by Lester Hyman
DURING [MUSKIE'S] CAMPAIGN for the vice presidency in 1968, I advanced a trip to California, then accompanied him on the trip, and also wrote some of his speeches. At the University of Southern California, the Senator was introduced to the student body by State Treasurer Jesse Unruh ("Big Daddy," they called him when he was Speaker of the California House). Muskie proceeded to deliver the speech I had written. All went well until he got to the part about the war in Vietnam. A young man arose in the back of the hall and began to hiss. Muskie peered out into the audience, fixed the young man with a glare, and said: "For Gawd sake, don't make noises at me . . . say something!" The crowd cheered. Weeks later Muskie built upon this experience in his famous speech at Washington, Pennsylvania where he invited his heckler to come up on the stage and debate him. Muskie was a magnificent speaker when he was "hot" (and a boring one when he was "cold") but a great man in my book who would have made a superb president.
TED [KENNEDY] TOLD ME that he felt he owed it to the Party to assist in the forthcoming  presidential campaign. Accordingly, he wanted to send two of his emissaries to the candidates. He had chosen Kenny O'Donnell and me for the assignments. He gave me a choice between Humphrey and Muskie. Knowing how notorious Hubert was for talking and talking and talking, with total disregard for schedules, often late into the night, I decided that it would be less frustrating for me to go with Muskie, although I never had met the man.
I almost immediately packed my bags and set off on a new adventure as the Kennedy representative to the Muskie campaign. I did as much research as I could on Muskie, not only about his political philosophy but as well on his personal attributes. I was told that he had a terrible temper and that he often lashed out at the people around him. This was disconcerting. We met in a hotel room in New England -- I have no memory of which state it was because, in a campaign, every hotel room and airport waiting room soon begins to look alike (as Richard Ben Cramer so aptly put it in his magnificent book, "What It Takes," you end up in "the bubble," totally separated from reality). To my pleasant surprise, at this initial meeting, Muskie was charming, incisive and humorous. I later learned that, because I was the "Kennedy person" on his campaign, Ed treated me with kid gloves -- no temper tantrums or sarcastic broadsides. It stayed that way between us until the day he died some 28 years later. Let me say at the outset that, despite some minor shortcomings (the "terrible temper," which for the most part was a controlled temper and only deployed for specific political purposes -- and a lack of sustained stamina), I considered that Edmund Sixtus Muskie (the Sixtus was after Pope Sixtus) would have made a wonderful president. When I hear people say that he wasn't bright, I become furious, because Ed was one of the smartest people I ever met. Sometimes he was too bright for his own good, for he refused to see complex issues in "black and white" terms -- he would carefully analyze every aspect of a problem, turning it over and over in his mind until he arrived at what he considered to be a fair solution. He was "effective" which is the key word in my lexicon of qualities of a successful political figure. He almost single-handedly developed the Clean Air program for our country -- he systematized the Congressional Budget process -- and he always appealed to America's best instincts, never to her worst.
We traveled all over the country together in the Muskie plane, and I met many fascinating characters, some of whom became life-long friends: Berl Bernhardt, George Mitchell, Leon Billings, Hal Pachios, and most especially Jane Muskie.
A national campaign becomes a blur as you race from one city to the next -- from the airport to the hotel to the convention hall and back again -- usually in a state of exhaustion. Muskie used to tell me that the worst thing about a presidential or vice-presidential campaign was that it never gave you a chance to think. You were always moving and talking . . . and rarely reflecting and planning. This frustrated him tremendously.
