Commentary Magazine

The McCarthy Candidacy

It is only recently that I have stopped doing a double-take upon encountering lapel-buttons emblazoned “McCarthy.” For my generation, that surname still has only one enduring meaning, and the new rise of a McCarthy-for-President movement inevitably stirs up old associations. Nevertheless, it is in order to ask whether Senator Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota is actually running for the Presidency—or at least for a Presidential nomination.

The cold fact is that he must be regarded as a candidate. This is so if only because he has chosen to make a bid for both primary votes and convention delegates, intending to take them away from an incumbent President who gives every indication of wanting another term in the White House. To be sure, the primary path is also an excellent public platform. It gets better springtime coverage than do speeches on the Senate floor, and anyway that forum on Vietnam has been pretty well pre-empted by William Fulbright and Wayne Morse, along with the periodic Republicans who wobble over to the dovecotes from time to time.

Yet it is not often that the Presidential primaries are used as a vehicle for presenting an alternative line of policy, especially in the foreign area. Most contenders enter them simply as office-seekers, keeping their personal positions ambiguous. Hence the emphasis on individual charm and the avoidance of serious issues. There are, of course, exceptions: the Oregon primary of 1948 saw a debate between Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen on outlawing the Communist party, and Barry Goldwater made his ideology all too clear in the spring of 1964. But the approach of John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and George Romney is closer to the norm: it is the man who is to be voted on, rather than his ideas.

McCarthy, we are told, will concentrate his campaign on Vietnam. Since it is clear that on domestic matters he is in close agreement with Lyndon Johnson—down to supporting the oil-depletion allowances—his position must be that Democratic voters deserve the opportunity to signify their preference for a Vietnam policy differing from the one now pursued by the administration. (“Party unity,” he has argued, “is not a sufficient excuse for silence.”) Hence McCarthy’s candidacy stands on the premise that he represents a different policy and that primary votes for him will express a variant opinion on the war.

For the past decade McCarthy has been a known, although not a well-known, Senator. He has not made a visible record for himself, partly because he has championed no legislative causes and partly because of his low-keyed personal style. Most usually he has been grouped in the public mind with other freshwater liberals—Bayh of Indiana, Church of Idaho, Metcalf of Montana, Burdick of North Dakota, Proxmire of Wisconsin, and McGee of Wyoming—and until recently he has not stood out on his own.

Indeed, the most frequent term applied to him has been “intelligent,” and on this score he certainly ranks in the Senate’s top decile. In the Congressional Directory he lists his profession as “college professor,” and in fact he taught sociology for several years at St. Thomas College in St. Paul. He is by no means a scholar, not even an intellectual, but he is a literate and witty man—rather like Adlai Stevenson (whom he supported at the 1960 convention) and thus able to bridge the gulf between the worlds of politics and the academy.

There is nothing particularly unique or unusual about McCarthy. Indeed, any one of six or seven other Senators could have proclaimed an anti-administration candidacy and been similarly received. But he was the one who took the plunge, and it is clear that he genuinely cares about the issue on which he has chosen to engage. Last March he came out for repeal of the Tonkin resolution, and it was he who accused Dean Rusk of raising the specter of a “yellow peril.” Moreover, he has cut his personal ties with the President (“He’s trying to get everyone—the Senate, the Cabinet, the United Nations—to carry the can for him on Vietnam”), which is always a serious step for a Senator. Yet for all this his seems a rather casual courage. His speeches at campuses have been lackluster and disappointing to audiences ready to be stirred by displays of some old-fashioned oratory. But it does not seem to be in the man to raise the rafters.

McCarthy’s recent book gives a surprisingly good picture of the mind and manner of the man,1 though it is necessary, to get that picture, to do quite a bit of reading between the lines. (The publisher has in this case quite literally provided ample opportunity for that.) Most bound volumes appearing under the names of candidates and congressmen follow a formula. They usually consist of relatively recent speeches, researched and frequently written by their staff members. If they display the “touch” of the putative author, it is because his writers know his style and are aware of the trademarks associated with his career. Politicians do not write speeches or books so much as they rewrite them: they take home their ghost’s drafts and pencil in alternative phrases and paragraphs where they feel the “personal” flavor is missing. This is understandable and forgivable. It is impossible to see how public office holders could muster the time to write books of their own.

