Listen: The McCarthy Tapes: The 1968 political campaign (documentary)

The McCarthy Tapes” takes the listener back to the 1968 campaign through audio recordings of the Eugene McCarthy archive, which documents a turbulent time in America's history. McCarthy’s political legacy will forever be defined by 1968, when McCarthy turned his opposition to the Vietnam War into a crusade for the presidency.

The McCarthy archive resides at the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota.

Eugene Joseph McCarthy was an American politician, writer, and academic from Minnesota. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1949 to 1959 and the United States Senate from 1959 to 1971. McCarthy died in December 2005 at the age of 89.


2007 RTNDA Murrow Award, Radio - Large Market, Region 4 / News Documentary category


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MIKE EDGERLY: Thanks, Steven. It's six minutes past noon. This is "The McCarthy Tapes," a Minnesota Public Radio news documentary from American Public Media. I'm Mike Edgerly. Eugene McCarthy died in December 2005 at the age of 89. His political legacy will be forever defined by 1968, when he turned his opposition to the Vietnam War into a crusade for the presidency.

In "The McCarthy Tapes," reporter Tim Pugmire takes us back to the 1968 campaign through the audio recordings of The McCarthy Archive. The collection is housed at the University of Minnesota's Andersen Library, and was untouched for more than three decades. The tapes include speeches, radio and television appearances, as well as hundreds of oral history interviews conducted in the year following the campaign.

Excerpts from these tapes, along with audio from other archives and recent interviews, show a sometimes determined and sometimes ambivalent candidate whose political intentions largely remain a mystery.

SPEAKER: Senator Eugene McCarthy, Democrat of Minnesota, told a news conference Thursday that he would enter the Democratic primaries in at least four states. The senator, as expected, said he would run on the issue of Vietnam. Citing casualty figures, Mr. McCarthy blamed the war for cutbacks in--

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I'm concerned that the administration seems to have set no limit to the price which it's willing to pay for a military victory.

TIM PUGMIRE: Eugene McCarthy was 51 years old when he launched his campaign for president in November 1967. The low-key Minnesota Democrat had served nearly 20 years in the Congress when he challenged President Lyndon Johnson's bid for re-election.

AL EISELE: And, of course, at that time, that was almost unthinkable for a Democratic senator to take-- to run against the president of his own party, particularly a president as powerful as Lyndon Johnson.

TIM PUGMIRE: Journalist Al Eisele covered Eugene McCarthy for 40 years and wrote a book about the 1968 campaign. He was at the press conference when McCarthy announced he would challenge President Lyndon Johnson in several presidential primaries.

AL EISELE: He had been making speeches prior to that, and public statements expressing his belief that the Vietnam War was an immoral, immoral war. And that somebody needed to challenge the president on it. And there were anti-war activists who approached a number of senators who declined, including Robert Kennedy, who said they didn't want to run against Johnson.

So it was considered almost an act of political suicide for a Democratic senator to oppose Lyndon Johnson. But he did it, and, of course, changed the course of history.


TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy first entered politics in 1948. He was a college professor in St. Paul when he ran for Congress. McCarthy won that race and served five terms in the US House of Representatives. In 1958, he won a US Senate seat.

SPEAKER: Minnesota should send a new Senator to Washington, a man with the energy and vision to get the job done. That man is Congressman Eugene J. McCarthy!

TIM PUGMIRE: Dominic Sandbrook wrote one of the most comprehensive McCarthy biographies in 2004. He says McCarthy was a popular and effective campaigner in his home state.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: He was extremely successful with Minnesota voters because he was physically imposing and good-looking. He was-- could be a good speaker. He was obviously extremely articulate. All of these things made him an attractive candidate and explained why he went into the House of Representatives and then into the Senate.

TIM PUGMIRE: In 1968, McCarthy proved to be a complicated and unpredictable presidential candidate. McCarthy simultaneously inspired and disappointed his followers during the nine month campaign.

SPEAKER: With McCarthy coming on to the scene, this incredible sense of hope emerged.

SPEAKER: Senator McCarthy made a great contribution in raising the issues.

SPEAKER: Senator McCarthy had provided people with something in American political life that never had been there in this degree before.

SPEAKER: You know, there was almost a pathological element in his self righteousness.

SPEAKER: I don't think he ever wanted to be president of the United States.

SPEAKER: He's a great guy, but a terrible candidate.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I'm hopeful that this challenge which I am making-- which I hope will be supported by other members of the Senate and other politicians-- may alleviate, at least in some degree, this sense of political helplessness, and restore to many people a belief in the processes of American politics and of American government.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: I mean, this is classic McCarthy.

TIM PUGMIRE: Dominic Sandbrook says McCarthy's understated announcement revealed a lot about the candidate and the way the campaign would play out in the months ahead.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: He defies the popular wisdom and the expectations of the media by giving a very downbeat, low-key, almost pessimistic announcement. He doesn't say even, really, that he's a candidate for president. He just says he's going to be entering certain primaries.

I think that's because of the nature not only of McCarthy's own philosophy, which was to play everything down, but also it was designed to show that he, you know, if he lost, it wouldn't be the end of the world. He didn't really take the campaign, I think, enormously seriously at this stage. Because nobody expected that he would be able to beat Johnson.