In California the Hispanic community seriously tested my creativity and ability to improvise. Caesar Chavez, the brave labor leader who so effectively championed the cause of the farm-workers (particularly the migratory laborers, such as the grape-pickers, who were so exploited and often abused)-and led the nationwide boycott against grapes and later against lettuce, was one of Bobby Kennedy's staunchest supporters, and his followers were passionately committed to RFK's cause. Ed Muskie, though a superb human being, just didn't arouse the passions of the electorate in the way that Bobby did. Ed was much more cerebral than emotional. One of my jobs was to try and convince the Hispanic community in California to support, register, and vote for the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. I met with the "Viva Kennedy" Hispanic leaders whom I knew so well from my days with Robert Kennedy and pleaded with them to set up a "Viva Muskie" operation in that state. They politely but firmly declined. "We always will remain 'Viva for Kennedy," they insisted, even though Bobby was gone. I talked with Caesar and his colleagues for hours, pointing out that the election of Nixon would be a disaster for all the causes they stood for. Finally, in desperation, I suggested a compromise: "Let's create a new organization called 'Viva Kennedy for Muskie."' It worked, and we were able to move forward effectively with the Hispanic community solidly behind us.
Muskie acquitted himself with distinction as the vice-presidential nominee. He tried valiantly to hew to the 'party line," but I noticed that there was very little communication between the Muskie campaign and the Humphrey campaign. Each went its own way. Muskie often hinted at his frustration with Humphrey's lack of independence (from LBJ) but always discreetly and only in private. Publicly he was a 100% loyal soldier.
IN THE COURSE OF THE [1972 presidential] campaign, I came to meet the leaders of New York's Liberal Party, important factors in any national campaign. The former leader of the party, Paul O'Dwyer, was a wry Irishman. I asked him whether he ever had voted Republican. "My regurgitory powers forbade it" was his delightful answer.
At the time of the Muskie campaign, though, the leader of the Liberal Party was ALex Rose, as Jewish as O'Dwyer was Irish. Alex was president of the Hatters' Union and a powerful labor leader. Perhaps because we both were Jewish, we hit it off right away, but I almost "blew" it. I asked Mr. Rose whether he would help get the Liberal Party to endorse Muskie for president in the New York primary. He replied in a strong Yiddish accent with an apparent non sequitur: "Lester, do you wear a hat?" "No, sir, I don't," I replied without thinking, forgetting that this was a man whose life was dedicated to getting people to wear hats, especially hats made by men and women who belonged to his union. This was a serious faux pas. Alex Rose thought for a moment with a very serious expression on his face, then brightened and even smiled: "Lester, when you go to schul (Temple), do you wear a Yarmulke (skull cap)? "I surely do," I said with great relief. "Aha," said Alex triumphantly, "so you do wear a hat!" We had saved face, and Alex Rose and the Liberal Party went on to endorse Ed Muskie.
I was not so successful with another New York political leader. Teddy White, in "The Making of the President, 1972" wrote: "The regulars had hung back, leaning toward Muskie but unwilling to make a commitment too early. 'We're scavengers,' said Meade Esposito, the regular leader of Brooklyn, to Lester Hyman, one of Muskie's early recruiters. 'We'll take what we can get in patronage, but we've got to be with the strength.' Meade saw McGovern triumph in the New York primary and decided to gamble with George.
As a sign of their favor, the Liberal Party asked Muskie to be the keynote speaker at their annual convention, which conveniently took place in New York City right in the middle of the presidential primary season. Muskie asked me to work on the speech with him. We collaborated on what I thought was an excellent talk. The night of the affair I was present in the ballroom in order to "work the crowd" after Senator Muskie spoke. Then the Advance Man for the trip delivered some bad news. Inclement weather had closed the airports in Washington and there was no way that Muskie could arrive in time for the speech. Disaster loomed. I told Alex Rose and, to my surprise, he took it quite well. After all, he was a "pro" and realized that this was an act of God, not a candidate trying to duck an appearance. He suggested that we have someone read Muskie's speech. I got the candidate on the telephone and asked him what he wanted us to do. Muskie thought for a moment and said: "Well, Lester, you wrote the gawdamn speech . . . you may as well give it, too." And that's how I came to be the principal speaker at the Liberal Party Convention.
