The Democrats Need a New Eugene McCarthy


“The awakening Democratic presidential primary, with 14 declared candidates and at least nine possible more, amounts to a stark choice over the party’s future: left or center, identity-issue minded or pluralist, radical or incrementalist. In fact, we haven’t seen Left battle lines so dramatically etched for more than half a century, since 1967 and 1968, under the dual weights of a disastrous foreign war and a rising new generation determined for change. The hero of that Democratic primary, who pushed Lyndon Johnson out of the race, ignited the energy of America’s young, and set up the new fault lines along which the future of the party got fought, was Eugene McCarthy, Democratic-farmer-labor senator from Minnesota. For many of us who were part of the McCarthy campaign, it’s a new Gene McCarthy—not in form, but in values—that we want today. For those who didn’t live it, it’s hard to imagine the sheer despair that crested in America in the summer of 1967. Vietnam was not just a quagmire but a killing field, sucking the potential of tens of thousands of Americans into a jungle war where rights and wrongs disappeared in the murk, even as its impacts scraped away at the country. All the buried fissures of a changing society—old versus young, producers versus consumers, suburbs versus inner cities, oppressed identities versus old solidarities—were rubbed raw, ready to bleed. And the political class wouldn’t listen—Lyndon Johnson was adamant about prosecuting the war, Richard Nixon was busy manipulating the social fissures the war exposed, and the most obvious candidate to challenge Johnson, Bobby Kennedy, was too canny a political animal to make a leap in the dark. 1967 didn’t feel like the apocalypse—but it felt like five minutes to midnight. Into this atmosphere came Gene McCarthy, who, after spending the summer urging a personally remote and, in any case, a waffling Bobby to run, entered the race in the fall. Against the high drama of the times, his announcement was flat, basic, to the point: He said the war was immoral and wrong, he said it was eating away at the fabric of country, he said it had to end. But Gene, a second-term senator risking his reputation to challenge a sitting president in the middle of a war, believed in more than ending our involvement in Vietnam. A deeply contemplative man who’d been born into the lower-middle classes and come into intellectual maturity through Catholic education and postgraduate work in economics, Gene was a practical moralist: He held deep beliefs, but his appreciation of reality was too intimate to let those beliefs shade into didactic thinking. …”
Tablet
Politico: What Bernie Sanders Should Learn From Eugene McCarthy

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in 1968 DNC, Lyn. Johnson, Nixon, Rob. Kennedy, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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