He thought he'd raise the standard of the war in a few primaries, and then that would be it. He didn't realize how well he would do.


SPEAKER: (SINGING) Yeah, come on all of you big, strong men

Uncle Sam needs your help again

He's got himself in a terrible jam way down yonder in Vietnam

TIM PUGMIRE: Vietnam was becoming an increasingly bloody and unpopular war in 1967 and 1968. Protest songs were critical of US policy and the loss of life.

SPEAKER: (SINGING) Next stop is Vietnam

TIM PUGMIRE: Throughout the nation, thousands of people participated in sit-ins, anti-draft rallies, and peace demonstrations.

SPEAKER: Demonstrators must depart from the Pentagon crowds by midnight!

TIM PUGMIRE: There were nearly 500,000 US troops in Vietnam in early 1968. The monthly cost was over $2 billion. The American combat death toll was climbing toward 20,000.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: The enemy continues to pour men and material across frontiers and into battle despite his continuous, heavy losses.

TIM PUGMIRE: President Johnson tried to reassure the nation of his resolve in Vietnam during his January 1968 State of the Union address. He also gave a warning to the enemy.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: He continues to hope that America's will to persevere can be broken. Well, he is wrong.


MARK KURLANSKY: There was a radical shift in the very beginning of 1968.

TIM PUGMIRE: Author Mark Kurlansky was a college student in Indiana in 1968. He later wrote a book titled 1968, The Year That Rocked the World.

MARK KURLANSKY: There was a strong anti-war movement going into January, but at the end of January, the Tet Offensive made the war look more disastrous than most people had thought it was.

SPEAKER: Communist Tet Offensive hit 30 South Vietnamese cities at once. The city of Hue fell and had to be won back. In one week, 416 Americans died. There were 350,000 new refugees before the president in Washington could claim victory.

MARK KURLANSKY: Early 1968 had a much bigger, much stronger anti-war movement than Lyndon Johnson or most people would have predicted.

TIM PUGMIRE: More Americans were having doubts about Vietnam and Johnson after the offensive named for the Vietnamese new year of Tet. The nation's anti-war activists were pushing for a change in policy and a change in leadership.

JEROME GROSSMAN: We were looking for some political figure to-- about whom to rally, so that we could inject the issue of Vietnam and a change in American foreign policy into the American political mainstream.

TIM PUGMIRE: Jerome Grossman was a businessman and peace activist from Massachusetts. He was part of the so-called Dump Johnson movement that recruited McCarthy in 1967 as a presidential candidate. Grossman was interviewed in 1969 for the McCarthy Oral History Project.

JEROME GROSSMAN: We had no illusions at that time about forcing a president not to run for office, or even being major factors in the decision itself as to who was going to be president. But what we were looking for was a base from which to continue our propaganda against the war.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy served the role of anti-war candidate well, but he was a far more complex character than many peace activists had bargained for. McCarthy was smart and articulate, but he often frustrated supporters by what appeared to be a lack of passion. Mark Kurlansky says McCarthy saw himself as a poet and intellectual. He simply didn't act like other candidates.

MARK KURLANSKY: He was an oddly removed sort of politician. And quite often, people just weren't really certain what he was talking about.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Let us pick up again the lost and severed strands and weave them again into the fabric of America. Let us sort out the sound and the music from the noise and confusion, so this nation may again respond to the sound of the trumpet and to the steady drum.

SPEAKER: You have been criticized in the press and by some of your supporters for your low-keyed campaigning. Now, why have you chosen to campaign in this manner?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, I really haven't chosen to campaign in that way. That's the way I campaign.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy defended his style during an interview on Boston radio station WBZ.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I hope that it isn't necessary to stir the people of this country up to be concerned about 20,000 American deaths in Vietnam and 100,000 casualties and 200,000 Vietnamese deaths and probably 300,000 or 400,000 Viet Cong deaths over a period of two or three years, or the destruction of whole cities like the destruction of Hue.

I don't think we're so jaded in this country and so indifferent and so hardened that people don't respond with some emotion to the simple presentation of facts of this kind.

SPEAKER: Hello. Let's say hello to Senator McCarthy.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Say, I've never been received so courteously by citizens as I have been by the people of New Hampshire in this half day of campaigning here.

SPEAKER: Senator McCarthy, what makes you run?

TIM PUGMIRE: The British TV program This Week interviewed McCarthy as he campaigned in New Hampshire, home of the year's first presidential primary.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: That's a hard question. I suppose I'll spend most of the campaign explaining why I'm making this race. I would say of all the people running, I'm probably the one who least would like the presidency. But it kind of fell to me to make the test, I think, on this issue, since no one else would do it.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy might have had some doubts about his own candidacy, but his campaign was attracting a wide range of enthusiastic supporters.

TONY RANDALL: This is Tony Randall.

JOANNE WOODWARD: This is Joanne Woodward.

PAUL NEWMAN: This is Paul Newman speaking.

LAUREN BACALL: This is Lauren Bacall.

