The Senate Observed: A Recollection

Where men are actors, part of a great public show. And where a student of personality may observe whatever it is that makes men strong or weak, driving or passive, hard or vulnerable.

10 P.M., JANUARY 31, 1956

The long drive from Texas is almost over. It has been raining, and a cold mist still hangs over the highway.

Twenty mites to go. Virginia darkness, hills and white fences, the easy pastoral South.

My back aches. I drive like a robot. The old Buick is full of cigarettes and bags, books and pictures. There is no sound but the roar of its engine and the wet tearing whine of its tires. We have not talked for a long time now, not since the imminence of the frontier filled us with apprehension and thrust us into separate silences.

Then the first bright smears of red and green. Neon throbbing in the mist, an aurora of reflected light in the heavy winter sky, signs and outposts of the Eastern city.

The East! Where it is always cold and wet—where motel rooms are always dim and smoky, and surly night managers wait to intimidate Southerners. I am back in the East again, and tomorrow, after six years’ absence, I will confront its quick multitudes once more, its waiters, cabdrivers, doormen, business executives, its brilliant, hard girls—this competent, cunning, unforgiving East.

Like nomads we swirl down the highway, transients to be used, to be devoured by the omnivorous money-loving Eastern city. I fear our vulnerability, our soft unreadiness, our lack of big-city skills. To be tough, to be wise!

Three miles. Exit for Shirlington, Fairfax Apartments. Images of wealthy Easterners behind picture windows, discussing rich and important affairs, knowing everything about politics, business, tipping, how to get off superhighways at the right exit.

Darkness again. A country club, doubtless much harder to join than the ones at home in Texas.

And then it is there: first the massive unmistakable Pentagon, a few lights burning in its message centers, the middle of an intricate web of secrets that must bind the world submissively to our power. Beyond it, the City.

To the left the Monument; straight ahead, the vast gleaming honeycomb of bureaucracies. To the right, like a fortress on a headland, the Capitol, above its dome a single vivid light. Through the illuminated mist. Washington is a vast stage design—the national dream as seen in a photographic negative.

I slow the car to cross Memorial Bridge. I want to remember this time, this shifting of our lives. We are crossing the wide, black Potomac River, mythic in the January night, leaving the South and its easy permissiveness, its flattering affirmations. We have been young and liberal in Texas, where to be liberal was to be righteously happy under siege. We are entering the North, where one must be astute as well as compassionate.

It is a solemn moment. The smell of power hangs over this city like cordite. Yet for the first time in hours I am more excited than apprehensive.

In the mist beyond the Monument is the White House and General Eisenhower, whom I have mocked for four irreverent liberal years, and hope to help defeat this fall. Tonight, surrounded by this city of power, he seems much more formidable than before, not at all the amiable duck of Herblock’s drawings. Eisenhower belongs here. Established residents of this city do his bidding. If there is ultimately a single hand at the lever of power, controlling the warplanes of the Pentagon and the secrets of the State Department, it is his.

I am a devoted reader of the New Republic, and so I believe Eisenhower to be the ignorant, if passively benign, figurehead of a conservative party and government. His Cabinet, filled with narrow-minded businessmen like George Humphrey, Douglas McKay, and Charlie Wilson, has provided me, and other New Republic readers, with almost weeklycause for scorn.

Yet I cannot feel, as we enter the city, the old exuberant confidence in my judgment of these men. It was one thing to sit about the tables of Scholz Garden in Austin, drinking iced Pearl in schooners, and mock their benighted efforts to run the country like a small corporation. It is another to confront this city with its mysteries of authority. Perhaps the presence of power begets ambiguity: in the years ahead I am to see a variety of angry convictions turned to doubt when confronted by power and responsibility.

The most ambiguous figure of all is the man I am to work for—Lyndon Johnson. I have never met him. The one contact I have had with him was by mail: my wife and I had wired him months before from Austin, scolding him for seeming to adopt Senator Knowland’s rigid opinions about China. He replied in a long letter that satisfied nothing of our grievance, though the fact that he answered at all—there was his signature—was impressive. It would be several weeks before I understood that such replies were waitten by his staff, that Senator Johnson had no time to argue China policy with an unknown constituent.

A few months after this exchange-by-proxy, I heard that Johnson had authorized the hiring of a young Texas lawyer for one of his staffs. I was near graduation from law school, and had almost determined to go back home to East Texas and begin practice with a classmate. The chance to go to Washington to deal with great public issues—instead of private injury claims and oil leases—excited me, as it has thousands of others since the 1930s. I applied, was interviewed in the senator’s Austin office during the congressional recess, and was hired—all without seeing or speaking to Johnson. There was a curiously detached air to the proceedings; decisions about my salary were relayed as “the senator says,” or “the senator feels,” with the air of having come straight down the mountain from Zeus. It seemed unlikely that I would stay with him very long. As we drove out of Texas that January, I thought of the next two years in Washington as an “experience,” to be followed by a return to “real life” in Texas.

