On Nov. 17, last - two of the more amiable losers in history met for an evening of mutual comfort and cheer.
Gerald Ford, the host, was still hurt by the vote two weeks before. Hubert Humphrey, the guest, was still weak from a cancer operations six weeks before.
Together with their wives, they talked in the White House for 3 1/2 hours, over drinks, dinner and coffee. Just the four of them, two old politicians from opposite parties who had gone far but not far enough, two women who had gone with them.
"Just remember." said Humphrey, the unsinkable student of disappointment to Ford, the only President never elected on a national ticket. "You've made your place in history. You restored decency and honor to this house. You gave the American people a reason to believe once again intheir government.
The President nodded gratefully. Humphrey got to his clincher:
"Mr. President, you've had 2 1/2 years in this house. I'd have given 10 years of my life to have two days or two weeks here. It was a heartache of my life."
Telling this story the other day, the senator from Minnesota said he thought Gerald Ford felt good after that evening. "I know I did," he said.
As every student of Hubert Horatio Humphrey knows, there is almost nothing in the whole wide world that leaves him without reason to feel good.
He looks awful. He feels good. He had cancer. He could get it again. He remains an optimist. He comes back from death's door with new perspectives, new reasons to feel good.
A man not easily irritated, he is irritated by people who insist on thinking he is dying. The surgery in October removed all the cancer the doctors could "see, feel or microscopically examine." His prognosis was "very good." But, it could hit again, any time, "like a dagger in the night." Therefore, he gets preventime chemotheraphy, with a resultant loss of weight and hair, which gives him an alarming appearance but did not deter him from dancing the other night at a party of his friend and protege, Vice President Mondale.
His brush with cancer was a frightening trauma. Humphrey says, but it also evolved into a "spiritual experience." In the hospital in New York, he received a great outpouring of affection and concern, 50,000 letters, a message from the Pope, visits from Ford and Terence Cardinal Cooke. He was told there were whole congregations in churches and synagogues, at home and abroad, praying for him.
"And I want to tell you, my friend. I could feel it, actually feel it. It came to me with a great surge of healing. I could feel it in my body, the warmth, the friendship, the prayers. It was really like a healing balm. I know it sounds almost irrational. I can't explain it, but I knew something was happening to me and I was getting strength from it."