Monday, March 19, 2012

Trajectory of a Fiery Liberal

He was a pharmacist who completed the two year course in six months. Like many druggists of his day he wanted more. I know the feeling. Our sameness ends there.

He was unknown nationally when he addressed the 1948 Democratic convention and stirred the conscience of the delegates plus 60 million radio listeners. His words caused Mississippi and Alabama to storm out of the hall…

To those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years too late! To those who say, this civil rights program is an infringement on states' rights, I say this: the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!

The pro-civil-rights plank was narrowly adopted and as a result the South splintered off from the party and formed the Dixiecrats which projected Truman’s defeat except that good sense and an aroused Black vote prevailed, returning him to office.

This champion for civil rights also spoke out for disarmament and was the first to propose Medicare in 1949 and the Peace Corps. He was elected senator three times before and twice after his term as vice-president.

As a liberal Senator he was largely responsible for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is useful to read the words of the Southern opposition because today’s right wing rhetoric relies on the same recycled phrases. …invasion of our liberties, federal government overreach, these people (Blacks) never had it so good.

He persuaded and cajoled the moderate Republicans, under Everett Dirksen, to gain their vote. In those days the Democrats needed 67 votes, not 60, to break a filibuster and they got it. To demonstrate how far we have devolved, the final passage received more Republican votes than Democratic.

Hubert Humphrey was the man. As Lyndon Johnson’s vice president in 1964 he spoke out at a cabinet meeting against the Vietnam War. His opposition to the bombing put him in LBJ’s doghouse for the next four years. Humphrey was never asked to Camp David and never flew in Air Force One… until invited, years later, by Jimmy Carter. Every public statement had to be cleared by Johnson.

By 1968 he became closely (and wrongly) identified with the president’s war policy which led to the protests in Chicago. The anti-war movement disowned him and the election went to Nixon by less than half a percent in popular vote. It was said that Johnson actually wanted Humphrey defeated.

After a year in academia he was returned to the Senate by a twenty point margin. However he is largely remembered as a muffled (perhaps muzzled) voice of Liberalism; a fiery Liberal who flamed out, another tragic political figure of the 20th century whose principles got crushed in the machinery of the system.

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