Chapter 100: It’s a Long Way to the Top - The Democratic Race Narrows
Above: Representative Wilbur Mills (D - AR) with Annabelle Battistella, better known as Fanne Foxe, an Argentinian stripper and, as The Washington Post would soon reveal, Mills’ longtime mistress (left); Senator Eugene McCarthy (D - MN) shortly before appearing at a news conference to confirm his own affair with Marya McLaughlin (right); before the end of 1975, both men would be forced to suspend their Presidential campaigns, before even having the chance to contest the Iowa Caucus.
“A curious potential voter was seated at the back of an auditorium for a debate between Presidential candidates. He watched intently as a local preacher opened the event with an invocation. ‘Does the preacher pray for the candidates?’ he asked. ‘No,’ replied his companion, ‘he looks at the candidates and then prays for his country.’” - Representative Mo Udall (D - AZ), sharing a favorite joke with an adoring audience in Des Moines, Iowa, who immediately broke out into laughter, cheers, and applause.
The campaign trail, especially during a Presidential primary is rigorous, challenging, and demanding, and can push even the highest minded of public officials to their absolute physical, mental, and spiritual limits. In order to succeed, a shrewd politician must develop means of coping with the unimaginable strain placed on them by the scrutiny, attention, amd meticulous watching placed upon them by the public. In the current primary cycle, Mo Udall had his brilliant sense of humor and endless humility. Shirley Chisholm could look at the example she was setting for women and people of color across the nation (even if she knew her chances of winning the nomination were slim). Others, meanwhile, struggled to keep up the pace. Only a month and a half after officially announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination on October 25th, 1975, three term Governor of Minnesota Walter Mondale jokingly declared that “the only situation which could seem more exhausting to me at this point would probably be the outbreak of World War III!” Though Mondale had meant for his statement to be tongue-in-cheek, a jab at how difficult it had become for any single candidate to stand out in such a crowded field, the press and the public didn’t get the joke, and let Governor Mondale know that they hadn’t appreciated it. He saw interview opportunities dry up, and his already poor poll position slip into the realm of the truly dismal, barely appearing above 1% nationally. Nevertheless, Mondale had caught what his rival Udall referred to as “Presidentialitis”, and would not drop out of the race, so long as he had money left to spend and a fire burning in his belly. Mondale hoped to build up the center of the Democratic Party, reconciling the Liberal and Populist wings and ending the “north-south” divide which he worried would once again tear the Democratic Party asunder. He cared little and less for foreign policy, by his own admission, substituting substantive policy initiatives or criticisms of the current administration for platitudes about “peace and strength”, as well as a strong labor record. The Minnesotan believed he could attract blue collar workers who were bored by Senator John Glenn’s moderate economics, but found Udall, with his Social Democrat backers and strong support of the Kennedy clan a hard pill to swallow. In this, he was finding mixed results, especially as Udall had the strongest record of voting with the best interests of the AFL-CIO in Congress. On the other hand, Mondale was well liked in his state, and clearly committed. He vowed that even if he failed to win his party’s Presidential nomination, he would not seek a fourth term as Governor. He was putting it all on the line in this one.
