Listen: A Conversation with Eugene McCarthy
MER Special: A Conversation with Eugene McCarthy
MER Special: A Conversation with Eugene McCarthy
Senator Eugene McCarthy during presidential primary campaign in New Haven, Connecticut on 04/03/1968
Sen. Eugene McCarthy
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society
Circular pin-back button promoting Eugene McCarthy's campaign for United States President, 1968.

A conversation with Eugene McCarthy at St. Johns, in Collegeville. Gary Eicthen and Pat Smith asked McCarthy questions as he was taking a break from his presidential campaign.

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

Good evening, and welcome to a conversation with Eugene McCarthy. I'm Gary Yankton along with Pat Smith. We talked with Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy this afternoon Senator McCarthy has been relaxing here at Collegeville the last few days far from a hectic campaign schedule meeting with former professors friends and acquaintances. He made during his stay at st. John's both as a student and later as a teacher. It was a warm day yesterday on the wooded shores of a lake a day for tennis shoes and casual conversation Senator McCarthy, looking relaxed and at ease arrived and that Smith asked the first question.Senator we have observed here as Bystanders that they actually this probably wasn't really too much of a rest for you wasn't much of a break you a notice that you were constantly surrounded by a newsman and inquisitors. Etcetera. Is it is this really what you call a break during the campaign spending so much different. From any I've had in the campaign I don't recall to rest at least it's been a change and the newsman have been the most part local news man from Saint Cloud. There's somewhat different someone more objectivity. I think in their approach to politics than a regular News man who have been something like the last six months News man who in many cases have rather a fixed position as to what American politics is and how it's supposed to proceed who tend to write their stories somehow. I was in the pattern of their own judgment as to how a campaign should go Either but I should be organized or what the traditional process is. So kind of relief Indian thali to reporters from the st. Cloud Times who don't look upon themselves as experts in National politics and find that after you've talked to them. They report I pretty much what you said these three days have been a break from I don't quite say it was routine. But the way the campaign has been going for nearly six months since I first went into New Hampshire, I think there's something new We said for a change by way of giving one arrest or slightly new outlook on the campaign and I anticipate that these three days I've spent here at st. Johnsville going to lighten the burden at least as I go back to the trailer tomorrow to go to the West Coast and then to work back East again and continue the campaign during the approximately six weeks it remain before the Democratic Convention, which is currently scheduled for Chicago in late August. rather strange campaign from the very beginning and and it's become so much stranger and more complicated as we've gone as long as I had anticipated. By entering the primaries at I'd planned wetter when it appeared as though our Senator. Kennedy was not going to challenge the present. That I could probably win the primary in Wisconsin. I thought also in Oregon and I had to spend it by that time we could also went in California in the course of Rosemary six months of campaigning at 1 would be able to exert a significant influence upon administrations policy perhaps to bring about a change in policy, and if not to show change the politics of the country that we might have an open convention in Chicago in August. The entrance of Senator Kennedy complicated things somewhat in and of course his assassination or murder in California at the end of that primary complicated things even more so that we've had to move into this. After the end of the primaries. In which the principal competition is for the votes at the convention. What's a need for us to revise? We are not our whole approach to the campaign because of basic approach has tremendous remain the same but it's called for adjustments and some change it started from one of my original plans and hopes were Saturday's your supporters in the Twin City area are taking the issue of an open convention at least here in Minnesota dfl party to the Supreme Court. Please search what they have in mind. I do you think this is necessary and all the states to get an open convention in Chicago a hectic to hear in the processor. So this year of testing political procedures really as well as a substance of politics? I don't see this is quite necessary and all states. The fact is that the way we were treated here in Minnesota by the convention was somewhat harsher than we were treated in most other states. There may be some action this kind in the state of Indiana. Where is Senator Kennedy and I running on a sassy the same platform got approximately 70% of the vote in the primary in Paris now is so the position is he and I represented will probably not have its convention more they kind of 10 or 12% representation as it may be a legal action in Indiana to try to require the Indiana delegation to represent in the convention what the position that was supported in the Democratic primaries and if they have to in any way reflect the vote for Sandra Kennedy because of what happened at least we would have a claim to something like Forty-five 27% of the representation are on the base of my own vote in the primary in the case of Indiana case of Minnesota something like this in the state of Connecticut. The basic question that has been raised in Supreme Court decision about one man, one vote or at least having a proportional representation at the point of decision is what is fundamental to the challenge that we are making and I expect and maybe some other states in which a similar challenge will be raised. This is not very different from the rest of the starburst in the 64 convention. When these so-called Freedom Democrats from Mississippi. The convention and ask for some representation. They said they were Democrats. They had a right to be represented