Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy


The William Belden Noble Lectures have only twice been given by an active politician. Theodore Roosevelt '80 who delivered the series of three lectures in 1910 was an experienced bible-thumper as well as a politician, and his reputation was not at all incompatible with the founder's aims for the lectures: "To arouse in young men, and primarily in the men of Harvard University, the joy of service for Christ and humanity, especially in the ministry of the Christian Church."

The credentials of the only other politician ever to deliver the Lectures are somewhat less obvious. Senator Eugene J. McCarthy (D-Minn.), the 1966 Noble Lecturer, is certainly no evangelist. But if he was unable to convince large number of students to take up the ministry, he did succeed in winning a great many new supporters.

For three hectic days McCarthy gave speeches, held interviews, and met informally with groups of students ranging from Young Democrats to students at the Divinity School. He impressed a whole spectrum of students with his sincerity and intelligence.

During his 18 years in Congress (10 in the House, 8 in the Senate), McCarthy has established a record that is the envy of Washington's most consistent liberals. In recent sessions he has supported everything from "truth-in-packaging" to "open housing," but his special concern is foreign affairs.

Last year he was one of five Senators to oppose tabling Wayne Morse's motion to repeat the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution which authorizes all necessary measures to repel North Vietnamese aggression. Along with his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McCarthy has attacked American foreign policy in Latin America--particularly in the Dominican Republic. In addition, he has been trying for years to launch an investigation into the operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and to obtain greater Congressional control of its activities.


Yet McCarthy has attracted much less publicity than several other Senators (notably Fulbright and Morse) whose positions are no more extreme than his own. A modest, quiet man, McCarthy shuns the pyrotechnics that create enemies as well as headlines.

Even when he criticizes, McCarthy remains gentle and good-humored. He was amused, for example, to hear of the protest which McNamara faced when he came to Harvard for the Kennedy Institute of Politics this fall. "I am not surprised that McNamara's attitude toward the demonstrators was somewhat abrasive," he said, "since that's the way he treats most Senators."

Some liberals, while recognizing that McCarthy's intentions are commendable, are disappointed that he has not assumed a more visible role in national politics. A major contender for the vice-presidency in 1964, McCarthy has been completely eclipsed by other liberal Senators since the Democratic convention.

President Johnson spoke very highly of McCarthy. Before the 1964 election Johnson said: "I served with him in the Senate. He's the kind of man--as we say in the ranch country in Texas--who will go to the well with you. That's a homely way of saying you can count on him in dark days or bright ones...Gene McCarthy is my counselor, my colleague and my friend. I am benefitted by all three."

Yet McCarthy, who clearly dislikes Johnson, inclines to believe that he is not, in fact, one of Johnson's favorites. "I never felt that Johnson would choose me for his running-mate for the sake of having me around," McCarthy says, "but only because I might strengthen the ticket. After the Republicans nominated Goldwater, our ticket didn't need any strengthening."

Since 1964 McCarthy's hopes for a second-shot at the vice-presidential nomination have disappeared with the emergence of Robert Kennedy and Humphrey as the leading contenders for the presidential nomination. A Humphrey McCarthy (Minnesota-Minnesota) ticket is out of the question; a Kennedy-McCarthy slate appears no more plausible. McCarthy's close relations with Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson (he nominated Stevenson for President at the Democratic convention in 1960), have made an alliance with the Kennedys impossible--even assuming that an all-Catholic ticket were remotely feasible.

Unless there is a sudden shift of power in the Democratic Party, McCarthy will have little opportunity to move into the executive branch. But he is entirely content with his position in the Senate. He believes that the role of the Legislature is changing: "In the past few years we have been running a box-score operation," he says, "trying to see how many Bills we could pass. But we have come to the end of a golden era--we have accomplished the things that should have been done in 1948."

McCarthy predicts that there will be no significant obstructionism by the Republicans in the next session of Congress, since the amount of new legislation will be small. "We must perfect the programs we have already created," he says.

Since most of the necessary legislation has been passed, McCarthy continues, Congress can now deal with the most important issue--its relations with the Presidency. He predicts that Congress will acquire new importance in the next few years, particularly in the area of foreign affairs. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will become stronger, McCarthy says, as it conducts more public inquiries similar to last year's hearings on China.

Yet while McCarthy is enthusiastic about the trend toward a more powerful Congress, he remains concerned with a different development--the minute made candidate, manufactured by advertising agencies and public relations firms. In the case of Ronald Reagan, newly elected governor of California, "the fault lies more with the electorate than with the public relations people," he says, "because there was no deception involved--they just made him right before our eyes." But McCarthy is very concerned with men like Charles Percy, Senator-elect from Illinois, where the image-creation was done with greater subtlety.

The subtlest effort at image-creation, however, is being made by McCarthy himself. The image is nothing like Reagan's or Percy's, but it is cultivated nonetheless--carefully and consciously. McCarthy is attempting to build a national constituency consisting largely of intellectuals, and the visit to Harvard is part of the plan. For three days he talked to students, answered questions, and presented himself as an intellectual. In one lecture, for example, he referred to everyone from Churchill to Leonardo da Vinci, and quoted from Aristotle, Arnold Toynbee, The Federalist Papers, and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.

But the learned quotations are all unnecessary, for behind the image that he so carefully presents there is substance. McCarthy is not the carefully-honed product of an advertising agency--he is an unusually perceptive and intelligent politician.