His Friends, a collection of stories he originally shared with his children. The book includes a brief introduction by Ellen McCarthy. His published poetry includes the books Ground Fog and Night (1979); Other Things and the Aardvark (1970); "Older Sisters" McCall's (March 1985); and "Fawn Hall Among the Antinomians New Republic (Sept. 14-21, 1987). He also wrote the foreword to Alban Boultwood's Into His Splendid Light (1968), a collection of spiritual meditations.

McCarthy has published the following articles: "Dimpled Neos" New Republic (June 13, 1980); "Bad Calls" New Republic (Aug. 29, 1983); "Going Spare" New Republic (April 23, 1984); "Tips for Veeps" New Republic (July 16-23, 1984); "Big Benny" New Republic (Aug. 4, 1986); "Capital Takes Advantage" Commonweal (Jan. 30, 1987); "The 15 Commandments" New Republic (Feb. 22, 1988); "Pollution Absolution" New Republic (Oct. 29, 1990); "The Enclosure Movement" America (June 4-11, 1994); "The Vindicator" New Republic (May 15, 1995); and "Elegy for the Evening News" Commonweal (Nov. 3, 1995).

Further Reading

Eugene McCarthy is a subject of the 90-minute motion picture American is Hard to See (1970), a documentary of the 1968 American presidential campaign beginning with McCarthy's entry into the race.

Books on aspects of McCarthy's life include Joseph Frank, ed., The New Look in Politics: McCarthy's Campaign (University of New Mexico Press, 1968); David Frost, The Presidential Debate, 1968; David Frost Talks With Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (Stein and Day, 1968); Arthur Herzog, McCarthy for President (Viking Press, 1969); Ben Stavis, We Were the Campaign: New Hampshire to Chicago for McCarthy (Beacon Press, 1969); Jeremy Larner, Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy Campaign of 1968 (MacMillan, 1970). □

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McCarthy, Eugene Joseph

MCCARTHY, EUGENE JOSEPH

Eugene Joseph McCarthy served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 to 1959 and as a U.S. senator from 1959 to 1971. He was a liberal Democrat who served in the shadow of his fellow Minnesota senator, hubert h. humphrey. His opposition to the vietnam war led to his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. Although ultimately unsuccessful, his candidacy galvanized the anti-war constituency and helped persuade President lyndon b. johnson not to seek re-election.

McCarthy was born March 29, 1916, in Watkins, Minnesota, the son of a livestock buyer. He graduated from Saint John's University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, in 1935, and worked on a master's degree at the University of Minnesota during the late 1930s while he was a high-school teacher in Mandan, North Dakota. McCarthy returned to Saint John's in 1940 to teach economics. After deciding not to join the priesthood, he left Saint John's in 1943 and served in the War Department's Intelligence Division until the close of world war ii in 1945.

After the war, McCarthy joined the faculty at the College of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, where he taught sociology. In 1948, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, beginning a 22-year political career in Washington, D.C. During the 1950s McCarthy worked on labor and agricultural issues and maintained a liberal Democratic voting record. In 1957, he established an informal coalition of members of Congress, later formally organized as the House Democratic Study Group, to counter anti–civil rights actions of southern Democrats.

McCarthy was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958 and became a respected member of the body. His wit and scholarly, understated manner became recognized nationally, but his demeanor was no match for that of Humphrey, his energetic and voluble colleague. In 1964, President Johnson generated publicity during the Democratic National Convention by floating both senators' names for the vice presidential slot on his reelection ticket. In the end, he chose Humphrey.

In 1965, McCarthy joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was to become the center of congressional opposition to the Vietnam War. Although in 1964 McCarthy had voted for the tonkin gulf resolution (78 Stat. 384), which had given President Johnson the power to wage war in Vietnam, he soon had doubts about the wisdom of U.S. involvement. In January 1966, McCarthy and 14 other senators signed a public letter urging Johnson not to

resume bombing of North Vietnam after a brief holiday truce. From that first public criticism of the Vietnam War, McCarthy became a consistent, vocal opponent, making speeches against the war in 1966 and 1967.

