The Cause Is Mankind
War on Poverty
These two books by Senator Humphrey are models of non-abrasive liberalism. During the Democratic convention they could be read in rolling chairs on Atlantic City’s boardwalk, by big business men, without their suffering the slightest ill-effect. In The Cause is Mankind for Humphrey allows business to share his exuberant affections for organized labor. “Two of the mainstays of our remarkable economic system,” Humphrey writes, throwing in a kind word for capitalism, “also seem to be two of our pet scapegoats—big business and organized labor.” Absoluton could hardly be more sweeping. “Bigness’ per se can be bad,” Humphrey concedes, “and I have made my past criticism of it.” Having made this stalwart admission of past radicalism, he proceeds to deliver what amounts to a eulogy.
“I do not think that we have many real grievances,” he writes, “to be urged against bigness in business today.” There are some Americans, he admits, who “hark back to the days before the managerial revolution, back to the days of the ‘robber barons.’ But this country and its economy have matured spectacularly since the trust-busting days…” “This is not,” Humphrey continues, “to minimize the evils of the past…The big businesses of bygone generations did, indeed, act in a pattern of savage repression of competition.” At this moment the perverse reader may vaguely recall the Westinghouse case. Weren’t its executives convicted recently of taking the government for millions of dollars through secret price conspiracies with other manufacturers of electrical equipment? Humphrey is ready to deal with such queasy recollections. “Current revelations of price-fixing and other priceholding practices,” he observes, with a delicacy of which he has never been accused before, “do not help to ease a strong historical suspicion of the motives of great corporations on the part of government leaders, small business men and others.” This tact, worthy of a senior public relations account executive, prepares us for his final plea on the subject. It is “high time that the traditional hostility between the intellectuals on the one hand and management on the other was ended.” Only an ebullient idealist like Humphrey could show such extremism in the pursuit of moderation.
These two books indicate that Lyndon Johnson picked a running mate almost his equal in the art of sweettalking. The Johnson-Humphrey ticket is not just a balanced ticket; balanced tickets are an old story. This is a more wondrous contraption. It’s not just that the rich like Lyndon and the poor like Hubert. It’s that they’re turning into Siamese twins. Johnson, the faithful Janissary of the oil depletion millionaries, is crusading against poverty while Humphrey, the darling of Americans for Democratic Action, is chucking chairmen of the board under their double chins. While the twin on the left moves right, the twin on the right moves left. How can poor Goldwater outmaneuver this dazzling political choreography?
Liberalism, as Humphrey presents it, is as unassailable as motherhood. For those who might consider him merely a salesman of social …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.