Lyndon Johnson. I cannot remember when I first heard his name, though given an early interest in political history and my father’s New Deal sympathies, it was probably in 1941, when he lost a Senate race to “Pappy” O’Daniel by a handful of votes. He was young and skinny, and he represented the sainted Roosevelt against a man whom I identified with biscuit dough and country music. He had won his Senate seat in 1948, though with such a narrow margin and after such a struggle in the courts that he scarcely suggested bold and confident leadership. Besides, he had tried to outdo his conservative opponent in opposition to labor; he had embraced, or seemed to embrace, the know-nothing reaction in Texas that was to depress the spirit of a generation of liberals. One heard that he did not really share those right-wing opinions—that he was, in fact, merely trying to gain running room for his progressive instincts. In a way, though one was glad to have even a secret progressive representing Texas in the Senate, his dissembling made it worse. It seemed that he was either turning his back on a decade of commitment to Roosevelt, or trying to placate the new majority of Texans to whom the New Deal and Fair Deal were anathema. Thus Lyndon Johnson was mistrusted by those who, like me, embraced the liberal Texas Observer and loathed the Dallas News.

Yet he was equally mistrusted by the oilmen and bankers in my hometown. Many of them had found sudden wealth in the oil fields about the time the rest of the country suffered the worst of the Depression. The inability of other Americans to strike it rich was always baffling to them, or attributable solely to malingering; and the idea that the national government should take their tax dollars to help malingerers was outrageous. Anyone who supported Roosevelt must believe in that kind of thievery; Johnson had supported Roosevelt, had been his agent, his defender, his adoring protégé; so Johnson was not to be trusted.

There was another Lyndon Johnson, quite apart from these two polarized, yet similar images in his home state. There was the Johnson of the Time cover, already rumored to be the “second most powerful man in America.” He had been catapulted into the leadership of Senate Democrats after only four years in the Senate. His legislative skill was already a legend. Most impressive to me, he had secured the unanimous vote of his party in the Senate against Joe McCarthy. Rage against McCarthy had caused me to go to law school. I had thought that sooner or later. McCarthy and his followers would ruin every decent man and institution in the country, unless enough lawyers rallied around to defend them; and so i had set out to acquire the necessary legal weapons to resist him. If I had known more history, and better understood the pendulum of opinion that moves in our democracy, I might not have been so quixotic.

Yet even now, when McCarthy had been subdued, I was grateful to those who had diminished his ugly power. And if Johnson had not cried out against him when McCarthy was in his prime, as had Senators J. W. Fulbright and William Benton and others, he had done what no other could do: he had caused the Senate to strike him down with an institutional contempt. That wound had been mortal.

There was, of course, more to this Johnson than the victory over McCarthy and primacy among Democrats. He cooperated with Eisenhower, often giving the President stronger support than he received from conservatives in his own party. Yet just as often he carried the banner of progressivism, leading Democrats in attacks on tight money and trickledown theories of economics. As to race, he was an unknown quantity, at least to me—and my own concerns had not yet shifted from civil liberties to civil rights. He had no reputation as a speaker, but I did not expect to write for him, anyway. I had resigned myself to a vocation and a milieu in which my literary interests would play no part. I would save Yeats and Joyce for the evenings; the days were to be for the United States Code.

After a while, I came to see Washington as something quite different from the forbidding Eastern city I had anticipated on that wintry night of our arrival. In summer, the Capitol was filled with hordes of tourists, ordinary, vulnerable people from the heartland who debarked from cramped buses to march through the Rotunda and Statuary Hall between tours of the FBI and the Lincoln Memorial. The vaulted corridors hummed with their tumult. Everywhere there was an air of permissiveness, of familiarity, real or assumed. Limousines drawing up to the Senate Office Buildings carried men from New York and Detroit who lost their abrasive sharpness as they entered the Congress’ turf—their briefcases filled with prayers to the doyens who might do them well or ill.

Thus on the Hill, at least, and for the people of the Hill, Washington was not intimidating. There was a country zest about the place, a pleasure in personality, a fellow-feeling that came from periodically facing the voters. Downtown in the departments and embassies, and in Georgetown and the suburbs, it might be different. But that did not matter, not yet. I had found a good world on the Hill. I began to relax and enjoy it.

* * *

Senators were members of the Elks, the Moose, the Eagles, the Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, the American Legion, VFW. DAV, churches, and bar associations. They were 32nd-degree Masons and Knights of Columbus. They had been DA’s and county judges and state legislators and attorneys general and congressmen and sometimes governors. They had served in the European theater or as admiral’s aides in the Pacific, and they had been awarded the Legion of Merit.

Some had been there so long that whatever they had done before had simply faded as an old letter fades into illegibility; they were just senators now. and the events of their lives were those of classic battles on the Senate floor, in committee, and on the stump winning and defending the right to be there.

The cloakroom at the back of the chamber was a men’s club. There were stuffed leather chairs and maybe a dozen phone booths. There was iced mineral water from Maine and West Virginia. Older pages manned the phones, and younger ones hustled in and out with messages summoning the members to the lobby outside, to meet visiting families from home or anxious lawyers and bureaucrats with a cause to press. A few senators read the papers, but mostly the cloakroom was a refuge from great issues and calamitous events. It was a place for a smoke and easy banter. Men driven by causes, such as Paul Douglas, did not spend much time there; neither did Lyndon Johnson, who had no time, during the day, for purposeless relaxation. Occasionally, in the late afternoon, a chairman would come back from a conference with the House and tell his colleagues in the cloakroom how tough and mean old Clarence Cannon had been, or how the courtly, cunning Albert Thomas had stonewalled the Senate conferees until he got what he wanted. But there was very little debate over the merits of pending legislation.

