Hubert H. Humphrey: documentary generates memories and invites discussion


Though I know it dates me, I am forever proud to boast that I cut my political teeth handing out Humphrey campaign posters at the Union Hall in Highland Village.  From the first Union member’s positive response, I was hooked.  I trailed the Smiling Warrior through that Senatorial run, then lived and politicked in DC during some of his finest hours in the Senate.  As director of a national student organization with an aggressive human rights agenda I swelled with pride as Humphrey inspired youthful activists to believe in the political process – and to act on their beliefs.

The legacy of that era is a body of human rights legislation that shapes the nation today.

For many, the legacy is a lifetime commitment to political activism and awareness, politics of the possible and, yes, the politics of joy.  I admit that to this day I treasure a glossy photo in which some of us groundlings constituents tagged along with an interdenominational delegation of youth leaders for a high level tête-à-tête with our fearless leader.  I have told my sons that we were passing the Civil Rights bill and, in a way, I guess we were.

Though for the most part I eschew egocentric ramblings this reflection on HHH is the exception.  I cannot resist a personal affirmation of his early influence.

My retreat from the ubiquitous Super Bowl frenzy led me to C-Span’s Q&A where I tuned in on Brian Lamb interviewing Minnesota documentary producer Mick Caouette. They were discussing the two-hour documentary Hubert H. Humphrey: Art of the Possible

For a decade, Caouette interviewed scores of politicos – Senators, staffers, Humphrey supporters, historians and voters.  Caouette also delved into extraordinary archives of long-buried audio and video records of Humphrey in his glory and in his final illness, Humphrey as VP berated by Lyndon Johnson, Hubert the family man at his Wayzata home.  I was spellbound and, like several of the interviewees, moved to happy memories dampened by an occasional tear.  And this was the just discussion of a two-hour documentary I have yet to experience.

For those of an age Humphrey remains a powerful presence on the political scene – too recent for the history books, but alive in our memories.  Bill Moyers’ response to the documentary, quoted on the Humphrey Institute website, echoes and elegantly expresses my thoughts:”

I was among more than a thousand people who watched, laughed, gasped, and wept at Mick Caouette’s Hubert H. Humphrey: The Art of the Possible during a screening in Minneapolis. It is a powerful film about arguably the most important United States Senator of the 20th century whose great personal courage shaped the world we live in.

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.

Youth will know about the demise of the Humphrey Metrodome, now reduced to relic status.  Many Minnesotans and virtually all U of M students know that the HHH Institute remains a venue for research, discourse and learning.

It occurs to me that time spent viewing and discussing the interview and the documentary would make a meaningful intergenerational experience.  If it happens to ignite a spark of interest in the legacy of Hubert H. Humphrey check the HHH Institute website for leads to scores of worthy books and related resources – and information about the centennial celebration of Hubert H. Humphrey that the Institute is planning for September 2011

Consider, too, that there in our midst family members and friends who would love nothing more than to dust off their memories and reflect on the lasting influence of Minnesota’s ebullient native son.