at the convention. This case they were all Negroes but they hadn't had no chance, sweetie or no opportunity to make their views felt through the normal procedures of the party because in Mississippi Negroes, they couldn't even attend the precinct caucuses. Therefore. They said they were denied a chance to participate and they wanted their views and their position somehow represented at the national Democratic Convention how we did at that convention make some exceptions and give them some delegates the same principles extended step further people say what we did participate in primaries or we did participate in Precinct caucuses, and we won but despite that fact we're being denied any position ready for us to Convention it in a way that denial of our participation after what we have done is in some ways and more serious interference with the process of political decision then in the case when you don't even allow people to participate, Subway just words to tell you can participate and what's your position is known white. We then just cast it aside and not to allow people to participate at all. So I'm hopeful that to legal action in some cases to act within the political parties and threw a strong representation at the convention Chicago in August that we may make some real progress towards making political parties are somewhat more representative and somewhat more democratic than they have been in fact in the past and course much more show than they are in terms of the formal procedures which are not very far with a rather loose. But in terms of the procedures which now exists and mentioned that you plan certain revisions and dimensions still that it was somewhat of a strange Campaign which admittedly so it is in terms of looking at the tradition you are known for Baby, kissing and autographs type of campaign. How do you plan a drastic change more run the same kind of camping? What we've done is supposed to really to reject it as a kind of educational campaign on the one hand to to say to people what we thought needed to be sad. But that's more important than that was our acceptance of people generally had made up their minds and three things one was the War II is the priority for the country entered was the kind of judgment with reference to political parties and party procedures and at the important thing that I was To do was to give them a chance to manifest really in of any kind of open and public way and illegal informal way their judgment on the issue there their position after priorities in a kind of provide all switch has to demonstrate the political process could be made to work and we seem were demonstrated this pretty well through the primaries. We're not involved too much more serious test approving it when you got beyond the primary into the somewhat more intimate and Central proceedings of politics in this country that is still possible to have face judgment the will of the people I made effective in the choice of candidates for the presidency particularly. And also when the determination of what the platform of the major party should be Senator your campaign is so it's been said to draw a lot of people into the political process this year that and never participated before at least never really actively what happens with. If the plans of an open convention fall through if your candidacy falls through what happens to these people who have joined your forces. I don't know what the hell do I know? I'm hopeful we can still run on a test that's honest enough so that they'll stay within the party structure. If it doesn't work out why I expect some of them will be the solution may not participate in this campaign, but I do believe that do we set the stage for if not in 68 at least been 72 a rather significant change in in the procedures of politics in this country. During a break here at St. John's. You issued a statement of position paper on Hunger. You made some statements concerning the secretary of agriculture. Mr. Freeman. Stating that he's not made full use of his powers to Institute food programs as they're needed throughout the nation. And from the context of this paper these the exact wording. I think was denied. He denied having the power to Institute these programs you think it's a matter of him denying having a power or not recognizing the problem really is it is but he denied having it this could have come by I assumed it was he denied having it because he didn't think he had it rather than that. He would deny having it when you believe that you did have it have what I was making was into something else. I've been saying about how you have to should have cabinet members who have someone independent state is I don't mean to blame the secretary. In this administration because the general thrust has been doing pretty much subordinate all people to the present himself a secretary who had someone independent standing and a kind of constituency results on this way if his judgment was if he could really spend the money that was said to be available. He might very well have gone ahead and done it and been prepared to read to confirm the president say, all right, if you want you want to do what I'm doing you want me to do what the law says I can do why you can expect some kind of political challenge for me or else you can fire me. I think that does that sort of relationship are some issues is much to be preferred. What seems to be the common one. Now that the cabinet is completely Spartan it without any particular for personal position of independence without any constituency there for any way prepared to stand against the presidency. I think the extra John Gardner for you to have fun resigning as Secretary of h e w was a commendable action in it. Hit it does pretty well accepted that he did it because he felt that he was he was he was a symbols of certain reforms and certain changes to be made in American society by government by government programs reference to poverty and other things and that in fact, he was not being provided with the money or the tools or the authority that he needed in order to accomplish what he supposedly had been chosen to accomplish or actually like that of John Daly who used to be if you know, the moderator of What's My Line or then resigned to take a job is with a voice of