Eugene McCarthy
Dominic Sandbrook
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Buy *Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism* online

Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism
Dominic Sandbrook
Knopf
Hardcover
416 pages
March 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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"Intelligent, handsome, articulate and idealistic" are the words author Dominic Sandbrook uses to describe Eugene McCarthy a man, Sandbrook believes, was capable of great things but who "demonstrably failed to fulfill his true political potential." McCarthy's political life, rather than personal life, is the focus of Sandbrook's book, which begins by presenting a picture of McCarthy's life as a child.

Eugene McCarthy grew up during the Depression in a small town in Minnesota that had the highest concentration of German Catholics in the state. Social life in his small town centered on the church and taverns, and the church had a lasting influence on McCarthy. According to Sandbrook, Catholicism shaped McCarthy's character and opinions throughout his life both as a student and as a politician. Taught by Benedictine monks, McCarthy appreciated intellectually stimulating situations, and he eagerly accepted a college teaching position after having taught for a few years in small, rural communities where he saw little or no opportunity for advancement. When World War II returning veterans caused college enrollments to mushroom, McCarthy was offered a position at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Academia seemed a natural fit until a faculty colleague encouraged him to enter politics to fight the spread Communism.

Young intellectuals related to McCarthy's beliefs and helped propel him through his early campaigns and elections. McCarthy began his political career when he ran for Congress in 1948, when a new liberalism was taking shape in the United States in an attempt to keep intact the moral spirit of Roosevelt's New Deal programs As a young Congressman, McCarthy was interested in bettering the plight of the migrant workers, an interest that continued throughout his tenure in the Senate, and he also wanted to stop the growth of Communism in America.

Sandbrook also explains how he believes McCarthy caused himself numerous problems with his independent, detached, and cynical personality. According to Sandbrook, McCarthy wanted to be the first Catholic President, and the book sheds light on how John Kennedy's nomination and election transformed McCarthy's political life . McCarthy's political relationships with Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Robert Kennedy are also presented to support Sandbrook's belief that McCarthy damaged his own reputation as he was rising into leadership of the Democratic Party. McCarthy's opposition to Lyndon Johnson's Viet Nam policies provided much of the impetus for his first race for the Presidency, and Sandbrook presents the issues as they related to Congress, the American youth, and the politically ambitious McCarthy.

Eugene McCarthy is a "must read" because it presents a good discussion of grass roots politics and the inner workings of the Democratic Party during McCarthy's political life. Sandbrook presents an excellent account of the rising tide and ultimate fall of the liberalism that McCarthy knew - and apparently was unaware of or was unable or unwilling to accept in his quest for a Presidential nomination. Sandbrook compares and contrasts each campaign in which McCarthy hoped to be nominated by his party for the Presidency as well as McCarthy's attitudes toward his party's candidate during the general election campaigns. McCarthy is a story of a time of historically important political change and a man who failed to adapt his political views to conform to the desires of his constituency. McCarthy is well-written, well-documented, and well worth reading.


© 2004 by Nancy A. McCaslin for Curled Up With a Good Book

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