Eugene Joseph McCarthy (born 1916) had a long and influential career in American politics. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives he stood up to the Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In the late 1950s he chaired the Senate Special Committee on Unemployment, part of an effort to investigate the causes of and solutions to unemployment. He also opposed incumbent President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1967 in an effort to force debate on Vietnam. Since leaving politics, McCarthy has enjoyed a second career as a prolific writer.
Eugene McCarthy was born March 29, 1916, in Watkins, Minnesota. He received his bachelor of arts degree from St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota (1935), and his master of arts at the University of Minnesota (1939). From 1935 to 1940 he taught in the Minnesota Public Schools, returning to St. John's University in 1940 as an instructor in economics. From 1946 until 1949 he taught economics and sociology at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1945 McCarthy married Abigail Quigley. They had four children: Margaret, Michael, Mary and Ellen.
Organized New Party
McCarthy entered politics in St. Paul in 1947 as an organizer of the newly fused Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. The following year he ran for Congress in Minnesota's traditionally Republican Fourth Congressional District and won by 25,000 votes. During his 10 years in the House of Representatives, McCarthy built a solid liberal-internationalist record. In 1952 he showed great courage by debating the Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy on national television. On numerous occasions in the House, he attempted to curtail the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His chief goal was to reorganize the House to facilitate the passage of liberal legislation. But by 1958 McCarthy had grown tired of the House. "The House," he remarked, "is not a home."
Chaired Committee on Unemployment
McCarthy won a Senate seat in 1958 following another of his low-budget campaigns. While a senator, he chaired the Special Committee on Unemployment. The committee dedicated itself to studying the causes of unemployment—and ways to alleviate them—holding hearings in McCarthy's native Minnesota, as well as in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
"Unemployment," he said in 1959, "is first of all a human and social problem, affecting the welfare and happiness of individual workers and of their families." He was critical of the government's lack of urgency about maintaining full employment. He said, "there has been no real recognition of the basic fact that to be strong and healthy and secure an economy must expand and grow dynamically" (from committee archives, Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI).
McCarthy supported Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 Democratic primaries, nominated Adlai Stevenson at the Democratic National Convention, and traveled cross-country in support of John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency. In the Senate, McCarthy was more concerned about the general quality and direction of policy than with the detailed work of committees or the drafting of legislation. This aloofness made him an intellectually effective, yet totally unconventional, member of the Senate. Until the selection of Humphrey as the vice presidential nominee in 1964, many Democratic leaders had considered McCarthy the logical choice for the nomination. President Lyndon Johnson himself had led McCarthy to expect it.
Tried to Force Vietnam Talks
During his second Senate term McCarthy emerged as one of the country's leading foreign policy critics. He first broke with the Johnson administration in 1965 over American intervention in the Dominican Republic. Possessing no special knowledge or interest in Vietnam, McCarthy at first accepted administration rationalizations regarding American participation in that conflict—even after other senators had begun to condemn United States involvement. In 1966, however, McCarthy became convinced that peace in Vietnam required a political settlement with the Vietcong. He began to oppose American participation in the war at every turn.
Unable to affect policy, McCarthy entered the presidential race on Nov. 30, 1967, in order to force a debate over Vietnam within his party. Supported by students and suburban volunteers, McCarthy ran a close race against Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, took the Wisconsin primary easily, and defeated Robert Kennedy in Oregon. He lost to Kennedy in California. McCarthy's low-key, polished style, and his frequent insistence on a coalition government in South Vietnam, made him a symbol of the nation's widespread dissatisfaction with the war. As a way of attempting to force Humphrey to adopt his positions, McCarthy withheld his support until late in the 1968 campaign. Shortly after the presidential election McCarthy announced that he would not seek reelection to the Senate.
McCarthy has written numerous books on American politics and foreign policy: Frontiers in American Democracy (1960); Dictionary of American Politics (1962); A Liberal Answer to the Conservative Challenge (1964); The Limits of Power: America's Role in the World (1967); The Year of the People (1969): The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions (1975); A Political Bestiary: Viable Alternatives, Impressive Mandates and Other Fables (1978); America Revisited: 150 Years after Tocqueville (1978); The Ultimate Tyranny: the Majority Over the Majority (1980); Gene McCarthy's Minnesota: Memories of a Native Son (1982); The View from Rappahannock (1984); Up Until Now: A Memoir (1987); Required Reading: A Decade of Political Wit and Wisdom (1988); Nonfinancial Economics: The Case for Shorter Hours of Work (1989); and A Colony of the World: the United States Today: America's Senior Statesman Warns His Countrymen (1992).
McCarthy's writings have not been limited to politics. In 1977 he published Mr. Raccoon and His Friends, a collection of stories he originally shared with his children. The book includes a brief introduction by Ellen McCarthy. His published poetry includes the books Ground Fog and Night (1979); Other Things and the Aardvark (1970); "Older Sisters" McCall's (March 1985); and "Fawn Hall Among the Antinomians New Republic (Sept. 14-21, 1987). He also wrote the foreword to Alban Boultwood's Into His Splendid Light (1968), a collection of spiritual meditations.
McCarthy has published the following articles: "Dimpled Neos" New Republic (June 13, 1980); "Bad Calls" New Republic (Aug. 29, 1983); "Going Spare" New Republic (April 23, 1984); "Tips for Veeps" New Republic (July 16-23, 1984); "Big Benny" New Republic (Aug. 4, 1986); "Capital Takes Advantage" Commonweal (Jan. 30, 1987); "The 15 Commandments" New Republic (Feb. 22, 1988); "Pollution Absolution" New Republic (Oct. 29, 1990); "The Enclosure Movement" America (June 4-11, 1994); "The Vindicator" New Republic (May 15, 1995); and "Elegy for the Evening News" Commonweal (Nov. 3, 1995).
Further Reading on Eugene Joseph McCarthy
Eugene McCarthy is a subject of the 90-minute motion picture American is Hard to See (1970), a documentary of the 1968 American presidential campaign beginning with McCarthy's entry into the race.
Books on aspects of McCarthy's life include Joseph Frank, ed., The New Look in Politics: McCarthy's Campaign (University of New Mexico Press, 1968); David Frost, The Presidential Debate, 1968; David Frost Talks With Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (Stein and Day, 1968); Arthur Herzog, McCarthy for President (Viking Press, 1969); Ben Stavis, We Were the Campaign: New Hampshire to Chicago for McCarthy (Beacon Press, 1969); Jeremy Larner, Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy Campaign of 1968 (MacMillan, 1970).