I spent a lot of time in the cloakroom, listening to stories of bygone campaigns and politicians, and after a time I came to be at ease there. In other places around the building, staff were not wanted: in a baroque room across the way, quiet as a library, where elderly senators napped in the leathery semidarkness; in the Secretary of the Senate’s office in the late afternoons, when Skeeter Johnston broke out the drinks; and in scattered hideaways throughout the Capitol, the whereabouts of which only a few trusted assistants knew, and where there was as much privacy as a public man is likely to have. The privilege of privacy, to be alone or only with those who shared their status, their responsibilities, their harassments. and their dangers, was guarded like treasure. Senators lived in a world where everyone outside their ranks—staff, constituents, favored interests, the press—wanted something of them, chiefly their attention. They had fought hard to gain admission to that world; its pressures were vital to their self-regard, as it was through them that they were affirmed as consequential. But they also needed to escape, singly or with what the sociologists would call their peer group. Hence those redoubts where no one else was welcome.

Like the setting of a Renaissance painting—with its courtiers, lordsand ladies-in-waiting, tapestries, columns, and forests—the environment of the Senate was important only as it pointed to a few central figures, the senators themselves. The staffs, clerks, committees, rules, even the Senate chamber, had purpose and meaning only inasmuch as they served those who had won the right to be called “United States Senator.”

What kind of men were they, whom the states had sent as their plenipotentiaries to Washington? Generalizations were easy and misleading. From time to time I made descriptive notes about them, hoping to build a theory on specific observations. What follows is a sampling of those notes.


CLINTON ANDERSON OF NEW MEXICO: tough, tall, shrewd, insurance money. Secretary of Agriculture under Truman. Maverick, though essentially liberal. Horse-and-cattle-trading friend of Kerr of Oklahoma, Johnson, and Morse of Oregon. Near the cloakroom door they sat and complained about the spavined horses and impotent bulls the others had sold them—taking time off V from legislation to act out a Faulknerian comedy of abuse and outrage. Urban liberals and Chamber of Commerce conservatives did not share or appreciate their country humor. Anderson fought for a change in Rule 22 at the beginning of each Congress, arguing vehemently for majority cloture. It was one of his fewtotal variances from Establishment views.

HARRY BYRD or VIRGINIA: seemed to be older than he was. Slow, not much drive. His reputation outside the Senate was greater than within, although that public reputation had its impact on other senators. Who would attack Harry Byrd and his Committee on the Reduction of Non-Essential Federal Expenditures? He wore white suits in summer and crepe-soled shoes always. Spoke with a kind of lowwhistling and sucking sound. A man of great courtesy—deeply reactionary, but so hard to attack personally that when Hubert Humphrey did, shortly after coming to the Senate in 1949, he was temporarily ostracized. Johnson was solicitous of Byrd—respecting his standing in the country, admiring his courtesy, knowing that he would face an uphill battle on every Finance Committee measure without the acquiescence of the chairman. Big bash at his Virginia home every year; all the powers went.

PAUL DOUGLAS OF ILLINOIS: a vivid man, full of apparent contradictions. Intellectual in the extreme, professorial, though carrying an arm half-destroyed in battle as a Marine. Scrupulously honest, a liberal Saint George against the vested interest dragon. Despite his intellect, fighting spirit and command of facts, he seldom succeeded on the showdown votes. Like Harry Byrd—whose gentlemanly demeanor he respected as much as he detested his politics—Douglas was a loner, more important in the country than in the councils of the Senate. To many of his colleagues, his committed, serious righteousness was abrasive. In the late afternoons in an empty chamber, he stalked the rows, recounting the knavery of the interests and Southern racists, speaking forcefully to an aide and a sleepy press gallery, as if they were a multitude. I remember having a long argument with Ronnie Dugger, editor of the Texas Observer, over the respective merits of Douglas and Johnson. Johnson made progress, not issues; Douglas the reverse. Johnson’s concern with progress probably helped Democrats win the confidence of the country as a responsible opposition; many of Douglas’ issues became the stuff of the Democratic future. The relationship between them was guarded, sometimes openly hostile, but there was always the possibility of rapprochement, and I thought they both desired it. One night in the cloakroom, after Douglas had finished a powerful speech on the evils of the oil depletion allowance. Johnson chided him, “Paul, I just wish you had a few oil wells in Cook County. Then you’d understand.”Douglas was courteous to me, though cautious; he thought Bobby Baker and I were fundamentally bound to the Establishment that opposed him, and we were. It troubled me that I was not always on the side of one whose views Were so close to my own, but I had chosen effectiveness over prophecy, and I was stuck with the consequences. I rationalized that prophecy alone would not help anybody, and I tried to feel contempt for it as a defense against my doubts; but I never could.

