Former senator addresses foreign policy

Amy Olson

American politicians need to give foreign conflicts a tough review before U.S. forces get involved, said former Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy on Monday.
In his lecture, titled “Threats to American Democracy,” McCarthy said the Senate — the body responsible for foreign policy issues — needs to pay more attention to diplomacy. More than 150 people attended the event, held at the Cowles Auditorium in the Hubert H. Humphrey Center.
The Watkins, Minn., native said the Senate’s failure to tackle foreign policy issues is a disservice to the entire Congress. Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate is responsible for foreign policy issues and for the U.S. court system.
McCarthy said the United States has two policies for dealing with foreign conflicts: bombing and embargoes. He quickly added that neither policy works, citing that embargoes haven’t changed Cuba’s political system.
Serious foreign issues get watered down to mere slogans and misinformation, McCarthy said. The only way for politicians to find solutions to problems is for the Senate to reassert its constitutional duty to take up foreign policy matters.
“Like the founding fathers, he is wary of power,” said John Brandl, dean of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. “He has an abiding concern for the strengths of our democratic institutions.”
During the Vietnam War, the Senate failed to even consider the Tonkin Gulf resolution, which might have set a different tone for U.S. involvement in the conflict, McCarthy said. He added that this failure led to a decline in Senate power.
“The Senate was never really the same after that,” he said.
His opposition to the war led him to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968; McCarthy lost to fellow Minnesotan Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey. California Republican Richard Nixon won the election.
McCarthy said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has outlived its usefulness since the collapse of the Soviet Union, adding that the United States and other NATO members ought to establish a new peace organization that would include Russia and other nations.
McCarthy said politicians need to rethink policies like spending 5 percent of the gross national product on defense spending. In reality, McCarthy said, the figure is probably higher, but the Senate should not adopt such policies without discussing them.
In addition to being a politician, 83-year-old McCarthy is also known as a scholar.
Louise Klas has known McCarthy since she worked on one of his election campaigns while she was a graduate student at the University. She said McCarthy’s interests extend beyond the political realm; he has been known to recite 30-page poems from memory.
“He is the most learned politician I know,” Brandl said, noting that McCarthy began attending St. John’s University at age 15.
McCarthy was a professor at St. John’s University and the then-College of St. Thomas before he was elected to Congress in 1949. He served in the House of representatives until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958. While he served in the Senate, McCarthy was also concerned with social issues, like unemployment.
After McCarthy retired from the Senate in 1970, he taught courses in politics, literature and history at the University of Maryland and the New School for Social Sciences in New York City. He has also written more than a dozen books and given many lectures.