12.11.2005

eugene mccarthy

There'll be many tributes to Richard Pryor online, the ground-breaking comedian who died yesterday at age 65. I'll be looking for words about Eugene McCarthy: former Senator from Minnesota, staunch opponent of the war in Vietnam, thorn in the side of go-along Democrats, sharp-tongued wit, reciter of poetry, lover of baseball, good man. McCarthy died yesterday, 89 years old.

When I was growing up, McCarthy was an icon in my home, until he did the unforgivable. McCarthy opposed Lyndon Johnson on an anti-war ticket ("dove" in the lingo of the times), split the Democrat vote and ushered Nixon into the White House. Nixon kept the war going for another five years. Of course, Johnson had continually escalated the war in Vietnam, and wasn't planning a withdrawal. But liberal Democrats like my father forever blamed McCarthy for Nixon's 1968 election.

Thus Gene McCarthy's unintended legacies are the Democrats' fear and dread of the third-party leftist who might siphon off progressive voters, and liberal Americans' staunch belief that they must vote Democrat, no matter what. I grew up hearing that "a vote for [third-party candidate] is a vote for [Republican candidate]". And that, boys and girls, is how we let the Democrats take their long march to the right.

The "McCarthy gave us Nixon" equation is overly simplistic and might be blatantly wrong. (This review of a book about McCarthy in The Nation demolishes a few persistent myths.) But it influenced the way generations of liberal Americans voted.

Here is the New York Times obituary. Expect tributes from people like Russ Feingold, who carries Gene McCarthy's torch.

2 comments:

David Cho said...

Thanks for the history lesson. This makes me think of the Pat Buchanan candidacy in 1992, which weaked Bush Sr. and helped usher in the Clinton Presidency.

But in the long run, what Buchanan did energized the right wing of the GOP and paid off handsomely. Now they control all three branches of the government. Had Bush Sr prevailed, I don't think this would have happened that soon. Who knows. We can only speculate.

Mccarthy did a lot to educate the public, I am sure and turned the public againt the war.

One day, I may write about how I saw the war in Vietnam growing up in Korea. 30,000 Koreans died fighting in the war side by side with the US. It was a huge source of national pride in that South Korea was now in a position to help spread democracy instead of being at the receiving end of foreign aid. For some reason, I still vividly remember hearing about the fall of Saigon on the radio.

L-girl said...

Mccarthy did a lot to educate the public, I am sure and turned the public againt the war.

Yes. And because Johnson was still escalating things in Vietnam, anti-war people thought there were more important things than which hawk got elected, Johnson or Nixon.

One day, I may write about how I saw the war in Vietnam growing up in Korea.

I'd be very interested in reading that!