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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 56

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This is the grave of Hubert H. Humphrey.

2016-10-21-14-30-29

Born in 1911 in Wallace, South Dakota, Hubert H. Humphrey attended the University of Minnesota. He then went to Louisiana State University for a master’s degree, graduating in 1940. He returned to Minnesota and soon became involved in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which he helped found in 1944. He ran as mayor of Minneapolis in 1945, serving until 1948. Humphrey made fighting racial discrimination the hallmark of his early career, working on this heavily in Minneapolis and then at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. While Harry Truman equivocated on civil rights, Humphrey pushed for an embrace of the issue, leading a floor fight to include a pro-civil rights plank on the platform. This vaulted Humphrey to leadership among nation’s liberals at a time when liberalism was under attack. Humphrey was elected to the Senate that November. The Dixiecrats who ran the Senate hated him and ostracized him in his early years. Once, as Humphrey walked by, Richard Russell told a group of senators “Can you imagine the people of Minnesota sending that damn fool down here to represent them?” But Humphrey became close to Lyndon Johnson, opening doors of power to him. He was a leader in the Senate in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1957, he introduced the first bill in what became the Peace Corps.

Humphrey was also the best friend of organized labor in the Senate. He is most famous for introducing the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act in 1978, the one time since the rise of globalization after 1965 that the nation attempted to take unemployment seriously as a national problem. Sadly, his death that year combined with Jimmy Carter’s fear of inflation to neuter the bill into a big nothing burger. Imagine if Americans were guaranteed a job. Imagine how close we came to that right. What a tragedy that Carter didn’t support it.

Here is Hubert Humphrey’s last speech to labor:

For that matter, here is the Dean Martin hosted roast of Humphrey in 1973. Wow.

Of course Humphrey rose during a time of anti-communism in America. He was at the front lines of that, to the point of including a clause in the McCarran Act that could open concentration camps to house communist subversives. And therefore, Humphrey, like almost every other politician in the United States, supported the Vietnam War. Of course, LBJ had named Humphrey VP in 1964, which the extremely ambitious senator was happy to accept. His support for Vietnam, association with Johnson, and the disaster of the 1968 DNC would cost him the 1968 election, despite the AFL-CIO’s heroic efforts to put him over the top. He so desperately wanted to be president, also running in 1960 and 1972, while considering a run in 1976. It was not to be.

Humphrey was a flawed man, but very much a good man at the core. Unfortunately, he lost in 1968 to a man who ripped the U.S. Constitution into tiny shreds, an election that clearly lacks any parallels to 2016.

Humphrey has not been played in the movies or TV much. Paul Rubenstein played him in the 5 minute short “Eulogy for RFK” which has the following as its plot description: “President Lyndon Johnson, Governor George Wallace, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and former President Richard Nixon take LSD.” Why have I not seen this? Oh now I have:

Well. That was, um, something.

Franklin Cover played him in a 1982 TV biopic of Golda Meir. Don Moss is the king of playing Humphrey, having portrayed him in the 1987 TV film “LBJ: The Early Years” and then again in a few episodes of the mid-90s series “Dark Skies,” about an alien invasion. Thanks to recent interest in LBJ again, portrayals of Humphrey have risen recently, including Bradley Whitford in “All the Way” and Doug McKeon in “LBJ,” both released this year.

Hubert Humphrey is buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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  • howard

    how many times i have wished that humphrey had resigned the vice presidency in december, 1967, in order to oppose lbj and the path of vietnam.

    i don’t want to get lost in parallel history, but considering that had nixon lost, perhaps the southern strategy would never have gained a real foothold….

    • rea

      how many times i have wished that humphrey had resigned the vice presidency in december, 1967, in order to oppose lbj and the path of vietnam.

      I don’t think that would have worked, politically. In ’68, most of the country was still behind the war, which is how Nixon got away with carrying on the war for another 4 years. He would have lost more support on his right flank than he gained on his left.

      • Breadbaker

        Essentially, all the pols who supported him and got him the nomination in 1968 would have supported someone else while he would not have increased the antiwar vote that McCarthy and Kennedy mobilized one iota. Remember, there were only 8 primaries in 1968. The nomination was won in literally smoked-filled rooms.

        • Ahuitzotl

          No, the nomination was won in a shitty California hotel kitchen. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of establishment support Bobby had, mostly due to the IOUs he’d collected earlier, but also the simple mana of JFKism.

          Of course, his campaign would have been a chew-toy for the nascent Nixon Brains Trust (‘ratfucking a specialty’).

  • Ahenobarbus
    • Awesome

    • Ahenobarbus

      And here’s a legitimately good old school TV ad:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEvaI_-88SU

      (took a bit to get the right link)

      • Dennis Orphen

        What has Richard Nixon done for me?

        You’re Soaking In It!

        What has Richard Nixon done for me?

        Ancient Chinese Secret!

