Good Political Group Needs Men Of Stature, Humphrey Declares
By Thomas Stafford
November 29, 1959
Good Political Group Needs Men Of Stature, Humphrey Declares
By Thomas Stafford
For a moment one afternoon recently we got the impression that ebullient, ambitious Hubert Humphrey had forgotten he was running for president. He was sitting in a Beckley Hotel room, feet propped up on a bed, his thoughts back in Minnesota.
“The only way to build a political organization and make it lasting,” the senior senator from Minnesota said in effect, “is to attract to it people of stature and respectability,”
Humphrey is no neophyte in the political art. He is the first Democrat elected to the Senate from his state in a century. Also, since going to Washington a decade ago, he has elected a governor, another senator and has been a potent factor in changing the Minnesota legislature from independent Republican to Democratic.
In some respects he is the Minnesota personification of West Virginia’s late Matt Neely. But, perhaps, with a greater respect for his public trust.
This writer asked Humphrey for his formula, curious to know how a hard-shell Republican state could change so drastically so quickly. He grew pensive for a moment, then replied:
“Encourage your college professors, your professional men, your top people, the best in every field of endeavor to become active in politics.”
Out of such a combination of talent, he said, will come the urge to change, the urge to get ahead, the urge to build upon a more solid foundation. Thinking people are progressive people, he added.
The natural question then was to ask if this is what the political leadership in West Virginia should do—since it is now in a period of transition after the great upheaval of 1956.
Again Humphrey grew thoughtful, smiled and said, “You’ll have to answer that question among yourselves. Conditions are not the same in every state.”
Humphrey was in Beckley for a speaking engagement, his second appearance in the state this year. He was there to charge the Democrats with enthusiasm for their 1960 comeback fight.
That he was the man for the job almost any party loyalist would agree. Hubert Humphrey is many things to many people, but most will say that no man in the party has more enthusiasm, drive, platform personality and persuasive power than this druggist turned politician.
He’s damned as an opportunist. He’s loved as the friend of the little fellow. He’ll snuggle up to a TV camera like a wardheeler, and a moment later snub a seasoned newsman. One day he’s courting a businessman with a bankroll and the next castigating his partner as a Wall St. stooge. When he comes into an unfamiliar state like West Virginia, he’ll peruse the papers for an issue, then take off like an Atlas missile. He’s charming, witty, a great conversationalist, a finished story teller. He’s the politician’s politician.
But there’s another side to Humphrey. Only he among all the Americans who have gone to Russia has spent eight hours with Khrushchev. That Delphic oracle of the liberal Democrats, Eleanor Roosevelt, credits him with “a spark of greatness.” Reinhold Niebuhr writes that he “knows more about foreign policy than any of the other (presidential) front runners.” And Adlai Stevenson once wanted him for his vice presidential running mate.
In the Beckley interview Humphrey looked with a critical eye at the economy of West Virginia . . . and the United States. “The Republican Administration,” he declared, “has fought every effort to design programs and policies to expand the economy.”
Noting that Allen Dulles, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, recently warned that unless the U.S. economy is improved at a more rapid rate “we are going to commit national suicide,” Humphrey said this nation can’t afford such pockets of unemployment as exist in the West Virginia coal fields and Minnesota iron regions.
“From a point of national security,” he commented heatedly, “we can’t afford any pockets of unemployment. And from the point of simple social and economic justice we surely can’t afford it.”
Humphrey then strongly endorsed the area redevelopment bill, which the Eisenhower Administration opposed in the last Congress, as the best means of improving conditions in depressed parts of the country. “It is strange to me,” he said at this point, “that we can have greater interest in Afghanistan than we can have in southern West Virginia.”
The youth conservation bill, which bore the sponsorship of Sen. Humphrey, Sen. Randolph and Sen. Byrd, was another important piece of legislation, he said, that the Administration frowned upon. “West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in the nation. Tourism and recreation would be an economic asset to this state, and with the YCC working in your parks and forests . . . there could be a great deal of improvement.”
The fast-talking Humphrey also spoke strongly in favor of the public works bill, twice vetoed by President Eisenhower, and the coal research bill, killed with a pocket veto. “They would have been of great help to your state and the nation,” Humphrey declared, “but this Administration is a no go, go slow, not now, veto administration.”
He turned next to what he called “Republican prosperity with frayed edges.” There is no prosperity in the Middle West, he said, when “agriculture is practically on its back. How can this Administration ignore a $2 billion drop in farm income?”
Or when, he added, Detroit has thousands of automobile workers in the jobless ranks, West Virginia mines are closed, and workers by the tens of thousands elsewhere in the United States have been displaced by machines.
“The Eisenhower Administration,” Humphrey charged savagely, “is addicted to escapism and avoidance. It prefers to talk about its problems in the morning, take off to the country club in the afternoon, and not be bothered at all in the evening.”
Then, speaking like the presidential candidate he is (but says he isn’t), Humphrey said:
“The official policy being pursued by this Administration is, in my mind, the greatest single threat to a prosperous economy. It is the major cause of inflation—the greatest single item in the increase in the cost of living.
“It has acted as a brake upon expansion for the small and medium[-]sized business, and it has literally killed enterprise in agriculture. We are paying today the highest interest charges that anybody has paid since the beginning of the depression.”
At this point Humphrey turned his attention to foreign policy—and to Russia, which he visited last year, and where he made international headlines after talking with Premier Khrushchev.
“I think the threat of thermonuclear was had been somewhat reduced,” he observed, “simply because the scientists of both great nations have been able to impress upon the leaders of the world that in such war there really is no victory.”
Khrushchev and his aides seem to feel this way, Humphrey said, but this doesn’t mean they have changed their objectives. “To them when they say they don’t mean a war of shot and shell, they mean economic war, propaganda war, cultural war, political war, total war. What they’re doing is changing tactics, not objectives or strategy.”
The eloquent Minnesota senator likened the Russian policy to that of the “wolf which may change its fur but never its mind.” What the world is seeing, he said, is a Russia that is supplanting military prowess with diplomatic finesse “a fixed military position with diplomacy of maneuverability and mobility.”
This is where Khrushchev thinks “he can beat us,” Humphrey said grimly. He lo longer thinks of “blowing America to pieces but to take it apart piece by piece. It is operation nibble—working of the periphery, working on the economic front, on the propaganda front, in the educational field, in the area of science and culture.”
The answer to all of this, Humphrey said, is leadership that will inspire the nation and Western world “to the great task ahead.”
And where does Humphrey fit in all this? He declines to say, even to the point that he refuses to admit he is an avowed candidate for the presidency.
But of one thing he’s certain—only through a Democratic victory in 1960 can America move ahead on both the domestic and international front.
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