The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

THE great political debate of the first session of the 85th Congress, as it turned out, was not over who gained the most in the economy drive or in arguments over national defense. It was, and is, which party, Republican or Democratic, gained politically from the civil rights tussle. The answer can only be demonstrated at the polls in 1958 and in 1960.

Two points which emerged in the Senate consideration of the civil rights measure appear to have the greatest political importance. As to the Democrats, Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson unquestionably kept his party from being torn apart on the Senate floor. As to the Republicans, Minority Leader William Knowland led the vast bulk of them to vote for a stronger civil rights bill (in terms of the political wishes of the Negro leaders and the white liberal organizations), while almost all the Democrats took the other side.

It is clear enough that what Johnson did was a brilliant piece of craftsmanship in the art of leading a party so deeply divided on this issue as are the Democrats. It is clear enough, too, that this was the only sensible thing for him to do in terms of the 49 men who make up the Senate Democrats. It is, however, open to question whether his victory over Knowland and President Eiscnhower on the crucial jury trial amendment did not put the Democratic party in the position of having done less for the Negro than did the Republicans.

Most of Washington initially tended to feel that Knowland might have lost a battle but won a war on the jury trial amendment. For it is widely known that no civil rights bill had passed the Senate since Reconstruction days until a Republican President in the White House and a Republican leader in the Senate, even though in a technical minority, went to bat for it. The President’s seesaw attitude on the bill may have damaged his reputation momentarily. But after all, only a Republican President’s signature could make a civil rights bill law.

Unquestionably the GOP will be out with the loudest trumpets all across those states in which the Negro vote is of growing importance, key states with big blocs of electoral votes in presidential election years. The Democrats are likely to find themselves on the defensive in the North, Midwest, and West. The target of opportunity for developing the Republican Party in the South appears to have disappeared for the time being at least.


Through the bulk of the weeks of Senate debate, Johnson managed to create the impression of serious discussion by the Democrats of the merits of the legislation. He restrained the racial extremists such as Eastland of Mississippi. More important, he convinced the Southern leader, Russell of Georgia, that a bill would pass in the end and therefore it was in the Southern interest to stick to the merits and fight for the best bill possible from the Southern senatorial viewpoint. This Russell did brilliantly.

Russell and Company, of course, did not want any bill. But it was made clear to them in the cloakrooms, sometimes subtly, sometimes bluntly, that if the Southerners indulged in a filibuster to prevent any bill the filibuster would be broken. Senators from the border states were prepared to vote to break a filibuster once the jury trial amendment was accepted. When Russell learned that Tennessee’s Albert Gore was one of this group, he knew he must avoid a filibuster, and that he did by exercising his great powers of persuasion, aided by Johnson, on the extremists.

But there was another and perhaps conclusive argument which prevailed against the filibuster. To break such a talkathon under present Senate rules takes the votes of 64 senators, two thirds of the Senate membership. Russell and his colleagues knew that it was within the realm of possibility to run up such a vote against them. They were flatly warned that if cloture on debate by 64 votes failed, the strategy would shift to forcing a change in the Senate rules back to cloture by two thirds of those present and voting, a far easier margin to obtain.

The Southern choice thus was reduced to (a) avoiding a filibuster and permitting passage of a limited civil rights bill with the hope that it might die in a struggle between the Senate and House versions, or (b) blocking any civil rights bill but risking the probability of a knockdown, drag-out fight leading to a liberalization of the cloture rule. For the 64-vote rule, which now continues to stand, is the ultimate Southern protection against further civil rights legislation of a far more sweeping character than any considered this year, of the type Harry Truman demanded but never could bring to the Senate floor.

In the last days of Senate consideration of the bill, a good many Democrats were convinced that it was Knowland’s hope that the Southerners would indulge in a filibuster. At least this argument was used as an added persuader on Russell and his colleagues to let the measure pass. The assumption — never conceded, of course, by Knowland or the Republicans — was that the GOP would have loved to see the Democrats in a rip-roaring party fight.

Once the Senate did approve the measure and the fate of the legislation passed to the House, politics came out into the open far more than it had in the Senate. Top GOP House leaders were freely telling newspaper reporters that they had no intention of saving the Democrats by backing down and accepting the Senate version, even with a proffered limitation on the jury trial amendment.

