Thomas F. Stafford’s Affairs of State
Sen. Humphrey Pathetic Figure
May 11, 1960
Thomas F. Stafford’s Affairs of State
Sen. Humphrey Pathetic Figure
One of the most pathetic figures in the election campaign which came to an end Tuesday was Sen. Hubert Humphrey, the former drug store clerk turned senator who wants to be President.
You wouldn’t have noticed any self-pity in Humphrey, if you had watched him as a candidate. Even on the last day before the primary, when he was touring the Kanawha Valley aboard his big campaign bus, he fairly breathed confidence.
This was Humphrey at his best—a great showman and a shrewd campaigner. Neither he nor his staff would venture a guess as to his chances of winning, but Humphrey was playing out his string to the end, going for every vote that was still uncommitted or undecided.
During that day of campaigning he was flamboyant and constrained, cocksure and diffident—a master at the political art with a change of pace that startled even the people who knew him best.
When the day began at 6 a. m. he came briskly out of his hotel like a football coach before the championship game. “Let’s get this show on the road,” he said to his still sleepy staff, a broad smile covering his own weariness.
From then on until 11 p. m. he didn’t stop, except for a brief respite in mid-afternoon, winding up by carrying tired and sleepy Donny Brooks, an eight-year-old recruit he had picked up in the morning, on his shoulder.
Young Donny’s dad, D. E. Brooks, had driven the Humphrey bus throughout the campaign, and Donny asked to go along the last day. Humphrey liked this because his own son, Doug, another campaigner of inexhaustible energy, had returned to Washington.
Little Donny gave out campaign cards by the hundreds, and although his father tried to get him to quit in the evening, he stayed with his candidate friend right to the end.
Donny’s faith in Humphrey reflects that of others on the big man’s staff, who know he’s in an uphill fight but stick with him because they regard him as a misunderstood man. They join with such people as Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson in this. To them, all liberals like himself, he’s the best man on the political scene today.
But neither they nor Humphrey are oblivious of the odds against him. In this West Virginia campaign he had hoped to have $50,000 for expenses, but his local treasurer, Chuck Meyer, said he was able to raise less than $20,000 to use against his well-heeled opponent, Sen. John F. Kennedy.
Also, he had hoped for something more than the tacit approval that organized labor gave him. An avid supporter of the laboring man’s cause, he had thought the unions would come through with some open endorsements, if not also some financial support. The only endorsement of any consequence he got was from the Teamsters, and this was promptly interpreted as a vote of confidence from Jimmie Hoffa.
All the way, since he started several years ago to make his bid for either the presidency or vice presidency, Humphrey has had to combat the very widespread impression that he was a starry-eyed liberal with no really sound ideas for helping the country.
To counter this impression, he has gone around the country making speeches and pointing to his record as a successful mayor of one of America’s larger cities. Others who believe in him have pointed out that he is one of the most respected and admired men on Capitol Hill.
His is a case that apparently can be sold only by personal contact. It is not until he goes out and addresses an audience, as he did so often and so eloquently during the West Virginia campaign, that he finds converts. Unfortunately for him, this is too slow. He has neither the time nor the funds to reach enough people to put himself across.
And even if he wins the West Virginia primary (this column was written on election day), his chances of success are perhaps even more remote than before. He will then be known as the man who stopped Kennedy, a poor recommendation when the Democratic Party needs a nominee who can attract rather than alienate the large Catholic vote in this country.
A few political observers—The New York Times television critic and Ed Morgan of ABC among them—understood the significance of last week’s televised encounter between Sen. Humphrey and Sen. Kennedy. Most, unfortunately, did not. They were anticipating a Hatfield-McCoy vocal vendetta on camera, and when it failed to materialize were disappointed.
They forgot the office at stake. They forgot that Kennedy and Humphrey will agree more often than they will disagree, especially on critical national and international questions which had to be asked if the program was to be timely. They also forgot that the sponsors could only provide the vehicle for these two contestants to present their appeals to the electorate. The manner in which the appeals were made had to be left to the principals. This was not a prize fight ring where the referee keeps stepping in to urge you and him to fight.
Today’s political campaigns are conducted in a vacuum of pap and nonsense, marked by the hearty handclasp and the stale but resonant five minute address from a roadside soap box. Face to face meetings give the voter a chance to base his selection on something other than hearsay and cliché. Despite the lack of verbal fireworks last Wednesday night, those watching the show were able to see how the two candidates stood up to each other, how they answered and parried (little of this by either) questions, how they reacted to the conditions established by the moderator, and how they interpreted issues.
Adlai Stevenson has repeatedly warned of the necessity of maintaining the dialogue in political campaigns if our citizens are to continue to be interested in and responsive to the problems of our times. Modern political campaigns with their Madison Avenue techniques of “hoopla” and gooey salesmanship offer little of real value to the prospective voter. They are debasing the American political system and fostering voter apathy, which, in turn, gnaws away at the democratic process.
Television has a responsible role to play in political campaigns, for no other medium can attract so vast an audience or has so immediate an impact. It is our hope last Wednesday’s experiment will become a common occurrence on the national and the local political scene. We are convinced it is through programs like this that the public can be better informed and the democratic process strengthened.
The demand by GOP leaders for equal time following the Humphrey-Kennedy television show was patently political, and the television and radio stations acceding to it made a mistake. If television is to become a responsible medium, decisions concerning what is and what is not partisan political activity must remain in the hands of those charged with station operations.
Hawthorne Battle, president at WCHS, say through the request and went to the heart of the matter when he said: “If the Republican Party had a presidential candidate entered in the West Virginia primary we would, as a matter of public service, have been pleased to have had him broadcast.
This was the real issue, as the Westinghouse Broadcasting Co.—the sole national chain to carry the program on five of its TV and six of its radio outlets in eight cities—must have realized when it supported Battle’s position by turning down a similar GOP request. No amount of explanation or charges of partisanship can eliminate Humphrey and Kennedy from the contest they are engaged in. It may be lamentable the Republican Party does not have a presidential contest of its own to arouse public interest, but this is a private problem to be handled by the GOP not by Battle or others in the broadcast media.
The broadcasting industry has been subjected to too much political pressure. It is too sensitive and too skittish for its own good. Requests like the one made last week are irresponsible and should be recognized as such. The Mutual Broadcasting System in knuckling under to the request has hurt itself and the industry. We commend those stations which refused to be stampeded by political propaganda and which announced that they—not the politicians—would determine when equal time must be accorded.
The state of political campaigning, as noted in the above editorial, is such that more programs of the Kennedy-Humphrey type are needed; and yet, if this is to be accomplished, the two political parties must cooperate in the undertaking. They, too, must be responsible and mature in their approach to manifold problems of equal time. Politicians have the legislative power to control television, but that power should be used wisely and sparingly.
The Humphrey-Kennedy debate—whatever its critics may say about it—was a noble experiment worthy of public approval, public support and public appreciation. It was an effort to interest the private citizen in the affairs of his government. There may be better ways to do this, but we are frank to admit we don’t know of any.
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