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Jewish World Review June 13, 2001 / 23 Sivan, 5761

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Consumer Reports

Remembering 'Hubert' -- MINNEAPOLIS - The New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt may be long buried, but you wouldn't have known it had you stumbled upon a retrospective here the other day of the life of Minnesota's most beloved politician, the late Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

His old protégé and fellow member of the vice presidents' club, Walter Mondale, gathered hundreds of old Democrats and even some Republicans to recall "Hubert" in the highs and lows of his long public career. The result was an overflow of nostalgia, many laughs and some tears as Mondale and other old Humphrey associates told stories about him at the University of Minnesota center named for him.

Mondale called his old colleague "our nation's most effective apostle of the active use of government as an instrument of social justice since Franklin Roosevelt." At a time a new president is pleading for a new tone of "civility" in Washington, speaker after speaker remembered that "Hubert" for all his passion and combativeness was also an apostle of civility in the Senate.

The celebration of "Hubert" was not all praise. Mondale observed that "Hubert may well have wanted the presidency too much." One of the reasons he left the Senate, Mondale said, was because "he thought being vice president at that stage of his life was the only way to the presidency."

But, Mondale said, "I believe that being Lyndon Johnson's vice president was a personal and political disaster for Hubert. ... Hubert's job was made impossible by the erratic, ego-driven, irascible character of Lyndon Johnson, a man who regularly did great things as president but who was often crude and demeaning toward Hubert."

Mondale recalled how Humphrey had loyally supported LBJ's Vietnam war policy despite his own reservations, and how Johnson had slapped down Humphrey's mild efforts as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1968 to put some distance between himself and that policy. HHH, Mondale said, understood "the vindictive nature of Lyndon Johnson" and feared LBJ "might have supported Nixon" over him or "crippled Hubert's campaign in other ways."

In the end, Mondale recalled, LBJ did help Humphrey, but too late. "I believe that President Humphrey," Mondale said, "even with all his baggage, would have ended the war sooner than did Nixon. And I know we would have been spared Watergate and the cynicism that followed."

Mondale's recitation of this dark period in Humphrey's political life did not, however, dim the upbeat mood of the event, because reminiscences by other Minnesotans brought back the man's zest for life. "Hubert," many recalled, always "bounced" into a room with the tireless energy of a schoolboy.

The emotional peak of the day may have been the video showing of a Humphrey speech that brought the man himself to tears, at which point he unashamedly said, "A fellow that doesn't have any tears doesn't have any heart."

For me, however, the "Hubert" I knew came out best in Mondale's observation that "he liked people. He really did. He couldn't stay away from them. He liked people so much that if he couldn't be with them, he wrote letters to them. He once told me that he treated a letter just as he would treat someone who came into his home."

Nothing captured the irrepressible Humphrey ebullience and homeyness better than a letter Mondale read that his busy colleague found time to write to the Miss Georgia Peanut Princess:

"Dear Miss Brown: I agree with you that peanut butter is as much or more of a household treat as Mom's apple pie. My favorite sandwich is peanut butter, baloney, cheddar cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise on toasted bread with lots of catsup on the side. Another favorite is a toasted peanut butter, cheese and bacon sandwich, or if I am in a hurry, just peanut butter and jelly. Also I like peanut butter and cheese on crackers. Give me the crunchy or the smooth, I'm not fussy. In other words, I just love peanut butter. Sincerely, Hubert H. Humphrey."

To this, Mondale added: "Humphrey took life, including politics, as he took his peanut butter. Give it to him crunchy or give it to him smooth. He just loved it." And that was how these gathered Minnesotans felt about the man they always called simply "Hubert," and still do.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

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