The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
NEXT month will disclose whether the Republican Party has passed or failed the probation period the voters dictated in 1952 by giving President Eisenhower a substantial majority of the popular and electoral vote while giving the Republican Party the sheerest of majorities in congress. One of three things can happen. The Republicans can fail dismally; they can pass with honors; or the result can be indecisive, meaning that the voters have extended the probationary period to four years.
It is by no means as likely now as it was in February or March that the Democrats will make sweeping gains in either the House or the Senate. Then the country appeared to be slipping into a depression. Now the economic talk is increasingly, if guardedly, optimistic. It also appeared that we would be involved in a war in Indochina, but today the Republicans can claim that they not only “stopped” the war in Korea but “kept us out of war” in Indochina.
As to the second possibility, that the Republicans will convert their hairline majorities into working majorities in both houses, some Republicans are beginning to speak of election tides and cycles. They wonder aloud whether the tide which started running in 1930 for the Democrats, which F.D.R. caught in 1932, and which then reached flood stage in 1934 and 1936, may not now be duplicating itself for the Republicans. But Washington’s faith in election cycles was shaken in 1948 when Harry Truman held the White House and snatched back Congress, after Congress had changed hands in 1946 in mid-term. Up until then it had been assumed that when one party captured Congress in an off-year election it would make a clean sweep two years later.
The other possibility is that the Congressional elections next month will not decide much of anything— reflecting the fact that the basic issues of war or peace, prosperity or depression, are still obscured as to their ultimate solutions. A consensus of Democratic hopes is that the Democrats will take the House by eight or ten seats but will be lucky to do more than hold their present 47 in the Senate. The Republicans, of course, do not agree that they will lose either house. The Democrats predict that the elections will be decided on “personalities,” while the Republicans hope that there will be sentiments of voter satisfaction which will cut across district, state, and sectional lines.
Meanwhile, a remarkably large number of Senators who have, for one reason or another, achieved national reputations will be watched with interest far beyond their states.
The Souyherners, of course, are secure. Sparkman of Alabama, Russell of Georgia, and Kefauver of Tennessee, three distinct Presidential possibilities, are “in.” So is McClellan of Arkansas, who charmed the liberals by his unintimidated bearing towards Senator McCarthy in the TV hearings. Almost alone, McClellan has brought back some of the Democratic good will of the pre-Alfred Smith era when Southern Democrats ipso facto were regarded as progressive. Similarly secure are Eastland of Mississippi, Ellender of Louisiana, Maybank of South Carolina, Lyndon Johnson of Texas, Robertson of Virginia.
On the Republican side, the list of “safe” seats is sooner exhausted. They include Margaret Chase Smith of Maine—whoso handily won her primary against a McCarthy protégé — Schoeppel of Kansas, and Bridges of New Hampshire, who shows no bruises despite publicity given to his relations with Chiang Kai-shek. Ferguson of Michigan is rated safe since the untimely death of Blair Moody.
Touch and go
But Saltonstall of Massachusetts has a race against former Representative Foster Furcolo even though the Democrats rate Fureolo as weak. And John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky will have trouble, the Capital hears, defeating Alben Barkley. In Oregon, Guy Cordon’s position was jeopardized by the Administration’s stand on public power, although his opponent, Richard L. Neuberger, has a long Republican tradition to battle against.
Democrats who will have tough fights include Douglas of Illinois, Humphrey of Minnesota, Anderson of New Mexico, Gillette of Iowa, and Murray of Montana — all, though, given an edge. Theodore Francis Green ought to be safe but he fears the McCarthy issue in heavily Catholic Rhode Island.
Both sides are hoping to pick up Senate seats in which there will be no incumbent running. Of national interest, former Representative Clifford Case is trying to stem a Democratic swing in New Jersey revealed last fall when the Democrats took the governorship. But the disclosure of former Governor Hoffman’s finagling with state funds has not eased Case’s job, despite his record of being opposed to and opposed by the gang that brought New Jersey Republicanism into disrepute.