Governor Walter F. Mondale (D - MN) enters the race - Oct. 25th, 1975
For Representative Wilbur Mills (D - AR) and Senator Eugene McCarthy (D - MN), the end of the line for their respective campaigns came far earlier in the process than either man would have liked. At two o’clock in the morning on October 9th, 1975, Congressman Mills was pulled over in his automobile in Washington, D.C. U.S. Park Police stopped the Congressman’s vehicle when he failed to activate his headlights despite the very late hour and unusually dark night. Mills was clearly intoxicated, and his face was injured, following a post-tryst scuffle with Fanne Foxe, the infamous Argentinian stripper, whom Mills was apparently trying to drive home without being seen. As the police approached the vehicle, Foxe leapt out of the car and dove into a nearby tidal basin, hoping to evade capture; she would be caught however, and taken immediately to St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital for treatment. This was not the first time Mills had been spotted in public with Foxe, as the pair had only a week before been caught by a photojournalist leaving one of her shows together in Boston in a van with dark tinted windows. It was also not the first time Mills had been caught driving while drunk. The police arrested him on the spot and brought him to jail for the night, which to his credit, the Congressman acquiesced to without a fight. Mills used his phone call to get a hold of his campaign manager and ask him to come bail him out, saying emphatically, “Well, I’ve really blown it now...” The next morning, the press got word of the incident and lay siege to the local jail, calling for statements from Mills, Foxe, his campaign, anybody. Mills was given a court date and charged with illegally driving under the influence. He shortly thereafter admitted that he was an alcoholic and needed help, the sort of help which would necessitate his terminating his campaign for the Democratic nomination. Mills’ candidacy was dead in the water and his rivals quickly swooped in to feed on his poll numbers, though several expressed their “sincere hope” that he recovered from his affliction. The entire Mills/Foxe incident was hilariously lampshaded on the inaugural episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, a comedy series created by Canadian-American producer Lorne Michaels, when on October 11th, in the soon-to-be perennial segment “Weekend Update”, original anchor Chevy Chase declared, totally deadpan, “Well, surely this isn’t the first time that Ms. Foxe and Congressman Mills were caught with their pants down. But in case there was any doubt before, we now know for sure that the Congressman was getting off his rocks in the box of Ms. Foxe!” The show, hosted for its first week by arguably the greatest comedian of all time, George Carlin, would develop a cult following, and go on to become a pop culture mainstay, especially for its iconic social and political commentary. First season cast member Dan Aykroyd in particular would be celebrated for his dorky, wimpy, yet endlessly energetic impersonation of President Bush.
As for Senator McCarthy (D - MN), his campaign’s downfall had less to do with a single inciting incident than it did his overall attitude and demeanor, especially when reflected at the press and the American people at large. Forever caustic and miserable by nature, McCarthy loathed the supposedly hopeful parts of the political process, and as the strain of appearing for event after event weighed on him more and more, so too did his illicit relationship with Marya McLaughlin of CBS News grow difficult to endure. When McLaughlin told him she could no longer, in good conscience, write positive editorials about him from the perspective of a supposedly objective journalist, the Senator grew angry and accused her of “leaving him out to dry”. Fed up with McCarthy’s attitude, McLaughlin decided that she had finally had enough. She left the Senator at a hotel in Nashua, New Hampshire, then rushed back to CBS Headquarters in New York to inform their writers about her relationship with the Senator. In the aftermath of the Mills-Foxe incident only weeks before, and the memory of Ted Kennedy’s affair with and subsequent marriage to Sharon Tate still fresh in the country’s mind as well, yet another Democratic Presidential candidate carrying on with another woman than his wife in his private time seemed like front page news. To borrow another Udall-ism, “No one likes to admit it, but everyone loves a good scandal.” With McCarthy’s campaign already on the decline after his thorough trouncing by Representative Udall in the “UC Berkeley Debate”, the McLaughlin story proved to be the final nail in an already well boarded up coffin. McCarthy quietly dropped out of the race on November 11th, and returned home to St. Paul, vowing to leave public life for good. He even declined to run for reelection in the Senate, as his term was up in '76. “To hell with you all!” He was heard to have muttered into a still-hot microphone as he was heckled while walking away from his announcement that he was suspending his campaign. For all his attempts to bring down the Kennedy family and usher in a new era in Democratic politics, McCarthy fell victim to his own personal miasma of toxicity and shortcomings. Nonetheless, the race persisted. Most of McCarthy’s and Mills’ hurt, confused, and disgruntled supporters fanned out across the remaining liberal candidates. The more moderate among them were driven toward the arguable front-runner John Glenn (D - OH) or plucky outsider Walter “Fritz” Mondale (D - MN), while the lion’s share went to Mo Udall (D - AZ), whose electoral stock and appeal continued to steadily rise, and Ed Muskie (D - ME), who worked to combat his stuffy image by appearing in more informal settings and attire while on the trail.
