Holmes Norton,

Katz, Elliott




Mary Sue





INT: Nixon was, of course, a beneficiary of the confusion within the Democratic Party. What kind of politician was Nixon? Was he a Cold warrior, or had he changed his spots by 1968?

EM: Nixon? Oh, I don't know what... You read these... you know, there's a new Nixon every time somebody writes another book. I think he was pretty much the same person all the way, from the time he first ran for Congress and raised the red stuff against a fellow named Jerry. He did the same thing... I think Nixon had sort of lost confidence in the truth. He'd say things like, "I'm going to tell the truth, even if it hurts." You say, well, you know, you can get used to that kind of pain if you just work at it or play with it once in a while. And that's what got him in trouble in the second campaign. He could have beaten McGovern without resorting to any tricks, but I think he'd lost confidence kind in the truth, and even though he had a sure thing, he couldn't quite keep from manipulation. And he was undone, finally, by a kind of... I guess it'd be a basic insecurity about, you know, the power of truth.

INT: But he was very successful in mobilizing the concept of the silent majority, that those Americans who were not draft-card burners, who didn't cohabit casually, that didn't take drugs...

EM: I guess so. That was a terrible thing, to stir them up; they should have let them be quiet, but it was kind of a construction, it wasn't the real stuff. They began to feel sorry for themselves. It worked. It was really... Spiro Agnew was the big champion of the silent majority. But he did a few good things, and... you know, like recognizing China. I developed a new approach to... thinking presidential candidates... you don't pay attention to what they say they're going to do that they can't do, and what they won't to do that they couldn't do. If you take a look at what they would do that they could do and might do, what you really look at is what they say they won't do that they might do. And if it's something you want badly, why, be for him. If you wanted to recognize China, be for Richard Nixon, because he said he would... it's the last thing he'd ever do. And it was in a sense, you know. Or Reagan - the last thing you'd expect from him was a cut-back on nuclear arms, from his old record, but he could do things, and did do things there, that no dou... I thought Kennedy should have recognized China back in the Sixties. It was time to recognize it. And I thought Jimmy Carter, instead of building up new nuclear weapons, could have made a move to; but the Democrats wouldn't do it.

INT: Aren't the Democrats constitutionally the party of domestic reform at home and hard-line Cold War warriors abroad?

EM: Well, there are two strains, particularly manifested in the party in Minnesota. We are... two parties, really: (a few of us are?) Democrats and the farmer laborites. And the Democratic strain there we called Jeffersonian and Wilsonian Democrats; they were for international and co-operation. And the farmer laborites were isolationists and said "Let's deal with domestic issues." And we were able to put the two together in Minnesota, so that you had the Democrats who were pretty conservative on domestic issues, who came over, and the farmer laborites who came to accept... And it happened kind of in the '48 campaign out there, when we had a mixture of issues: we had NATO, the United Nations and (unclear), and domestic issues, a whole range of domestic issues, including civil rights and Medicare. I knew the Beveridge program better than I know the Clinton program, or ever did. But ... so there was a combination of good issues in '48 which really helped to fuse the two forces in the party in Minnesota, but also nationwide.

INT: You talk about a civil rights plank in 1948. Why did it take so long for the civil rights movement, and for backing for the civil rights movement, to take place in America?

EM: We didn't do anything until '64. We were passing legislation in the House, but it could never go through the Senate; and largely it was a coalition between the Republicans and the Dixiecrats, and the element of coalition was, the southerners would vote economic issues with... especially commercial and financial corporate stuff with us, with the Republicans, because they didn't have any problem; and the Republicans in return would vote against civil rights. But by '64, the South had become commercial and financial; the southerners weren't free not to vote on commercial and economic issues like the Republicans, so the Republicans said, "It's time for us to cut out on civil rights, because we're not getting anything in return for it." And that's what really brought on the collapse of the coalition and opened the way to... pretty much helped to open the way to civil rights action in '64. But it wasn't until the '58 election I went to the Senate, but there were about 12 or 14 new liberal senators, so that from that time on... Johnson was majority leader two years; he didn't really have to manipulate, he just had to move; and after Kennedy came in, there was even more reason to move. In fact, Johnson, he kind of murmured in the gates when he was Vice-President... he kind of criticized Kennedy. He was really pretty much on open record in '63, saying we should have a civil rights act in '63. And it was put off. As far as we know, the Kennedy people decided to finesse it through the '64 election, because they had obligations to southern governors (that had got them?) the nomination. And then, you know, all the troubles broke out. But Johnson was telling people, "We ought to move on civil rights right now," in '63.