TIM PUGMIRE: Celebrities of the day lined up behind McCarthy and his anti-war message. They voiced radio ads and made campaign appearances in New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: This is Dustin Hoffman. The nation is listening to what New Hampshire voters are saying about Eugene McCarthy. New Hampshire can help bring America back to its senses. Vote for Eugene McCarthy March 12.

SPEAKER: Senator McCarthy, on the eve of the New Hampshire primary election, how do you assess your chances for victory?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I think that the chances that we'll make a very good showing in New Hampshire are very good. As to whether or not we can get over the 50% mark or not, I think it's an open question. But we have reason to believe on the basis of somewhat subjective judgments, but also with some reports that involve quantitative measures, that there is a chance that we might even win it.

SPEAKER: While Richard Nixon won decisively in the New Hampshire Republican primary, McCarthy, swept along by a new breed of alienated and fighting doves from Harvard, Radcliffe, Dartmouth and other campuses, almost overran the president, who 3 and 1/2 years earlier had been elected by the largest majority in history. McCarthy lost, but by only 230 votes.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: If things continue as they are going, I think we'll have to try to advance the date of the national elections. I think people are restless. They want to vote right now.


TIM PUGMIRE: After his strong showing in New Hampshire, McCarthy was talking about his candidacy with new purpose and confidence. The campaign had moved beyond educating people about Vietnam. For the first time, McCarthy thought he could win the Democratic party's nomination for president.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: We're not really out trying to raise an issue any longer for the attention of the people of this nation. Because the issue has been raised, and the people of this nation are aware of what that issue is and that whole complex of issues. What we're doing is laying down a challenge to control the presidency of the United States of America.

MIKE EDGERLY: Coming up, a look at how the New Hampshire vote changed the political landscape and violence rocked the election year of 1968. I'm Mike Edgerly. You're listening to "The McCarthy Tapes" from Minnesota Public Radio news. Our program continues in just a moment from American Public Media.


MIKE MULCAHY: And if you want to tell a friend about this program, we will be rebroadcasting it Sunday night at 6 o'clock. Sunday night at 6 o'clock. Also, you can find much more about this program at our website, including a timeline of Eugene McCarthy's political career and the 1968 campaign, and audio highlights from The McCarthy Archive at the University of Minnesota's Elmer L. Anderson Library. That's all at our website,


MIKE EDGERLY: This is "The McCarthy Tapes," a Minnesota Public Radio news documentary from American Public Media. When Eugene McCarthy finished a close second in the New Hampshire primary, he delivered a stinging indictment against President Johnson and the Vietnam War. The entire complexion of the presidential race soon changed. So did the country. Here's more of Tim Pugmire's look at the McCarthy campaign.

[SIMON & GARFUNKEL, "THE SOUND OF SILENCE"] Hello, darkness, my old friend

I've come to talk with you again

TIM PUGMIRE: It was a time when young people were rejecting the established order in culture, education and politics. The hit movie The Graduate captured the alienation and uncertainty felt by many in 1968.

MR. BRADDOCK: Ben, What are you doing?

BEN: Well, I would say that I'm just drifting here in the pool.


BEN: Well, it's very comfortable just to drift here.

MR. BRADDOCK: Have you thought about graduate school?

BEN: No.

MR. BRADDOCK: Would you mind telling me, then, what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?

BEN: You got me.

TIM PUGMIRE: Many young people were drifting in 1968. Some found a new sense of hope and purpose through the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy.

SUSAN SPEER: Do you think you could print up some leaflets? It might be an effective way to reach some more people. Yeah. My name is Susan Speer and I'm 21, and my home is in New York. I go to school in Massachusetts.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy's Wisconsin campaign office in Milwaukee was packed with college students and recent graduates. They were eager to help prepare for that state's primary on April 2.

SUSAN SPEER: I'm in Wisconsin for the same reason that I was in New Hampshire, and that's to help Eugene McCarthy in whatever way I can to get the nomination. I feel as if there's something I can offer. And as long as I feel that, I want to be here to be able to offer it.

TIM PUGMIRE: College students from throughout the country showed up in large numbers to work for McCarthy in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. They cut their hair and shaved their beards, inspiring the slogan Get Clean for Gene. 24-year-old Sam Brown left Harvard Divinity School to work for McCarthy as his youth organizer.

SAM BROWN: Well, the young people thing is-- is very easy. We've talked a long time. A lot of us have been marching a long time, have been out in the streets a long time, have gotten to pretty desperate levels. And it looks to me like there's one guy who had the courage to stand up and to be counted.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, I think that the young people who are campaigning, those from New Hampshire and those who have come in from outside the state, have given an air of dignity and of deep responsibility to this campaign.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy praised his young followers publicly. But behind the scenes, he often kept them at arm's length. Dominic Sandbrook says McCarthy was never willing to embrace the youth movement that surrounded him.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: I think because it was a movement that he hadn't really instigated, that had sprung up around him despite himself. He didn't really welcome all the student support. He didn't expect it. They often stood for things that were a lot more radical, a lot more left leaning than he did.