Mills’ departure was also a boon to Governor Lloyd Bentsen (D - TX), heir apparent to Lyndon Baines Johnson’s legacy, and rapidly becoming one of the most formidable candidates in the race. “Bentsen was so damned big because he had all the money.” Hunter S. Thompson would later write in Abject Terror and Absurdity, his account of the ‘76 Presidential race. “All over the country, the ‘practically minded’ Democrats who worshipped as often at the altar of LBJ as they did good old JC, bent themselves backward to spend enough to avoid another nominee like Humphrey, who, in their minds, got his ass beat by a surefire loser in George Romney. Worse yet, they feared another candidate like Jack Kennedy or Franklin Roosevelt, a passionate liberal who could really get shit done. The last thing these so-called populists wanted was more ‘power to the people’. As far as they were concerned, the Swinging Sixties were over and it was time for the ‘serious’ folk to take back their position in leadership.”
Though Thompson wrote with clear contempt for the party’s southern wing, his counterculture bias and ultimate support for Representative Chisholm were not shared by the majority of Democratic voters. Besides, Bentsen was counting on more than money to carry him to the nomination. He wanted to build on his mentor’s ‘72 strategy by cornering the solid South with early wins in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Florida, then turning sharply northward to shore up Christian Democratic support in Washington State and Pennsylvania. If blue collar, socially conservative, American Values types showed up to the polls in those states, Bentsen stood a real chance of winning the whole damn thing. In the meantime, as the nation lurched ever closer to the Iowa caucuses, Bentsen worked on his image, message, and pitch. The Texan made several issues key to his campaign platform: the creation of an employee retirement security act, which would solve a long-stalled pension reform problem by providing Federal protection to the pensions of American workers; spending cuts to New Frontier programs to lower the Federal deficit; and new tax incentives to open up more domestic land for exploratory oil drilling, hoping to put America on the path to energy independence. This last initiative did bring the Bentsen campaign the ire of the conservationist and environmentalist movements and set him squarely at odds with his rivals Muskie and Udall, but the Governor simply saw that as the cost of doing business. “For every tree hugger hippie that Bentsen turns away,” Thompson lamented, “two all-too-eager shits in hard hats arrive to take their place.” Carefully crafting an image for himself as a “pragmatic populist”, Bentsen touted his success in Texas - balanced budgets, lower than average unemployment, ever rising standards of living. His moderate appeal posed a real challenge to Senator Glenn’s “electability” argument, and the two soon found themselves neck in neck in the polls. While Glenn’s astronaut background and straightforward honesty were appealing, his speeches were often described by Walter Cronkite (and many, many others) as “dull” and even “hard to listen to at times”. To make matters worse, Glenn’s wife, Annie, suffered from a stutter, and was thus very uncomfortable being asked to speak in public, which made campaigning for her husband next to impossible. Meanwhile, Bentsen’s smile became, according to Thompson, “the most valuable asset in politics”. Amidst the swirling tides of foreign conflict and upheaval and the worst recession since the 1930’s at home, his calm, upbeat demeanor, personified by his pearly white grin, seemed to promise that everything was going to be alright. As the weeks wore on, and Iowa loomed in the distance, one message was clear: the race was narrowing.
January 1st, 1976 - Gallup Poll of Likely Democratic Voters (Nationwide)
Who Would You Most Prefer to be the Democratic Nominee for President?
Governor Lloyd Bentsen (D - TX) - 24%
Senator John Glenn (D - OH) - 22%
Representative Mo Udall (D - AZ) - 22%
Senator Edmund Muskie (D - ME) - 10%
Senator Terry Sanford (D - NC) - 7%
Governor Walter Mondale (D - MN) - 6%
Representative Shirley Chisholm (D - NY) - 4%
Other/Undecided - 4%
The Angolan Civil War, which began in earnest late in the tumultuous year of 1975, traced its roots back to three rebel movements, each rivals with each other, dating back to the nation’s anti-colonial movements of the 1950’s. Divided along ethnic lines as well as urban v. rural class distinctions as well, the volatile and often violent groups seemed largely to agree only on the need for the Portuguese Empire to be removed from Angolan territory. With the collapse and removal of the Estado Novo regime in Lisbon early in the year, it was only a matter of time before Portugal’s overseas empire was lost to decolonization and independence. Almost with the same breath they used to celebrate this turn of events, however, the various rebel factions also decried one another, kicking off more than two and a half decades of political bloodshed over the future of the country. The population, mainly comprised of Ambundu, Ovimbundu, and Bakongo peoples, had been excluded from public office and education under imperial rule, and thus, when the Portuguese elite who made up a small minority of the population, but accounted for the majority of the country’s skilled workers in industry and agriculture departed for Portugal proper, the economy fell into a deep depression. Almost immediately, the new territory became a possible site for a proxy war in the ongoing Twilight Struggle of the Cold War, and sure enough, within weeks, the USSR was funnelling money and arms to the more left wing rebel groups, hoping that they would emerge as victors at the end of the ensuing power struggle. Zhou’s China too, not wanting to miss an opportunity to show its might and prestige, also chose a side to back. The third rebel group was given extensive support by the government of South Africa, with Prime Minister B.J. Vorster insisting that “leftist victory in Angola would be utterly unacceptable.” For the world, this meant another “proving ground” for the world’s various ideologies and paychecks for thousands of soldiers for hire. For the people of Angola, it meant bloodshed and terror.