Johnson, evidently quick to learn that Vice President Nixon was the “top Administration leader” quoted in some news stories as saying the President would veto the bill if it came to him as passed by the Senate, pounced on Nixon with political fury. Nixon had, in fact, been making such statements. He also had said that the President would sign the measure if the jury trial were limited to criminal contempt cases involving voting alone.

All the House Republican maneuvers were designed to force the Democrats to acknowledge “concession” to the GOP. They were done not so much to strengthen the bill as to loosen the Democratic label the Senate had placed on the measure. These political shenanigans, however, became so intricate that they did little if anything to settle the big question — which party will get the political credit for a civil rights bill when the voters next go to the polls?


The day before President Eisenhower formally appointed Neil H. McElroy, the Cincinnati soapcompany president, as the new Defense Secretary, an Administration official who sits at the National Security Council table was discussing what lies ahead for the new cabinet officer.

“He is going to have the toughest job of all,” this man said. “It will be even tougher than Secretary Dulles’ job unless State gets us into some sort of jam. It will be far more important than the Treasury post, for the new Secretary of the Treasury [Robert Anderson, who had just succeeded George Humphrey] isn’t going to be as important as his predecessor.”

There is good reason to accept this judgment. Whether McElroy can measure up to the job, however, is something Washington probably will not be able to tell for many a month. But what he does, or doesn’t, do could turn out to be the most important news of the remainder of the second Eisenhower Administration.

The task facing McElroy is simply this: to devise a new military doctrine and to create the military forces necessary to carry it out in the light of the changed and changing nuclear facts of life and the nature of the Communist threat.


As of the day McElroy was appointed, the facts were these: the State Department under Dulles had slowly altered its thinking, moving away from the instant, massive retaliation doctrine of 1953 toward graduated deterrence and acceptance of the need for and the possibility of limited wars, even limited nuclear wars. Dulles had reached the point of accepting the idea of limited nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union or between their respective “seconds" — provided each thought that the alternative of extension of such a conflict into a global war was unacceptable. This is a major landmark in Dulles’ thinking.

What led Dulles to this position was the development of both the socalled “small" tactical nuclear weapons and of the “relatively clean" nuclear weapons, scientific events which offer the possibility of limiting war to the battlefield in contrast to the mass destruction of the multimegaton “dirty" hydrogen bombs on which the doctrine of massive retaliation was based.

A second factor pressing in the same direction is the budget problem. It is now generally accepted in Washington that unless a new politico-military doctrine is developed and unless the current fratricidal struggle among the military services for money with which to develop rival weapons is ended, the military budget will skyrocket. The most conservative estimates are that within two years, if present conditions continue, the Pentagon budget will rise from the current $36 billion level by at least another S10 billion to around $46 billion a year.

How thoroughly Dulles is convinced that the changing weapons will affect East-West strategies is shown by the private talk he had in London in August with Valerian Zorin, the Soviet delegate at the disarmament conference there.

Dulles told Zorin that unless there was an agreement which clearly made a major war less likely it would be better for both sides to go ahead and refine nuclear weapons, both in size and “cleanliness.” Then, said Dulles, if war should come, at least it would be possible to avoid the use of the mass destruction weapons. Dulles’ point in saying this to Zorin was to convince the Soviets that the United States simply would not agree to end nuclear testing unless there was an agreement to end the production of fissionable materials for weapons use — a step designed to arrest the arms race and to prevent any additional nations from going into the nuclear arms business.


There is very good reason to believe that Dulles’ views here described are also those of the President. The problem lies in the fact that there had been an increasing gulf between the Dulles views and those at the Pentagon under the regime of Secretary Wilson and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Arthur W. Radford. The McElroy appointment, coming as it did at the time Radford was being replaced by General Twining, thus is highly important.

From State’s view, it has been Admiral Radford’s determination to stick to the mass weapons of destruction and his refusal to see the problems as State sees them which have blocked creation of the necessary new doctrine. Radford’s position had been buttressed by Wilson’s concentration on procurement problems alone and by the traditional service rivalries and views, among them the dogma, as once stated by General MacArthur, that in war there “can be no substitute for victory.”

According to informed Administration officials, Eisenhower sought a new Defense Secretary who not only could handle procurement (hence he wanted another businessman) but who also could tackle the doctrinal problem. Departing Secretary Wilson, fortunately for McElroy, took care of the unpleasant chore of chopping down the existing military machine to fit the new budget levels set by Congress — cuts in manpower, moth-balling of naval vessels, stretch-outs in aircraft procurement, and so on. The deck thus is relatively clear for McElroy to tackle the main job.