In November 1967, McCarthy announced his candidacy for president, based specifically on Johnson's Vietnam policies. Although McCarthy's campaign was not taken seriously at first, an outpouring of support by largely unpaid, politically inexperienced student volunteers on college campuses across the country captured national attention and gave his candidacy political momentum. This momentum was demonstrated when McCarthy won 20 of the 24 New Hampshire delegates in the state's March 1968 primary. President Johnson narrowly won the popular vote in New Hampshire, but the delegates' response was a devastating blow for an incumbent president.

Encouraged by McCarthy's success, Senator robert f. kennedy, of New York, joined the race. McCarthy was embittered by Kennedy's decision because McCarthy had wanted Kennedy to run all along, but because Kennedy had refused, McCarthy ran instead. Kennedy had refused to contest Johnson's re-election when the odds appeared in the president's favor. Johnson, sensing the difficulty of his re-election, dropped out of the race in March 1968. Vice President Humphrey entered the race after Johnson's withdrawal.

From April to June 1968, McCarthy and Kennedy waged a series of primary battles. McCarthy won the first three, then lost four of the next five to Kennedy. Humphrey refused to run in the primaries, collecting his delegates through state political conventions and the cooperation of local party leaders.

Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968, and the race then centered on McCarthy and Humphrey. Humphrey won the nomination, but unprecedented violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago helped to doom his candidacy against richard m. nixon. McCarthy refused to campaign for Humphrey, largely because Humphrey was reluctant to articulate a proposal to end the Vietnam War. Humphrey lost the November election to Nixon by a smaller margin than had been predicted, leading some Democratic leaders to complain that McCarthy's unwillingness to campaign for the ticket had cost Humphrey the election.

McCarthy declined to run for re-election to the Senate in 1970. Humphrey ran successfully

in his place. McCarthy ran a lackluster presidential campaign in 1972 and a better-organized independent presidential campaign in 1976. He lost both races and subsequently retired from the political arena.

McCarthy endorsed ronald reagan in 1980 over incumbent president jimmy carter and his running mate, Minnesotan Walter Mondale. In 1982, McCarthy ran for senator in Minnesota but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Mark Dayton.

"The war in Vietnam is of questionable loyalty and constitutionality … diplomatically indefensible … even in military terms [and] morally wrong."
—Eugene McCarthy

After leaving active politics, McCarthy concentrated on teaching, political commentary, and poetry writing. In 1998, he published No-Fault Politics: Modern Presidents, the Press, and Reformers. In 2001, a documentary film titled, I'm Sorry I Was Right: Eugene McCarthy was released. In the film, McCarthy discusses his past experiences, extrapolates on lessons learned from the Vietnam War, warns against the growing power of the military-industrial complex, and recites some of his poetry. In 2003, McCarthy continued to write, to travel the country, and to speak out against the war in Iraq.

further readings

Callahan, John. 2003."As War Looms." Commonweal (March 14).

Colford, Paul D. 1998. "Eugene McCarthy, Revisited." Newsday (August 26).

Eisele, Albert. 1972. Almost to the Presidency: A Biography of Two American Politicians. Blue Earth, Minn.: Piper.

McCarthy, Abigail. 1972. Private Faces, Public Places. New York: Doubleday.

McCarthy, Eugene. 1969. The Year of the People. New York: Doubleday.

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McCarthy, Eugene Joseph

Eugene Joseph McCarthy, 1916–2005, U.S. political leader, b. Watkins, Minn. He served (1942–46) as a technical assistant for military intelligence during World War II and then taught (1946–49) at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. As a liberal Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1949–59) and the Senate (1959–71), McCarthy gained a reputation as an intellectual in politics. In 1967 he announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination as a direct challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam policies. His antiwar position won the support of many liberals and his strong showing (Mar., 1968) in the New Hampshire primary brought Sen. Robert F. Kennedy into the race and helped persuade Johnson not to seek reelection. Defeated for the nomination by Hubert H. Humphrey, McCarthy retired from the Senate and resumed (1973) teaching, but subsequently mounted several (1972, 1976, 1988, 1992) futile campaigns for the presidency. Among his books are The Limits of Power (1967) and The Year of the People (1969).

See D. Sandbrook, Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (2004).