Thus The Limits of Power consists of 238 wide-margined pages, with the text in large enough type to offer generous ribbons of white space between each line. Indeed, 26 of the 238 pages are blank sheets separating the chapters, so I estimate that the reader gets less than 25,000 words for his $5.95, really a pamphlet that could easily have been produced for 75¢. The chapters—which is to say, the speeches—cover such topics as the Defense Department’s arms sales, Micronesia, and the CIA. The inclusion of this filler material is also understandable, for every congressman is compelled to come up with some specialties if he is to have any value at all in his chamber. McCarthy does not tell us how he developed his interest in Micronesia—but then again nowhere in the book does he discuss his motives or motivations in a way that could be called self-revealing.

There is, to be sure, no dearth of allusions and citations to remind the reader that the author is a cut above his congressional colleagues. Hence there is a liberal selection in passing of quotations from, or references to, Kafka, Orwell, Toynbee, Burke, Cromwell, and C. S. Lewis. (The Orwell reference, by the way, is not to Animal Farm or 1984 but to an essay on political language.) Among a few paragraphs which explain—quite sympathetically—China’s territorial claims to Tibet and a revision of the Sino-Indian frontier, the possibly forgetful reader is reminded of the Tibet-Ladakh agreement of 1684 and the Dogra-Ladakh exchange of 1842. Of course, this kind of expertise-dropping is an old political ploy, employed as much by Southern diehards like Sam Ervin as it is by former professors such as McCarthy. So long as one does not make too big a production out of it, a slight show of historical or technical knowledge is a nice way of acknowledging the new level of literacy that has been recently attained by much of the electorate.



In any case, the quality of mind revealed in the book will have to depend on the prior sympathies of the reader. Those already well-disposed to McCarthy will generously discover meanings and perceptions in his words that are not readily apparent to those not so inclined. Let me give an example of such an exercise in interpretation. In a discussion of our military-aid emphasis in Latin Amerca, McCarthy caustically alludes to a group of policy-makers he calls the “tough-minded” liberals. Now, it is altogether true that during the last fifteen to twenty years the liberal community has experienced a real and serious split. While there are various ways to characterize this cleavage, it will suffice here to go along with McCarthy and speak of “tough-minded” as opposed to “soft-minded” liberals. The line of demarcation between the two depends primarily on the degree to which one is inclined to talk about the presumed “realities” of national and international power politics. In the days of an earlier McCarthy, the tough-minded liberal was hard-headed about domestic Communism, given to citing chapter and verse on the infiltration of unions, the filching of documents, and the subversion of classrooms for alien ends. While somewhat different in style, the tough-type intellectuals who joined the Kennedy administration were also prone to speak of the “realities,” especially as they made peace with the Pentagon or curried favor with the conservative doyens in Congress. Nevertheless, those who have presided over Johnson’s Vietnam policy, from Dean Rusk down to John Roche, still have every honorable claim to full membership in the liberal camp. Perhaps the fact that the term “liberal” has to cover so many people with such varying outlooks and temperaments is an indication of its obsolescence—but until a better one comes along, we are stuck with it. (Let me simply add that the great majority of progressive and middle-class opponents of the Vietnam war are unwilling to engage in the linguistic leap of distinguishing themselves as “radicals.”) The importance of all this is that there has been a growing disillusionment over liberal tough-mindedness in the last year or so, accompanied by a spreading distaste for all those knowing references to the purported “realities.”

In this connection McCarthy’s all-too-brief criticism of “tough-minded liberalism” can be read—at least by those who want to—as his personal confession that he is basically a soft-minded type. What one gets from such a reading is primarily a sense of compassion for the lot of the underdog, whether in the Mississippi or the Mekong Delta. From this vantage point, power is as often as not seen as an instrument of injustice, or at least of indifference, and the preservation of official order need not be accorded the highest priority. But whether or not McCarthy is saying this about himself can only be inferred. He refrains from any analysis of those who preside over his party, and he provides no defense of the soft-minded stance.

And Vietnam? The present volume contains only one short, nine-page chapter, which ends with the recommendation that we “try the Gavin policy” and at the same time attempt direct negotiations with the Vietcong. I suppose this is as much a “policy” as anyone’s is: Vietnam is not an area where one can offer detailed programs, largely because the viability of any plan depends on the reaction from the other side. Nonetheless, McCarthy is plainly for “de-escalation” but is hardly a “pullout” proponent. This we all knew and still know. His nine pages add nothing new to our knowledge of his thinking, unless this is all he still has to say on the subject he has chosen for his campaign.