America who recently resigned saying that he was not going to subordinate his mother really his reputation or his professional standing on matters of this kind to the director of The Voice of America. I think it'd be good. If we had more demonstration of independence of this kind on the part of cabinet members or other top-ranking executive officials then to have what seems to be the What has been the growing Tennessee for cabinet members to be looked upon Cynthia's instruments are agents of the president not having any independent position and terms of a point of view and and are therefore really put into a kind of preferred position in which if you Challenge Academy members, I have someone like rush you can expect someone will get up and say he's made great sacrifices to be in the government there for you not to be criticized by think anyone who takes the position of Secretary of State. To be prepared to be criticized and in the cabinet members should be I think someone more Expendable than they have been in recent years. What would you think now you what you been talkin about the relationship to the people and what about the president's relationship to his the cabinet members and the people that work on your hand. I think the cabinet. To be picked with semi to the independence of the individual member. So they're not completely subordinate to the president. This was somewhat the I think that the practice in the Roosevelt administration people to recall the cabinet members are had rather generally known as having some Independents some kind of personal identification people like them. Henry Wallace for example remembered I think somewhat more clearly as a secretary of agriculture probably be than Orville Freeman would be remembered as an independent secretary of agriculture people like Harold ickes who was the Secretary of interior was was popularly known in the movie was called a curmudgeon because of the way in which he defended himself or for his position and contrast for example with C present Secretary of the Interior of a most people don't really know unless they have a special problem secretary Udall or Roosevelt Secretary of the Treasury high in comparison with the present Secretary of the Treasury or or something like the Attorney General. I think that people knew that Francis Biddle was attorney general under Roosevelt to my not remember here students but in comparison with the with the video, Lack of knowledge. For example of the character the position of someone like Ramsey Clark and I think the Situation to Roosevelt was preferable that he had cabinet members who had independent status where identified on issues you had a public following in contrast with what is generally the present situation of cabinet members who were looked upon Cynthia's as agent orchestra instruments of the presidency. Senator McCarthy speaking about President Roosevelt and his successors and predecessors Vice President Humphrey. You said that any system that can elect individuals such stature must be a good system. And as we were talking before about the current political setup, it would seem that that system is now at least allegedly closing the convention to you. What what what you say about that. I don't know that the system has really proved itself to be as good as the vice-president indicates. He thinks it is. I think the relax the Roosevelt was so Set that was a proper election. But if you come along from that we had years and which I don't think the charges for example in 64. I don't think the choice offered was a particularly desirable one for most people a choice between Barry Goldwater and Then President Johnson, this was not the kind of hoping to sit many Republicans while you had people like Rockefeller free sample Refuge support Goldwater many other Republicans. You said that they have their voice their position hadn't been honored however by there by their own party and I think that this is a question what you have to raise about 1968 to as to whether or not the people are going to have a significant other choice. It involves differences question of Nixon are Humphrey, for example, pretty much the same position on foreign policy in a year in which foreign policy is the principal point. I think of pain which Choice should be made when that happens. You have to raise questions. I think it's whether or not the system is operating. So as to give the people that kind of choice if they want in the car choice, which I think they have a right to Well, do you think then this nation is getting into a rat with a two-party system you've mentioned that you won't have anything to do with a third-party. But do you think can be done? Cuz you're which we ought to try to test a two-party system and it is what it said already that he was just if you really thought that the system couldn't I thought it could be made to work and I still think so that if one of her convinced that it couldn't have if I had been convinced of that already this year. I think I would have been an advocate of a third-party. I'm not yet persuade that the system can't work. I think it if it does falter and fail this year 50 domination of the Party by really want us traditional politicians approve out in the people aren't given a choice in the 68 campaign that you won't have a new political alignment beginning to take form before the presidential election of 1972. I'm hoping we can make this. The point clear within the Democratic party. So the people have a choice between the two traditional parties. I think it's good. If one can keep putting cool Choice pretty much narrowed down in a democracy the two political parties, but if this cannot be done, I am 68. I think that they're there will be a very strong movement towards a new political alignment by 1972. Sorry, you said that foreign policy was see the overriding issue in this campaign. There are many who say that Vietnam or foreign policy. We just become less lately is the best second today racial situation in our country. I don't think that's right. I think so much of what we do about race and poverty depends on what we do in Vietnam. It may be some people are more concerned about the domestic problem. But but the terms of primary importance of agreement about to this problem at home, we've got to do something about