Books: The Politics of Joy?

  • Share
  • Read Later



513 pages. Doubleday. $12.50.

Over a period of nearly three decades, the highly chronicled career of Hubert Humphrey must have used up an ocean of ink and enough film to jam the hold of Queen Elizabeth 2. Beyond that, the former vice president is one of the most garrulous men in history. Is an autobiography necessary? Has anything been left unsaid? In truth, not a great deal. Humphrey's autobiography lays bare few secrets. It is an inside story only in the sense that it gets inside the subject in a manner no biographer could do. Predictably, it authenticates much of the best that has been written and said about Humphrey. Surprisingly, it also affirms some of the worst.

The publication date appears too clever by half, almost coinciding with completion of the presidential primaries and a still faintly possible last-minute "draft Humphrey movement." But Education is no campaign document. It is more an apologia, a mea culpa for the Nixon trauma that Humphrey believes he could have spared the nation, a cry for understanding of a tragic flaw in character that prevented him from doing so.

Dust Bowl and Depression. Humphrey dwells fondly, at times movingly, on the Dust Bowl and Depression years that scarred his psyche without crushing his spirit: "I used to see my father, his exuberant spirits momentarily giving in, sitting head in hands, grinding his life away between unpaid bills and unpaid accounts." At seven the future Vice President washed glasses in the family drugstore. At 16 he wept with his parents when they were forced to sell the family home. His political philosophy was soon forged: New Deal, Big Government. "I witnessed," he writes, "how government programs literally rebuilt the territory and again made life tolerable."

For young Humphrey, Mecca became Washington, D.C. His first visit in 1935 at age 24 reduced him to barely coherent babbling. To his wife Muriel, he wrote: "Washington, D.C., thrills me to my very fingertips. I simply revel and beam with delight in this realm of politics and government. Oh, gosh—I hope my dream comes true."

Humphrey quickly scrambled to the top of the political heap in Minnesota. In 1948, Senator-elect, he forced a liberal civil rights plank on the Democratic Convention. But in 1949 when he arrived in the Senate, he found that this proud achievement had made him an outcast with the Southern senatorial barons. As if the memory still pains, Humphrey recalls Georgia's Richard Russell referring to him as "a damn fool." Humphrey's insecurity and ambition, his need for approval made ostracism, indeed, any sort of slight, unendurable. He never forgot the experience. From then on, Humphrey placed an unacceptably high premium on approval. In the end, it was this that stopped the energetic, engaging and gregarious Midwesterner just short of fulfilling his dream.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2