Though President Bush honored his vow to keep the United States neutral in the conflict, the Angolan Civil War did bring South Africa’s unfortunate state to the forefront of the American consciousness once again. Nominally an ally in the fight against global communism, South Africa was a friend however that neither the United States, nor its formal imperial overlord the UK wanted to openly embrace. The country’s vicious, barbaric policy of racial “Apartheid” was denounced by much of the world for what it was - an absolutely monstrous policy. Since 1948 officially, but really going as far back as before 1806 under Dutch rule, there existed racist and discriminatory laws in South Africa meant to limit and suppress the civil and even basic human rights of the black majority population there. This went far beyond even the oppressive measures of the Jim Crow-era Southern United States, and included, at times, the forced removal, relocation, and resettlement of native Africans out of the major cities to “reserves” or “homelands” further north. Accompanying this alienating set of policies was also a marked militarism, as South Africa’s defense budget accounted for nearly 30% of the government’s total expenditures by 1975. This funding was used primarily to fight guerrilla wars like the one in Angola, but it was also used for “civil priorities”, such as putting down riots and enforcing martial law whenever the government deemed it necessary.
Since the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the United States’ policy toward South Africa’s regime had become one of increasingly confrontational challenge. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued an arms embargo to the country, keeping in cooperation with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 181. As the Civil Rights movement took off at home, the American people came to see the South African government’s positions as ungodly. For his part, JFK had this to say about his administration’s position on the issue: “The foreign policy of the United States is rooted in its life at home. We will not permit human rights to be restricted in our own country. And we will not support policies in other countries which are based on the rule of minorities or the discredited notion that men are unequal before the law. We will not live by a double standard—professing abroad what we do not practice at home, or venerating at home what we ignore abroad.” This line in the sand showed that the Kennedy Doctrine had teeth, and was willing to confront anti-communist regimes which did not live up to their supposedly liberty-based ideals. Though the Romney and Bush administrations had continued Kennedy’s arms embargo (against the protests of right-wingers at home who supported South Africa’s fight against Communism), they had still disappointed liberals by their failure to escalate the confrontation with South Africa into the economic realm. The nation’s strongest champion in the fight against the Apartheid government was Representative Ron Dellums (D - CA), who in 1973 first proposed legislation in the House of Representatives which would impose economic sanctions on South Africa, until such time as the Apartheid policies were permanently ended. The sanctions would ban the filing of loans, and investment of capital by American businesses in the country, and was projected to pack some serious punch in the fight against Apartheid. The bill managed to pass the House, but languished in the Senate, where it was dubbed “too extreme” during filibusters by the likes of Senator Jesse Helms (R - NC) and Strom Thurmond (R - SC). After a month of languishing near the end of a session, the bill died in the Senate. This didn’t stop Dellums, however, and he continued to propose new iterations of the law with each new Congress. As of 1975 and the outbreak of the Angolan Civil War, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act was still viciously opposed by conservatives and lacked the outward support of President Bush, and thus, would not be passed during the current session of Congress. But an election year loomed, and for a President whose claim to fame was his “statesmanship” and foreign policy acumen... this seemed like the sort of thing a campaign could run with.
Next Time on Blue Skies in Camelot: Pop Culture in 1975