The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

THERE never has been a satisfactory set of rules for the vice presidency. The job itself, as one historian put it, was “almost an afterthought at the Constitutional Convention.” Not until Harry S. Truman suddenly found himself in the White House an almost totally uninformed President did the chief executives really try to bring their Vice Presidents into the inner circle and to keep them thoroughly informed. This applies especially to foreign and military problems.

The Kennedy-Johnson relationship is considerably different from the Eisenhower-Nixon relationship. A great deal of nonsense was written at the beginning of each of these administrations about how the President was going to make more use of his Vice President than ever before. Whatever the good intentions, neither relationship bore out the promise.

Johnson, like Nixon before him, sits at the National Security Council table. He has speciallyassigned duties in the fields of defense and civil rights. Eisenhower tended to look upon the much younger Nixon as the “my boy” he once called him, and he seemed to consider that Nixon’s chief attribute was in the field of congressional politics, a rather chartless mire to Ike. Johnson, however, not only is older than Kennedy but was also much his senior in congressional experience and leadership when they took office. Kennedy felt he needed Johnson to win the election, which proved to be true, and also to help run the new Administration, which has turned out to be less true.

Johnson and Congress

“His heart is on the Hill,” a White House aide once remarked about Johnson. And, in fact, he has been unable to break away from his strong emotional attachment to the Congress, which he

loves and which he served so long. He can be found in his Capitol office more often than anywhere else in Washington. But he has not been able to do much to help the Kennedy program get through Congress. He was named to preside over Senate Democratic caucuses, but there was sufficient resentment to put all but a formal end to that. He has done a good deal of backstage work with individual members of both the Senate and the House, and there is reason to think that some of this back-room work has paid off. But Johnson cannot say so; indeed, he must be and he is totally mum about it. Hence, he gets little credit, but at least he avoids a congressional storm over what would be called interference.

A Vice President must use his executive authority if he is to establish a public image of sufficient importance to produce a presidential nomination. That is what Nixon did and what Johnson is doing. The trouble, however, is that a Vice President must not seem to be trying to take over presidential functions. After all, whatever executive authority he has is his solely at the presidential pleasure.

Johnson in Congress was not an originator — that is, he was not one who conceived new legislative aims. His work today as head of both the Space Council and the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee appears to be in much the same vein. He listens to the scientists or the specialists on civil rights; he works within the general policy lines set by Kennedy; and he gives broad direction to both these groups. But those who work with him say he is impatient with the details. And those who have observed him at the National Security Council table or in other top-level meetings at the White House on foreign policy problems say he seldom offers a new thought or proposal; rather, he comments on those put forward, and when the President is on hand, he does so only occasionally.

White House aides contend that the President has given Johnson every opportunity. Certainly, in public Kennedy has been extravagant in his praise of the Vice President, and there has been no private word or rumor of presidential dissatisfaction. But the two men are very different. Kennedy absorbs quantities of reports and books, magazines and newspapers: Johnson scans the papers and press clippings, but only now and then does he read a book. He likes the broad brush rather than the fine stroke.

Personal diplomacy

Johnson, like Nixon, has taken trips overseas both to expand his own horizon and to create the image of a man of wide experience and considerable wisdom. Both Vice Presidents have been circumscribed by presidential directives in advance and by State Department diplomats all along the route. Each broke through the traditional diplomacy to engage in personal diplomacy with reasonable success abroad. But the results at home have hardly been sensational.

For eight years Nixon had to watch and wait for the great moment which finally came at the Republican convention in 1960. In addition, he had to suffer through three Eisenhower illnesses, critical times when the nation observed his every move to see how he would behave. Now Johnson, though he has been spared any serious Kennedy illnesses, is in the same unhappy position. Johnson says nothing about his White House ambitions, but he can hardly deny them. Yet there is still six years to go, assuming a second successful Kennedy-Johnson ticket. At least Kennedy has gone on the public record for Johnson’s renomination, in contrast to the public foot-dragging by Eisenhower in Nixon’s case, and, indeed, private talk of moving him to a Cabinet post. Politics often is very cruel. In this modern age, it is probably crudest in the ordeal of an ambitious Vice President.

The Negro’s rights

The centennial of Emancipation is close at hand. When it has passed, the American Negro will still be far from his goal of equality, but no one can doubt that the movement in that direction has accelerated in the past few years with what to the historians, at least, will seem like incredible speed. In the field of public education, the center of controversy this fall has moved into the very heart of Dixie, to the hard-core states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Massive resistance is long since dead in Virginia; the parochial schools have opened their doors at long last to both races in Louisiana; and the man who used the National Guard against the racists in Tennessee, Frank Clement, is about to be elected governor once more.

