Nat Hentoff Thinks Up an Ultimatum for Ed Koch

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. July 11, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 39

The way to stop Humphrey by Nat Hentoff

I am in no way privy to the deliberations, state or national, of the McCarthy strategists. All I know is what I read in the papers; and from press accounts, I am not encouraged that these tacticians are being nearly realistic enough in their plans to turn the convention delegates around. Writing and phoning the delegates -- with counts kept at McCarthy headquarters -- is not going to do it. Nor are the variations thereof all aimed at showing the delegates how much support McCarthy has among Democratic voters. The delegates are not moved by democratic generalties. The delegates whom McCarthy people want to influence are convinced that once the current letter writers and telephoners are faced with a choice of Nixon or Humphrey, they'll come home. Let them snarl all they want to as they come in the door, but home they'll come. Some will sneak back. One distinguished intellectual told me that if it comes to a Nixon-Humphrey choice, he will furtively pull the lever for Humphrey. "Why furtively?" I asked. "Nobody's watching you in the booth." "I'm watching me," he said.

"Fuck the phone calls and the telegrams and the letters" is the convention wisdom of the present majority of the delegates. There is only one way to change their minds. You have to scare the hell out of them. In one form or another, most of the delegates know the targets of the McCarthy people are tied in to power. They are connected directly or otherwise, to Democratic power centers. It matters to them, it matters a great deal, who gets elected on local, city, and state levels. If enough become convinced that Humphrey is going to be an albatross for THEM specifically, where they live, they will not vote for his nomination. In principle, they would vote for Jim Morrison if they could stay in or allied with power that way. I can hear Stanley Steingut talking (in public) bout the regenerative youthful ardor of the Doors. In McCarthy, as much as they despise and fear his stubbornness, his "disloyalty," his unpredictability, IF Humphrey on the ticket threatens their survival.

Therefore, to elaborate on an idea mentioned briefly in last week's column, McCarthy funds and energies can be most usefully directed toward proving to the delegates, city by city, district by district, state by state, that a startling number of Democratic voters will not support local Democratic candidates who in turn support Humphrey. These Democratic voters will not come home. Even against Nixon, they will not reward this long-time enthusiast for Johnson's Vietnam policies by voting for him or for those on the Democratic ticket who campaign for him. They will vote for Paul O'Dwyer, but not for a candidate who feels anything less than shame for a Democratic party that has the chutzpah to continue the Johnson administration after the rank and file of its own party has repudiated that administration in the primaries.

Notice has to be given now that every Democratic candidate will be faced with another kind of choice, if Humphrey is nominated. In the 17th C.D., for instance, Ed Koch is now for McCarthy. Under ordinary circumstances, I would vote for Koch as against Whitney North Seymour, Jr., if only because the latter had so weak a civil liberties record in the last session of the state legislature and is besides so smug in defending that record (as at Community Church a few months ago). But if Koch says he will support Humphrey as his party's nominee, I will vote for neither, and I'm convinced there are enough people in the 17th C.D. who feel as I do to lose the election for Koch. If Koch runs with O'Dwyer, repudiating Humphrey, that's another thing. But we have to make it clear that it's going to be politically fatal for many Democratic candidates if they run with Humphrey...

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

Nat Hentoff Thinks Up an Ultimatum for Ed Koch

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