February 09, 1976 12:00 PM

Playing it cozy has never been Hubert Humphrey’s style. But now, after 31 years in politics, as mayor, senator, Vice-President and Democratic presidential nominee in 1968, he regards his future with serenity. He says he is no longer driven by the urge to be President, though he would surely be waiting if fate came to call. He also insists he will not campaign for the nomination. Even so, many Republican leaders, including President Ford, believe Humphrey will be his party’s nominee in 1976. Relaxing at his four-bedroom home in Waverly, Minn., the senator recently spoke with PEOPLE correspondent Clare Crawford.

Although you were defeated in the 1968 presidential election and failed to obtain your party’s nomination in 1972, you are still regarded as a viable candidate. Why?

I’ve never hated people. I’ve never indulged in any mean, nasty attacks on even my Republican friends. I really believe that sowing of seed is coming home in the harvest. There’s a lot of goodwill.

When did you begin to accept the idea that you might never be President?

It wasn’t a big decision. I just began to feel that there wasn’t any need. I didn’t feel the compulsion. I realized I had a good position in the Senate, that there’s a limit to how much you can give of yourself, and that you ought to recognize those limits. It’s strange, but the more I decided I didn’t want to run, the more people came to me.

Are you enjoying yourself?

I’m having a lot of fun. I speak to Democratic conclaves, get them all revved up, and I don’t ask them for a thing. I don’t need anything. Frankly, I don’t even need to get reelected to the Senate. I’d like to, but we’ve got a nice place out here and I’ve got no problem making a living. It would be like picking oranges off a tree.

What do you like about this place?

I can relax. I come out and sweep the garage, clean the boathouse or pick dandelions. I wear old clothes. I don’t shave. And I smell. In fact, I’m almost abominable sometimes. That’s the way I work it all out.

President Nixon defeated you in 1968. How do you think he will be evaluated by history?

In foreign policy I believe he will be remembered as essentially a good President. But he had no capacity to communicate with his own Cabinet or the Congress or the public. Being a loner is dangerous for a President.

How did he impress you personally?

I don’t think he was mentally unbalanced—that’s been overdone—but his whole life attitude has been one of suspicion and conspiracy from day one. That’s the way he started in politics. He never passed a constructive piece of legislation. He was always investigating someone. He never thought about the joy in America, the happiness in the streets. It’s like I always say: if a man hates long enough he’ll destroy himself. This fellow was so suspicious of everybody that when he got to be President it consumed him.

How do you rate Gerald Ford?

As a weak President, but a decent man. You have to be more than a person in the Presidency. You have to become a force.

Do you consider Ronald Reagan a threat to his renomination?

Reagan is an exceedingly good campaigner. I think the odds are better than 50-50 that Reagan can beat Ford.

In retrospect, how do you feel about Lyndon Johnson?

I think he understood power, and I consider him a remarkably capable President. Vietnam was his quicksand and his sorrow. Every time I think of him, I see him brooding over those reports and trying to figure out a way to get out of it.

Do you ever regret serving as his Vice President?

No. It may have been true that Johnson used me as Vice President, but that’s an inevitability of the office. I was a good Vice President. Muriel and I worked hard. We were a credit to the country.

Do you think it would have been wiser politically for you to have broken with Johnson in 1968?

I think it would have hurt. He was the incumbent President, and I had enough trouble without having another enemy. Johnson could be very mean if he wanted to be. I think if we made any mistake, it was that we didn’t ask him to do enough.

You don’t think you lost because of his Vietnam policy?

Hell, the Southern states were all for Vietnam and I lost every one. I lost because of my position on civil rights.

Were you surprised by the bitterness of the antiwar protest?

Some people had very strong moral feelings about the war. Sometimes they were hostile. I expect that in politics. But I don’t expect people to throw their filth on me, to spit on me, to harass my wife. I don’t expect a college professor to show he can relate to kids by getting up and using every four-letter word he didn’t dare use in graduate school. I don’t have time for people like that, and that’s one of the things I love about my life now. I don’t have to have time for them.

Why did you run in 1972?

Frankly, I just wasn’t going to be shoved aside. I came within four-tenths of one percent of winning the previous election, and my party, from 1968 to 1972, paid about as much attention to me as if I were a dead elephant. They seemed to be saying, “We’re not going to have anything to do with him.” And I said, “You will have something to do with me—here I am.”

How do you feel when you are attacked for being a compromiser?

Once in awhile you run into this new breed, and they try to make politics into a religion. Some of those people think I’m always selling out because I’m perfectly willing to take half a loaf. I know there’s another time to get the other half, but they want to die in the trenches. That’s the only way you look pure. Well, I’m not pure. My name is not Ivory soap. It’s Hubert Humphrey. I try to get things done.

How do you explain the illegal corporate contributions that were uncovered in your past campaigns?

If you went through the campaigns of every congressman and senator in the past you’d find illegal contributions. There’s just no way you could prevent them. We didn’t solicit them. But big companies go out of their way to hire clever people to launder money. They don’t come to you and say, “Here’s a corporate campaign gift.”

Realistically, do you think there’s a chance you could be drafted as the Democratic presidential nominee?

Yes. The convention might deadlock and people might turn to me. I would welcome the opportunity. I think I could do a good job, and I really believe I could win.

Why?

I know this country better than anyone. I can sense it. The blacks, the Chicanos, the labor movement, the business community. I’ve been here. I’ve been in it. It’s part of my life.

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