Resistance in the hard-core states has been intense, and setbacks were inevitable. But the old guard knows that it is moving inexorably toward a second Appomattox. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose very initials were so long the object of such hate, now seems tame in the South compared with CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), which bespeak the new militancy of the young Negro. Even the Southern senators in the end put up no more than token resistance to the elevation to the Circuit Court of Appeals of the former N.A.A.C.P. counsel, Thurgood Marshall.

A good many of these actionists consider the Kennedy Administration too hesitant and too slow. Yet the Justice Department has filed a score of suits against voter discrimination in Mississippi, and a number elsewhere, all designed to break down the stalling against Negro registration and voting. The President and his brother the Attorney General have kept up a steady pressure, and their opponents seem to realize that it will continue indefinitely.

One new factor of potential but as yet untested importance now has been added to the civil rights battle in the South. This is the effect of the reapportionment rulings, which have followed the lifting of the long-time Supreme Court ban on judicial entry into what Justice Frankfurter once called the “political thicket” of malapportionment of the stale legislatures.

The resulting shift from rural dominance to at least a reasonable degree of power for the urban communities has very great meaning in the South, where the Negro voter already has gained a healthy foothold in the cities. In short, the Negro vote is going to be worth courting, as this year’s election campaigns have already indicated.

The civil rights struggle in the South, plus the vast movement of Southern Negroes to Northern cities, has made segregation a national issue. The politicians in the North have been as shameful in their own way as those in the South in exploiting the race issue, and the Northern Negro voter, as well as the Southern Negro, no longer wants mere words.

The anxiety about Cuba

Washington diplomats are inclined to believe that Cuba is the most dangerous of the world’s trouble spots. Berlin represents a point of direct East-West confrontation. But the Berlin crisis has been with us for more than fifteen years. Its details have been argued over within both power blocs and between the two to the point that each side knows rather well the limits of maneuverability. It was felt in the Capital that the Soviet offer in early September to put the Berlin issue on ice until after the November elections was, among other things, a recognition of the narrow limits of Soviet action within an acceptable degree of risk.

In Vietnam, the East-West struggle is both remote from the two centers of power and fought to a high degree through proxies. The Communist aim most certainly is to create a military and psychological situation similar to that which in neighboring Laos brought forth a coalition government of dubious ability to withstand Communist penetration. There are other trouble spots in the Far East, but at the moment none has reached an active state of international conflict.

Cuba is something else again. The emotions within the United States over Castro’s Cuba were first made widely evident in the 1960 presidential campaign, when Kennedy with his talk of a Communist regime only ninety miles from our shores had Nixon on the defensive. In this fall’s campaign, the political shoe is on the other foot. The President has tried hard to negate the political effects of Cuba; only the election returns will tell with what success.

Americans so long ignored their Latin neighbors to the South that an overreaction probably was inevitable once they woke up to trouble south of the border. The rioting against Nixon was a shocker; Cuban Communism was a clincher. Instability in such important nations as Argentina and Brazil, plus the historical standoffishness of Mexico toward any action against Castro, has added to our sense of frustration. For months now, members of Congress who have been home on weekends have reported on their return to Washington that of all foreign worries, Cuba is foremost in the minds of the voters.

A good many analysts in the Capital feel that, whereas the Soviet Union has come to understand the Kennedy Administration’s position on Berlin, it does not understand the depth of American emotionalism over Cuba. The September statement by Moscow on Cuba showed alarm over the growing U.S. public belligerence; but it also viewed the American reaction through Marxist spectacles, a highly dangerous process. Nor is it any answer to say, as Communist diplomats in Washington have been saying, that after all there are U.S. missiles and other weapons right up against the Soviet frontier in Turkey, if not elsewhere. The American mood does not respond to such logic.

There is another factor, too. This is the President’s own inner feelings about the abortive Bay of Pigs venture early in his Administration. Those close to him say that, while he seems to have put it behind him, he also has never forgiven himself, that somehow or other he must be conscious of his own desire to right the record. No one close to the President is suggesting that he wants to invade Cuba with American arms, but this sort of talk is being heard among the many Cuban refugee factions. And at least some of these factions have been trying to take advantage of the public clamor.

Cuba is intertwined with the future of the Alliance for Progress and with the whole East-West struggle; and regardless of threats of reaction from the Kremlin, American policy makers must consider the worldwide consequences of every step taken against Castro. This is not easy to explain to the voters, especially if Cuba is related in the public mind to the desirability of a Republican as against a Democratic candidate for Congress.