JAMES EASTLAND OF MISSISSIPPI: certainly a racist by today’s standards; yet it was unlikely that he held the poisonous views of his predecessor Bilbo. He simply had that opinion of Negroes that white Southerners call paternalistic and urban Negroes find infuriating. He could become agitated about the Communist menace, egged on by a molelike staff man who, like the Rumanian heavy in a Grade C thriller, served him up dossiers and intricate organizational charts. Or was Eastland really agitated about that? It was a convenient rationale to explain the new militancy over race, and it put liberals on the defensive. One heard about Byzantine games involving cotton subsidies, judgeships, anti-Communism. A thoroughgoing reactionary? What about the afternoon when, in the middle of a speech about cotton prices, he began a long, violent denunciation of the Wall Street bankers who had squeezed the little farmers and businessmen and workers of Mississippi until almost nothing was left, until Franklin Roosevelt came along and broke their power and saved the people? And there was no one on the floor to defend the Wall Street bankers from that furious tirade but Bill Proxmire, liberal from Wisconsin, who had, it seemed, once worked for J. P. Morgan & Company, and thought they were decent folk.

WILLIAM FULBRIGHT OF ARKANSAS: one of the most perplexing men in the Senate. An eighteenthcentury Whig. Bored by the kind of things with which most senators were agreeably concerned. Fulbright was skeptical of man’s ability to choose a reasonable course. The space program was absurd and infuriating to him, he said when compared to more important concerns that went begging. That the country had chosen to go to the moon before properly educating its young made him despair. Did it really? Did he truly care so much? Or had he once cared deeply, and given up? Part senator, part scholar, part Arkansan, and part cosmopolite, he seemed entirely at home nowhere. Like Johnson, Robert Kerr, and Anderson, he had large, rough hands, and I thought he enjoyed ordinary political men more than intellectuals who only wanted to talk. He was always lucid and articulate in debate; his logic was devastating; but he lacked the heat and persistence of a leader. Like Douglas—with whom he regularly contended over social issues—he sometimes seemed to have a stake in losing, in being isolated and right. Johnson had to urge them both to want to win.

CARL HAYDEN OF ARIZONA: in Congress since 1912. Quiet, manly, very old, did his job and seldom spoke on issues. One of those whom younger Senate leaders seemed to prop up for thenvalue as monuments. He had done much for Arizona and the West. Once in Skeeter Johnston’s office he described his first speech in the House. He had remained silent for many months, perhaps for years, as custom required a new member to do. At last something noncontroversial to the House but vital to Arizona came up, something like money for additional forest rangers. Hayden walked to the well of the House and spoke for a minute—no more. He returned to his seat near a senior member. After a long silence, the senior said scathingly, “Just had to talk, didn’t you?” Hayden had been sheriff of Maricopa County, and built his first political machine among other sheriffs in the Arizona Territory with whom he exchanged prisoners. He was a solid vote for unlimited debate, since a filibuster had stopped a bill to bring New Mexico and Arizona into the Union as one state. Born at Hayden’s Ferry, Arizona.

THOMAS HENNINGS OF MISSOURI: a walking tragedy, or perhaps high-grade Tennessee Williams. Handsome, black-haired, wearing white suits in summer, once an athlete and an outstanding trial lawyer in St. Louis. He was an alcoholic. Johnson treated him with a surprisingly tender concern, though he was irritated when Hennings failed to show up for important meetings. Liberal, antiMcCarthy, an early and committed friend of civil rights. Booming voice, as if trying to overcome the effects and appearance of his illness.

HUBERT HUMPHREY OF MINNESOTA: of all senators, the most immediately winning to a young liberal. Warm, open, self-amused, bursting with affirmation of life; sure that men of goodwill, with a little common sense and adventurousness, could solve any problem. A creative legislator, willing to take risks. Spectacular extemporaneous phrasemaker; when genuinely aroused, something to see and hear. Shortcoming an inability to be really cruel. He could be discriminating, but he was unable ruthlessly to carry through with the consequences of his discrimination; he could not make his opponents fear that his anger would have serious long-term costs for them. His stories of Midwestern drugstore life, of his days as a young professor, as mayor of Minneapolis, were funny and moving. He was interested in almost every legislative field, especially agriculture, foreign relations, arms control, and civil rights. After a few years in purgatory, he became the key liberal for negotiations with the Senate Establishment. His farmer-populism attracted Georgia’s Richard Russell, with whom he shared few other opinions. One night, at the end of a week’s debate in the course of which the critics of Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson had lost vote after vote, Humphrey, tired and angry, rose to make a brief concluding speech. He recited the ills of rural America, and the tiny return small farmers received from days of punishing work. Now the price support levels were to slide down to 60 percent of parity. Russell, who had started out the door, stopped and look a seat in front of Humphrey and told two fellow Southerners, Olin Johnston and John Sparkman, to listen. Russell began to beat out a rhythm on Humphrey’s desk. He and Johnston and Sparkman said, “That’s right" and “Exactly” in the way people say “Amen" at Southern revivals, and when Humphrey ended, saying, “Hubert Humphrey didn’t come to the United States Senate to vote for 60 percent of a living wage,” they fairly shouted their agreement.

With Lyndon Johnson, Humphrey’s relationship was extremely complex. At bottom there was mutual affection and respect. They wanted, or believed they wanted, the same things. To Humphrey, Johnson was the operator who could achieve, sometimes miraculously, what liberals had been seeking in vain for years; he was also the demanding friend who required that Humphrey get his fellow liberals into line for a compromise that represented less than they wished for and more than they could reasonably expect. Humphrey’s heart longed for a just and humane society; his mind told him that he must accept something less, some mild improvement, or no change at all in a status quo that offended him deeply. In the pursuit of progress he politicked with his natural enemies. He was tolerant and friendly as he sought to disarm their instinctive mistrust of anyone who cared deeply about remote social ills. He never preached or condemned except in public debate. He was not a “drag” like Douglas, who confronted conservatives on and off the floor in the manner of the WCTU confronting the liquor lobby. He was not so susceptible to liberal opinion and Times editorials that he backed away from commitments made in pursuit of a compromised advance; he kept his word. He was often late and disorganized, the result, I thought, of an inordinate desire (which he shared with Johnson) to please his last audience finally, end all their doubts, answer all their questions, and convert them totally to himself and the true faith.