TIM PUGMIRE: Americans of all ages knew who Eugene McCarthy was by March 1968, although some people still confused him with the red-baiting Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who had died a decade earlier. The Minnesota McCarthy was a devout Roman Catholic who, as a young man, had studied briefly to become a Benedictine monk.

Those Catholic roots shaped McCarthy's political philosophy. Dominic Sandbrook says McCarthy was an idealistic man who entered politics for noble reasons, but had difficulty working with other people. And that flaw limited his political success.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: He was a man of enormous pride, enormous ability and quite justified pride. But somebody who didn't take well to slights, to reverses, to defeats. And that's not always an asset in politics. Because I think you have to have quite a thick skin to be successful. And McCarthy didn't have a thick skin. I mean, nobody would dispute that.

TIM PUGMIRE: Sandbrook says McCarthy felt particularly slighted by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Johnson was seeking a vice presidential running mate and briefly dangled the job before McCarthy. He eventually picked another Minnesota senator, Hubert Humphrey. McCarthy had been a strong Johnson supporter. He even backed Johnson's Vietnam policy in 1964.

SPEAKER: American warships and aircraft carriers are steaming tonight to strengthen the powerful Seventh Fleet in and around the Gulf of Tonkin, off the Coast of North Vietnam. North Vietnamese attacks on American ships and American retaliation from the air have stirred up a new storm in the Southeast Asian conflict.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy voted in 1964, along with nearly all his Senate colleagues, for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which sanctioned retaliation for the alleged attack and gave President Johnson the approval needed to increase US military involvement to protect South Vietnam.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Here is an area which is of no special economic advantage to us, no special political advantage, and no special military advantage, but rather one in which we undertake to preserve peace and the conditions in which people can live with some measure of happiness and some measure of freedom.

TIM PUGMIRE: But two years later, McCarthy was an outspoken critic of the war. He had watched the death toll rise and the administration's objectives shift. McCarthy was particularly concerned about the intensified bombing of North Vietnam. President Johnson was concerned about McCarthy.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Gene, how are you?


LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Glad to hear you. Is that wife still living with you?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Yeah, she's with me.

TIM PUGMIRE: Johnson had grown tired of reading in newspapers about McCarthy's criticism of the bombing raids. Johnson called McCarthy from the White House in February 1966. The president invited McCarthy to a private briefing with General Maxwell Taylor.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: So if you will--

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, I'd be glad--

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: I want Taylor to sit down and reason with you, and I'd like for it be quiet and off the record. And I don't want a senator saying that I'm trying to sell him a damn thing.

TIM PUGMIRE: Johnson then called General Taylor.


MAXWELL TAYLOR: Mr. President. Yes, sir.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: I got a little labor of love. I think this fellow McCarthy is intellectual and one of our problems. And he keeps saying that he can see no reason for the bombing and no case for the bombing.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy became an even greater problem for Johnson.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: The war is not morally justified, and therefore it must be questioned, it must be challenged, and it must be opposed.

TIM PUGMIRE: With the backing of peace activists, McCarthy marched ahead in early 1968 as the lone challenger to LBJ and the war. His strong finish in the New Hampshire primary showed the vulnerability of the incumbent president. It also convinced another war opponent to enter the race, Senator Robert Kennedy of New York, the 42-year-old brother of the late president, made his announcement just four days after New Hampshire.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: I am announcing today my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy had tried unsuccessfully five months earlier to convince Kennedy to challenge Johnson. He deeply resented Kennedy's late change of heart.

SPEAKER: Senator McCarthy, do you like Robert Kennedy?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, I-- as someone said, I like everybody I know. You have to like people, you know. There's question of other judgments you make about people as politicians and their procedures as politicians, but as a person--

SPEAKER: Do you like him as a politician, sir?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, I-- I would advise him to have acted differently in the last three or four days as a politician. So that in the kind of objective, detached judgment you pass on politicians as distinguished from persons, I would say that I don't altogether approve of what he's done in the last three or four days. Not just as it bears upon me, but in terms of what I think is a common cause that we do have.

TIM PUGMIRE: Kennedy's entry fractured the McCarthy campaign. Many of McCarthy's young workers admired and supported the New York senator. Ann Hart was organizing the McCarthy effort in California at the time. She talked about the impact of the Kennedy decision during a 1969 oral history interview.

ANN HART: As we know, Senator McCarthy was not exactly, you know, warm and amiable about Robert. And it all siphoned down to the campaign. It got to the point where if you were suspected for even having any good feelings about Robert Kennedy at all, you were expelled from the group as an unclean person.

TIM PUGMIRE: Many peace activists and civil rights leaders welcomed Kennedy to the race. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't endorse either candidate, but he was pleased there were two men challenging Johnson and the Vietnam War.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: I think both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. McCarthy represent the kind of competence, dedication and relevant thinking on the basic issues that confront us today, that they are the kind of men that present the alternative that I think we need.

TIM PUGMIRE: The Kennedy announcement disrupted the 1968 campaign, but it paled in comparison to the one President Johnson made two weeks later. Johnson went on national television to announce a pause in the bombing, and to call for peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Then came his surprise ending.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.

