The process through which the United States Senate chooses a new leader for itself is about as medieval as is the procedure for naming a new Pope. It is a drawn-out, continuing business, and occasionally mistakes are made. Usually, however, they are caught in advance.

Like any major battlefield commander, a Senate Majority Leader must be relatively young. Like any successful company president, he must be responsive to the wishes and desires of his elderly board of directors. And like any successful negotiator, he must be relentless in the pursuit of his ultimate goals but sympathetic and diplomatic in his approach. Most of all, he must be an organization man.

Drama in the Senate

If Montana’s Mike Mansfield were to step out of his post as Senate Majority Leader tomorrow, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine almost certainly would be elected to succeed him. That would be an embarrassing circumstance for the Senate to face, however, because in electing Muskie, the body also would be rejecting Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, the current Majority Whip, and thus would be admitting that it made a mistake in originally choosing him for the Whip’s job.

Muskie’s dramatic rise in the Senate this year has coincided with Long’s equally dramatic fall, like the path of a rising rocket crossing the path of a falling star. Considered as interrelated events, their story represents more than a tale of personal political fortunes.

Nobody in the Senate quite understands what has happened to Russell Long, but everybody considers it tragic. “He’s got a death wish,” Pennsylvania’s Hugh Scott has remarked to friends. “Whenever any member of the Long family gets power, something seems to happen to him,” says another senator — a man who likes and admires Russell Long. “It’s not a matter of age — look at Earl. He was an old man before he became governor and went haywire. It’s not any sort of drinking problem. It has to do with the acquisition of power. Nobody really understands it.”

Russell Long is a brilliant, unique man. As the son of the Kingfish, he might have been just another weak, pathetic son of another strong and famous father. Or as his father’s political heir, he might have been the most perfunctory of public servants, elected and re-elected to office solely in honor of his father’s name.

But such is not the case. Like Georgia’s Herman Talmadge, a man who has much in common with Long, Russell Long learned his political lessons on his father’s knee, and he learned them well. He was elected to the Senate first in 1948, when he was thirty years old. In time he became a member of the Senate’s inner club, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Over the years his prevailing reputation became established: a conscientious committee member who worked hard on detail and who possessed the intellect to master complicated legislation, and an almost classic Southern Populist liberal who, like Lyndon Johnson, fiercely believed that “heppin’ the po folks” is one of the federal government’s holiest duties. He also was known as a politically tough, independentminded hell-raiser who would take on any man if it came down to it.

Thus it was that Long, segregationist, ended up as the unlikely recipient of Senate liberal support in January, 1965, when Hubert Humphrey became Vice President and the Senate needed a new Whip.

The fall of Long

Two other members of the Senate also expressed interest in the job — Rhode Island’s John Pastore and Edmund Muskie. Pastore had two things against him: his abrasive personality and a prevalent belief that he would be totally subservient to President Johnson. Muskie’s reputation within the Senate was already a good one, and he might well have beaten Long out for the job, except that he withdrew his name at the last minute. The Senate liberal bloc, influenced especially by the arguments of Illinois’s Paul Douglas, then settled on Long.

Throughout all this party maneuvering, Mansfield kept his own counsel. Even though his fellow Democrats would have elected any man he asked for, he expressed no preference, and seemed satisfied enough when Long got the job.

What subsequently happened is well known, of course. This spring Long tied up the Senate for weeks and enraged everybody when he used every political maneuver, trick, threat, and power play he could conceive of in an abortive, embarrassing attempt to Hull through passage of a presidential-campaign-financing bill which everybody came to appreciate as inadequate and even dangerous. He battled the Senate Ethic Committee’s recommendation of the Dodd censure resolution. And he began contending that the Warren Commission hadn’t come within a mile of the true facts in the Kennedy assassination. Now everybody’s angry at him.

Long and Mansfield today function in no sense as leader and Whip. Mansfield, ignoring Long’s existence, operates independently, and so does Long. This spring, when Long suddenly requested a postponement of the Dodd censure debate, the first Mansfield knew of his plans was when he heard his Whip announce them on the floor of the Senate. And when Mansfield stopped using Long, he started using Muskie, who is one of his four deputy Whips.

The rise of Muskie

Muskic’s success in the Senate is the familiar, pleasant story of the slow but steady rise through ranks of the good soldier, and thus it possesses popular appeal. Doesn’t everybody admire the. Good Soldier? Fie does his duty. He never complains, no matter how rough the going gets. He is unfailingly obedient to higher authority. He assumes increased responsibility as time goes on, and always performs creditably.

Muskie entered the Senate in 1959 after serving four years as Maine’s first Democratic governor in eighteen years. As the story goes, the very first thing he did was incur the wrath of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. When Johnson asked for his support of a plan to liberalize Rule 22, Muskie replied, “You’ll know how I vote when I vote.” Johnson paid him back for his impertineilCe by giving him his fourth, fifth, and sixth choices of committee assignment—Banking, Public Works, Government Operations.

Muskie’s first choice was Foreign Relations. But the good soldier, he accepted the duty assigned him, set to work, and when finally offered the opportunity to serve on Foreign Relations, said no, thanks, he would stick it out where he was.

Muskie made his reputation by the way he sponsored and managed several pieces of important domestic legislation in the early days of the Johnson Administration, such as the water pollution, air pollution, and Demonstration Cities bills.

