"This is far more than just the riveting account of an exuberant public figure whose life was marked by both triumph and tragedy; it also is an important and fresh exploration of American history." -
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. -
Excerpts from the PBS documentary
Hubert Humphrey - The Art of The Possible
HUBERT HUMPHREY: Mr. Chairman, fellow Democrats, fellow Americans, I realize that, in speaking in behalf of the minority report on civil rights, that I'm dealing with a charged issue, with an issue which has been confused by emotionalism on all sides of the fence.
I feel I must rise at this time to support the minority report – a report that spells out our democracy, a report that the people of this country can and will understand, and a report that they will enthusiastically acclaim on the great issue of civil rights. ...
ROGER WILKINS, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Those people were bad people. And we had spent our lives being powerless. You know? We'd spent our lives being powerless in the face of their power, their craftiness and their determination to keep us submerged in American life.
So, this was for us a morality play of the greatest dimension. And, oh, Hubert was our knight in shining armor. ...
NARRATOR: In November of 1948, Harry Truman won a historic upset. And making history of his own, Hubert H. Humphrey became Minnesota's first Democratic senator.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Being a romantic and idealistic person, when he went to Washington in 1948, I think he probably felt that this was going to be "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and this place of marble monuments that was just waiting for him to come there and change the world, and crusade. And very quickly, his dreams and idealism collided with reality.
NARRATOR: The reality was a Senate dominated by the same Dixiecrats Humphrey had angered with his civil rights speech the summer before. And they would not go easy on Hubert Humphrey.
HUMPHREY: After all, I had been the destroyer of the Democratic Party, the enemy of the South. Hubert Humphrey, the quote, end quote, "nigger lover."
But I never felt so lonesome and so unwanted in all my life as I did in those first few weeks and months as United States senator. ...
SONG: So vote for Hubert, Hubert Humphrey, the president for you and me.
HUMPHREY: I love this nation. I think it ought to set a great example for the whole world, really to cast a beacon of light and of enlightenment, and of hope and of peace of the entire nation. And the president must speak for the nation, giving the philosophy and the fundamentals of our democracy and what we stand for.
And then, he must be able to mobilize action and carry out these programs, so that the dream can be fulfilled.
NARRATOR: While it is generally believed that John Kennedy and Richard Nixon held the first televised debate, Humphrey and Kennedy met months earlier.
HUMPHREY: In 1960, I had the opportunity to expose America to a number of my ideas. I was determined that Kennedy adopt as many of my proposals and policies as possible.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This week, I had the opportunity to debate with Mr. Nixon. I feel that I should reveal that I had a great advantage in that debate. And I'm not referring to anyone's makeup man.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
The advantage that I had had was that Mr. Nixon had just debated with Khrushchev, and I had debated with Hubert Humphrey. And that gave me an edge. ...
LAMB: So, I assume there was never a time when this wasn't going to be a positive look at Humber Humphrey's life.
CAOUETTE: No. Well, I started out otherwise. But I started out, really wanted to look for all sides of his personality. But, you know, we interviewed 52 people, and I couldn't find anyone who didn't like him. I mean, they just – they were all in love with him. And it seemed like the closer they got to him, the more they liked him.
And it was really difficult to – and that's hard, by the way, to do a story about someone who's a good person. It's much easier if there's, you know, affairs and murders, and all kinds of other things. It's much more sensational. But I couldn't really find much.
He had flaws, and he made mistakes, but he wasn't, you know, basically on the inside. In fact, I asked Bill Moyers, did he do anything bad. He said, "I can't say anything bad about him, because he wasn't a bad person."
LAMB: Yes, Bill Moyers is quoted in your piece as saying, he's "one of the greatest legislators in American history."
LAMB: What's that – where does that come from?
CAOUETTE: Well, he had his hand, one way or another, in 1,000 bills over 10 years. So, I believe I came up with one every three days, or something, it amounts to.
And, you know, it affects pretty much everything in our life. I mean, everything that – every piece of legislation that's now affecting our lives really came from somewhere – Hubert Humphrey was involved in one place or another. ..
NARRATOR: President Johnson saw the Senate as a battleground. And victory would come only after a long, bitter fight.
But Humphrey insisted on a new, softer strategy that would change the legislative game.
HUMPHREY: To break a filibuster was almost an impossible task, because he'd been majority leader of the Senate, and had attempted to break filibusters himself.