Out West, former Senator Joseph O’Mahoney is likely to win the Wyoming seat vacated by his friend, Lester Hunt, who shot himself in his office. The Democrats also are given an edge to keep the Colorado seat Senator Ed Johnson is vacating to run for Governor. But the Republicans count on ousting Senator Burke of Ohio from the old Taft place and substituting Representative George Bender. The Republicans also are favored to retain the Nebraska seat in which Senators Griswold and Butler died.
Same old weapons
Most Democrats expect the Administration to use every economic and other aid to build Republican popularity to a peak on election day. It is similar to the old Democratic “build-up.”
“We’re being sandbagged with our own weapons,” one senior Democratic Senator puts it. Among them he ruefully named easier housing credit, more social security coverage and higher benefits, and tax cuts applied selectively where the complaints are loudest — to working mothers, parents of college students, families with high medical bills, the aged on small incomes, farmers with partner sons.
Eisenhower’s balance sheet
President Eisenhower came into office wishing to avoid contention, hoping that Congress naturally would do the needful. Towards the end of the session he was increasingly availing himself of the conventional executive means of influencing Congress, including control of patronage.
The President won on the farm bill. Next year the Republicans will have an opportunity to show whether flexing farm prices will curb government financial losses in acquiring and disposing of farm surpluses, or whether there is no choice between continuing farm gluts and the Brannan plan of apportioning production.
The new “Benson Act” contained authority to experiment for four years with direct production payments to woolgrowers so that the American product may sell at the open market price set by imported wool rather than accumulate in government warehouses. This method of subsidizing agriculture was the element in the Brannan plan that attracted most criticism, although it was not original with Secretary Brannan and was not the chief feature of his plan. Inclusion of this authority in a Republican farm bill emphasized the nonpartisan nature of the farm problem.
The President won on his tax bill. Truman and Snyder tried to get Congress to rationalize a harum-scarum accumulation of often conflicting tax laws. Congress turned them down. Eisenhower and Humphrey renewed the request for tax revision. Congress gave them most of what they wanted, and numerous taxpayers will gain.
The President won on the atomic energy bill, although the victory was clouded by an ugly fight between public and private power. The contract for no-risk, private financing of a power plant to furnish power to the AEC will dog the Republicans through the election. Underneath, solid progress was made towards opening up the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The President also won in getting Senate approval of United States participation with Canada on the St. Lawrence Seaway, and in broadening coverage under social security.
The President lost on a proposal for a modest Federal reinsurance plan to enable private health and hospitalization groups to offer meaningful coverage to persons of low income. Nobody in Washington believed the issue was dead. Continuing scandals in fly-bynight private health insurance schemes may lead to compulsory Federal health insurance unless corrected.
The President failed to get statehood for Hawaii or the franchise for 18-year-olds, and he suffered a severe setback on the reciprocal trade program. He appointed the Randall Commission to make the identical study numerous earlier commissions had made looking towards substituting trade for aid. In the end he settled for a one-year extension of the present law.
Brave talk of coming back to fight again was rendered less than convincing by executive action increasing the tariff on Swiss watches. As the fall election approached, there were warnings that Japan’s economic survival could not be counted on, and a governors’ study committee appointed to report to the President was openly suggesting that Japan trade more in the Red orbit.
Also disturbing to many was the failure to modify the concepts of superior and inferior national origins retained in the post-war MeCarran rewriting of the basic immigration law. But some temporary relief was afforded by relaxing interpretation of the short-term refugee act.
Aftermath of Indochina
As the nation faced towards November, remarkably little of an unpleasant nature was being said about the foreign situation by the Republicans at least. The memory of our close brush with war over Indochina — which responsible Senators heard was avoided only because the President chose to listen to his brother, Milton Eisenhower, in preference to official advisers — faded like an image on a television screen when the current is turned off.
