The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
on the World Today
THIS year,” said Adlai Stevenson in his first speech after a long visit to Latin America, “we will be making a choice between two approaches. We shall have to decide whether to go on putting private consumption first or shift the first priority to our public needs.” In looking forward to the presidential campaign between the two men who will be nominated at the national conventions in July, the big question is whether Stevenson is right in his appraisal.
The point of elections in a democracy is to permit the public to pass on the record of those who have held the public trust and to choose between candidates on the basis of their promises to perform if elected. This, of course, is the ideal. As everyone knows, personalities often dominate issues and issues often are twisted out of all recognition in the heat of a campaign. But there is no other way in a democracy, and 1960 is no exception.
President Eisenhower continues to be immensely popular. Yet there is a disquiet in the land, a feeling that the United States is losing its supremacy abroad and is not meeting the problems of its expanding population at home. Everyone is for peace and prosperity; the problem for the presidential candidates is how to articulate these issues between July and November.
On the peace issue, a great deal will depend on events outside the United States, most specifically on the acts and attitudes of the Soviet Union and Communist China. But as to prosperity — meaning all our internal well-being — a great deal can be done by the candidates themselves to put the issues before the electorate. A presidential election offers the only opportunity for soul-searching on a national basis, as compared with congressional elections, in which state and local considerations generally are dominant.
Vice President Nixon, as the probable Republican nominee, cannot wander far from the spirit and the record of the two Eisenhower Administrations of which he has been a part. He can give the Republican philosophy a forward look and most certainly will. But fundamentally, he must operate on the thesis that America today is basically in a conservative mood; that while the nation wants and needs change, the changes must be gradual to the point of being conservative; that they must involve a minimum of federal action, lest the nation be run entirely from Washington.
Whoever gets the Democratic nomination will take his stand toward the liberal side of this Nixon philosophy. The degree of the difference and the extent of the articulation of differences wlil naturally depend on the nature of the Democratic candidate. Three of the contestants — Stevenson, Senator Kennedy, and Senator Humphrey — share similar views. The other two candidates - Senators Symington and Johnson — are by nature more conservative, though Symington’s voting record parallels those of Kennedy and Humphrey. Johnson alone of the group is a self-proclaimed centrist, though it was he who first labeled the Democrats as the “party with a heart.”
Our public needs
In one way or another, all the Democratic hopefuls have been asking what Stevenson asked: Why did America spend “more money last year on tranquilizers than on space exploration, and more on leisure than on learning”? All have asked why the richest nation in the world cannot support the public services and facilities we must have, not only for world power but for national growth and opportunity.
A host of questions have been bothering Americans of late, but it is uncertain whether the sum of the worry will produce sufficient votes to put a Democrat in the White House. Is there as yet a public consensus that the federal government must do more in such areas as aid to education, medical aid for the aged, public housing, slum clearance and urban renewal, aid to depressed areas, help for cleaning up polluted streams and for water development, new programs for the farmer, and further action on civil rights for our Negro citizens?
On these issues, individual senators and representatives can win election to Congress. But can a candidate win the presidency on such issues? And can he win if he combines them to proclaim, as Stevenson has done, that the nation must decide “whether to go on putting private consumption first or shift the first priority to our public needs”?
It is true enough, as Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana has said, that “in this nation, whether it is recognized or not, it is the federal administration which sets the tone. And as the tone is set, so rings the bell.” But must this fact be generally recognized if the Democratic nominee is to win in November?
Shortly after the sweeping Democratic congressional victory of 1958, one of the Senate’s liberal Democrats, Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania, called the election “not a mandate to stand still” but rather “a mandate to move forward.”Subsequently, however, there has been only moderate movement. Clark was a ground breaker, but the presidential campaign will determine whether there is now a real issue to be decided by the voters.
The five fallacies
Clark argued that progress was held back by five main fallacies “assiduously cultivated by conservative molders of opinion”: the fallacies that private spending is inherently good and public spending is inherently bad; that the federal government is crushing the people and endangering the economy with its high taxes, big expenditures, and mounting debt; that federal spending is itself inflationary; that all federal expenditures arc alike, whether for payrolls and arms or for public resource developments; that if the federal government lets the states take over many of its functions, this would ensure economy.
The election ought to determine whether these fallacies, as Clark sees them, are accepted by a majority of the people or not. The evidence so far from the various primary campaigns this year indicates that the people want much more done but have not faced up to the reality of the cost. In West Virginia, for example, a taxpayer asked Humphrey who was going to pay the bill for all the improvements he advocated. And the taxpayer did not seem convinced when Humphrey shot back: “Just exactly out of our taxes. You get the best buy of your life out of your tax dollar.”
