“We are the Government”: Remembering MN’s “Happy Warrior”

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Friday marks the 100th birthday of former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, whose nickname as a young U.S. senator from Minnesota was “The Happy Warrior” for his positive attitude and hard work.

Humphrey is known for his key role in establishing the Peace Corps, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Minnesota DFL party, as well as for his enduring advocacy of social issues including civil rights, arms control and humanitarian foreign aid.

His son, Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III, a former Minnesota attorney general, says his father’s passions for life and politics were one and the same: he didn’t believe in a government separate from the people.

“From my father’s perspective, he always said the most important public office in this country is being a citizen, being involved as a citizen, because it’s the people that show up that make the difference.”

His father’s strongly held belief, was that the moral test of government is its ability to care for the most vulnerable in the community – including children, the elderly, poor and disenfranchised, Skip Humphrey says, adding that he also had a great understanding of the human condition.

“But he didn’t look at it in a negative way. He looked at it as an opportunity to make things better for all of us. I firmly believe this country can do anything it wants to do, it can be anything it wants to be, it can regenerate itself time and time again. But it has to have the discipline to say, ‘We will do this, not only for ourselves but for our future generations – and we are willing to sacrifice to do that.'”

No matter where the younger Humphrey travels in the country, he says, people share their very personal stories about how his father profoundly affected their lives.

“My father’s action meant something personal to an individual who’d never met him – and that’s a very moving experience. To be able to succeed that way, without having to worry about ideology or anything else, I think, is a very good thing to remember, and a very good thing to set as an ideal of how we should move our nation forward.”

His father often challenged other lawmakers to have the courage to do the right thing, he says, rather than worrying about whether their constituents would go for it. Skip Humphrey says the lesson still rings true today.

“The challenge of being in elective public office is to help your constituents understand what the concern is, so that they can then join you in support of the changes that need to take place. They need to see how the change would benefit themselves, and how it will benefit the community as a whole. If you’re able to do that, then you’re going to be a leader.”

Humphrey died in 1978 at his home in Waverly. Skip Humphrey notes that his father would be disappointed in the political rhetoric and fundraising pressures of today, adding that, in his father’s spirit, he’s hopeful about Americans’ ability to “do right.”

The Minneapolis City Hall will host a series of discussions Friday about the politics and policies Humphrey influenced, locally and nationally. For more information, or to register, visit humphreycentennial.org.

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