It was not an easy assignment. The delegates all had expected Ed Muskie who, at the time was expected to be the next president of the United States. Instead they got me. No matter well I spoke-and, because I had helped Ed write the speech, I knew it almost by heart and could recite it with passion and feeling -- the audience began to fidget in their seats and even talk among themselves. So I took a chance, which I do not recommend to public speakers: I stopped in the middle of a sentence and just stood there at the podium looking out over the audience. If they had kept on talking, I was done for. But happily, they noticed, and soon a hush came over the thousands of people in the room. I told them that I fully understood their disappointment . . . that I no more wanted to be in the position of reading Ed Muskie's speech than they wanted to hear it given by anyone other than the candidate. But since Ed could not physically be there, he was determined that they hear a message which he considered to be so important that he had sent me to read it. Therefore, I concluded, I would deeply appreciate it if they would listen to the remainder of the speech, not for me, but out of respect for Ed Muskie. Thank God it worked, and the speech went over very well. When I got back to Washington, I found the following note from Senator Muskie dated October 10, 1975: "Dear Les: I understand that you stood in for me last night at the Liberal Party Dinner, and I want you to know how grateful I am. I must say, however, that it's a rather underhanded way of running for office. With best wishes, I am Sincerely, Ed."
Campaigns, because they are so intense, compress time. You can live a lifetime in a few months. Often the only release from the stress is humor. Muskie had an unusual sense of humor -- he loved the pun as an art form. During the campaign, all of us vied to come up with a pun that met with his approval. The better the pun, the more the groans. I only once came up to his standard. It was shortly after the disastrous New Hampshire primary.
As you will recall, the publisher of New Hampshire's right-wing newspaper, William Loeb, was a staunch Republican who did everything within his power to destroy Ed Muskie, the Democratic front-runner who was the only realistic threat to Richard Nixon's re-election bid. The attacks were more than condemnations of Muskie's policies -- they were personal and vicious. Just before a Muskie appearance in New Hampshire, Loeb attacked Muskie's wife, Jane in a Manchester Union Leader editorial, accusing her of being a drunk (this, of course, was untrue). When Ed arrived and saw the story, he became extremely agitated and, on a wintry day, gave a speech on a makeshift platform in front of Loeb's newspaper. Tired, angry and exhausted, he launched into an emotional defense of his wife. His voice broke slightly as he choked up. But the press reported that Ed Muskie had cried tears of frustration. Horrors! In those days, anyone who would be president could not show emotion . . . and certainly could not cry. In my opinion, that single event derailed the Muskie campaign -- from then on, it was downhill. (Today, of course, politicians cry at the drop of a hat, and no one thinks any worse of him or her . . . and that's as it should be. If someone is without emotion, he is ipso facto disqualified to lead a nation in my view.)
Long after the event, David Broder of the Washington Post told me the "crying incident" was a bum rap. He was standing right down front. It was snowing, and, as flakes of snow landed on Ed Muskie's head, they melted and streaked down his face. One reporter decided they were tears "pack mentality" became operative -- and everyone reported that Muskie had cried. Only Broder insists to this day that Muskie did not cry.
Anyway, weeks after the debacle, I suggested to Muskie that he should return to New Hampshire. "Why in Gawd's name would I want to do that?" he bellowed at me. "Because," I said, "the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra is giving a concert, and Leopold Stokowski is conducting." "So?" asked an impatient Muskie, "why is that of interest to me?" I replied: "I just thought you'd much prefer Leopold to Loeb!" Muskie gave me a full 10 points for that pun.
Another incident revealed Muskie's naivete concerning sexual politics. We were at City College in New York, accompanied by Congressman Jack Bingham, for an important speech. As we left the hall, a group of extremely flamboyant and aggressive Gay Rights activists blocked Muskie's exit and held up signs demanding the end of discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Ed looked about suspiciously and whispered to me: "What do they want?" "They want you to say something about gay rights," I replied. "I won't do it," said Muskie, obviously uncomfortable with the situation. "All you have to do," I suggested, "is say that you support the freedoms set forth in the Constitution of the United States and the concept that people in a democratic society can do whatever they please in private so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others." Muskie kept on walking, considering my suggestion. Finally he thrust forward his jaw and said: "I won't do it." So we got in the car but could not proceed because the activists had surrounded it and were rocking it back and forth. Again Muskie turned to me in puzzlement: "What do they want?" he asked again. My irreverent self took over, and I whispered into the Senator's ear: "They want to fuck you, Ed!" Edmund Sixtus Muskie roared like a moose in heat. "O h, don't you ever say that to me again" and off we went. Later the campaign released an innocuous statement on the subject. It was clear to me that Muskie never knowingly had met a lesbian or a homosexual in his life and knew little about their concerns and frustrations. Much educational work had to be done. Whenever the Muskie plane would come to New York, I would be at the foot of the stairs waiting for Muskie to descend so I could brief him on what lay ahead. Often he would peer around suspiciously and say: "Lester, are any of your homosexuals here?" His reaction was funny at the time, but, in retrospect, it reflected a serious lack of understanding on an important civil rights issue which the Senator, a sensitive and compassionate man, later corrected.