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McCarthy, Eugene Joseph

McCARTHY, Eugene Joseph

(b. 29 March 1916 in Watkins, Minnesota), U.S. senator and author who challenged President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 Democratic presidential primaries as an anti–Vietnam War candidate, winning fervent support from college students, liberal activists, and others before ultimately losing his party's nomination to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

McCarthy was born and raised in a rural area of central Minnesota. One of two sons of Michael J. McCarthy, a farmer, and Anna (Baden) McCarthy, a homemaker, he showed both an intellectual streak and athletic prowess (in baseball and ice hockey) while growing up. He attended Saint John's Preparatory School and Saint John's University, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1935, followed by graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, where he received a master's degree in sociology in 1941. From 1936 to 1940 he taught social science in high school and then returned to Saint John's University as a professor of economics and education. A brief stint as a civilian technical assistant with army intelligence in 1942 interrupted his academic career. After flirting with the idea of taking monastic vows, he married a teacher, Abigail Quigley, in 1945 and became a sociology instructor at the College of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul. He and his wife had four children and later divorced.

Becoming active in the Democratic Farmer–Labor Party in the Saint Paul area, he received its nomination for U.S. Congress in 1948. McCarthy was elected and went on to serve five terms; he was best known there as the leader of McCarthy's Marauders (a caucus of young midwestern liberals) and for debating the much feared Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1952. (Joseph McCarthy was best known for his heavy-handed and wide-ranging investigation of Communism in the U.S. government and in society at large.) In 1958 McCarthy was elected to the U.S. Senate. His national profile was raised when he nominated Adlai Stevenson for president at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. Increasingly, he gained a reputation as a loner, although he generally voted with his party's liberal faction. Briefly considered as Lyndon Johnson's vice presidential running mate in 1964, he went on to win reelection to the Senate by a record-setting margin that year.

Over the next two years McCarthy emerged as a critic of Johnson's Vietnam War policies, voting in 1966 to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which effectively gave the president unlimited authorization to use American military forces in Southeast Asia. Beyond the war itself, McCarthy objected to the Johnson administration's disregard for the Senate's role in shaping foreign policy. He was likewise critical of the Central Intelligence Agency's influence in policy-making and sought to reduce U.S. arms sales abroad. In 1967 he detailed his views in The Limits of Power, a thoughtful, yet scathing book that condemned reckless American intervention in other nations' affairs.

For all his anger and frustration, McCarthy was slow to emerge as the leader of the "dump Johnson" movement. Initially, he considered Senator Robert F. Kennedy to be the strongest potential challenger. A deliberate, cerebral man with a penchant for writing poetry, McCarthy never saw himself at the head of a radical campaign to seize the Democratic Party. Thanks to the urgings of the liberal activist Allard K. Lowenstein and his own daughter Mary, he finally decided to accept the backing of antiwar activists and enter the 1968 presidential primaries. McCarthy explained his candidacy in clear-cut moral terms. In a December 1967 speech, he called the Vietnam War "central to all the problems of America … diplomatically indefensible" and the source of the country's growing disillusionment with government.

Although the experts dismissed his chances, McCarthy's campaign attracted impressive numbers of college students as volunteers. Young people were encouraged to get "Clean for Gene," that is, to spruce up and canvass door-to-door for votes. The efforts of this "Children's Crusade" proved decisive in the campaign's first primary, held in New Hampshire on 12 March. Winning a surprising 42 percent of the vote, McCarthy demonstrated that Johnson was vulnerable. The shock waves from New Hampshire led to Johnson's withdrawal from the race on 31 March. Two days later McCarthy decisively won the Wisconsin primary, only to face new opposition from Robert Kennedy (who had decided to enter the primaries) and Vice President Hubert Humphrey (who courted delegates outside the primary system). Running against these opponents proved more difficult than taking on the unpopular president. Losing his stride, McCarthy came in third in the Indiana primary on 7 May and was beaten by Kennedy in Nebraska a week later.

Lacking a stark contrast over issues, the Democratic primary race began to focus on more personal charges. The Kennedy forces portrayed McCarthy as an aloof intellectual; the McCarthy supporters painted Kennedy as a ruthless opportunist. Against his opponent's flash and charisma, McCarthy presented a subdued reasonableness that held considerable appeal in affluent suburban areas. It worked well for him in the Oregon primary—backed by a strong local volunteer organization, he scored an impressive victory there, becoming the first candidate ever to defeat a Kennedy brother in an election. This win set up the two men for a showdown in California on 4 June.