The central theme of the book may be presumed to be stated in its title—The Limits of Power. “We have moved,” McCarthy says, “to a position of isolated, almost singular responsibility for the whole world. We must therefore attempt to assay our real power as compared with our assumed responsibilities.” The key question here is whether McCarthy’s acknowledging of the limits of American power signifies his willingness to curtail our global commitments in any profound way. Thinking of that sort has been branded as the “new isolationism” of the Left. But before labels are pinned on any man or movement it is best to examine the implications of the candidate’s words.

First of all, there is the factual question of the magnitude of America’s “real power.” Our population includes more than 16 million young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty, and we have the industrial potential to equip whatever armed forces we raise with more firepower than any other nation of the world. Our gross national product exceeds $700 billion, an amount that is quite sufficient to supply a military machine with all of its needs. Other imperial regimes, in recent times and in the past, have policed or occupied large chunks of the world with armies a fraction the size of the one we could muster. In point of fact, the United States has the physical potential—both human and material—for implementing even greater international commitments than those we have hitherto assumed. In these terms, our power is not at all limited. On the contrary, we have a capability equal to that of Imperial Rome and superior to that of Nazi Germany.

What is missing, of course, is the will. Americans value their private comforts and pleasures, and are unwilling to make the sacrifices that are necessary for the success of imperial ventures. Young men are not volunteering to fight for manifestly destined causes these days, and they and their parents and their parents’ politicians are seeking to minimize the impact of conscription. Our citizens look upon their personal incomes as sacred vessels, not to be tapped by the tax-collector for ambitious expenditures on armaments. The private desire for a motorboat or air-conditioning or vacation travel clearly has priority over appropriations for international involvements. Our $700 billion gross national product is largely earmarked for personal amenities and hence is not available for public outlays. Thus to say that our power is “limited” is really to admit that the citizens of America are unwilling to devote more than a minor fraction of their population or their prosperity to the enterprise of empire. And when McCarthy asks that we “assay our real power,” he is actually asking that we examine the nation’s will to act as a nation. Needless to say, he does not—and here he differs from Fulbright—plumb the implications of this question. Were he to do so he might well be compelled to conclude that the public spirit of the American people is so decayed that they are not worth trying to lead.

“America’s contribution to world civilization must be more than a continuous performance demonstration that we can police the planet,” are the concluding words of The Limits of Power. Yet if our “real power” is as limited as the candidate has suggested, then it is apparent that the United States is in no position to police any planet. After all Vietnam, North and South together, is smaller than the state of Montana, and with the might we have been willing to muster we have hardly demonstrated our ability to impose our will on that sliver of the globe. Given this, it is proper to ask just what this country’s “contribution to world civilization” might be.

A partial answer might be adduced from McCarthy’s speeches on Latin America, Africa, and Asia, which show that he is committed to the liberal conventions of technical assistance, economic aid, land reform, and support for budding or blossoming aspirations of national independence. It is the school of thought that would send tractors to Tanzania, engineers to Ecuador, and medicines to the Maldive Islanders. Whether such activity earns us respect or prestige or love or goodwill, or whether it simply makes life a little bit better for some of our fellow human beings, what emerges is a wish to share some of our blessings with other people in other lands. This is a contribution that America could make to the world, and anyone who espouses such a cause is certainly not an isolationist.

However, if American military power is limited by a lack of will, the country’s ability to part with any but a token fraction of its material bounty is constricted by the very same deficiency. Every American, from Providence to Pasadena, has a long personal shopping-list of goods and goodies he has not yet bought. The central fact preventing the expansion of McCarthy-type foreign aid programs is that 40 million households in this country do not yet have color television sets. (And when they do get them, the chief obstacle will be that they do not have a cabin on the lake or a cottage by the shore.) While I realize that McCarthy is not writing a treatise on the political—or the anti-political—psychology of the American people, his incantations about a non-military “contribution to world civilization” remain ritualistic until he is prepared to estimate the resources that we as a population are willing to deploy beyond our shores. (The same stricture obviously applies to all the current talk of “massive” governmental aid to our own ghettos.)