Because Muskie tired easily, it sometimes was frustrating trying to get him to meet with prospective delegates to the Democratic National Convention or to take the time to thank those who worked so hard on his behalf. Muskie told me that he just didn't have time to write personal letters to those who helped him and that he didn't want to send out "form" letters which were impersonal and insincere. I finally overcame his reservations on that score by suggesting to him that if he just wrote, in his own handwriting: "Dear Joe: Thank you. /s/ Ed," it was worth more than any long form letter and that people would treasure such a personal note forever. We did manage to get him to write to those who most deserved his thanks.
Although I most enjoyed writing speeches for the candidate, each of us had to "double up" on our duties, so I often would "advance" a trip when no one else was available. You go on ahead of the candidate, scope out the situation, make sure a good audience will be present, and brief the candidate on all the key names he must remember, and local issues that are of importance to mention. My law partner John Hoff and I advanced a trip to Sheboygen, Wisconsin that was very successful. We also scored with Muskie with another pun -- as our caravan rolled into town, we told the Senator he was quite unpopular in Sheboygen. When he asked why, we pointed to a huge sign over a drugstore advertising "Polish Remover." Emboldened by my new-found expertise, I advanced a trip the following week that involved a motorcade that would take the candidate from his hotel to the convention hall. There were two unscheduled stops. The first was at a fire station. Our whole caravan came to a screeching halt, and the candidate walked briskly into the building before I could catch up to him to explain that this stop was not on our schedule. In a few moments Senator Muskie reappeared, took me aside, and said: "I had to pee." The next stop was my doing. Lacking a good sense of direction, I read a map wrong and directed our caravan down a street where everyone came to a stop . . . it was a cul-de-sac. Muskie was not happy about that one.
In the middle of the campaign, civil rights violence struck again in Jackson, Mississippi In a confrontation between students at Jackson State College and the local police, one student was shot to death. Was it intentional or accidental? We never found out conclusively. It was Kent State all over again. Only this time Americans unfortunately had become so inured to violence that one more killing somehow did not penetrate their consciousness. Charles Evers called me from his home in Jackson and suggested that we spotlight the event by bringing the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Ed Muskie, to Jackson, with a delegation of prominent Washingtonians, to attend the funeral. In this way people would take notice of what was happening in the South and hopefully react with horror and renewed determination to make civil rights a reality throughout the country.
I spoke to Muskie, and he instinctively responded positively. The difficult part was trying to find a hole in an already overcrowded schedule of speaking commitments throughout the country on behalf of the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. With some juggling and a few cancellations, we were able to put together one full day for the trip a week hence. I called Charles to tell him the good news. "There is only one problem," he said. "What do we do with the body for a week?" We decided that he would place the deceased in a refrigerator for the seven days. The planeload of dignitaries arrived at the church in Jackson just as the funeral began. It was an old-fashioned Baptist ceremony, with much singing and preaching and crying. It was blistering hot, and at times the only sounds you could hear in the church were the "swish" of the paper fans as the congregation tried to moderate the extraordinarily high temperatures. At the end of the funeral, some of the slain young man's classmates got up to pay tribute to him. One young lady was so overcome that she could not continue. Then we sang "Amazing Grace" and "We Shall Overcome." The emotion was almost unbearable. But the country watched . . . and hopefully learned. We had achieved our purpose.
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