Hubert Humphrey, a Liberal Lost to History

“Man of the people” is a much over-used phrase, but if it applies to anyone, it’s to Hubert Humphrey, chief spokesman for liberalism a few decades ago. He never quite outgrew his roots, which was just as well. He grew up in Dalton, South Dakota (pop 900), where his father ran a drug store and he helped out. For a bright ambitious boy it was up the proverbial political ladder from mayor of Minneapolis to the U.S. Senate to the Vice Presidency and perhaps to the highest prize of all? Along the way he never forgot his origins and the people from whom he came. They were his lifelong passion.

This was demonstrated as he became a master legislator in the U.S. Senate. You name the issue for the betterment of humanity, as he saw it, and he effectively supported it – civil rights, education, medical care, arms control, genuine economic equality. This near unparalleled reach of the federal government was his liberalism, but he gave it a happy face. If you’re going to remake America over the objection of many, you may as well be cheerful about it. He was without guile – no lies, bribes, blackmail, not even routine arm twisting. His biographer Carl Solberg writes that he was wordy and corny in his endless speech giving but also extremely likable.

To be sure, he was not without his fights. An early one was with the communists, then a power in the U.S. Initially, he had worked with them, even opposing President Roosevelt’s removal of Henry Wallace as vice president because of his communist connections. But he wasn’t left enough. While mayor of Minneapolis, he was prevented from giving a speech at the convention of his Democratic-Farm-Labor party by communists who spit on him and cursed him as a fascist. He became a lifelong anti-communist and supported major U.S. measures against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

He thought he had the right collection of policies to achieve the Presidency, his lifelong ambition, but his major obstacle turned out to be a fellow liberal Democrat of a far different stamp, President Lyndon Johnson, who craved power above all else. He was contemptuous of Humphrey’s benign brand of politics, though he felt he had to name him vice president in 1964 because of his national popularity. A dramatic falling out came over the Vietnam war. Humphrey felt a settlement was needed to end a war that was eventually lost and presented LBJ with a memo praising the President’s skills as a negotiator. The war obsessed President was furious and locked Humphrey out of any more talks on Vietnam and belittled him at every opportunity. Doubling down on his loyalty to LBJ didn’t do Humphrey any good as he outhawked the President. His liberalism over shadowed, he lost the 1968 Presidential election to Republican Richard Nixon.

He might have done better to have followed the example of the great populist-liberal William Jennings Bryan, who resigned from a top post in government rather than approve U.S. entrance into the catastrophic First World War. Humphrey’s liberal convictions would still be unsullied and setting an example for today’s more truculent version. He showed that venom is not needed to attain liberal ends, in fact is counter productive. His was a Humphrey style search for new ideas instead of an assumption that they have already been found and must be imposed. Coercion in the realm of ideas is not liberalism. 

Living Down Below

While some builders are bringing earth skyward, others are digging below, crafting homes and even hotels partially or altogether beneath the earth. They take all kinds of shapes depending on the land that encloses them. Empty space can often suffice – an abandoned mine, quarry or even a missile site. Otherwise, excavation is needed to secure a home in a mountain or valley or even desert.

Who is that who seems to be coming mysteriously out of a hill? It’s no ghost but a human being who chooses to live where he can  hardly be seen unless he wants to appear. That’s the advantage of living below – quiet and privacy. It’s not altogether for the fainted hearted, anyone who may fear being buried alive. It takes a certain type of adventurous mortal. Roughly speaking, we know of a million underground homes, but there could be many more. We just can’t see them all.

There are distinct advantages to living underground. While excavation adds to the cost of a home, it’s matched by savings in energy – heating and cooling.  Built of durable concrete, the home below is especially desirable in areas of extreme temperatures. The insulation of the earth helps keep living conditions comfortable. Depending on how far down the structure goes, windows may not be available for sunlight, but bright lights can substitute. The location also provides protection from the hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes that periodically ravage the homes above. It’s called living with the earth instead of in opposition to it.

Not content with that, ambitious builders are contemplating entire cities beneath the earth. The plans are there. They await the execution. Meanwhile, an imposing 337-room hotel, the Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland, more appropriately known as the Deep Pit Hotel, has been constructed in an abandoned quarry near Shanghai, China. The top of eighteen floors is on a level with the earth, the lowest two are under water. Guests have a unique view of what transpires underground. This takes some getting used to, admits an hotel manager. It’s topsy-turvy with water and sewage having to go up instead of down.


Life below is not without problems. Doris James Mizbejabber has lived in a partially underground home for eighteen years near the Arkansas state capitol Little Rock. It’s been delightful, she says, but over time repairs due to location are needed. A wet spot appeared in the ceiling, and then more, forming stalactites from above – picturesque but daunting. Walls and ceilings have also suffered cracks. A variety of insects – spiders, centipedes, termites – decided to make a home there as well. The family thought it was time to sell, but the value of the house had declined. Where would they go? Why to another underground home, to be sure, but a bit more up to date.  There’s nothing like mother earth.

Parks In the Sky

One day Italian architect  Stefano Boeri was walking around fabulously wealthy Dubai and grew tired of all the glass walled buildings that distinguish the city. Too sterile to look at, he thought, and too wasteful of the energy needed to keep them livable. There must be something better, and he decided to work on it.

The result is a pair of buildings that are the talk and pride of Milan, Italy. In this heavily industrialized city they are an offering to the gods of change, beauty and energy conservation.  All 800 units in the 27-story buildings have balconies with two trees, an array of plants with birds nesting in them, all living comfortably with human occupants. It seems to be a park heading skyward that almost makes the apartments disappear, a striking contrast to the routine of the typically makeshift city.

Architect Boeri says his plan has been realized. Nature can be enjoyed in the midst of the city hubbub. Trees can help absorb pollutants, he says, and contribute to global cooling. “Bringing more trees into the city means fighting the enemy on the spot.” With renewable energy solar panels and a flittered water system sustain plant life. Once every three months three flying gardeners repel from the roof down to every apartment to prune and water the vegetation.

That sight itself is worth the price of the rent, which varies considerably from the affluent top occupants to the more affordable units down below. Boeri says he wants renters of all levels of income to have nature in their lives. A full survey of their adjustment to this new existence has yet to be made. Higher upper Simona Pozzi says how much she enjoys watching her plants change with the seasons. Instead of going out to a park she comes home to one.

Boeri has been encouraged to build even taller sky soaring parks elsewhere, and admirers are duplicating his efforts in various parts of the world. China, However, offers a note of caution. An elevated park in the city of Chengdu has lost most of its occupants because of mosquitoes swarming in and plants enveloping balconies that leave no room for humans. Maintenance is obviously lacking. Some diehards grumble that trees belong on the ground not in the air, but that increasingly is where they are to largely dazzling effect.