“Where To Elect There Is But One” (Vol. 33, Issue 10)
The nation’s first presidential primary took place four and a half weeks ago, and Eugene McCarthy’s powerful showing already has had immediate and striking consequences: Robert Kennedy declared his candidacy for the presidency; a strong anti-war element made its voice known; an even greater anti-Johnson group demonstrated its dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and perhaps even disgust with the present Administration and its leaders; and a panicked Lyndon Johnson reverted to attacking his opponents with meaningless campaign rhetoric such as, “We love nothing more than peace, but we hate nothing more than surrender and cowardice.”
And then there were the college students. They came from the area and from across the nation, to stuff envelopes, hand out leaflets, compile address lists, and ring doorbells for Eugene McCarthy. No effort was too great, not even shaving off beards and trimming sideburns to keep up the image of “Get Clean for Gene.” Their hard work, happily, was rewarded with success. In total vote, McCarthy trailed President Johnson by a mere 230 votes.
Yet, what is most encouraging about the effort of the college students is the fact that they channeled their anti-war sentiments into concrete political action. The nation had been reading only about anti-war and anti-draft demonstrations, protests, and riots in the past months, and, had this continued, a “war backlash” might have developed. As one of McCarthy’s youthful supporters said, “It looked more and more as if the physical types of protest — picketing and marching and all that — were having no effect except as an emotional outlet.” McCarthy’s campaign has changed that. He has given the college student a more accepted, and vastly more powerful and’ productive weapon. It is a weapon that must be used to the ultimate.
The dark cloud to this silver lining is not only President Johnson. Rather, Robert Kennedy, in his desire to be the standard bearer for the anti-war sentiment, might turn out to be the “spoiler” for
Senator McCarthy. After declaring “I have told friends and supporters who are urging me to run that I would not oppose Lyndon. Johnson under any forseeable circumstances,” and “President Johnson has been an outstanding president and I look forward to campaigning for him in 1968,” Kennedy threw his hat into the ring almost before the last vote was counted. Not only were his tactless remarks concerning his “reassessment” ill-timed, but they were ill-considered as well.
One cannot blame Kennedy for not declaring earlier. The risk to his political career would have been great—perhaps too great to risk. To declare against Johnson at that time might have been an act of political suicide—an act that takes a special degree of courage to chance. Kennedy’s stand on the war issue was clear and commendable, but he left McCarthy to do the job. McCarthy did it. The only honorable recourse for Kennedy then, would have been to throw his full support behind McCarthy in all the primaries, and hope that a solid anti-Johnson and war block could carry the day in, McCarthy, or then, as a final resort to be an anti-war candidate, with Kennedy. Instead, Kennedy opened himself once again to charges of “ruthless” and “opportunist” and tried to steal McCarthy’s hour of glory.
Kennedy might have succeeded in stealing a little of McCarthy's glory, but he cannot be allowed to steal McCarthy’s impetus and supporters. Although Kennedy has a well-known appeal to youth, one can only. hope that McCarthy’s “ballot children” will not desert him, but rather will redouble their efforts on his behalf to fight both opponents. Gene stood up to Joe in 1952 when nobody else would dare, has stood up to President Johnson this year, and will not fall in front of Bobby, whose only qualification exceeding those of McCarthy is his name.
The primaries have only just started; the election is still a long way off. With events occurring every day that one would think could only happen in a best selling political novel, it would be foolish to try to predict what will happen in Chicago in August, much less throughout the nation in November. And yet, uncertainty of the future should not affect action for the present. One cannot sit idly by and watch Lyndon Johnson become President again and continue his present policies. The time for action is now, for action now will help determine the future as a future of peace.
The war in Vietnam has already taken the lives of over 20,000 American boys, and there is no end in sight. More troops are sent over, more money is spent, more bombs are dropped, more platitudes are recited by Rusk, and still peace is no closer than before. The domestic situation is worsening rapidly as the Riot Commission report has shown, our economy is tottering, and guns are almost smothering butter. Our only hope is a change in November, and Nixon or Wallace will certainly effect no constructive change. Eugene McCarthy has the maturity, experience, knowledge, intelligence, and courage that no other candidate has, and these would serve him well as President. A united youth for McCarthy will hopefully spread to the adults. Perhaps, the future then will not seem so bleak.