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William Kelly

Eugene McCarthy RIP

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Eugene McCarthy - He died.

Eugene McCarthy died in his sleep in a D.C. area nursing home. The Senator from Minnessotta galvanized the anti-Vietnam War forces in 1968, almost defeating LBJ in New Hampshire, kicking open the door for RFK to run for President. RFK's opponent in the California primary, McCarthy was a poet and philosopher who inspired a lot of people, including me.

Bill Kelly


Some memorable quotations by and about Eugene McCarthy:

"Politics is like football -- you have to be smart enough to understand the game, but not smart enough to lose interest."

- McCarthy

The Vietnam War and the suffering it produced were "morally indefensible," McCarthy told his youthful audiences as he traveled the country to prepare his run against President Lyndon Johnson. "Party unity is not a sufficient excuse for silence."

McCarthy's iconoclasm may have peaked in the early 1980s when he endorsed Ronald Reagan for the White House and described fellow Minnesotan Walter Mondale as having "the soul of a vice president."

Asked if he would attend the Democrats' 1996 convention in Chicago, he replied dryly: "I wasn't invited. But then, I wasn't invited the last time [in 1968] either."

"There are altogether too many technicians in Washington now," he said in 1949 after being elected to the U.S. House. "I guess I agree with Plato that it's the philosopher who should rule."

McCarthy reflected on the 1968 campaign: "The press wondered if I had a deep, burning interest in being president. I had it for two days before the primary in Wisconsin. It never recurred after that."

Political biographer Theodore White wrote of McCarthy: "All through the years, one's admiration for the man grew -- and one's affections lessened."

After straining to describe the whole of McCarthy, journalist Jim Naughton once wrote: "To get it right you would say that for a few months in 1968, Eugene McCarthy stood at the flash point of history with a book of matches in his hand."

McCarthy seemed to take bittersweet delight in his alienation. "I think he has a rejection wish," his friend Maurice Rosenblatt once said. "He wants to reject others and be rejected by them."

McCarthy rebuked Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign as "those sitting by their campfires up on the hillside, throwing notes of encouragement down to those fighting the battle on the valley floor and then coming down to join in shooting the wounded and declaring victory when the battle was won."

Some years ago his dry wit was on display when television interviewer David Frost asked him: "How would you like the first line of your obituary to read?" McCarthy replied: " 'He died,' I suppose. That would be most reassuring."

He repeatedly declined to assess his place in history, insisting the record would stand for itself. "You just kind of let it happen," he said.

Edited by William Kelly

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