INT: Johnson had a concept of the Great Society. How genuine was that?

EM: Well, I don't know. I (didn't see?) anything to call great. You know, I kind of broke in with Harry Truman, who never appointed the best and the brightest, or had any concept of a great presidency. Truman's controlling adjective was "good"; he never appointed the best man or best woman. He'd say, "He's good" or "He's damn good," or "He's goddamn good." They were the three levels of qualifica... Now, you see, he wouldn't say "He's the worst," he'd say "He's no good, he's no damn good" and so on. And that was a much better approach. But we got into the best and the brightest, and we got Johnson with the Great Society, and Nixon's favorite adjective was "the greatest" - you know, everything was "the greatest". And it warps their judgment, I think, (if it reflects .?.) image of what they think they are or will be, or something of that kind. And Lyndon, I think, was probably... the Great Society concept was probably the worst one. He thought he was supposedly going to fulfil the New Deal dreams of Roosevelt, where in fact most of the Great Society things were... proposed to deal with the failures of the New Deal: treat the poor better, or treat the unemployed better, even though there are more of them, and provide housing subsidies. It was a departure from any kind of functional or structural approach, so that the Democrats got to say, "We do more for the poor than Republicans do, and we do more for the unemployed." And so it became on the way to being a welfare state under Johnson, which was not the case under Roosevelt.

INT: How do you rate someone like Martin Luther King?

EM: Well, (I think you should?) rate him pretty much the way people do. He really set the thing going. If Johnson had had his way, we'd have had a civil rights action in '63, before Martin Luther King really came... he was on the scene, but he wasn't a great force. So he struck at the right time. It was... something was bound to happen, and it was open, and I think something would have happened significant even without Martin Luther King. But it didn't happen until after he spoke.

INT: And his death, did that shock you?

EM: Well, yeah, it's kind of unnecessary... especially, it didn't have any bearing on the cause; it came after the action. If they'd done it when he was at his height, (if they'd done it when he was moving?) for civil rights... But as it was, it was kind of a sick sort of action.

INT: John Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. What are your memories of that day when he was killed?

EM: Oh, I think it's one of those things everybody remembers where he was, you know, or what he was doing, and it was really a national shock - I mean, more so than the Martin Luther King, and more than Bobby. But... it was sort of, kind of movie stuff; it was like the stranger, you know, (turning around?) saying, "They're going to remember me." It may have been that it was in a sense very personal, because people envied John Kennedy; and if you can be a politician and not be envied, why, you're reasonably secure, except from really crazy people. And...

INT: What kind of impact do you think it had on America generally?

EM: Well, I don't know. It was short lives. And they say that we wouldn't have passed civil right; I think we would have passed civil rights. We could have passed it before, but it made it easier; and Medicare and Medicaid, these things were around and moving along, so in terms of the legislative record... I don't know whether it did something to the American spirit or not, but so far as the legislative... other than putting Johnson in charge and pushing the Great Society, it didn't have as much political impact as I think some people suggest it has.

INT: America in the 1960s went through incredible change: you had the civil rights, you had the anti-war movement, you had all the various sort of manifestations of youth rebellion and counter-culture...

EM: Well, we didn't do much about the war - that ran on into the Seventies. I suppose the civil rights thing was in a way revolutionary, although we haven't come very far since we passed the law, other than providing political participation.

INT: Did you approve of all the changes taking place in American society, particularly among the young?

EM: Oh, I guess so. After our experience with the party in '68, why, you kind of moved to support almost any change, because it meant that the party was... I thought it had lost its spirit. So you loosen things up, see what happens.

INT: Do you think America had changed its attitude towards the Cold War by the end of the Sixties? Because the beginning of the Sixties was the time of the Eisenhower Administration still.

EM: Well, there wasn't evidence of it, you know. The early polls showed that maybe 10 or 12% of the people were prepared to do something about it, which is a pretty small percentage, and they were the kind of Americans you could brush off, saying, "Well, they're college kids and radicals and church leaders and..." So it wasn't there until we put it to the test. I mean, it wasn't there for sure - it may have been there, but it wasn't manifest.

INT: Senator McCarthy, thank you very much for the interview.