December 10, 2005
Former Senator Eugene McCarthy died today at the age of 89. He gained sudden fame as an anti-war presidential candidate in early 1968 as the Tet Offensive undermined the Johnson administration's credibility. McCarthy came a very close second place in New Hampshire primary, which was enough to persuade Lyndon to pull out of the race, turning the responsibility for incumbency over to Hubert Humphrey. This was when I first became strongly aware of national politics, and I even went door to door handing out campaign literature on McCarthy's behalf. Then Robert Kennedy joined the race, and soon took effective lead of the anti-war movement until he was assassinated in Los Angeles in May. This came soon after Martin Luther King's assassination, of course, spurring race riots that made 1968 one of the bleakeast years in U.S. history. McCarthy refused to support Humphrey, believing that the old bosses running the Democratic Party (most notably, Chicago's Mayor Daley) stole the nomination, and he was probably right. McCarthy was really too idealistic and aloof to be an effective politician, however, and it is frankly hard to imagine him serving as president. Although he did run again for president in the 1970s, his stature shrank almost as quickly as it had grown. What is important to remember about McCarthy, especially for anti-war activists today, is that he was a decent, admirable person whose positions were a matter of conscience, not political expedience.