Presidents, and presidential candidates, arc in large part prisoners of their times. But there is a choice available to them between riding what appear to be popular tides and attempting to point up issues which are at the moment not widely articulated or even recognized. The year 1960 would appear to be the time for a forthright approach. By election day it will have been more than three years since the Soviet Union launched the first sputnik and broke the complacency of post-war America.
There is a stirring in the land, but it has not yet been brought to focus. The campaign of 1960 could be memorable if the two presidential candidates succeeded in offering to the voters a choice for America in the new decade.
Senator Byrd and civil rights
The night that the 1960 civil rights bill passed the Senate at the end of eight weeks of almost continuous debate, Senator Jacob Javits, the New York liberal Republican, described it as “a victory for the Old South.”And Virginia’s ultraconservative Democratic senator, Harry F. Byrd, agreed that “in the main the result has been a victory for the South,” at least in comparison with the original bill’s “punitive” provisions.
This is the second civil rights bill to pass the Congress in modern times. Like the first, it was overadvertised as a cure-all for the problems of the Negro in the South. Yet, like the first measure, this one will assist the Negro in his struggle toward human equality in the United States. Laws alone are often meaningless; the spirit of their enforcement more often than not is the critical measure of their importance. So it probably will be with this year’s measure.
The 1960 bill was passed in an election-year atmosphere, and though it is generally unknown, the man responsible was Byrd himself. Last year, at a caucus of the Southern senators, it was proposed to let a bill pass in the hopes that it would be more moderate than an election-year measure would be. But Byrd was adamant; he refused, and the others bowed to his dictate.
Perhaps the result would have been the same, but the incident was yet another demonstration of the shadow Byrd so long has cast across any progress in race relations. It was Byrd who first pronounced the doctrine of massive resistance to the Supreme Court’s edict on public school desegregation, only to see the bars begin to go down in Virginia itself a year or so later.
The tragedy of Byrd’s unbending attitude springs from the fact that the Old Dominion still is looked upon to set the tone for all but the racist Klan elements and other extremists among the South’s white leadership. After Byrd’s massive resistance pronouncement came Fanbus and Little Rock, for which many hold Byrd at least partially responsible.
The right to vote
The key provision of the 1960 act empowers federal judges to name federal voting referees to help qualified Negroes to vote whenever the U.S. Attorney General makes a case in federal court that there exists a pattern of voting discrimination. The Civil Rights Commission created by the 1957 civil rights act found that only about a quarter of the nearly five million Negroes of voting age were registered, compared with about 60 per cent of the voting-age Southern whites registered. But even this is misleading, as the commission has pointed out, for in those counties with the highest percentage of Negroes, the pressures against registration and voting are the strongest and most effective.
For example, in the six states with official racial registration statistics
— Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia — Negroes constituted a majority of the population in 97 counties. Of these counties, 75 had less than the state’s average proportion of Negroes registered. In many instances, as commission hearings brought out, the registrars simply refused on one pretext or another to register Negroes, as in the flagrant case involving faculty members at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute.
Under the 1960 act, Negroes — or disenfranchised poor whites, as well — would be permitted to register by the federal court on showing that they are qualified under state law and that they had been denied the opportunity to register by county or municipal officials.
More than good intentions
Here, and probably elsewhere in the bill, are provisions which the Southern opponents of Negro voting doubtless will seize upon for further delay. As in the case of the 1957 act, the usefulness of the 1960 act, as distinguished from its laudable purpose, will hinge on courageous administration, first by the Attorney General’s office in Washington and second by the various federal judges throughout the South.
In this respect, very little is likely to happen in this election year to increase Negro voting, and what occurs in subsequent years will depend on the tone set by the next President and by the attitude and skill of his Attorney General.
Beyond the admirable purpose of the new act and the obvious difficulties in its immediate application, two points are important: first, the act is evidence that the Congress is aware that in a world in which the white man is in the minority and the nonwhite is a special target of Communist appeals, the United States must improve its internal race relations; second, that to do so requires federal action both in the legislative and administrative fields.
It is probable that each succeeding Congress will pass a new civil rights act, in part to close the loopholes as they are discovered by the resisters in the South and elsewhere. The power of the South in Congress, especially in the Senate, where the minority so long prevailed, has been badly dented, though not broken. The tide of progress demands change, and changes are being made. The civil rights act of 1960 must be viewed as only one step in what will be a long process designed to make those changes, and to do so before conditions become so intolerable that a reasoned approach becomes impossible.