Vietnam itself. So you kind of double up. I think you have the problem of the war itself. It could be considered entirely separate from domestic probably would be most serious then but when you consider it as an in charge of how it Bears upon what we will be able to do or prepared to do about domestic problems that kind of compounding of importance in my judgment rather clearly. How's it makes the war itself with its secondary applications made the primary issue of the campaign in relation to the Vietnam conflict and its resulting talks. You have made the statement that you are considering visiting Paris. And also made the statement recently that you wouldn't go if you felt that it would handle the talks. What exactly is your reasoning for going just to get a better Insight important? I think if I were to lunch at like I expect there are some people I can talk to us to find out whether or not what the north the North Vietnamese are saying. To our negotiators what's being reported publicly and also private? Is there some good? I think your presidential candidate annoying the very personalities that you're going to have to deal with after you're elected as we like to think that the government relations are conducted according to certain rules treat you sure of Love at the fact is that much does depend upon personality, especially when you get the area of the go she ate some kind of Peace settlement the same way about ambassador to such talks as you do about cabinet members and that they should have some degree of Independence. You send them bastards while you're quite directly send someone who's to carry out a policy you already determined the cabinet member however participates in the determination of policies and I see his role as being quite different from that of new master. Center to wish to hear quite a bit about The credibility gap is that disappeared or people just forgotten about that or did it ever exist? why they really use the term myself I I think that I don't think I ever used if I did it was one of those things you do by habit. Sometimes as many other people are doing it. But I question on my part of believing that they were deliberately misrepresenting things would rather of their having made overly optimistic judgments about our position in in Vietnam and Reporting what they believe to be true or what they hope Could Happen rather than any kind. Of course, you would say, what is unbelievable. Anyway, after certain point I think you do you do conclude that. You can't believe them not because they're deceiving you and text you because they don't know what they're talking about and I think this so this was certainly be kind of growing things about 66 and 67 and on into 68 of those of the estate to the administration with reference to progress in the war of the possibility of success. Have been somewhat more restrained and somewhat more muted and then the last three or four months then they were certainly in 66 or in 67 when they were quite ready to protect Victory sometime within a few weeks. So Ambassador Lodge at one point saying you didn't think there be any formal surrender, but the Vietcong would just assume disappearing of the jungles. I heard the Secretary of I know there was a present. In fact about a year-and-a-half ago say that they didn't understand how they going to make a take the pounding. We were giving them that they might well be there in a couple of weeks. I would just just kind of disappear the riparius reports of secretary McNamara Through The Years coming back after visiting Vietnam making optimistic report about military progress and we've stopped losing the war we have begun to win. The war. We started losing it again was that sort of thing. These were not really intentional misrepresentation or deceptions, but it kind of projection of a defense department State Department belief that we just couldn't possibly fail to succeed on our own timetable. And then it was it was hard for them to make the adjustment come to the point of accepting that this was simply not the reality over there in the country. I think is is now somewhat had even if the state department to the Pentagon in and in the knowledge in the realities of the war in Vietnam and it being willing to adjuster to make the necessary changes as the Pentagon and they State Department are still trying to prove something about their own position in the past. One final question Senator, and this has been bothering me and I'm sure Gary will back me up on this beginning. OG when was it last winter, I guess when you made one of your first or early speeches and that was in Minneapolis you hinted that you really weren't looking for the presidency as such but rather to start discussion on the Vietnam conflict. What what made you change your mind to challenge the president on issues you have to be an especially in primaries. You have to anticipate you may be the presidential candidate may be the president. Usually press runs two things together one the question what you've personally want to be present or the the other day of the political wonder whether you're prepared to be president and it's it's part of the game of the press now, they put to play play play a kind of funny game around the edges. They don't have any real power. They feel it if they can kind of heads you in somehow and make you answer questions after they Set up for 5 contingencies. They become an influence on American Life something in that in that context. I think that the so-called positions I've taken him have been reported. But I I knew last November that I made the first challenge was quite possible that if the challenge continue that I would be the presidential candidate and it was rather what I said was she was she was kind of honest judgment in terms of what I thought then the possibility of success. Where are you going to be the presidential candidate won had to be if he was reasonably object or say wasn't sure but usually she could raise some issues and but at the same time they sew in hair than just wanted was begun and I knew that today I might very well become a presidential candidate. Which I have. And so our conversation with Senator Eugene McCarthy ended. This is Gary eichten for Pat Smith. Good evening.


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