Clean Gene

Former Minnesota Sen. and former presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy is interviewed by the Associated Press at his home in Washington in this Feb. 19, 2003 file photo. McCarthy, 89. died in his sleep Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh, File)The chirpy ABC radio newsreader’s lead story was the death of comic Richard Pryor. Only after playing a taped bit of a Pryor routine did ABC segue to a mention that former Senator Eugene McCarthy died at 89.

I don’t mean to minimize the death of Richard Pryor. Yet, the entertainment-focused priorities of a supposed news report is jarring. 

Gene McCarthy entered the Presidential race in 1968 to challenge the Johnson’s administration Vietnam war policy. Opposing the sitting President of his own party, McCarthy’s action was politically unsafe and against conventional wisdom.  More savvy politicos — such as Senator Robert Kennedy — watched from the sidelines to see what would happen.  When the country responded to McCarthy’s anti-war call, the more skilled “leaders” joined in.  Ultimately, President Johnson decided not to seek re-election, Senator Kennedy was assassinated, the Chicago Democratic convention erupted with riots, Richard Nixon was elected President, the country spent six more years determined to extricate itself from Vietnam, and cynicism replaced the WW-II-spawned trust of leadership as the instinctive reaction to Presidential statements. Some of these changes would have occurred without Senator McCarthy. But, none of them would have occurred exactly when and how they did without the Senator’s bold steps.

Gene McCarthy’s idealistic anti-war stand changed the country.  Throughout his campaign, he seemed genuinely focused on his public policy goals. His motivations were exactly what he stated.  There was no measured guile or hidden purpose.

I’m struggling to understand the news judgment which placed Pryor’s passing on top of the news heap.  Was it because Senator McCarthy was 89 and Richard Pryor was only 65? Was it because McCarthy “lost” an election and Pryor never did?  Was it because ABC’s Disney corporate parent values play over politics?  I don’t know.

Gene McCarthy demonstrated yet again that a determined, honest man can change the unalterable and bring down the invulnerable.  My thanks to him, regardless of where he fits into the Disney scale of importance.

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One Response to Clean Gene

  1. billeyler says:

    I thought exactly the same thing. Back when it was known Richard Pryor was a heavy drug abuser, I more or less lost interest in him, notwithstanding the MS or whatever debilitating disease that ravaged him. He set himself on fire with a crack pipe, for pete’s sake!

    And I do indeed remember Eugene McCarthy, but he had the unfortunate last name as JOSEPH McCarthy. If you knew of someone named Harold Hitler, who was a philanthropist to all gay causes, wouldn’t it still give you pause because of his given name?

    EUGENE McCarthy was indeed all you said, and his passing being overshadowed by Pryor’s is a travesty.

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