Tuesday, December 13, 2005


"For nearly 20 years, before the test of 1968, I had emphasized, especially in talking to students, the need for a revived sense of vocation in modern society. I had emphasized that acceptance of professional status carries special responsibilities and obligations, including the obligation to take risks; and that we should expect politicians, if the issue is important enough, to show a similar sense of profession, and to understand the obligation to take political risks when necessary."

"At all times, but especially in 1968, and again, if it is possible, especially now, the role of the Presidency must be one of uniting this nation, not of adding it up or putting it together as a kind of odd-sized jigsaw puzzle. To unify this nation means to inspire it. We need to develop a sense of character in the nation with common purposes and shared ideals, and then move on as best we can to achieve limited or great progress toward establishing a sense of justice."
For young people who grew up as I did in the 1960s, Gene McCarthy was our voice crying in the wilderness. He was able to articulate the immorality of the war in Vietnam, and he had the courage to do so. He was not flamboyant; he was fearless. There was a wonderful resonance of courage in his voice, and in his speeches we heard a paring down of issues to their essence, and a clarity that lifted our spirits.

And he was a US senator, an older guy and a member of "The Establishment". But when McCarthy declared that he would challenge President Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic Primaries in 1968, it certainly required a lot of nerve. McCarthy understood that the issue of the war was fundamental; the risk of dividing the Party was an essential choice. Our Gene McCarthy sugar-coated nothing and he was a leader for those who opposed the Vietnam War. He was both pragmatic and capable of fine moral judgement, full of poetry and integrity. He raised the whole level of debate and would not accept injustice. The sense of the reality of the war in 1960's Vietnam had just slipped away from the Johnson White House; and Gene McCarthy understood that this was what had happened. Bush's Iraq War is an example of this same kind of fracture between political goals and reality.

In recent years, McCarthy aptly described George W. Bush and his associates as "bullies", with the political instinct to "bully everything"; and as recently as 2003, McCarthy warned
"A Democratic Party that can win but forgets the disenfranchised people of the country is a hollow party that wins hollow victories. And that's what we have now."
It was especially sad to hear of the death of Eugene McCarthy over this past weekend. This is because many of my generation loved him. There is no stronger or finer friend than the one who has seen you through a storm and given you courage. Farewell brother. Thank you for everything.


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