But as his stature increased within the Senate establishment and the White House, it steadily diminished among Senate liberals, so that today they have a “case” against Muskie. Their charge is that, like Hubert Humphrey, in an effort to get along he is all too ready to go along.

This same desire to be Mr. Nice Guy to everybody produced harmful results again this year, they say, when Muskie at first displayed interest in succeeding Florida’s George Smathers as the Democratic conference secretary. Ultimately he backed out of this fight, too, and with Long’s help, West Virginia’s Robert Byrd got the job. The point is, according to Muskie’s liberal critics, that they had obligated themselves to support him and had no time to produce a strong alternate.

Johnson’s hand

The increased interest in Muskie began earlier this year when Mansfield appointed him chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Vance Hartke of Indiana, who ran the committee previously, sought the job again. But Hartke’s unrelenting criticism of the President’s Vietnam policy produced a White House blackball. Muskie, on the other hand, has been a consistent if not inspired defender of that policy and has retained that basic loyalty — good soldier that lie is — as the war has escalated and the criticism has increased. Mansfield gave Muskie his new job, but he did so at the bidding of the White House. Because of this, the belief has grown that the President has found himself a new political protégé, one who understands the meaning and value of that old Johnson staple, consensus.

All this — Muskie’s rise and Long’s demise — has led to speculation that some changes may be forthcoming in Senate leadership after the 1968 election. Lots of people in Washington believe that Russell Long’s self-destructive tactics have so diminished his standing among his peers that a new Whip will be chosen and Muskie will get the job. But it is unlikely at this stage.

For one thing, although Mansfield now has concluded that it was a tragic mistake to let Long get the Whip’s job by default last time, in all probability he will allow him to keep it next time simply to avoid a messy, embarrassing situation.

The most interesting current theory is that everything depends on William Fulbright’s political fortunes in Arkansas. If Fulbright is defeated and the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee becomes vacant, Alabama’s John Sparkman would be in line for it. But the Senate power structure would not like to sec Sparkman leave his post as chairman of the Banking and Finance Committee. So, according to the theory, Sparkman would reject the Foreign Relations chairmanship, but Mansfield, who is next in line, would accept it. Mansfield then would resign as leader, proclaiming that a senator should not be both Majority Leader and committee chairman simultaneously. (It is likely that he would receive encouragement, and more from senators who arc irritated by his recessive traits and his passive style of leadership.) Muskie then would be elected as Mansfield’s successor, and Long would be placed under tremendous pressure to resign as Whip.

On the other hand, Fulbright may win. Or even if he loses, Mansfield may decide to continue as leader and continue co-existing with Long as Whip. And this could be to Muskie’s disadvantage, for time could be his greatest enemy. Already, Senate elders arc taking a close look at even younger senators (Muskie is fifty-three) in whom they sense the potential for leadership. The two who arc most frequently mentioned are Oklahoma’s Fred Harris and Minnesota’s Walter Mondale. For a while the Senate was high on Indiana’s Birch Bayh, until he got himself whipsawed in the fight over the reapportionment bill. Massachusetts’ Edward Kennedy is well thought of too. But his brother, Robert, is not, and the Senate probably will think a long time before it ever promotes Edward Kennedy to a position of leadership, on the theory that one Kennedy running the White House and another Kennedy running Capitol Hill at some future day is just one Kennedy too many.

Mavericks’ fate

Neither will Russell Long ever be the Majority Leader of the Senate. He is not the type. And he wasn’t really the type to be Whip. He is a maverick, a man of independent nature who has more in common with Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon than either of them will ever admit.

There is a place in the Senate for such men. In an age when Sam Rayburn’s old maxim “You got to go along to get along” probably will end up carved in stone on some new congressional office building, they provide much of the independence and most of the refreshment in the Senate, and at odd, unexpected times render valuable service both to it and to the nation.

The unique thing about them, of course, is the amazingly high number of times they are wrong in relation to the times they are right. And when they arc misguided they are both boorish and boring as they flail away on the floor, committed totally and passionately to some ridiculous legislative mission.

Occasionally, when they are right and everybody else is wrong, they are magnificent. They do not make acceptable Senate leaders, however. They arc too passionate, too indiscriminate, too individual. Men like Ed Muskie, who possess the capacity to bargain off conflicting interests and show a small percentage of profit out of the final bargain, lead the Senate best. Reasonableness is the key word to be used in describing them. Columnist William White has celebrated their cause for years. Quite properly, they always are the heroes in novels like Advise and Consent, just as the maverick Seab Cooleys and Russell Longs are the natural protagonists.

Maine chance

Edmund Muskie will never be President: too many others are in line ahead of him, and at fifty-three, time does not work to his advantage. Senate leadership, then, would represent the pinnacle of his political career. And if the Senate changes leaders anytime soon, he has got the job.

Jf Johnson is re-elected, the job is not all that important. No one doubts that Muskie, given the chance, would serve him faithfully and well. But if Johnson loses and a Republican Administration comes to Washington, it would have to work with a Democratic Senate, and the leader of that Senate suddenly would be a very powerful person indeed.

It could be the story of the Eisenhower Administration all over again — and every schoolboy knows what became of the fellow who led the Senate in those days.

Douglas Kiker