OLIN JOHNSTON OF SOUTH CAROLINA: an extraordinary figure, the apotheosis, in the eyes of Time, of all that was wrong about Southern politics. “Flannel-mouthed,” “demagogic” he was that, and more. He was perhaps the most dependable liberal vote among Southerners after Alabama’s Lister Hill and John Sparkman, and he spoke for the same Piedmont millworker, sharecropper populism in South Carolina that they did in Alabama. Driven to the right by Strom Thurmond’s presence in the Senate, he paid for his liberalism on economic questions by voting consistently against foreign aid and civil rights. Yet his intransigence was skin-deep: once, having dutifully made his contribution to a filibuster against a civil rights bill, he listened for a time to his colleague Thurmond, and then gathered his papers and walked out, winking to me and saying, “Listen to ole Strom. He believes that stuff.” He seemed a fool out of Molière; when he read a speech his voice dropped at the end of each line of type, as if a sentence had ended. Yet he was shrewd, and understood the price he had to pay to vote as he did. One day in the cloakroom he described an early campaign for governor. At a rally near Spartanburg, his chief local supporter, a county judge, said. “You boys know what to do if the woolly-heads act up. You take you some of those willow branches and you tie you a knot in them and see if you can’t beat some sense into those woolly heads. And if somebody comes along and indicts you tor criminal assault, you know there ain’t a jury in South Carolina that’ll convict you. And if there is, there ain’t a high court in this state that’ll sustain that conviction. And if there is, here’s the man who’s going to pardon you, the next governor of South Carolina, Olin D. Johnston!” Johnston, his eyes large, said, “You know, I couldn’t say no.”Once elected, he had done what he could for the poor of South Carolina, black and white, following the policies of “that great man, Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

JOHN KENNEDY OF MASSACHUSETTS: elegant and casual, he sat in the back row, his knees against his desk, rapping his teeth with a pencil and reading the Economist and the Guardian. He was treated with affection by most senators, but he was ultimately elusive, finding his way in other worlds outside the chamber. Mythically wealthy, handsome, bright, and well connected, he seemed to regard the Senate grandees as impressive but tedious. In turn, he was regarded by them as something of a playboy, a dilettante. His voting record was moderate and sometimes conservative, especially on trade and agricultural matters. He was not a prime mover in the Senate; only once in early 1960, in handling a labormanagement bill, did he seem to emerge as a leader, a Mensch. Then he stood in the center of the chamber and shouted at his opposition, deriding them, challenging them to match his arguments. I scarcely recognized that cool, glamorous figure. To Johnson, I believe, he was the enviably attractive nephew who sings an Irish ballad for the company, and then winsomely disappears before the table-clearing and dishwashing begins. To Kennedy, Johnson must have seemed a gifted workhorse, an original personality and a conventional politician, incomparably wise about the Senate and luckily uninformed about national politics. They were friends and they respected one another, this ant and grasshopper.

ROBERT KERR OF OKLAHOMA: a combination of swashbuckling Southwestern entrepreneur and populist, with perhaps the most formidable mind in the Senate. He wore dark-colored shirts, and in his coat’s lapel, a gold “Kerr-McGee” pin, designating his company. Outspoken in defending interests in which both he and Oklahoma had a stake. He seemed to be saying. “If I can be so open in defending those interests, they can’t be wrong; and even if they were, none of you has the guts to challenge me.” A devout Baptist and a teetotaler. Generally voted with the South, except on economic issues which cut across sectional lines. He was incomparably the Senate’s most powerful and effective debater. The fiery John Pastore of Rhode Island once stood up to him, his eyes on a level with Kerr’s third shirt button; Kerr used his great size to back him up the wide shallow steps of the center aisle, like d’Artagnan fencing with a dwarf. He called Homer Capehart of Indiana a “rancid tub of ignorance,” and when Capehart took to the floor next day on a point of personal privilege, complaining that (as he thought) Kerr had called him a “rancid cup of ignorance,” Kerr replied that anyone in his right mind would know he never used such an expression; the Record would show what anyone who observed Capehart’s girth might expect, that he had called him a tub, not a cup. In international affairs he took an isolationist position, voting against American membership in international organizations, foreign aid, and the like. Yet he did a brilliant job of managing the Kennedy trade bill in 1962. At the end of the 1950s it occurred to me that Kerr had become not only chairman of the new Space Committee, but effectively chairman of Public Works—given the age and frequent indisposition of Public Works Committee Chairman Dennis Chavez—and the primary force within the Finance Committee, where Harry Byrd presided. I discussed this with Bobby Baker one night on the Senate floor, as the two of us watched Kerr and Johnson stand eye to eye, laughing and trading. I said, “It strikes me that Kerr may really be the most powerful man in the Senate.” Bobby looked at me as if I had just discovered the force of gravity. “No kidding,” he said.

