Former Minnesota Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, whose dove-like stance against the Vietnam War helped drive fellow Democrat President Lyndon Johnson out of office in 1968, died early Saturday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his son, Michael. He was 89.
The former college professor, who ran for president five times in all, was in some ways an atypical politician, a man with a witty, erudite speaking style who wrote poetry in his spare time and was the author of several books. In his business suits and with his gray hair, he was also an odd symbol for the youth generation – yet he was a hero to many.
Helped by his legion of idealistic young volunteers known as “clean-for-Gene kids,” McCarthy got 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire 1968 Democratic primary. That showing embarrassed Johnson into withdrawing from the race and throwing his support to his vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey.
Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York also decided to seek the nomination, but was assassinated in June 1968. McCarthy went to the party convention in Chicago, where Humphrey won the nomination amid bitter strife both on the convention floor and in the streets. Humphrey then lost the general election to Richard Nixon by a narrow margin.
Outspoken all his life, McCarthy voiced his opinion in an interview a month before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, comparing the Bush administration with the characters in the William Golding novel Lord of the Flies, in which a group of boys stranded on an island turn to savagery. “The bullies are running it,” McCarthy said. “Bush is bullying everything.”
Besides son Michael, the statesman’s survivors include daughters Ellen and Margaret and six grandchildren, reports the Associated Press. A private burial is planned for next week and a memorial service in Washington will be scheduled, Michael McCarthy said.