      • LFC

        @Ahenobarbus
        One of the best things about that linked ad is what is NOT there: no so-called music — that awful, hideous, jangling repetitive noise in the background that is now for some reason required in all TV political ads.

        It’s almost as if political consultants think the US electorate is so afflicted with some kind of collective ADHD that it cannot pay attention to someone simply speaking, with no disgusting noise whining in the background.

        • sigaba

          Just speaking as a sound mixer, people do seem to be afflicted with a kind of ADHD that makes them tune out. Or rather, the problem with such an ad, other than being A MINUTE LONG, is that today it would be so comparatively low-energy next to everything else around it people would instantly change the channel. Also just on a media-semiotic level, the absence of music conveys the aesthetic of a cheap local TV spot, like for a mattress store or a restaurant.

          In the late 60s, though, the absence of music wasn’t used to make an ad “plain” or more rational, it was intended to make it edgy and bracing, like the Weismann and Michael Apted documentaries all those guys were trying to emulate. The ad here, presenting a talking head with a disembodied interlocutor, is clearly designed to ape cinema verite/docu tropes, as well as network TV news broadcasts, as a way of making the message more “true.” (I also kinda see a hint of Bob Newhart’s telephone routine…)

          • LFC

            That’s interesting. Personally I find the “music” — it’s barely music, more like repetitive noise — irritating and repellent, and it makes me not want to listen to anything being said over it (whatever that may be). [And my exposure to these ads has mostly come from hearing radio excerpts in news shows, not from watching TV — but I doubt the visuals would help; pretty sure not.]

            It seems to me one doesn’t have to remake this kind of ’60s ad, which is dated as you suggest, to do something more appealing than the political ads being made today.

  • sharculese

    This touches on something that’s always puzzled me – why is the Humphrey Building the headquarters for HHS. Is it because when they named it the department was still HEW due to his labor background, or is there some public health related thing in Humphrey’s resume I don’t know about.

    • HHH was dying of cancer when the building was dedicated. Apparently it was Bob Dole’s idea to dedicate it to him.

    • skate

      They named an airport after Reagan, and it’s not like he did anything positive for air travel.

      Also some trade center monstrosity in DC, which I recall being a bit of a joke when it first opened, due to Reagan’s bitching about the size of the federal bureaucracy.

      • LFC

        That building (the Reagan Intl Trade Center), as a building, is big but not really that distinguishable any more from other newer bldgs in the vicinity. I mean if one really looked at it architecturally maybe, but on casual inspection, not really. The bldg is not very attractive, afaict, inside or out, but in that respect not too different from other bldgs of the last several decades, private or govt, in that general area. The new Trump hotel (gag) in the old P.O. pavilion is nearby.

        • sharculese

          I hate it. I had to go to an Economist sponsored conference on solutions to poverty (less terrible than that phrase sounds) and the weird combination of white surfaces and neon lights makes it look like Albert Speer’s deconstruction of a suburban shopping mall.

      • sharculese

        Yeah, but there’s nobody for whom HHH is a weird political fetish object.

        • sigaba

          I grew up in Minnesota and whenever we’d visit great grandma’s grave at Lakewood, dad would always insist on visiting HHH’s grave. He wasn’t the only one, either.

          • wengler

            My grandpa, who’s 90 now, used to mutter about how much better the country would be if Humphrey had won in ’68 instead of Nixon. He was also born in South Dakota and moved to Minnesota.

          • gusmpls

            Yeah, my wife’s grandfather bought a plot in Lakewood so he could be buried within sight of HHH’s grave. For Minnesotans of a certain age there definitely was a certain reverence.

  • Bruce Vail

    Humphrey was very much a Cold Warrior. The 45-year Cold War seems to be getting written out of history.

    • ????

      The Cold War is definitely not getting written out of our history.

      • Bruce Vail

        I noticed the words ‘Cold War’ didn’t appear in your post on HHH. That’s a big oversight.

        But I don’t think you are personally guilty of ignoring the Cold War. Indeed, the Trump-Putin thread in this year’s election seems to have revived some interest in the subject…

        • Bootsie

          I think that if you talk about politics between 1945 and the 90s, “Cold War” is just self-evident.

          • mikeSchilling

            Humphrey also took notes on paper rather than an iPad, something histories of the postwar period generally fail to point out.

        • Manny Kant

          Of course Humphrey rose during a time of anti-communism in America. He was at the front lines of that, to the point of including a clause in the McCarran Act that could open concentration camps to house communist subversives. And therefore, Humphrey, like almost every other politician in the United States, supported the Vietnam War. Of course, LBJ had named Humphrey VP in 1964, which the extremely ambitious senator was happy to accept. His support for Vietnam, association with Johnson, and the disaster of the 1968 DNC would cost him the 1968 election, despite the AFL-CIO’s heroic efforts to put him over the top.

          • (((Hogan)))

            But he didn’t say the magic words–radical Islamic terrorism Cold War.