WARREN MAGNUSON OF WASHINGTON: an archetypal man’s man, and a leader in the sense that the Establishment went along with him on matters within his jurisdiction or range of interest. A bachelor in the 1950s, he loved the good life, but he was conscientious in his Senate duties. As Commerce Committee chairman he nurtured the country’s ailing and outrageously expensive merchant marine, and handled bills affecting the railroads, the airlines, and the trucking industry. The stakes were high in such matters and “Maggie” knew the game well; usually he managed to produce legislation that satisfied private interests without doing injury to the public conscience. He was a liberal on issues that tapped the main liberal lode, but he voted with the Establishment when Douglas or Morse went off on what were considered peripheral crusades. He and Johnson were fast friends. I thought his natural milieu was a convention of transportation interests, where he would give a prepared speech on “The Need to Modernize”; I could imagine him in an elegant hotel lobby, stocky, affable, but not in the least fawning, as he made his way through a hundred handshakes toward the cigar counter. He could be more than this; in the Hell’s Canyon fight in 1957 he was a tiger, rough and passionate and driving. That degree of commitment was not required day by day.

WAYNE MORSE OF OREGON: brilliant, tireless, convinced by his own powerful rhetoric. The “Morse hour" was always the last of the day; a few impatient senators and staff waited in the cool, dim chamber as Morse, a former law school dean, lectured on Southern racism, District of Columbia parking fees, South American dictators, and whatever else had recently aroused his displeasure. A gadfly, insensitive to obloquy, he was nevertheless extremely effective when given a leadership rolewhen managing a labor or education bill he was tolerant and skillful, knowing when to give way and when to resist amendment. He could be easily the most irritating man in the Senate. Yet he was also indispensable: he would fight a bad bill when others wanted to but were afraid, and the threat of his filibusters occasioned many a decent compromise. Morse often voted with Southern conservatives against the passage of progressive bills, because he had earlier lost an issue of principle in the amendment stage. He was Western, a son of the wild jackass.


One day in early 1963, I sat beside Johnson as he presided over the Senate that he had once led. The Kennedy-Johnson legislative program was ailing, if it had not already expired. Nothing was moving to the satisfaction of the White House, the Administration’s supporters in Congress, or the impatient journalists who were beginning to pronounce Kennedy a failure as a political leader. As two young liberal senators rose to praise the President’s latest message to Congress, I asked Johnson what was wrong. “We’ve got all the minnows,” he said. “We’ve got none of the whales.”

Who were the whales? They certainly included Anderson, Kerr, Magnuson, and possibly Hayden and Russell Long of Louisiana; Russell of Georgia and maybe Stennis of Mississippi. Byrd was a fictive whale; Ellender of Louisiana and Eastland could on occasion displace the volume of whales.

Whales were chairmen, but not all chairmen were whales. Whales had the negative power to stop legislation. either because they opposed it or were indifferent to it. A controversial proposal could not pass without their friendly intervention. Not that all of them had to support it: the consent of only one or two was required to give the rest of the Senate confidence that a bill—like a stock issue backed by a respected underwriter—was all right to support.

spected right support. These are oversimplifications meant to illustrate a point: the interlocking powers of the whales were extremely important in determining the legislative behavior of the minnows (and of other fish in between). Public opinion was also important, and so was the pressure, or lack of it, exerted by the Administration. But the public often had no strong opinion, or was divided and diffused and the power of the Establishment, of the whales, was constant and palpable. Most senators wanted to be able to see bills bearing their names emerge from committee, and to show people at home that they could get an appropriation for a prized project; for that, good relations with a power were necessary. If a senator had promised to manage an Administration bill, or the bill of some other important group or interest, he would almost certainly have to negotiate with a Senate power. His reputation in the eyes of his clients would be affected by whether he was able to work out a tolerable compromise.

A liberal could answer his angry constituents, when they challenged his position on a recent vote, be writing, “As Sen. Kerr [or Anderson or Russell] said during the debate . . .” Thus the powers offered legitimacy and protective coloration to their colleagues.

Eminence of position was not the only qualification for this kind of power in the Senate. Each of the powers had a special preserve in which his knowledge and experience were unique; but special competence was not enough to confer general authority. Seniority was important, but again, not sufficient in itself.

A power had to be longheaded. He had to be diligent in performing chores for others, and he had to remind them of his diligence often enough to establish a pattern, but not so often as to be oppressive. He had to be secure in his own state. He had to be primarily interested in the legislative process; even if he had national political ambitions, he could not seem to subordinate his senatorial duties to the quest for outside popularity. Some powers had played key roles in the institutional crises of the Senate, as Robert Taft did in the railroad strike legislation of the mid-forties, as Russell did on General MacArthur’s return from Korea. Some commanded a fixed block of votes on certain questions, though that was not essential; Russell was the unchallenged leader of the South, but Kerr produced shifting bipartisan majorities on a variety of issues. Hayden’s power rested on his chairmanship of Appropriations. That he was fair in performing that role was an additional but not entirely necessary element of his authority. Warren Magnuson had power because he was chairman of the Commerce Committee; still it was necessary that he control, as well as preside over, the resolution of questions affecting the economic lifeblood of every state. Anderson ran the Interior Committee, and therefore was crucial to a substantial minority of the Senate; though America had become predominantly urban, at least thirty Western and Midwestern senators were deeply concerned about whatever increased or decreased the supply of water and arable lands in their states.

