By Thomas F. Roeser, Chicago Daily Observer
August 06, 2008
The BBC Comes to Town.
Not long ago my phone rang at home and I was connected to a woman's
voice from London. She told me that BBC…the most radically left media
institution in Europe…was coming to Chicago to do a radio documentary
on the Chicago convention of 1968. It so happened she had been
referred to me by my friend Karl Maurer and that she then read my
reminiscences of Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy in the archives
of this website. She was intrigued that I am also a Republican,
something that is definitely a "rara avis" to the Brits.
So she signed me up gratis for a 3-hour panel discussion at WBEZ Navy
Pier with others who remember those days. Given the BBC's leftwing
proclivities I knew exactly what I would be confronted with. Four
elderly ex-hippie radicals including an organizer of SDS which by BBC
standards makes it a balanced program. Well, it wasn't entirely unpleasant.
The senior moderator, a knighted personage, was not born, of course,
when 1968 happened. I was then 40. These are some of the thoughts I
tried to convey. None of us will know if they were edited out of the
final tape or not since the program will be broadcast only in the UK.
1. Contrary to the theme stressed by the elegantly-spoken moderator,
1968 did not show a sickening weakness of the political system in the
US. There were two major assassinations…of Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Robert Kennedy…which rocked the system and produced a tumult that
congregated before the International Ampitheatre and in Grant Park.
They did their level damndest to destroy all semblance of order but
2. And contrary to the consciousness of others including the
moderator, I reminded them that fighting for peace and against war
has a distinguished heritage on the conservative side. My first
interest in politics came in 1940 when Wendell L. Willkie condemned
our movement to war-and later when Robert A. Taft assailed the
illegal pretext of the Korean War which was never brought up for a
vote…by declaration but also by resolution…in the Congress. But the
point I made was that once we were engaged in war, Taft and others
wanted to win it. Not only did they not interfere or criticize the
war effort, they supported the strategy embodied by Douglas MacArthur
to win it which was rejected by Harry Truman.
3. What made the radicals of 1968 different from the other peace
advocates was that the Taftites were loyal in defense of our troops
but the `68 radicals were not. In fact they were not patriots. The
first break from patriotism came not from Abbey Hoffman or Tom Hayden
but from Gene McCarthy who said that it might not be such a bad idea
if the U.S. lost the Vietnam War. That was the first time in all U.S.
history where a supposedly responsible leader in the two-party system
advocated what was almost treason.
4. Gene McCarthy's near treasonous statement in 1967 was picked up
and used by the radicals in the park…and somehow McCarthy is
remembered today as a kind of mystic, a deep-thinking secular saint.
I can tell you having known the man for 30 years he was not. He was
not motivated by opposition to the war at all…but by vengeance for
not having been picked for vice president by LBJ-and he was
determined to pay LBJ back in spades. When LBJ interrogated the two
finalists in 1964Hubert and Gene-he asked them if they would pledge
to support the Vietnam war to the bitter end which he said would be
victory. Both of them, eager for the nomination, pledged to do so.
When McCarthy was not picked, he turned against his president with a
ferocity that characterized his entire career.
He after all was the one who would not accept the congratulatory
handshake of the woman he defeated for the senatorial endorsement by
the DFL in 1958. He was the one who stayed sulking in his room when
Hubert was placed in nomination for the vice presidency in 1964. He
was the one who came down to a cocktail party in the hotel in
Atlantic City after the convention and made a roaring ass of himself
by assailing Hubert…the world's worst bad loser. He was the one who
not only turned against his party but caused its defeat in 1968 by
holding off an endorsement of Humphrey until hours before general
election. He was the one who sought to defeat Jimmy Carter by
importuning me and other Republicans to get some PAC money together
to fund some commercials for him as an independent candidate in key
states (his own chance for election nonexistent) to elect Gerald Ford
against the nominee of his own party in 1976. He was the one who
solicited the aide of Mike Deaver in 1980, cut a deal with Deaver for
a job, and then endorsed Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter.
He was the one who later turned against Reagan when the job he
thought he was promised wasn't speedily forthcoming (it was
ambassador to the UN).
He was the one of whom his estranged wife Abigail said that Gene has
always had trouble being loyal to anyone-including her.
Neither Hubert Humphrey nor Gene McCarthy were what I call genuinely
great men. But Humphrey achieved lasting reform by having the guts to
stand up in the middle of a segregationist party convention…in which
southerners were key…and by one speech triggered a walkout which made
his party the party of civil rights. That was true courage. McCarthy
never had any of that.
Finally, the reason 1968 did not prove the political system of the
United States was in trouble was that radicals did not win in the
parks…Humphrey-a decent man-was nominated by legitimate political
processes…and Richard Nixon was elected because the public was
confident…rightly so…that the country would not be controlled by
radicals under his administration. The fact that it yielded to
burglars not radicals with Watergate was still a net plus for the
country when you look at it long-range. The burglars went to jail,
Nixon was forced to resign and the country went on.
I don't think much of that will survive the tapes that will be aired
via BBC in England this fall, do you?