Yet to show that there is little evidence of hard thought in McCarthy’s book may really be beside the point. For as the McCarthy movement takes on speed and momentum it will begin to display the tendencies inherent in all candidacies. As a campaign grows, so do the self-delusions which come to cloud the perceptions of those who made the decision to back the man. The procedure is to conjure up an idealized picture of a candidate and then to project that image onto one’s chosen standard-bearer. As a result, a candidate’s followers choose to see only those facets of their leader which do not run counter to their preferred conception of him. Such self-delusions are inevitable accompaniments to electoral politics, for only by holding such a prismatic view can we muster the energy and élan to work for, talk up, and contribute to our candidate. All of us have distorted reality in this way on one occasion or another, whether the object of our affections has been Adlai Stevenson or Barry Goldwater or Richard Nixon. Even the august and Olympian Walter Lippmann has willed himself to see his own outlook embodied in McCarthy: “The mission of Senator McCarthy is . . . to stop the rot in the American political system. His chief assets are his own profoundly educated belief in the American idea and the sincerity and purity of his motives.” If a Lippmann can perceive all this in the Minnesota senator, then it is quite in the cards that others who have not made a profession of political commentary will soon follow suit.



To follow what will be happening over the next six or seven months, it is necessary to say something about the labyrinth McCarthy is entering. Whether or not he is a “serious” candidate for the nomination, his presence in the primaries will inevitably have its effect on the Democratic convention this coming summer. It is true that to establishment eyes the Minnesota Senator is an unwanted intruder at what should normally be the ritual re-anointment of an incumbent President. But this is not the first time a troublemaker has appeared on the electoral scene, and it would be well to consider how some other outsiders have been dealt with in the past.

For all that is said and written about the primaries, very little is actually understood about this presumed path to the Presidential nomination. In hard fact, only fifteen states out of the fifty use the primary method of delegate-selection. The other thirty-five rely on closed conventions of party loyalists who select delegates—often from their own number—not publicly committed to any candidate. Out of the approximately twenty-six hundred delegates who will be at the Democratic convention next August, only nine hundred or so will have been sent there via the primary route.

Yet fifteen out of fifty is by no means the whole story. Some primaries—such as New York’s and Alabama’s—are virtually meaningless simply because those running for delegate do not usually indicate which candidate they support. The delegations from Pennsylvania and Illinois have tended toward single uncontested slates, uncommitted to any particular contender, which is why these large and important states seldom figure in the primary plans of leading aspirants. The remaining eleven states can have meaningful contests where two or more competing slates, each identified with a candidate, are on the primary ballot. However it is to be noted that the victorious delegates in these states are usually committed to support their standard-bearer only on the opening ballot of the convention. After that they become free agents.

To complicate matters even further, there are the “preference polls” which accompany the delegate contests in about a dozen states. The trouble here is that these polls are on separate parts of the ballot and in most cases bear no direct relation to the process of delegate-selection. Thus there have been candidates who have won the popularity polls, only to find that none of those states’ delegates were committed to them. Moreover, the polls are only advisory in most places, and as often as not a state’s delegates will pay little heed to them when they reach the convention floor.

All this can best be illustrated by the case of the late Estes Kefauver, who used the primaries in a serious attempt to gain the Democratic nomination in 1952. The Tennessee Senator, concealing a Yale Law School education beneath his coonskin hat, entered no fewer than twelve primaries. He was apparently the choice of a fair number of rank-and-file Democrats, for he won the preference polls in such states as Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. However the vagaries of the system were (and still are) such that not a single one of the 117 delegates from those states entered the convention pledged to him. For all his efforts in the primaries, Kefauver got only 174 out of the 1,230 delegates by that means. On the convention’s first ballot he was the frontrunner in a field with five principal contenders, but by the third ballot he had slipped behind Adlai Stevenson who pulled ahead to win the nomination.

While it was true that Kefauver was for various reasons “unacceptable” to most of those who led and comprised the convention, it is also not easy to argue that he was the people’s choice. When all is said and done, he won preference polls in only five states and of the 581 delegates chosen by primaries in that year, he managed to get only 174 pledged to him. All one can conclude is that given the obduracy of the primary system it is not really possible for anyone who enters that maze to emerge as a clearcut and popular choice for the nomination. Too many of the contests are pseudo-primaries with either a single uncontested slate or an outcome which leaves the delegates uncommitted. And given the disconnection between the preference polls and the process of delegate-selection, victory in the former can have a meaningful impact only if an atmosphere has been created which suggests that the winner is somehow unstoppable. Kefauver was never able to parlay his preference-poll wins into such a bandwagon. Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy did manage to pull this off. Can McCarthy?

But Eisenhower and Kennedy were not trying to wrest the nomination from an incumbent President of their own party. To find an instance of such hubris (or chutzpah) on the hustings one must go back more than half a century.

Theodore Roosevelt had voluntarily retired from the White House in 1908, naming William Howard Taft as his candidate for the succession. While Taft won that election easily, T.R. did not take to private life, and he soon grew disillusioned with his former lieutenant. (“There stands Taft like the statue of Louis XV in the Tuileries Gardens, smiling and formidable, but without heart or guts.”) After some tergiversations Roosevelt decided to take the 1912 nomination from Taft.

