Political icon inspired a generation
The Minnesota Democrat is remembered for challenging a president and a war.
Steve Berg, Star Tribune
Eugene McCarthy, the poet and politician whose resolute stand against the Vietnam War toppled a president and inspired a generation of liberal idealists, died Saturday in Washington.
The former Minnesota senator was 89.
McCarthy will be remembered along with Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale as one of Minnesota's three most prominent political figures of the last half of the 20th century.
An early architect of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, McCarthy was elected to Congress in 1948 and served 22 years in the House and Senate.
Those years were a period in which the DFL influenced the tone and direction of the national Democratic Party and American liberalism.
He'll be remembered most vividly, however, for his place in a single tumultuous year, 1968, the year of his remarkable challenge to President Lyndon Johnson's pursuit of the Vietnam War.
The war and the suffering it produced were "morally indefensible," McCarthy told his youthful audiences as he traveled the country to prepare for his run against Johnson in the presidential primaries. "Party unity is not a sufficient excuse for silence," he told them.
Inspired by McCarthy's audacity and intellect, thousands of "clean for Gene" college students descended on New Hampshire, site of the first primary. The senator's close second-place finish was widely interpreted as a stunning defeat for Johnson, who, after pondering the damage and the mounting opposition to his policies, shocked the nation by pulling out of the race.
It was the high point of McCarthy's career.