ST. PAUL -- It was supposed to be a forum about the struggle of third parties in a dominant two-party political system. Instead, the discussion frequently turned toward war.
That tends to happen when Eugene McCarthy is around.
Last month, the former Minnesota senator and anti-war presidential candidate predicted that the United States wouldn't attack Iraq. On Sunday, he shook his head.
"I'm not clear as to what a pre-emptive strike means," McCarthy said. "I don't think we should call it a war. It's kind of a police action."
McCarthy, whose 1968 Democratic presidential campaign helped galvanize opposition to the Vietnam War, has been a staunch opponent of war in Iraq and believes it's the result of a military and political system run amok.
The military industry has become too big and its influence on politicians -- Republican and Democrat -- too strong, McCarthy said. He compared President Bush to the Romans, who, he said, attacked northern Africa because they needed something to do.
"Bush has found a cause," said McCarthy, who turns 87 Saturday.
More than 100 people attended Sunday's event, titled "A Threat to Democracy: The Tyranny of the Two Party System," at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul. Dean Barkley, the independent senator who recently finished the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's term, also participated.
In 1968, an 18-year-old Barkley became inspired by McCarthy. "You got me motivated to get off my butt and get involved," he told McCarthy.
McCarthy, who lives just outside Washington in Virginia, has written more than a dozen books, as well as essays and poetry. He's currently at work on a book critical of the two-party system.
After 1968, McCarthy ran for president several times, most recently as an independent in 1992.
McCarthy, renowned for speaking his mind and dishing out quips, blamed President Bush for using religion to wage his war. "This is a faith-based war," McCarthy said. "The worst thing is faith-based religion."
Regarding terrorism, McCarthy said Americans should look no further than themselves. The United States terrorized black people for 200 years and, later, other countries with its nuclear capability.
Of course, no McCarthy appearance would be complete without a few barbs.
On Gerald Ford: "Ford was a good fellow, he wasn't too complicated."
On Richard Nixon: "Money couldn't hurt him. What do you want? A pure Richard Nixon?"
On the religious right: "It's hard to judge these people because they're all reborn."
On himself: "I've been saying everything for 10 years -- at least."
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