TIM PUGMIRE: Johnson's announcement just two days before his primary defeat in Wisconsin turned the presidential race upside down. His withdrawal was one of many events that shocked the nation in 1968. The next one came four days later on April 4.

SPEAKER: This is an NBC News Hotline Special Report. Here is Don Hickman in Memphis.

DON HICKMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot outside a Memphis motel this afternoon. His condition is not known at this time. Police put out a wanted bulletin for, quote, "a young white male."

SPEAKER: 7:00 PM, Dr. Martin Luther King expired in the emergency room as a result of a gunshot wound in the neck.

TIM PUGMIRE: The King assassination pushed presidential politics to the sidelines. Eugene McCarthy, who was campaigning in California, canceled his schedule and returned to Washington. Robert Kennedy made an impromptu appeal for calm before an appearance in Indianapolis.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be Black.

TIM PUGMIRE: Despite Kennedy's plea, rioting broke out in cities throughout the country. Race and urban violence had caught up to the presidential campaign.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: We must begin immediately and on a massive scale to attack the causes of unrest and dissent and of riots, and to proceed to bring within reach of all Americans all of those things which make up what we call the good life.

SPEAKER: His manner is very quiet for a politician. But don't be misled. This quiet man toppled a president.

TIM PUGMIRE: President Johnson was no longer a candidate, but his influence remained. The man Johnson selected over McCarthy as a running mate in 1964, Hubert Humphrey, was now Johnson's hand-picked replacement in the run for the White House.

HUBERT HUMPHREY: And so my friends and fellow Americans, facing and knowing the hard realities of the office, yet also knowing the potential for good which lies within it, I shall seek the nomination of the Democratic Party.


TIM PUGMIRE: Vice President Humphrey's announcement in late April drew a cool response from his old friend and colleague from Minnesota.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I'm not reassessing my plans or policies in any way after the announcement. It came as no surprise, and simply means that after the primaries are over, that we'll have an additional entry, as we all expected we would have in the run for the convention.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy ignored Humphrey. He focused instead on Kennedy and the remaining primaries, but the tone of the campaign had changed. The contest was no longer about Vietnam. It was about personalities. The competition with RFK seemed to bring out the worst in McCarthy.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: The interpretation of the general polls have been showing that Senator Kennedy has been running much better than I among the less intelligent and less educated people in America.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: McCarthy would say something like that, I think, because he was so bitter against Kennedy for having entered the campaign. He was-- there was an element of snobbery there. He looked down on people who supported the candidates. He wasn't prepared to reach out to blue collar Democrats in the way that other Democratic candidates were. He appealed to University professors and intellectuals and whatnot, and he was proud of that.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy was known for his sharp wit, but the humor often came at someone's expense. Jeremy Larner, a campaign speechwriter, talked about McCarthy's negative side during a 1969 oral history interview.

JEREMY LARNER: He didn't express respect ever, for anyone, in the entire course of the time I knew him. That no matter who you mention, he would have some one line put-down of that person.

MARK KURLANSKY: He had a great sardonic sense of humor, but the kind of sense of humor which is not usually associated with politicians.

TIM PUGMIRE: Author Mark Kurlansky.

MARK KURLANSKY: I remember when George Romney kind of ruined himself politically by saying-- reversing himself on the Vietnam War and saying that he had been brainwashed. And McCarthy said, I would have thought a light rinse would have done it.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy suffered consecutive primary losses to Kennedy in Indiana and Nebraska. By the time the campaign reached Oregon, McCarthy was desperate for a win. Campaign strategist Thomas McCoy saw McCarthy rise to the challenge in Oregon, which he described in an oral history interview.

THOMAS MCCOY: The Senator was certainly in his best campaigning form. And I think that every stop on the Oregon campaign whetted his appetite a little more and gave him more confidence.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: When we started this campaign some six months ago, it was generally said that all the people who were for me were either unable to vote or that they were beatniks or they were way out, or that they were dropouts. They were kind of looked upon as being outside the American political tradition.

It was believed they could not be effective at all in American politics. But in the course of these five months, we demonstrated something quite different, to the point where the McCarthy movement is the most valuable political movement in America.


SPEAKER: NBC News now projects Senator McCarthy will win in the Oregon primary election. More returns from NBC News precinct sample are coming in. Senator McCarthy continues to hold a slight lead of about two percentage points. And NBC News now projects McCarthy as the winner.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: We'll have a short inauguration address, and we'll take down the fence around the White House and have a picnic on the lawn.

TIM PUGMIRE: Once again, McCarthy imagined he could actually be elected president, but the race was far from over. McCarthy and Kennedy squared off the next week in the winner-take-all California primary.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: There was snow on the ground in New Hampshire and ice on the lakes in Wisconsin. It was 20 below zero there one day. And now that I'm in California, I'm beginning to feel that those candidates who wouldn't run in those cold weather states ought not to be received very favorably now that spring is here.


TIM PUGMIRE: California's racial diversity presented a challenge McCarthy hadn't faced in earlier primaries. He was under increasing pressure to spend more time with minority communities where Kennedy was particularly strong. The McCarthy campaign tried to address the issue through advertising.


TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy lost to Kennedy in the California primary by a 4.5% margin. Kennedy delivered his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: My thanks to all of you. And now it's on to Chicago and let's win there.

ANDREW WEST: Senator, how are you going to counter Mr. Humphreys and his backgrounding you as far as the delegate votes go?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Guess we're just going to have to struggle for it.

ANDREW WEST: Senator Kennedy has been shot! Senator Kennedy has been shot. Is that possible? Is that possible? It could--


Is it possible, ladies and gentlemen? It is possible. He has-- not only Senator Kennedy. Oh, my God. Senator Kennedy has been shot.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I have a short statement to make.

TIM PUGMIRE: A visibly shaken McCarthy talked to reporters early that morning in a hotel hallway.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: As you all know, no words can really fully convey the feeling that I have toward the Kennedy family in this time of their particular tragedy, or the feeling that one must have for the nation in the face of this tragedy, this new tragedy. It's not enough, in my judgment, to say that this is the act of one deranged man, if that is the case.

The nation, I think, bears too great a burden of guilt to really a kind of neglect, which has allowed the disposition of violence to grow here in our own land, and part of a reflection of violence, which we have visited upon the rest of the world, or at least on a part of the world. All of us must keep vigil with the nation in prayer and hope that Senator Kennedy will recover.

TIM PUGMIRE: Kennedy died the next day. For a second time, an assassination brought the 1968 presidential campaign to a halt.

MIKE EDGERLY: Still to come.

JOHNNY CARSON: Why does somebody want that?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I've never said I wanted it, really. I've gone so far as to say I'd be willing to take it.

MIKE EDGERLY: I'm Mike Edgerly. You're listening to "The McCarthy Tapes." To see photographs of McCarthy and to hear some of his 1968 campaign speeches, visit our website, "The McCarthy Tapes" is a production of Minnesota Public Radio news. Our production continues in a moment from American Public Media.

SPEAKER: And Mike Edgerly may have downplayed some of the additional content at our web site, A lot of work went into this documentary. And there's a lot of work that went into the website. It's really worth a visit to see the timeline of the '68 campaign, and to listen to some of those audio highlights that Tim Pugmire was able to dig up over at The McCarthy Archive over at the University of Minnesota's Elmer L. Anderson Library.

It's definitely, definitely worth spending some time at our website, And if you want to hear this program again on the radio, you can do that at 6 o'clock on Sunday evening. We'll rebroadcast the program then, if you have a friend, you want to tell about it. 6 o'clock Sunday evening, you can hear "The McCarthy Tapes" again right here on Minnesota Public Radio.

MIKE EDGERLY: This is "The McCarthy Tapes." I'm Mike Edgerly. The assassination of Robert Kennedy in June 1968 pushed an already divided Democratic Party into further disarray. For McCarthy, it was the darkest period of the campaign. Tim Pugmire picks up the story with McCarthy and the nation trying to move forward.


MARK KURLANSKY: Most people who were at all following anything that was going on felt exhausted.

(SINGING) There's something happening here

But what it is ain't exactly clear

TIM PUGMIRE: The year had unfolded in a series of shock waves and the death toll still climbed in Vietnam. Author Mark Kurlansky described the tragedy of 1968 as almost too much for the American psyche.

MARK KURLANSKY: A kind of despair set in between the assassination of Martin Luther King and the assassination of Robert Kennedy that I think has never left this country.

TIM PUGMIRE: Eugene McCarthy's face showed that despair on June 12.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, ladies and gentlemen, I called you today to announce that I'm resuming the campaign.

TIM PUGMIRE: Just four days after Robert Kennedy's funeral, McCarthy held a news conference in Washington, DC to announce a limited campaign schedule.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: It's slightly different because of the assassination, but not very different from what it would have been after the primaries had ended in any case.

JEREMY LARNER: The assassination obviously did something to him. And he looked extremely distressed psychologically.

TIM PUGMIRE: In a 1969 oral history interview, speechwriter Jeremy Larner remembered McCarthy as a dark and moody candidate after the death of Robert Kennedy.

JEREMY LARNER: And I often wondered whether he was afraid of assassination, which wouldn't have been unreasonable at all with the Secret Service guys around. I mean, for a couple of weeks, we just found ourselves scanning every crowd. But I also think there was something else on his mind and that he was deeply depressed and that he continued so most of the time throughout the summer.

TIM PUGMIRE: He also appeared to be moving ahead without his earlier conviction. The question of McCarthy's commitment came up in late June during an appearance on The Tonight Show. Even Johnny Carson wondered if McCarthy really wanted to be president.

JOHNNY CARSON: Why does a man pursue the job, the grueling job of the presidency of the United States? I think you've said yourself that the job is becoming almost too big for one man. And it may sound like a very naive question. And I don't mean it to be naive, but why does somebody want that?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I've never said I wanted it, really. I've gone so far as to say I'd be willing to take it. And I think that's really about as far as anyone should go. And I don't want to make a heavy answer for you, but--

JOHNNY CARSON: But you do want it, don't you?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, I'm willing to take it. I've-- I've worked rather hard to prove my willingness since New Hampshire. But my explanation was I thought the issues were such that someone had to raise them. And if you've been in politics 20 years, I think there comes a time when you take some chances on it.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy kept traveling the country and making speeches. He still drew enthusiastic crowds, but he was far behind Vice President Humphrey in the delegate count. Biographer Dominic Sandbrook says the campaign was essentially dead.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: McCarthy knew that himself. His campaign managers knew it. The students who worked for him thought it was still alive. They wanted him to go on fighting to the last. But that had never been McCarthy's style. He looked at the numbers. He knew that Humphrey had the delegates.