Some people entertained the curious theory that since the French never formally asked us to intervene, we therefore could not have considered intervening — hence, the whole episode was an ugly dream. Along with this attempt to explain away an unpleasantness by pretending it never existed went a more wholesome interpretation. This was that Indochina represented the final break with colonialism, that henceforth our relations with the emerging independent nations of Asia and Africa would not be compromised by nineteenth-century attitudes on the part of our Western allies.
A special lesson for America herself was being read into the Indochina disaster. Many felt that the United States did not carry out “massive retaliation" because it had neglected to keep its military power in balance with its political commitments. For months, General Matthew B. Ridgway, the Army Chief of Staff, former Far East and former European commander, has been saying that the two are dangerously out of kilter and that, with the ultimate weapons canceling each other out, future wars will be decided by armed manpower. In Ridgway’s view, an army of one million men stretched from Berlin to Tokyo cannot deter aggression everywhere that we are committed to preventing it. Either decrease the tasks assigned to the Army to perform, he argues, or increase the size of the Army.
To put this view across, Ridgway has ordered the Army to wage a “dynamic” public relations campaign. But its dynamism will be considerably restrained until after the election. Then the Administration and Congress are expected to examine the Ridgway alternatives, which involve on the one hand sacrificing foreign interests and friendships, or, on the other, taking unpleasant steps in regard to stepping up the draft, cleaning the Guard and the Reserves of deadwood and draft-evaders, and getting on with civil defense and mobilization planning.
Agriculture Secretary Ezra Benson has been giving an average of two major political speeches a week, and turning down nineteen speaking invitations for each one he accepts. Mr. Benson has become the hero of the hour in Washington for having been himself all along. Nominated the first month the Republicans were in office as the cabinet officer most likely to “go,” he simply held to the view that high rigid price supports on a few politically defined basic crops, accounting for only a fraction of total farm income, are not an infallible guarantee of farm prosperity.
Proof might have been seen in the fact that, despite price supports, farm income had been falling since World War II except in the Korean flare-up. But certain Democrats almost persuaded the Republicans that Benson was a liability, until the House voted for “flexibility” and against “rigidity.” The switch disclosed the breakitp of the twenty-year coalition of Southern tobacco and cotton, Midwestern wheat, and big city labor votes.
Benson still has his problems consoling those farmers hit by the drought while rejoicing with those spared that the unevenly distributed rainfall did not make any larger surpluses. To the former he lavishly distributed a variety of disaster aids. To the latter he promised thal a substantial upturn in agricultural exports was on the way, though the figures didn’t show much of it yet. And he still was piling up more dairy surpluses than he could sell or give away. But even here, there was a cheerful note: total U.S. dairy production in early fall was running only 3 per cent above total consumption, as compared with 5 per cent last year.
Mood of the Capital
With Congress finally in adjournment, Washington could turn to noncontroversial matters such as the exciting new Air Force Academy. The city reacted approvingly to the choice of Lieutenant General Hubert R. Harmon to be the first superintendent.
A West Point contemporary of President Eisenhower and General Bradley, General Harmon plans to model the air force school on his alma mater, but borrowing also from Annapolis and from the civilian universities. Unusual emphasis for a military school will be given to the humanities. The opportunity, as General Harmon sees it, is to build from scratch an institution paralleling the other academies, which have grown by accretion from the beginnings of the American military tradition.
Great pains were taken in the search for a proper site. Selected this summer out of hundreds of proposals was a 15,000-acre tract near Colorado Springs. Here, against the backdrop ol Pike’s Peak, the Academy buildings will face eastward across the Mississippi Valley with nothing higher between them and the Alleghenies. It is a site worthy, the Air Force hopes, of training the supreme air strategists who twenty-five or thirty years from now may be called on to advise whether or not to use the ultimate weapons of that day. General Harmon wants to give the Academy a good start towards training young men for that kind of role.