Book Review

Hubert Humphrey biography is insightful, readable

Posted

"Hubert Humphrey: The Conscience of the Country," by part-time Becket resident Arnold A. Offner, is an insightful and revelatory biography of "one of the great liberal leaders of post-war American life" Hubert H. Humphrey, who, the author contends, was "largely overlooked" by biographers in the past because Humphrey never became president.

This biography details in very readable and narrative prose how Humphrey had a major influence on American political direction and led an extraordinary life of public service as two-time mayor of Minneapolis, five times as U.S. senator, and once as vice president of the United States. His bid for the presidency against Richard Nixon was lost by a narrow margin after having trailed him by 18 points. While popular as a charismatic leader of the liberal Democratic Party, Humphrey's shifting position on the Vietnam War cost him the support of his liberal constituency in the presidential election, even as President Lyndon Johnson undermined his campaign in favor of Republican Richard Nixon's more supportive stance on expanding the war.

This biography clarifies Humphrey's important role, as Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill remarked, "in shaping every major legislative initiative," that was enacted in that 25-year period. In Hubert Humphrey's Senate career, he "powerfully effected Democratic policy, pressed major congressional domestic and foreign policy legislative initiatives," and was President Jimmy Carter's "chief ally" in the Senate.

Offner's biography succeeds in portraying Humphrey as "the most effective legislator of the 20th century." But more than that, we come to know Humphrey as an important "moral force," as longtime Congressman Robert Dole called him, and as a leader in American policy who was always about human rights and enriching the lives of the people. His leadership affected a wide range of legislation from civil rights to arms control. Only the second "full study" of Humphrey, Offner's biography has access to a much wider range of papers than were not previously available and his research goes into greater detail on Humphrey's complicated relationship with Lyndon Johnson. This complete history of the political career of Hubert Humphrey and his key roles in American policy, domestically and internationally, sheds new light on the man, the era, and a more socially conscious time of civil rights and a social contract with government.

Praise for "Hubert Humphrey: The Conscience of the Country" has come from no less than President Jimmy Carter, who called the book, "An outstanding account of the life and accomplishments of a man who was my friend and my hero." Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale wrote, "Arnold Offner's riveting account of the life and leadership of Hubert Humphrey shows us the man, the legislator who fought to make the United States a more liberal and humane society, and leader of the free and peaceful world order."

Offner is Cornelia F. Hugel Professor of History Emeritus at Lafayette College. His previous books include "Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953," and "American Appeasement: United States Foreign Policy and Germany, 1933-1938."

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com.


TALK TO US

If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.



Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions