The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
THE Capital has gone through one of its busiest, perhaps one of its most important, summers in many a year. After the fall-winter-spring tensions of a presidential election and the twin crises of Suez and Hungary and their aftermaths, it had looked as though Washington could count on Congress leaving town by the Fourth of July and some catching up by the bureaucrats on long overdue accumulated vacation leave. But it turned out otherwise.
On the home front, the Senate conducted a historic civil rights debate. Chiefly because of Senator Know land’s decision that the time had come to try to break the venerable Northern RepublicanSouthern Democrat coalition — a decision fully supported by the Eisenhower Administration — it at last became possible to pass a civil rights bill. And on the foreign front, the Great Kremlin Purge in the midst of the most serious disarmament talks in a decade conjured up new problems and new possibilities from which there was no escape for the President, the State Department, the Pentagon, and other sectors of the Administration.
The eventual results flowing from these two major areas of activity this summer will be a long time unfolding. But as the Labor Day holiday approached, some trends were discernible here in Washington. The Senate civil rights debate demonstrated a number of changes in the attitude of the white American majority toward the Negro minority ninety-five years after Lincoln’s proclamation freed the slaves.
The Negro’s right to vote
The vast bulk of white Americans believe that the Negro is just as entitled to the ballot as they are; that the extent to which the Negro already has used the ballot makes it impossible any longer to deny a further spread of the franchise even in the deep South.
The ballot is the best weapon by which the Negro can close the gap of economic opportunity which exists between himself and the white majority; hence civil rights legislation to further the Negro’s right to vote will meet the Negro’s demands on economic matters more fully but at the same time more gradually than would attempts to alter the Southern pattern by other federal legislation.
The Supreme Court has spoken with finality against public school segregation, the central issue of social equality as well as of educational opportunity; the federal courts under the Supreme Court doctrine of “all deliberate speed" in the school cases are trying to move forward in ways which can be accepted over the years by the majority of Southern whites, current statements by leaders of the generation now in power to the contrary notwithstanding.
Finally, the Negro’s gains over the last decade or so and the obvious extension of those gains day by day have begun to isolate the hard core of resistance in the Old South of the Confederacy; Senator Byrd’s call for “massive resistance" to the Supreme Court may still be the will of the white majority from Virginia to Georgia and Louisiana, but it is recognized as both impossible and foolish in the selfinterest of the white majority in peripheral areas encompassing much of Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Florida.
That politics has played a major role—the GOP has hopes of capturing the allegiance of the Negro voter and thus becoming the majority party once again — is granted by all sides in Washington. But this is not in itself inherently evil. Politics, in the good sense of the word, is the method for the interplay of forces in a democracy which makes possible the constant alteration of relationships between all the segments of so disparate a society as that of the United States, in social, economic, philosophical, and other terms as well as in racial differences.
Time to act
The weeks of Senate jockeying and the attitude of the Southerners demonstrated that the Senate this time was going to act. The question became how far, how fast. Republican Senator Aiken put it with some heat after one GOP caucus, “Some of these people don’t want a civil rights bill. They want a campaign issue for 1958 and 1960.”But the “some” to whom he referred in the GOP, added to the comparable group among Northern Democrats, formed only one fringe of the Senate, the fringe opposite to the hard-core Southerners. In between was the majority, men on both sides of the party aisle, who in their hearts and minds were prepared to take only a modest step forward on civil rights.
The Southerners, under the able command of Georgia’s Russell, second in seniority in the Senate, knew that Knowland’s decision to force through a bill gave them only one realistic line of approach — to plead, cajole, and maneuver for the most acceptable bill they could get. The extremists such as Eastland of Mississippi would have preferred to filibuster to the end of time against any legislation. But the more realistic Southerners knew, and their opponents led by Knowland, Douglas of Illinois, and Humphrey of Minnesota also knew, that they did not have the physical ability to hold out around the clock for weeks on end.
And so under Russell’s command, and with his skill at parliamentary maneuver, the Southerners fought for the best they could get. They spoke against the whole bill for the record, and out of a sincere belief that indeed the Southern “way of life” was threatened. But they knew the nation would condemn them as a small group of willful men if they resorted to an all-out filibuster. And they knew, as the first roll call showed, that they could no longer count, for instance, on either Texas or Tennessee in any such total opposition.
The battle thus came down to the right to vote issue. The President’s public comments helped, for his own attitude of moderation matched that of the middle bloc of the Senate across the center aisle. How far the outcome will go in spreading the franchise in the South will not be clear for a long time. But the outcome does demonstrate that great gains are being made by the Negro in America.
The Kremlin Purge
In the foreign field, the forces in movement have been harder to pinpoint than those at home. There has been a lot of disagreement here in Washington as to what the triumph of Khrushchev in the Kremlin Purge may presage either for the Soviet masses or for the peace of the world.
The majority view, accepted by the policy makers from the President and Secretary Dulles on down, has been that Khrushchev will have to go on with his “liberalization” within the Soviet Union — that he will have to grant more and more to the consuming public. His talk of catching up with the United States in per capita production of meat, milk, and butter and the post-purge announcement that on January 1 forced deliveries from the farmers’ private plots are to be canceled both sounded more like Western election promises than the normal Communist ukase from on high.
The “yeast of change,” as Dulles once put it, is certainly at work inside the Soviet Union. The big question as seen from Washington is: change to what ? How can a Communist society evolve? In economic terms, Soviet Russia’s evolution often appears to be toward what we would call state capitalism. But that sort of thing was also the Fascist ideal. The hard question revolves around the political evolution of Soviet Communism.
There are no precedents and few guideposts with which to judge political evolution. The Yugoslavs, who lobby incessantly with the Americans to ease East-West tensions so that the evolution may proceed inside the Soviet Union, can only visualize “more democracy ” as the end product. But they have not solved the problem themselves inside Yugoslavia.
Those who see the Communist political dogma crumbling in the Soviet Union often visualize a day when the choice will be chaos or a military dictatorship, a sort of Soviet Bonapartism. For this reason, among others, the role of the Red Army in the purge of Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, and their allies has been the center of intense study here. But the facts are at present too elusive to make firm judgments, Washington wants to see what role Marshal Zhukov will playin the new Khrushchev-packed fifteen-member Presidium.
The choices before us
As fall approaches, the Eisenhower Administration has some hard choices to make in the way it approaches Soviet-American relations. The United States is committed to a full debate at the United Nations General Assembly on the five-nation report on the Hungarian Revolution — a report which details the determination of the Soviet Union’s current leadership (purge or no purge) to hold on to every inch of the Soviet orbit.
Yet at the same time the United States has been earnestly searching, despite some doubters and even saboteurs of presidential policy within the Administration, for an agreement on disarmament with the Soviets. As the two sides have come closer, on paper at least, to an agreement, the risk of failure has grown greater.
One Administration official has posed the problem as a question: Which candle are we playing for? Hungary was a hideous Soviet crime and we must do what we can spread its shattering effect 1o every nook and cranny of Communism around the globe. But in actual fact we can do nothing to reverse the events in Hungary itself.
The long-run hope is in the evolution of the Soviet Union and the Communist orbit. And a major way to speed that evolution is to remove the tensions on which the Soviet leadership has so often in the past depended as an excuse to deny those under its control the good things in life which they so obviously want. Any arms agreement now within the realm of possibility would not alter the East-West balance of power or eliminate today’s mutual deterrence stance. But it would relieve pressures on the other side of the Iron Curtain and aid the “yeast of change.”
As to the effect on the Western world of such an agreement, the argument goes, we are surely not so naïve as to take it as a signal to lower our guard and throw our weapons into the sea. If we fear such results, then democracy is indeed in a bad way.
The majority Administration view is that Khrushchev is a pragmatist but at the same time given to quick judgments and decisions. Some consider that the elimination of the Presidium give-and-take and compromise which so clearly marked the first four and a half years after Stalin’s death puts too much power in the hands of one man. Some refer to Khrushchev & Co., post purge, as “the harum scarum boys.” Obviously, we must tread carefully until we see how Khrushchev will react now that he is more of a power in his own right — and until we see what sort of restraints, if any, Zhukov and the military will exercise.
Mood of the Capital
Polities, in the sense of jockeying for the next election, has of course been uppermost in Washington minds as the Congress debated civil rights. But many other votes have brought such mixed party lines — those on foreign aid in both Senate and House for example — that the first session of the 84th Congress has often appeared to have momentarily forgotten the 1958 elections.
Foreign policy bipartisanship had some rough going during the arguments early this year on the Eisenhower Middle East doctrine. Senate Democratic whip Mike Mansfield, the scholarly Montanan, recently called for “ tripartisanship" — coöperation not only between the two parties in Congress but between the executive and the legislative branches.
This is indeed a sore subject with many Democrats, especially in the Senate. Dulles’ handling of foreign policy suggestions put forward in speeches by Democratic senators has often been inept. When Majority Leader Johnson called for an “open curtain" of contacts between East and West, Dulles congratulated him on accepting the Administration’s policy. When Mansfield suggested, rather foolishly, that Dulles visit Eastern Europe, the Secretary gave it a flat turndown instead of welcoming the idea of getting more information about the satellites. And when Senator Kennedy jumped the French over Algeria and called on the United States to back independence for Algeria, Dulles slapped the idea publicly and let it be known privately that he ascribed the whole thing to Kennedy’s obvious presidential ambitions.
There was a tangle over Dulles’ request, later withdrawn, to send senators to London for the disarmament talks, the net result of which was to leave a bad taste at the Capitol. Dulles ended up by sending batches of secret cables to the Senate disarmament subcommittee. But that is no substitute; few have the time to read them, and even fewer the desire to take any step which might result in enmeshing them in Administration policy.