Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010

When Hubert Humphrey was Possible

By David Luhrssen
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Not many American politicians in 2010 would describe themselves as “militant liberals,” but Hubert H. Humphrey wore the badge proudly. The PBS documentary “Hubert Humphrey: The Art of the Possible” (out on DVD) follows his remarkable career from mayor of Minneapolis, where he cleaned out corruption, and through the catastrophe of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, where he was nominated for president. Along the way the adventure brought Humphrey into the U.S. Senate and the vice presidency under Lyndon B. Johnson.

Humphrey was the man most responsible for pushing civil rights for African Americans onto the agenda of a reluctant Democratic Party, and never rested until he helped Johnson pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. A prolific thinker and legislator, Humphrey was responsible for everything from curbing air pollution to curbing nuclear arms. According to the documentary, the Peace Corps was his idea. A moral vision guided Humphrey, who believed that politics could improve lives and governments could accomplish things that individuals, even working together, could never achieve. In 2010 terms, he’d be left of Obama.

For many Baby Boomers in the ‘60s, Humphrey appeared as a peevish, thin-lipped advocate of compromise. But for Humphrey, an occasional compromise was not the mark of bad faith but the way to move society forward.

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