Beyond these minimum requirements—a chairmanship, longevity in the Senate, devotion to the legislative process, command over the giving or withholding of benefits in which large numbers of senators had an interest—there were other qualities that could not be easily measured. Manliness, perhaps—Big Daddy-ness; the natural assumption of authority; the willingness, in fact the need, to take responsibility; and a tough seriousness about the daily game of making laws. I was often struck by the careful attention that Johnson and Russell and Kerr gave to every bill on the Senate Calendar, when I briefed them in meetings. It was not for show. They were their only audience. Whether or not a bill fell within the usual scope of their interests, they fastened on it, shook it, questioned it, doubted or approved its wisdom, and rated its chance of passage. They were professional legislators.

Power outside the Senate did not follow from power within, and vice versa. Neither popular favor nor significance in the national party flowed from a senator’s ability to move a bill. Indeed there were times when they seemed mutually exclusive. The very absorption in legislation, in committee work, and in negotiating that helped to make a man important within the Senate made him less sensitive to what was happening in the country. And there was always the potential for a grave political miscalculation: the two senators from Nevada had one vote each, as did the two senators from New York. An active legislator was inclined to weigh them equally on that account. Further, the might of the South in the Senate—nine of the fifteen chairmanships were held by Southerners—made it important to court politicians whose views had little in common with the mass of Democratic voters in the cities. Eastland or Byrd might be won over by a compromise that hurt the compromiser’s image in Detroit. What I am describing, of course, is the erroneous basis of Lyndon Johnson’s futile campaign for the presidential nomination in 1960.

To the true Senate man, the successful management of a difficult bill ought to have generated universal praise and a ready-made base of support for national office. It did not; the nation elected General Eisenhower and Senator Kennedy for reasons quite apart from their skill as legislators. What was worse, skill within the Senate implied a knowledge of wheeling and dealing, intricate trade-offs, elaborate posturing—all the black political arts. The nation wanted something different from its Presidents. That a man was unable to negotiate his way in the devious Capitol was not to be held against him. Indeed it was prima facie proof of his simple integrity.

At the same time, men such as Estes Kefauver and Kennedy did not capitalize on their national popularity within the Senate. Perhaps they did not really care to. Legislative victories were no match for those won in the polling booths of New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

RICHARD RUSSELL OF GEORGIA: in Johnson’s office, there was a picture of Russell standing in the doorway of his law office in Georgia, his feet crossed, an arm raised to balance him. He was smiling, intelligent, and easy, at home with the law and the people of Winder, Georgia, to whom he was leader and judge and perhaps a manifestation of God Himself. He had come to the Senate in 1933, young and already a popular governor. In 1952 he made a try for the presidency, but interest-group politics defeated him before he got off the ground. He returned to the politics of Congress, where he had no peer. Russell was a profoundly attractive man whose Roman bearing, quick mind, and unfeigned courtliness won him the deep respect of people who had little sympathy for his conservative views. He regarded manv trends of modern life with truculent disdain: but he had a sophisticated tolerance for those whose constituencies demanded a different response. Institutionally, he was chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the ranking Democrat (behind the venerable Hayden) on Appropriations, and chairman of the Southern caucus. Thus he spoke for the Senate on matters affecting the government’s first responsibility, national security; had a great voice in determining where and for what the country should spend one hundred billion dollars; and moved eighteen Southern votes—among whom were nine committee chairmen—as a block, whenever Southern interests were corporately at stake. What sort of man exercised these powers, out of what inner purpose or conviction, it was difficult to know. He was a bachelor and lived alone in an apartment downtown. I believe he regretted that he had not married. His social life was spare, but not reclusive. He read copiously. Military histories, biographies, and newspapers were scattered about his office, on his desk, on the sofa, and on the large conference table at which Southerners assembled in times of challenge. He read the Times and Post editorials, and the sports pages as well; he knew batting averages and football scores, and took pleasure in them. He also read county newspapers from Georgia. In fact it was there, in the rural county seats of Georgia, that I thought he discerned the bones of a generous, humane civilization, and like an archaeologist worked them into the present image of a life better than people knew in cities—better than they knew in modern Atlanta, for example. He was the practicing political equivalent of the Fugitive Movement. He was as far from the brutal passions of the Klan as were the Fieriest members of the Americans for Democratic Action; yet he treasured a way of life in the course of which whites took responsibility for, and manhood from, millions of blacks. There was rural progressivism in him, a commitment to rural electrification, farmers’ loans, and vocational education; but there was no sympathy for the expenditure of billions to remake the steaming cities. In foreign affairs he consistently voted against every statutory involvement of the United States in international organizations, and against the more important treaties. The reason was that treaties and international responsibilities limited America’s freedom of action, and hence its autonomy. Like most men, he became more conservative as he grew older. Unlike most men he observed himself doing so—ruefully speculating that it was not the wisdom of age but simply age itself that had driven him inward and rightward. He was a strong speaker, and he knew the Senate, its traditions and rules, as none other did. After 1958 his opinions were shared by an ever-smaller fraction of the Senate, and on some issues he lost the power to affect the outcome by embracing the Republicans. But he remained a great force; nothing could diminish his chairmanships, his cunning, or his integrity. Often I found myself offering counsel to him, seeking to forward his purposes, because his character and professionalism were magnetic to me.

