Eugene Joseph McCarthy a Man of Courage

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"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.''
Eugene McCarthy

Eugene Joseph McCarthy a Man of Courage

An American of Spirit and Courage

Known as a Representative and a Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy was more a poet and philosopher, than politician.  What higher compliment can be made to a man who was elected to serve the people?  A society that does not remember or understand its past cannot and will never be able to confront the present let along challenge the future. The embodiment of opposition to the Viet Nam debauch debacle, McCarthy was a true populist.  In the tradition of Robert La Follette Progressives, “Clean Gene” had a popular appeal among reformers.  Entrenched mechanics like Hubert Humphrey were tools of the establishment, but McCarthy was more the rebel – a Jesse Ventura – for the intellectual crowd.


What is often missed is that he had much in common with daring conservative movements like that of Strom Thurmond ("Dixiecrat") in 1948, and George Wallace (American Independent) in 1972.  Authentic progressive principle meets genuine reactionary standards on the hallow ground of limited central government.  Look at it as if States’ Rights visited with their ill-advised utopian cousins.  Both camps steeped with courage looking to achieve a decentralized expression of social identity without the interference of a federal “Big Brother”.  While McCarthy was certainly an Adlai Stevenson man and when asked about Bobby Kennedy replied: “Well, I don't have a very high regard for him - as we say, a minimum high regard”, he was a man of conscience.


The fiasco that was Chicago in 1968 gave the country a true look at the raw under belly of power politics.  The Democratic convention was Mayor Daley’s gift to the War Party.  Gene McCarthy speaks of Mr. Gestapo in a 1996 interview:


“Oh, he was no surprise to us, you know. Worse than the violence in the streets, the Daley stuff was what the party on the inside did to the principles and actually the rules and precedents of party procedure: taking delegates they didn't have a right to, and denying delegates that we had a right to, trying to kind of control the score so it would look good. In my mind, that had a much more serious impact on the Party, on the Democratic Party and politics than the stuff that went on in the street, which was... understandable. The inside stuff wasn't.”


The Viet Nam War brought the country to the edge of collapse.  The bankruptcy of Johnson’s “Great Society” was not fully known yet, but there was little doubt that the adventure in Southeast Asia was a sick attempt at hegemony.  It was not long before Richard Nixon expanded intervention into a civil war and failed even more miserably in the use of hyperpower persuasion.  Gene McCarthy stood as the moral alternative, but the nation was too blind to accept the proper limits upon an irrational quest for empire. 


John Nichols in the Madison Capital Times 2001 expresses the mindset of the romantics:


“McCarthy was a radical anomaly in American politics even then, a former college professor who began one of the most important speeches of that 1968 campaign - an address to a great rally in the Dane County Coliseum - by quoting, from memory, Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."


McCarthy's literary bent tended to put off fellow senators, who sometimes dismissed him as too prone to rumination and independent thinking for the game of politics. But it sat well with the ragtag band of political dreamers who dared believe they could defeat a sitting president, end a foolish war and set right a nation.”


All the while the war waged on McCarthy bucked the system.  For those who lived through the nightmare and have the scars of the real battle of opposing state tyranny, we view him as a true national hero and inspiration.  We can forgive the misguided sentimentality of his support for the federal Civil Rights Act and for Medicare and Medicaid.  After all, he continued to be outspoken and opposed the current Iraqi War.


Rehabilitated idealists become realists when they internalize the validity of bona fide conservative values and principles.  While the poet utters the cry of the human spirit, the honest reactionary seeks to direct the anarchist into action for tangible moral justice.


Senator McCarthy deserves the same tribute of any veteran.  The Thanks of a Grateful Nation – are especially for those who dedicate their sacred honor to the traditional non- entanglement policy and make war against senseless foreign folly.  The lesson of his life and bravery become a noble celebration of all that is good about America.  The libretto of our national opera does not need to be a tragedy.  Read and hear the message of a bard made politician:



How old are you, small Vietnamese boy?

Six fingers. Six years.

Why did you carry water to the wounded soldier, now dead?

Your father.

Your father was enemy of free world.

You also now are enemy of free world.

Who told you to carry water to your father?

Your mother!

Your mother is also enemy of free world.

You go into ditch with your mother.

American politician has said,

"It is better to kill you as a boy in the elephant grass of Vietnam

Than to have to kill you as a man in the rye grass in the USA."

You understand.

It is easier to die

Where you know the names of the birds, the trees, and the grass

Than in a stranger country.

You will be number 128 in the body count for today.

High body count will make the Commander-in-Chief of free world much encouraged.

Good-bye, small six-year-old Vietnamese boy, enemy of free world.



In a ‘PC’ cesspool that gushes over the death of a second rate comic like Richard Pryor, and the rush to save Stan Tookie Williams, the passing of a true national hero goes virtually unnoticed.  Another sign of chaotic times!  The culture has never recouped from the poison of confusion that pervades society.  We will long remember and admire a real American – Eugene McCarthy.


The press called him Clean Gene when he ran against the war in Vietnam.

The Needle was his nickname on Capitol Hill, in honor of his wicked wit.

The poet Robert Lowell declared him, "A One-man Greek Chorus."

A friend says, "He is Renaissance Man Super-squared."



SARTRE – December 12, 2005

"When you think of the protest movement of the ‘60s, and the political consequences of them, you think of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy. Now, all four are gone. Gene lasted the longest, maybe because he left politics and went into poetry." 

Hy Berman, professor emeritus of history at the University of Minnesota.

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