The bitterness between the McCarthy and Kennedy campaigns reached new heights during the California contest. At a San Francisco appearance, McCarthy charged that Kennedy "played a prominent role in formulating policies which resulted in disastrous adventures," including the Vietnam War. He also criticized his opponent for relying too much on private enterprise to reduce poverty in America's inner cities, favoring a more activist government approach that included job-linked housing programs outside the ghetto. This latter issue became a point of contention during the two candidates' televised debate on 1 June. Kennedy accused his foe of proposing to "take 10,000 black people and move them into Orange County [a Los Angeles suburb]," a charge with decidedly racist overtones. McCarthy failed to respond to these and other jabs with much vigor, turning in a lackluster performance. Three days later Kennedy defeated McCarthy by five percentage points, only to be assassinated shortly after claiming victory. The tragedy effectively ended the McCarthy campaign as well, although McCarthy continued to search for delegates and engage in credentials challenges up until the Democratic convention.

After winning the New York primary on 18 June, McCarthy conducted what some supporters viewed as an erratic, indifferent campaign. He appeared downbeat and self-absorbed, uncertain of how to proceed against Humphrey, who was rolling up enough delegates to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. Despite the fact that political polls indicated that McCarthy, rather than Humphrey, was the strongest candidate against the likely Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, old-guard Democratic professionals remained opposed to his candidacy. The late entrance of Senator George McGovern into the race as a second antiwar candidate complicated matters further. As the convention approached, McCarthy bristled at the notion that he had become a halfhearted, passive candidate who lacked compassion and feeling. At one delegate gathering, he noted, "A little passivity in that office [the presidency] is all right, a kind of balance.… I have never quite known what active compassion is.… Compassion, in my mind, is to suffer with someone, not in advance of him."

On the eve of August's Democratic convention in Chicago, McCarthy acknowledged that his chances were all but hopeless. Humphrey easily triumphed over McCarthy on the first ballot but never recovered from the ill-will between his party's factions. The violence committed by Chicago police against demonstrators outside the convention hall further soured McCarthy's supporters from casting their lot with Humphrey. Although he discouraged his supporters from launching an independent campaign on his behalf, McCarthy refused to endorse the Democratic ticket until Humphrey turned away from Johnson's war policies. He finally gave his support on 29 October, after the vice president announced his willingness to suspend bombing in North Vietnam. This last-minute gesture failed to save Humphrey from a narrow defeat by Nixon.

Before Election Day, McCarthy had announced his intention not to seek reelection to the U.S. Senate. Returning to the political wars in 1972, he ran a limited campaign for the Democratic nomination. Four years later he sought the presidency as an independent, polling less than 1 percent of the vote (although arguably drawing enough votes from the Democratic contender, Jimmy Carter, nearly to elect the Republican nominee, Gerald Ford). Further unsuccessful bids for office followed, including a run for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and a small-scale effort as the presidential nominee of the Consumers Party in 1988. He had trouble attracting notice for his third try for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992. Ever the maverick, he opposed federal election reform and championed a shorter work week during this campaign, which garnered few votes. Besides seeking office, he spent his post-Senate years lecturing at universities and writing books. His published works have included everything from political studies to children's stories and collections of poetry.

An unusual mixture of freethinker and traditionalist, McCarthy spent much of his public career trying to reform existing American institutions. His 1968 campaign was an attempt to restore the balance of power between Congress and the presidency and to curb the excesses of the military. As an articulate spokesman for the antiwar forces, McCarthy made opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam seem reasonable and morally compelling. More conservative than many of his followers, he served to bring many young activists into the political system before embarking on his own idiosyncratic path in the 1970s.

Books by McCarthy relating to the events of 1968 include The Limits of Power (1967), The Year of the People (1969), and Up 'Til Now: A Memoir (1987). Valuable studies of the campaign by former McCarthy aides include Arthur Herzog, McCarthy for President (1969), and Jeremy Larner, Nobody Knows (1969). Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson, and Bruce Page, An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 (1969), provides an excellent overview of the politics of that year.

Barry Alfonso

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