The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
AS HIS second term began, President Eisenhower had the aura of a man determined that America shall play an historic role in world affairs these coming four years. His inaugural address and the first press conference following the inauguration Conveyed a great sense of conviction as he declared that “everything fades to unimportance" before his threefold goal of a closer-knit and stronger free World, better understanding with the Russian government, and finally, trustworthy agreements with the Soviet Union.
The presidential jaw was firmly set as he cast aside the Fortress America concept and pronounced the sweeping belief which dominates him: “We recognize and accept our own deep involvement in the destiny of men everywhere.”Washington said a quiet “Amen" to these sentiments and then settled back to the ceaseless struggle to find internal agreement on how to cope with that involvement.
Eisenhower’s way of conducting the presidency has evolved in the past four years as he has moved away from the textbook simplicity of three coequal branches of government to an understanding of the apex upon which the Chief Executive may stand. In a land fat with prosperity beyond the dreams of almost all the rest of mankind, his task is immense. He has to rally Americans behind what he termed a “readiness to assume burdens and. where necessary, to assume risks to preserve the peace.”
But Americans have never failed to respond to clear and reasoned leadership once they understood the necessity and were convinced of the soundness of the course they were called upon to follow. Many in the Capitol remain unconvinced that the President will do all that he must to carry through toward his great goals. Yet his words, his tone, his expression, tend to make one believe he will make a far greater effort in his second term than in his first. Perhaps the fact that no one will be pressing him to run again accounts for the new sense of freedom of action one perceives in Eisenhower. But even as the constitutional bar to a third term relieves him of that pressure, it already has opened the floodgates of politics for and the struggle for position has begun in both political parties.
Senate Republican Leader William F. Knowland, by his announced intention to quit the Senate and his assumed intention to run for the California governorship as a While House springboard, has ensured four years of active politicking for the GOP. Knowland is likely to attract much of the old Taft wing of his party. On the other hand Republicans who back Eisenhower’s concept of “modern Republicanism" will find themselves choosing Vice President Nixon as the more likely of the two Californians to carry on the President’s concept despite Nixon’s close political associations with the Taft wing.
The verdict in the Capitol is unanimous that Nixon is a shrewd politician, though the widespread belief continues that his principles shift with the prevailing winds. The most discussed case in point was his pronouncement at the beginning of the 85th Congress on the Senate’s Rule XXII which makes the filibuster possible. Senator Humphrey, the liberal Democrat who asked Nixon for what turned out to be a strong anti-filibuster verdict, confessed later that he had taken “a calculated risk" in making the inquiry on the Senate floor. And when a newsman asked Humphrey whether his query might not have the result of making Nixon the next President, the Senator replied: “You know, you might possibly be right.”
The Negro vote
Those who have analyzed the l956 election returns are convinced that the figures demonstrate beyond doubt the important inroads the GOP made into the Negro vote in the big electoral vote states of the North and even in the South. Nixon played a big role in courting that vote, and his opinion against the filibuster Rule XXII will certainly raise his stock. This is nolt to deny that his ruling does make a great deal of sense regardless of its political implications.
Despite the fact that the effort to change the rules by writing a new set at the beginning of each Congress failed by a 55 to 36 vote, the Nixon ruling put Knowland on the political spot. His bitterness at Nixon was hardly concealed and he then immediately joined with the Senate’s Democratic Leader, Lyndon Johnson, to offer a less binding rule which would permit a curb on unlimited debate. But Nixon had stolen the GOP political thunder on the civil rights issue.
The Johnson move, both what he did publicly and what it now turns out he had done privately, is at the center of the Democratic political dilemma. As things stand, the Negro voter by and large appears convinced that it is the Democrats who prevent any legislative help in his race’s striving for a better share in American democracy. The Democrats get nowhere by retorting that the rules change was defeated by 28 Republican votes compared with 27 Democratic votes, or that 21 Democrats, and only 17 Republicans, voted for the change the Negro voter wanted.
The Negro voter, and the white voter too, who feels strongly on the subject, sees only Mississippi’s Senator Eastland blocking the door of his powerful Judiciary Committee and backed by Southern Democrats determined to filibuster any civil rights legislation.
Senator Johnson Alters His Attack
But things are changing and the 85th Congress is very likely to surprise the nation before this session ends next summer. The reason is that Johnson, pushed by the liberals and aware of the effect the outcome will have on his own place in history, has altered his tack. His joining with Knowland to sponsor a rule to permit an end to debate by a simple twothirds Senate vote of those present and voting (instead of two thirds of the entire Senate — that is, 64 of the 96 members) is the outward sign.
Johnson, however, went further. At a meeting of the Southern Democrats in January, he flatly told them either they must agree to the new two-thirds rule (which also means giving an unlimited debate in discussing any rules change before a vote is taken) or they would eventually have majority cloture rammed down their throats. Johnson argued that the Southerners could not go on sustaining Rule XXII when the Constitution says the Senate can remove an impeached President from office on a two-thirds vote of Senators present. And he warned them that the Republicans, despite the vote this time on the rules change, will be forced by political necessity to swing more and more toward a rules change and civil rights legislation.