Even though Taft was not a particularly popular President, Republican regulars across the country had a vested interest in his re-election. So Roosevelt entered the primaries, which were new institutions in most of the states that had them and which had never before been used as the vehicle for a serious challenge on a national basis. Indeed, the legislatures of four states—Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland—authorized primaries for the first time in 1912, largely to give T.R. a chance. He easily defeated Taft in those states and went on to beat him in Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, Washington, Oregon, and California.

But Taft did not pull out of the race. Like all insiders he placed his confidence in the convention, with its majority of non-primary delegates. That Chicago meeting was probably the most exciting and eventful the Republican party has had. Elihu Root, a Taft man, won the chairmanship by a hairline vote of 558-551. A ballot on the controversial credentials of the California delegation went to the Taft forces, but by a cliffhanging 542-529. And the first ballot for the nomination ended with 561 votes for Taft (a bare majority of the 1,078 delegates)—and only 107 for Roosevelt. Of the remaining delegates, 66 were strewn among minor candidates and, most critical, 344 abstained.

As is well known, the Roosevelt supporters—most of whom were the abstainers—went home and set up T.R.’s Progressive party candidacy, with the result that Woodrow Wilson won the 1912 Presidency with 42 per cent of the votes.



If history is in any way to repeat itself, the 1912 analogy is not entirely farfetched. Like any attempt to draw a parallel, it is far from perfect: Eugene McCarthy is not a renowned former President, nor even the brother of a renowned former President. But the point is that even so well-known and popular a contender as Theodore Roosevelt could not carry a convention. And there is every reason to believe that the great majority of this year’s Democratic delegates will be much the same sort of people as those who renominated Taft in the same city fifty-six years ago.

The typical delegate is not only not chosen or pledged by a primary, but he is a local party loyalist. Most are year-round county committeemen, quite senior in service, and accustomed to going along with the leadership. Very few, especially among the Democrats, have opinions that are in any way ideological and quite a few have no opinions at all on national issues. Put a dozen of any state’s delegates in a room and it would be like pulling teeth to get a discussion going on the merits or demerits of our Vietnam involvement. Nor are they, for that matter, particularly attuned to what passes as “public opinion.” Certainly they felt no compunctions about failing to nominate either Kefauver or Theodore Roosevelt despite their impressive strings of primary victories. Indeed, even in 1968 it will be difficult to find dissident or dovish Democratic governors or congressmen making any attempt to lead delegations away from Johnson. Frank Church and William Ful-bright, for example, will probably not even try to steer the Idaho and Arkansas delegates toward McCarthy. If there is to be a challenge at all, it will come from Robert Kennedy, yet even here it is by no means certain how much of a hold he will have over New York’s 190-odd delegates.

What I am saying, of course, is that all current signs indicate that it will be a convention loyal to Lyndon Johnson. The McCarthy strategy—if such exists—must be to prevent anyone from getting a majority on the first ballot. If that unlikely feat were to be achieved, then the prevailing presumption is that Robert Kennedy would step before the divided delegates and rally both McCarthy and Johnson supporters behind him. (Hence all the “stalking horse” talk.) Yet I cannot for the life of me see this happening. I am willing to wager that Johnson will carry the opening ballot with two-thirds to three-quarters of the votes. And I base this guess more on my understanding of the sort of people convention delegates are than on particular currents of opinion running among Democratic voters in the country.

A Johnson nomination may well be yet another sign of the isolation of the established party system from the political sentiments held by substantial numbers of Americans. Not the least reason for this alienation is that the ongoing party organizations remain in the fairly firm grip of an in-group which is extremely difficult either to influence or to dislodge. While “hack” is not quite the appropriate term for most of the members of this group, they understandably have little sympathy for the opinionated amateurs who only turn out when the glamor-contests are on. Certainly, to expect these people to become exercised over the morality of the Vietnam war is asking too much. (Recent surveys of Democratic state committeemen have shown them almost unanimously behind the administration.) What this means is that those who are exercised will have to fight their battle on the fringes of the established party system. And this, needless to say, is just where the McCarthy candidacy is taking place. In the best of political worlds it might be possible for the parties to reflect and incorporate the most pressing issues of the day in their candidates and platforms. This, however, seldom happens, and when it does—as with the Bryan and Goldwater nominations of 1896 and 1964—the result is that the other party wins. We do not, then, have a really “open” political system. It is smug and stolid and well guarded by those who got into it first.