What he could have done is made more of an issue of the war, had gone into the convention with a groundswell of opinion behind him, and really sort of fought for a different platform on the Vietnam War. But he effectively gave up. He said there's no point in it.

And yeah, the problem was that Humphrey was his old colleague. It was very difficult for him to campaign against Humphrey, given that they had been through so much together, and that Humphrey, at the beginning, had been his kind of political patron.

TIM PUGMIRE: The Democratic National Convention was approaching, and McCarthy's supporters were restless. During an August 13 appearance on the Joey Bishop television show, McCarthy heard from a supporter who was in the studio audience.

SPEAKER: So many of us have been so frustrated by our feelings for you and the support that we have for you and the kind of work that we've done, with the delegates seemingly not paying much attention to it. And we've been going out and demonstrating and writing letters and signing petitions and making as much noise as we can.

And many of us have planned to go to Chicago to continue to demonstrate, to hope that the delegates will listen to us. And I understand today you've asked us not to go to Chicago, which is breaking our hearts. Could you explain it?

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Well, I thought that-- I said that I thought it might be a mistake to have too many people come to Chicago, that I said it would do as well, I think, if back in your own states you could indicate the popular support.


TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy arrived in Chicago on Sunday, August 25 to the cheers of thousands of supporters who gathered for an airport rally. Senator Ralph Yarbrough of Texas, the first and only Senator to formally endorse McCarthy, made the introduction.

RALPH YARBROUGH: Eugene McCarthy, the tall American from the tall northwoods, has won this campaign in the hearts of the American people!


EUGENE MCCARTHY: We now come to Chicago for the final test of the Democratic Party.


And I suppose there's no better place or more difficult place in which to test it than here, under the watchful eye, with the mayor of Chicago watching over all of us.


TIM PUGMIRE: The convention opened Monday under oppressive conditions. Tension was building between police and the thousands of anti-war protesters who had gathered in the city. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley ordered the police to deal harshly with the protesters.

RICHARD DALEY: You are on our property, which you are defacing. If you do not leave, you will be subject to arrest!

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy visited with several state delegations early in the week. He made his last appeal for support during a forum organized by California Democrats.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: Your problem, your responsibility, is to make this determination as to which candidate can take the issues that you're interested in and best carry them to the people of this country for a judgment. And in that spirit, I rest my case with you. Thank you.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy told a reporter later in the day that Humphrey had the nomination locked up. In a 1969 oral history interview, Senator Ralph Yarbrough said he and other McCarthy supporters were devastated when they heard the news.

RALPH YARBROUGH: If there's any way a politician could liquidate himself faster, that was self-immolation. He set the torch to his political hopes.

TIM PUGMIRE: On Wednesday, convention delegates nominated Hubert Humphrey on the first ballot. Humphrey received 67% of the vote. McCarthy received 23%. The streets of Chicago exploded in violence.

SPEAKER: Mr. Chairman, most delegates to this convention do not know that thousands of young people are being beaten in the streets of Chicago.

TIM PUGMIRE: In another oral history interview, McCarthy campaign worker David Mixner recalled the scene on Michigan avenue, just outside of McCarthy headquarters in the Hilton Hotel.

DAVID MIXNER: They blocked off all four other exits. I mean, like a bullpen at this intersection. So the crowd could not exit anywhere. And then, from South Balboa, came in a charge full of police marching like stormtroopers. And it's the only adequate description. And it's not hyperbolization. Right into the center of the crowd, wait for it-- turned in each direction, facing different directions, and started clubbing people.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy stayed in his hotel most of the week and never went to the convention hall. He watched the violence on the street below his suite, then helped out in a makeshift hospital set up in his campaign headquarters. The convention concluded Thursday after Humphrey named Edmund Muskie his running mate.

HUBERT HUMPHREY: My fellow Americans, my fellow Democrats, I proudly accept the nomination of our party.


SPEAKER: Humphrey! Humphrey! Humphrey! Humphrey!

TIM PUGMIRE: Earlier that day, McCarthy had addressed his supporters at the Hilton Hotel.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I may be visibly moved. I've been very careful not to be visibly moved throughout this campaign. If you people keep on this way, I may, as I say, lose my cool.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy later crossed the street to speak to the demonstrators assembled at Grant Park.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I'm happy to be here to address the government and the people in exile.


We're going to continue to carry the issue to popular judgment and hope that will come to bear upon the nominees of the two parties who are on the record subject to some kind of influence. Yes, but not within the parties necessarily. But we're going to try to influence as they go along. But my position is that I do not endorse either one of them,


TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy left Chicago a defeated candidate. His nine month crusade was over. But author Mark Kurlansky never viewed McCarthy as a failure.

