Gentlemen that day abed may not think themselves accurs'd nor hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks who hauled voters to the polls for Gene McCarthy on March 12, 1968. Still, it was a kind of Saint Crispin's day in American politics, and not just because McCarthy managed to wrest forty per cent of the vote and most of the delegates away from President Lyndon B. Johnson in the New Hampshire primary.
This book is not about that primary, or the McCarthy campaign of 1968, or more than partially about politics. It was written over a span of roughly six years; but because these writings, among other things, reflect McCarthy's political ideas, which were so often unorthodox but prescient when first spoken, it does convey something of the flavor of those remarkable times when he was setting loose new forces in American politics as few before and none since have done.
McCarthy's presidential campaign, legitimated that snowbound day in New Hampshire, was important in itself. It exposed Johnson's weakness, demonstrated the political potential of the antiwar movement, and brought Robert Kennedy belatedly into the presidential race. All this, together with the developing certainty of a McCarthy victory in the Wisconsin primary, forced Johnson's withdrawal, which made possible the beginnings of peace negotiations in Paris. If none of that had happened, neither Richard Nixon nor Hubert Humphrey, the ultimate candidates that year, might have gone as far as he did in pledging to end the war in Vietnam. And it now seems clear that had Humphrey been only marginally more willing at the Democratic convention to make concessions to the McCarthy-Kennedy forces -- which by 1972 came to dominate the party under the banner of George McGovern -- and their point of view about the war, Humphrey would have been elected in November, instead of Nixon with his tiny 43.4 to 42.7 per cent plurality.