Perhaps this is an overlong way of saying that the McCarthy candidacy is not a candidate’s campaign at all. It is, rather, a referendum on Vietnam. Several million registered Democrats in selected states will be able to go to the polls this spring and register their opinions on the war. They can voice a generalized anti-war sentiment by casting their ballots for McCarthy, or they can approve the continuation of current policy by voting for Johnson or some local stand-in for him. The sample will probably consist of Democratic voters in Wisconsin, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Nebraska, and my estimate is that the total turnout for these primaries will not exceed six million. Still, it is not a bad distribution for a referendum: two Eastern states, one each in the Midwest and the Plains, and two on the West Coast. Moreover, six million is about one-seventh of Johnson’s poll in 1964.

Yet what will a vote for McCarthy mean? Clearly it would not be a ballot for or against an immediate or even an early pull-out of Vietnam. However, when the issue was so put in San Francisco and Cambridge last fall, 37 and 39 per cent of those voting in the referendums held in those two cities favored withdrawal. Presumably, one could draw up a scale representing degrees or intensities of anti-war sentiment, ranging from those who are pro-Vietcong to those sharing the moderate misgivings of a Mike Mansfield, and then chart the rising percentages who would support positions as they got less “extreme.” But while the result might serve as a model for social scientists, the fuzzy reality is not so easily pinned down on a chart. Moreover, in this case the reality is not even Eugene McCarthy himself but rather the image he presents to the voters he wishes to court.



Just how large the movement will become in terms of sheer numbers it is impossible to estimate. There are already several organizations supporting McCarthy—Dissenting Democrats, Coalition for a Democratic Alternative, and the Conference of Concerned Democrats—and they can easily gather the tens of thousands of signatures needed for petitions, advertisements, and mailing lists. But while such luminaries as George Kennan and Robert Vaughn have lent their names to McCarthy’s cause, hardly a single Democratic officeholder has allowed himself to be listed. Even such Senate doves as Wayne Morse, George McGovern, Stephen Young, and Gaylord Nelson are playing it safe and remaining studiously neutral. Robert Kennedy clearly does not even want to be asked where he stands.

It will, then, be up to the amateurs. The movement will certainly not lack for money, for it is heavily endowed with wealthy and upper-middle-class liberals who are habituated to writing $100 to $1000 checks. Add to this the $10 and $20 donations of college professors, schoolteachers, dentists, social workers, librarians, and publishing and advertising executives, and McCarthy will enter his primaries with several million dollars for billboards, bumper stickers, and television time.

The overriding question, of course, is how many of these Democrats there are in the actual states where McCarthy will campaign. The workers in a single Allis-Chalmers plant in Milwaukee have more votes than the entire University of Wisconsin faculty in Madison, and there are many more aerospace draftsmen in Orange County than there are intellectuals in San Francisco. Thus McCarthy’s Vietnam referendums will only approach the tipping-point if his movement begins to make contact with Democrats not blessed with upper-middle-class incomes or educations. The Massachusetts and California electorates are far more varied than those of enclaves like Cambridge and Berkeley, and there is a paucity of real knowledge about how to phrase the anti-war case to people who have been thinking in terms like “supporting our boys.”

Wide note was made of the fact that at Chicago’s year-end meeting of the Conference of Concerned Democrats (where McCarthy issued only the most general of calls for an “honorable, rational, and political solution” in Vietnam) there were hardly any Negroes or union representatives on hand. Thus the real challenge will be how much anti-administration sentiment can be roused among lower-middle, working-class, and even lower-class Democrats. For these classes do not vote in party primaries in overwhelming numbers, and they do not normally have critical feelings on foreign policy issues (although when they do it is, as with the AFL-CIO, as often as not on the side of purblind patriotism). The McCarthy campaign will have a lot of class lines to penetrate and many suspicions to allay. Even the presence of Dr. Spock and other portside voices in McCarthy’s camp may lose him fewer votes than will the surfeit of sophistication among its mainstream members.

Ironically, the chief impact of McCarthy’s candidacy may be to deflect attention from what would normally be the springtime’s first order of political business: the Republican party’s primaries. This could be an unfortunate result, for the man who carries those contests may well turn out to be the occupant of the White House in January of 1969, and to his hands would fall the decisions of peace and war which seem to exercise the Democratic party far more than they do his own.




1 The Limits of Power. Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 238 pp. $5.95.

About the Author

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
for full access to
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
Don't have a log in?
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.