Former Minnesota Senator and 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy died in his sleep yesterday in Georgetown. He was 89. He is one of the few truly great individuals that I met. Before he spoke to the University of Virginia’s Jefferson Literary and Debating Society in 1992, I was one of the lucky society members who got to dine with him at the Ivy Inn. Well into his seventies, he still had all his faculties as well as a clear command of the political issues of the day and a keen respect for the opinions of his adversaries.
I can still recall that evening, even the table next to a window facing west. It was so rare, so wonderful to meet a political giant who delighted in engaging with students, even those with whom he disagreed. And he, a lion of the 1960s anti-Vietnam War left, and I rarely agreed. I do remember at least the one issue where we were in agreement — campaign finance reform. He strongly opposed limitations on campaign contributions, noting that he could not have launched his maverick campaign in 1968 without a number of very large (over $100,000) contributions from wealthy donors.
And I’m not the only conservative who liked this old man. “Barry Goldwater considered him one of his favorite politicians–’a gentleman and a scholar, who has done things in a calm and reasonable way.’” Others can do a better job of citing his achievements (e.g., here and here). And make sure to check out Andrew Ferguson’s portrait of the man.
I’ll just leave you with a pleasant image of a true exchange between adversaries in an old Charlottesville farm house (now as restaurant) as the sun declined in the west. His face illuminated by that evening light as he listened to students much younger than he and took us as seriously as if we knew as much as he.
What I consider his greatness, that he was a man of firm (and well-articulated) political convictions, but an individual who understood and respected the opinions of his adversaries, should serve as inspiration to his ideological heirs. And an example to their adversaries.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com