      • sigaba

        We remember there was a Cold War.

        But what it actually meant, politically and ideologically, to the Democratic and Republican parties, what a Hawk and Dove were, and what a Hawk Democrat looked like, have indeed become very blurry.

    • skate

      So he was both a Cold Warrior and a Happy Warrior. That’s like… multi-tasking.

  • Bruce Vail

    Only 67 years old at this death. Seems young by today’s standards.

  • LFC

    Fairly late in the ’68 presidential campaign, I believe it was in September, HHH publicly declared his differences with LBJ on Vietnam and broke with the still-sitting Pres. (It was in a speech in Salt Lake City.)

    The Salt Lake City speech, however, came too late to persuade those among the anti-war Dems who were not voting for Humphrey to come back to the Dem fold. That, among other factors incl the Repub Southern strategy, led to Nixon’s narrow victory in ’68.

    1968 was the first pres. election I was actually conscious of, for lack of a better phrase, as an 11-yr-old. Apparently my anti-Vietnam War sentiments were insufficiently developed at that point (this is not meant to be sarcastic, btw), and I wrote some kind of letter to Humphrey headquarters when he announced. I may still have, buried in a file somewhere, the reply I received from his campaign chairman (actually, it was a chairwoman) on United Democrats for Humphrey stationery, beginning rather formally if not awkwardly with a sentence that ran something like (I wish I could remember the exact wording): “Your reaction to the Vice President’s recent announcement that he is a candidate for the Presidency is welcome.”

    • Bitter Scribe

      If Humphrey was too spineless to break with a lame-duck president, who became a lame duck precisely because of that issue, until that late in the campaign, then he was too spineless to be president IMO.

      Yes, he would have been better than Nixon, but what a low bar.

      • LFC

        @Bitter Scribe

        Yes, a rather valid criticism of HHH, istm. Vietnam was not exactly his finest hour.

  • JDM

    Humphrey (and Mondale) were two of many reasons I was proud to have grown up in Minnesota.

  • Dilan Esper

    He came out to the LA Coliseum for an LA Rams football game while my father was covering the games and HHH was Vice President. My father interviewed him, and Humphrey suggested in the interview that the LA Coliseum Commission call the 3M corporation (headquartered in Minnesota) who could design some nice artificial turf for the Coliseum.

    If you know anything about the Coliseum, that suggestion was completely ridiculous. But Humphrey never stopped trying to provide jobs for his home state.

  • thicket creeper

    One other big thing as mayor, HHH cleared organized crime from Minneapolis.

    • Ahuitzotl

      now there’s a TV show begging to be made

  • mikeSchilling

    I recall watching a Democratic Party telethon when I was young (early 70s, probably.) HHH, who was hosting for a bit, gave a somewhat off-handed introduction to BB King. Someone must have said something, because after King’s set was over, HHH came back with “Wasn’t that great blues music? If you love blues music like I do, you know that BB King is one of the top blues musicians.” It was just as obvious as all hell that HHH had never heard of King before.

  • bernard

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned this.

  • BillWAF

    A few points:

    1) George McGovern publicly stated that he had no problem supporting Humphrey for President after he [Humphrey] won the nomination because he knew that Humphrey would leave Vietnam. Humphrey could not say so publicly because LBJ would have denounced Humphrey and endorsed Nixon.

    2) Ted Van Dyk, who worked on Humphrey’s 1968 campaign and was the person who told Humphrey that he had lost, has stated that LBJ would have denounced Humphrey and endorsed Nixon if Humphrey had come out against the war.

    3) Ted Van Dyk has also said that he believes that LBJ wanted Nixon to win because LBJ knew that Nixon would continue the war, thereby making it Nixon’s War. In Van Dyk’s view, LBJ only publicly supported Humphrey at the large Texas rally because it would have been too embarrassing to LBJ if his VP lost Texas.

    4) Going back to Jimmy Carter, it is a shame that that self-righteous, hypocritical piece of garbage became President.

    • Jackdaw

      I just did a Google search for Ted Van Dyk. He appears to have been doing some kind of “disillusioned Democrat” shtick for decades, per this New Republic piece.

      Not sure his opinions should be given much credence.

      • BillWAF

        Given what I am aware of regarding his history, I do take him seriously. Beyond what I cited above, I believe that he hired Bill Clinton for the McGovern campaign in 1972 in Texas.

  • Halloween Jack

    I’m old enough to remember seeing Humphrey’s name in the papers and his face on TV and in political cartoons, but like a lot of people around my age, I think that a lot of my opinion of “the Hube” is affected by Hunter S. Thompson’s utter contempt for him; I often got the impression that HST had less respect for HHH than he did for Nixon.

    • LFC

      I often got the impression that H[unter] S. T[hompson] had less respect for HHH than he did for Nixon.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case, but it would mainly be a reflection, and not a flattering one, on Thompson.

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