De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

De mortuis nil nisi bonum. (Let nothing be said of the dead but what is good).

That anonymous quotation informs most of the coverage of the death of former Sen. Eugene McCarthy and his memorial service in Washington.

There's no doubt, as a journalist wrote in the past, 'In New Hampshire, in 1968, he was a true hero of the anti-war movement." A myopic hero as well.

McCarthy had the guts to challenge a sitting President of his own party, Lyndon Johnson, for the Democratic nomination as an anti-Vietnam War candidate.

He lost the battle, but won the war. And then lost the next battle.

Although it was Johnson who actually won the primary, McCarthy got a staggering 42 percent of the vote against the incumbent President. Emboldened by that result, Robert F. Kennedy then entered the race against Johnson, and LBJ announced soon afterward that he would not run for re-election.

The New Hampshire primary results were a major factor in LBJ's decision, but McCarthy's campaign was soon eclipsed by Kennedy's.

Although McCarthy had once urged Kennedy to run against Johnson, he was resentful that Kennedy didn't announce until after McCarthy had done the dirty work.

He was even more resentful that Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a fellow liberal Minnesotan, ended up with the Democratic nomination, and he withheld support for Humphrey until very late in the campaign.

As McCarthy's campaign manager, Blair Clark, later wrote, "He put minimum pressure on Humphrey to break with LBJ and when he finally endorsed him, it was so late and so weak that it failed to win Humphrey the votes that would have elected him. So we got Nixon and years more of war." It should be noted that George McGovern, another liberal anti-war Senator, was guilty of the same lack of support for Humphrey, thus helping Nixon win.

And they greatly influenced other anti-war liberals, such as Barbara Eichenreich, who were either politically naïve or just plain stupid. They vilified Humphrey for his ties to LBJ and refused to back him without comprehending the consequences of their short-sighted actions. It was a classic case of nasalectomy.

McCarthy's New Hampshire campaign has been credited historically with making it possible for independents such as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader to run for President.

And so it was fitting that Nader was present at the memorial service for McCarthy in Washington, where nothing was said of the dead but what was good.

Just as McCarthy helped to give us Nixon, Nader was responsible in 2000 for giving us George W. Bush.

That will undoubtedly go unsaid at Nader's memorial service.