Clean for Gene

When I was a sophomore in college, my classmates and I put on clothes we would never wear on campus and went knocking on doors to promote Gene McCarthy in his challenge to the Vietnam war, and to Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

When Democrats and Republicans alike talked about Victory over Communism, McCarthy had the courage to talk about fool’s errands, about atrocities, about peace as a virtue.

McCarthy had an academic’s clarity of purpose, a poet’s temperament, and a politician’s love of connection with the people.

The maple tree that night
Without a wind or rain
Let go its leaves
Because its time had come.
Brown veined, spotted,
Like old hands, fluttering in blessing,
They fell upon my head
And shoulders, and then
Down to the quiet at my feet.
I stood, and stood
Until the tree was bare
And have told no one
But you that I was there.
—Eugene Joseph McCarthy was born on this day in 1916.

Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.

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