MARK KURLANSKY: You know, when you talk about success and failure, you have to ask what were the goals. And the goal was to be a vehicle for the anti-war movement. The goal was not to be president.

His supporters would have gladly seen him be president. But what he and his campaign were all about was giving a voice to the anti-war movement. And he did a spectacular job of that.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy eventually backed Humphrey after the vice president called for a conditional end of bombing in North Vietnam. But the lukewarm endorsement came just one week before the general election.

SPEAKER: Mr. Vice President, we have a call now from Senator Eugene McCarthy.


SPEAKER: Good evening, Senator McCarthy. The Vice President and Senator Muskie are here. Go ahead, please.


TIM PUGMIRE: On the Eve of the 1968 election, McCarthy tried one more time to make a public show of support for his old friend, Hubert Humphrey.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: I hope I've cleared the way as far as I can, so that my friends are free to vote for you. Not only free, but I hope moved a little bit by what I've said recently. Good luck to you both tomorrow.

HUBERT HUMPHREY: Well, Gene, let me say before you get off the line that many of the things that you fought for, you and I have discussed on our party reform and matters that relate to our State Department and foreign policy, these are matters that are going to be given our highest consideration.

And particularly, as it relates, as I told to you, as to the revitalization of the Democratic Party and making room within it for people of different points of view, and particularly our young people. This was your battle. You won that battle. And I intend to see, as your friend and as your cohort, that we will implement it. So chalk that one up as a great victory, will you?


EUGENE MCCARTHY: I'll be standing by. Thanks very much for [INAUDIBLE] Bye.


SPEAKER: There you go. We got the call that puts Richard Nixon over the top. CBS News election estimate gives the state of Illinois and its 26 electoral votes--

TIM PUGMIRE: Nixon beat Humphrey by a narrow margin, and the war in Vietnam dragged on another 6 and 1/2 years. Humphrey's supporters blamed the outcome on McCarthy and his late endorsement. Dominic Sandbrook says the 1968 campaign took an enormous toll on McCarthy personally and politically.

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: It soured his relationship with the Democratic Party. It destroyed a lot of the links that he had with other Democrats. It embittered the relations between himself and Hubert Humphrey, his-- previously his closest ally.

It also wreaked terrible havoc on McCarthy's private life. At the end of the year, his marriage collapsed. A lot of his personal friends became estranged. He moved out from the family home, moved into a hotel.

I mean, he said himself in the years afterwards that he felt that his life had taken this turn that he didn't really understand. And had he not run for president, and not undergone the searing experiences of that year, his life might have been very different and quite conceivably a lot happier.

TIM PUGMIRE: McCarthy served out the rest of his term in the US Senate and did not seek re-election. Hubert Humphrey won the seat in 1970. McCarthy tried for the Democratic nomination for president again in 1972 under a reformed, more open selection process. He lost to George McGovern of South Dakota.

McCarthy made another unsuccessful bid in 1976, running as an independent. Two more futile presidential campaigns followed in 1988 and 1992. Still, it's the 1968 campaign that people remember him for most. A year, as journalist Al Eisele says, that assured McCarthy a place in history.

AL EISELE: He was, of course, the epitome of the new politics that the people and not the party bosses are the ones who should change policy. And as I've said many times, he proved that one man can make a difference by stirring up the public and serving as a catalyst for turning public opinion against the Vietnam War.

EUGENE MCCARTHY: But what we were able to do was to give them a chance within the framework of American politics to make a public judgment. And this opportunity was afforded to them at a time when there were many who said our system could not be made responsive to this kind of challenge.

That this democracy did not have the strength among its people to stand in mid-course against a policy which was in progress, and to say this policy is wrong and something must be done about it. Well, we did put the people to that test. And I think it's clear that they have met the test.

SPEAKER: (SINGING) The papers and the radio, they lied to us today. We need you with your honesty. You know we've been betrayed. The country needs a statesman, without one it can't stand. The country needs a president. McCarthy, you're the man.

MIKE EDGERLY: "The McCarthy Tapes" was produced by Tim Pugmire. It was edited by Mike Edgerly and Stephen Smith. Research assistance from Betsy Cole, Tim Johnson at the University of Minnesota, and Tracy Baker at the Minnesota History Center. Production assistance from Larissa Anderson and Patti Rae Rudolph. Web production by Melanie Sommer and Ilona Piotrowska.

I'm Mike Edgerly. To see photographs and hear recordings from The McCarthy Collection at the University of Minnesota Elmer L. Anderson Library, visit our website,

MIKE MULCAHY: And that's midday for this Friday. Our program was produced by Sara Meier. Curtis Gilbert is the assistant producer. Technical director is Randy Johnson. We had help this week from Jeff Nelson, Josh Kabasta, and Kyle Weslow. I'm Mike Mulcahy. Gary Eichten will be back Monday.

SPEAKER: Programming is supported by the Walker Art Center, presenting seven exhibitions with artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close, Donald Judd, and Yoko Ono, plus screenings of the British Television Advertising Awards all of December.

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