Hubert Humphrey would have loved the film about him. It showed him doing what he did best, which was talking, and what he did almost as well, which was inspiring people to believe in his country and his party.
There is not much inspiration here, at the Democratic Party convention of 1980, and the 15-minute filmed tribute to Humphrey shown here tonight was a bittersweet effort to dredge up some of what has been lost.
"Open the Gates! The Vision Hubert H. Humphrey," the film was called. The title was from a Humprhrey line familiar to those who remember the civil rights bills of the 1960s and Humphrey's unsuccessful 1968 campaign against Richard Nixon.
"And what Lincoln was trying to teac us," Humphrey said, "was that we must open the gates of opportunity, that it wasn't good enough just to have some of us who have a chance."
It was not Humphrey's best line, either in the film or in life. His best line in the film was from the first of seven Democratic national conventions of 1948 when then-Minneapolis-Mayor Humphrey led the civil rights forces with these words: "The time has come in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights."
The speech provoked a walkout from the convention that the film doesn't mention, a walkout of southerners whose view of civil rights was different from Jimmy Carter's. Many who heard the Humphrey speech were moved to stay with the Democratic Party and its uphill incumbent winner that year -- Harry Truman. And in the next six conventions Humphrey was a vital figure whose words and ideas moved his fellow Democrats to action.
Humphrey no doubt would have appreciated the way his words were used tonight. He was a partisan man who preferred excess to subtlety, a self-styled happy warrior who was never happier than when champaigning against a Republican presidential nominee.
Tonight, from the grave, Humphrey's words were used as clues to the themes that will be employed against Ronald Reagan in a campaign in which onetime Humphrey protege Walter Mondale will have a leading role.
While a voice describes Humphrey as "a passionate advocate of arms control," a nuclear explosion ensues on screen, reminiscent of a celebrated commercial the Johnson-Humphrey campaign used against Barry Goldwater in 1964.
A little while later, Humphrey is credited with discovering, in 1958, the break between the Soviet Union and China. He speaks these words: "We are going to be faced with this tension and cold war for years to come. We're going to have to learn how to take it and not get panicky and not get overly emotional."
Humphrey, however, was an emotional man. And his high-pitched reedy voice sounded oddly out of place tonight in this era of the passionless presidency.
Humphrey describes the failure to use America's food to feed the hungry of the world as "immoral, indecent and politically unconscionable," Humphrey says his vision of America is of a nation "united and free of violent dissension, and free of bigotry, the poison of the soul, and free of illiteracy, and free of fear and hate."
There also are a lot of passionate words of praise from Humphrey about Democratic presidents.
Franklin Roosevelt saved the Humphrey home and "made the presidency an intimate institution with the people." Truman "told it like it is." John Kennedy uplifed the American spirit. Lyndon Johnson was "a progressive whose patron saint was the late and beloved" Roosevelt.
And what does this film have to say about the present president of the United States, the soon-to-be-renominated Jimmy Carter?
"I like to work with the president," Humphrey is quoted as saying shortly before his death. "He's very easy for me to talk to and I personally find him an appealing man. Carter has personally encouraged us to speak frankly, and I tell you, he sure gets a lot of frank talk."
This was no doubt the highest praise that filmmaker William Connell could find his former boss lavishing on Carter.
In 1976 during the Wisconsin primary, Carter repeatedly described Humphrey as "a chronic loser," and when the tired and weary Humphrey finally called it quits in his quest for the presidency by declining to enter the New Jersey primary, Carter said he wished Humphrey would have entered so he could have defeated him.
Carter is quoted differently tonight, as the film attempts to create retrospective unity.
"When he first visited me in the Oval Office, I felt he should have served there," Carter says solemnly.
At a convention that has been notably short on inspiration, a lot of people in the Democratic Party would agree.