BILL MOYERS, JOURNALIST: To see how things get done in American politics, you need to study very closely what Hubert Humphrey did in the Senate in 1964, with that Civil Rights Act.
UNIDENTIFIED STAFF MEMBER: … wanted to know, to see if we would try to get …
MOYERS: He had regular strategy meetings. He organized a newsletter. He had people on watch all of the time. He enlisted one colleague in the Senate to focus on each title of the bill. He was brilliant in the way he organized his forces to challenge the filibuster and press the argument. ...
NARRATOR: The showdown caught the public's attention. But no cameras were allowed in the Senate. So, Humphrey and Thurmond agreed to take a piece of the debate to a television audience.
HUMPHREY: And we know that fellow Americans who happen to be negro have been denied equal access to places of public accommodation, denied in their travels the chance for a place to rest and to eat.
THURMOND: It's not public accommodations. It's invasion of private property. This will lead to integration of private life.
HUMPHREY: In the City of Birmingham, Alabama, up to 1963, there was an ordinance that said that, if you were going to have a restaurant, and you were going to permit a negro to come in, you had to have a seven-foot wall down the middle of the restaurant dividing the white from the colored.
Now, how foolish this is? And isn't that an invasion of private property …
THURMOND: Senator, we live in a country of freedom. And under our Constitution, a man has a right to use his own private property as he sees fit.
We must remember that this bill creates no jobs. So, therefore, whose jobs are these negroes, the minority, going to take? Other negroes' jobs, or white people's jobs?
HUMPHREY: Well, the main thing that we ought to press on them is to get it. The delay is going to be disastrous.
NARRATOR: After two months, Humphrey was exhausted and worried, feeling pressure from both the president and civil rights leaders.
Finally, Everett Dirksen broke his silence with 22 amendments.
When civil rights leaders demanded a tougher stand, Humphrey pleaded for patience, and took Dirksen into a one-on-one, closed door session.
Two weeks later, they surfaced with the bill intact, and Dirksen in the spotlight.
HUMPHREY: And I, for one, want to publicly express my respect and admiration for you, and my sincere thanks for what I call service beyond the call of duty, and putting country ahead of every other consideration.
SEN. EVERETT DIRKSEN, REPUBLICAN MINORITY LEADER: I could say as much for you, my friend.
HUMPHREY: Thank you. Thank you, Everett. ...
TED VAN DYK, ASSISTANT IN THE JOHNSON WHITE HOUSE: We looked to a really kind of equal partnership. And in the first few days, we thought it would be that way, and we were going to be a part of everything. And, of course, then events intervened, including most dramatically, Humphrey's break with Johnson in a Cabinet meeting on Vietnam.
NARRATOR: Only days into the new administration, the Viet Cong attacked an American base in Pleiku. And Johnson called a Cabinet meeting to sanction the bombing of North Vietnam.
ROBERT MANN, AUTHOR: Johnson was not looking for advice, but validation. And it was actually Johnson looking for ratification of what he'd already decided. He goes around the room and asking all these people, his advisers, to tell him what they think about this decision to launch these attacks. And Humphrey announces that he thinks that it's a mistake.
NARRATOR: Johnson was furious with him. And the bombing of the North began.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress gave us this authority in August 1964. To do whatever may be necessary – that's pretty far reaching. That's – the sky's the limit.
NARRATOR: While there may have been no limits on Johnson's expansion of the Vietnam War, there would now be limits on his vice president.
MOYERS: I knew him intensely for those years of the '60s. And that was the most tortured period of his life, as he was trying to be vice president, serving the president who was taking us to war in Vietnam – even as he had misgivings as an independent thinker.
NARRATOR: After their public disagreement, Humphrey was frozen out of all discussion of Vietnam.
Johnson cut off his privileges, reduced his staff, censored his speeches, tapped his phones and ordered his own staff not to speak to him. ...
WILKINS: He was luminous in his optimistic belief in the possibilities of reforming America. And he loved people. There was just a palpable humanity in that man.
NARRATOR: At Christmas, his family installed a toll-free 800 number in his home, so he could call hundreds of friends and say good-bye.
And on Friday, the 13th of January, 1978, Hubert Humphrey died peacefully at his lake home in Minnesota.
As his body lie in state in Washington, 60,000 average Americans braved freezing cold temperatures to say good-bye...