The Southerners realize, and some of them will admit it privately, that they cannot sustain a filibuster against the rules change if the Johnson-Knowland Senate leadership gives the signal for an all-out try to break their resistance.
The civil rights Package
Will Johnson and Knowland give the signal for the try? The word in Washington is yes, if no foreign catastrophe intervenes. But the tactic is to hold off on the rules change until after the moderate civil rights package asked by the President and passed last year by the House is put before the Senate. It is not impossible, indeed, that the two issues will be intertwined if the Southerners sense that they had better beat a strategic retreat to avoid catastrophe, Capitol Hill observers think the civil rights package will be jammed through the Senate this time with KnowlandJohnson support. The filibuster test thus may actually come on this measure.
The outcome of these related struggles, a good many Democrats feel, will have a major bearing on Democratic chances to capture the White House once their candidate does not have to run against the unconquerable Eisenhower. But more and more Republicans believe that the major credit for the Eisenhower civil rights package and a rules change will go to the GOP.
The answer may turn out to lie in what the Eisenhower Administration does with the limited powers it will obtain if the civil rights bill passes. The extent to which the Administration might probe into denial of Negro Noting rights in the South, for example, could be all-important. The President’s determination is to take a moderate course. But he has demonstrated by the Justice Department’s intervention in the Clinton, Tennessee, school desegregation case that there are circumstances under which he is prepared to use federal power on the side of the Negro.
The Democrats’ “committee”
The Democratic effort to set up an advisory committee of party leaders outside Congress did not die a-borning, notwithstanding many reports to the contrary. The committee doubtless will fall far short of being a party directorate in the British manner, but it very likely will act as a spur to the Johnson-Bayburn leadership in Congress. Johnson’s swing on the filibuster issue already is, in part at least, a tribute to the pressures exerted by the advisory group of elder statesmen and up-and-coming younger governors.
Jockeying for political position is now well under way on the new effort to enact a federal school-aid measure. The farm problem, including the pressing drought, continues, however, to defy party lines though the Democrats, encouraged by the increase in the Note for their congressional candidates in the area west of the Mississippi, will work harder for the farmer in the hope that he will remember their efforts in 1958.
Humphrey’s strong comments
On the question of the stability of the American economy the unexpected eruption from Treasury Secretary George Humphrey fold quite a bit. Neither the President nor Humphrey was happy at submitting a record peacetime budget to Congress, and in effect each invited Congress to use the scissors. But Humphrey broke with the President by his strong comments against deficit financing if and when there is a recession.
Long ago Eisenhower declared he would “enlist all the resources of the federal government” to prevent another Great Depression. Then he was trying to assure those who feared that a return to power of Republicanism would lead to depression. But the new budget, with all its manifestations of the continued upward cost of the American welfare state, is testimony that his “modern Republicanism” would hew close to Democratic deficit financing if the inflation bubble were to burst with a resounding bang. Eisenhower made this clear again after the Humphrey remarks.
Humphrey’s attitude will bear watching in the new Administration for signs of Eisenhower thinking in the important foreign aid field. Humphrey has lost a key lieutenant in the departure of Herbert Hoover, Jr., and his struggle to hold down foreign spending may become more acute if Secretary Dulles attempts to win presidential approval for a larger program in the Middle East and Asia.
The Eisenhower Doctrine
The fate of the so-called Eisenhower Doctrine was never in doubt at the Capitol from the moment the first leaks appeared in the press. Democrats, and some Republicans too, were angry at the way it was done; they sniped at the details, especially the economic phase. But, except for the dwindling old-style isolationists, the Senators and Representatives accepted the necessity of voting substantially what the President asked.
It is worth saying a word about the leak. Dulles appeared to feel he had a choice. He could put the plan up to the congressional leaders in secret as he had done with the intervention proposal in the Indochina crisis. But in that case both Democrats and Republicans quickly thought up excuses for not giving him a “yes,”and in the end the whole effort collapsed. The Middle East case is of course quite different, but the tactical problem was similar. Dulles chose the alternative of the leak at the cost of a delay in the passing of the resolution.
Skepticism about the Eisenhower plan has been widespread at the Capitol. No one really disputes the contention that it might help deter the Russians from an overt attack. But almost all the Senators and Representatives who were vocal kept reiterating that the plan would do nothing to solve the area’s internal problems — above all, the Arab-Israeli dispute.
The best the President and Dulles could promise was that it might “create a better climate.”The Middle East is a jumble of complexities, and the potential for solution often appears to turn more on liming than on substance. Yet Dulles’s propensity for the wrong step or the wrong word at the wrong time is too well known to inspire much confidence.
At least the congressional hearings and debates brought out general agreement that the United States must try to solve the Middle East’s internal tangles. The niggardly response to the request for some economic tools for the job was indicative of the lack of faith in the chances for success.