STROM THURMOND OF SOUTH CAROLINA: shaped like a medium-range missile, in his sixties but physically a man of thirty-five. He was deeply reactionary. As Olin Johnston said, he believed that stuff. He had tremendous energy and purpose, which made it worse. He reminded me of General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, cast as a Carolina pol. His effectiveness in the Senate was that of an intransigent nay-sayer who filibustered after other Southerners had determined to compromise. Thus he made them look weak and spineless by comparison; contemptuous and angry, they were nevertheless forced to supplicate him. He had considerable political acumen, courtesy, and no humor. Wound up, he could talk cold war—big bomb—subtle Communist-conspiracy theory for hours, but it was all a canned tape full of mutually reinforcing catchwords; it was without relevance, though it explained everything.


Mostly extroverted, upwardly mobile personalities. Hungry for acclaim, whether from the newspapers, a football stadium crowd, or a visiting delegation of blue-marcelled DAR’s. Maybe the public’s expression of approval satisfied a senator’s deepest psychological needs; certainly it was evidence that he might survive the next election.

Some senators—I am thinking particularly of Republicans from the Middle West—were so typical of middle-class businessmen or lawyers in their states that there seemed no special reason why they had been chosen to serve in the Senate instead of others. Fate had simply reached down into a bag of identical marbles and selected one at random.

On the other hand, some of the older members— particularly Southerners—were atypical of the ordinary business and professional class to which they belonged, and which they represented. Their style was political-clerical: bar association leaders and Protestant pastors had it, the ones who join Kiwanis. It was a hearty, portentous style, peculiar enough to distinguish a man in a crowd, not so peculiar as to cut him off from the commonality on the Great Issues (“We Americans feel . . .”).

Such men were actors, part of a great public show. They could be funny or even ridiculous—Senator Everett Dirksen often walked the edge of the absurd, and he was not only tolerated but positively welcomed, as a “character.” Perhaps the public enjoyed indulging their excesses, enjoyed saying. “You know these politicians,” as they might cluck about an eccentric relative in the family.

But it was dangerous to be set apart too far. After a spectacular performance of jokes, shouts, and tears, a political man had to be ready to salute the accepted verities along with the audience he had just entertained, to lose his voice in their solemn chorus. He had to be Old Bill, familiar, one of us, puts his pants on one leg at a time same as I do. Most of America’s millions of veterans were noncoms. They had seen enough of general officers to last them a lifetime. They wanted political representatives who felt as they did, though senators might be, and indeed ought to be, more astute about what to do.

How much latitude did a senator have in representing his constituency? How closely did he have to follow the prevailing winds in his state? One of the most common complaints about politicians was that they were obsequious before public opinion. Evasive and insincere, they were forever trimming their words to suit their constituencies. Those who so complained usually believed, or said they believed, in a representative form of government. If they were able to reconcile their complaint with their belief, it was on the ground that politicans should represent them the “good responsible people”—and not the mass. Thus, when they called upon political men to “get out in front” of mass opinion, they generally had in mind getting out just far enough to coincide exactly with their own judgments.

Many of the struggles I witnessed in the Senate involved the conflict between “statesmanship” and “representation.” A Southerner who believed passionately in civil rights, and said so, was almost certain to be defeated—not by an opponent who shared his beliefs, but by one who took advantage of his candor to play on racial fears and animosities among the voters. A Midwesterner who campaigned against the enormous cost of agricultural programs could expect nothing but a trouncing at the hands of farmer-voters. An Easterner who even suggested that the Vikings discovered America could count on prompt retaliation by his Italian constituents.

What a senator had to do, who wanted both to do good and to be elected, was first to bow before the prevailing icons in his state, and having made that obeisance, to turn to more promising endeavors. Political scientist John Roche has pointed out that the antebellum South was indulgent toward a considerable amount of heterodoxy—a Jew, after all, was Secretary of State in the Confederacy—so long as the household god of slavery was accepted. Thus, Southern liberals like Lister Hill, John Sparkman, and Olin Johnston could support expensive social programs in the Senate so long as they took part in filibusters against civil rights. Fulbright could take advanced positions on international questions so long as he resisted attempts by the federal government to modify racial relations in Arkansas. Proxmire paid his fee of support to the dairy farmers of Wisconsin, Douglas his to the corn growers of Illinois.

Lyndon Johnson faced the same requirement, and he met it in much the same way. He had no special love for the oil and gas industry of Texas; oil men had never been among his most ardent supporters in the days before he became Majority Leader and acquired such power over their fortunes. Even in his days of supreme authority in the Senate, his efforts in their behalf satisfied only the bare minimum of what was required. His liberal colleague. Ralph Yarborough, was far more outspoken in the industry’s defense. Yet Johnson did his part. He helped to lead the fight for state control of the offshore oil lands and against federal regulation of gas prices at the wellhead. He was careful about assignments to the Finance Committee, where the depletion allowance lay like a ruby in a wall safe. Speeches defending the allowance against attacks on the Senate floor were probably unnecessary, so long as there was a heavy majority to protect it.

Having secured the benign indifference—if not the active support—of Texas’ most powerful economic interest, Johnson was free to pursue other goals. His refusal in 1956 to sign the Southern Manifesto against the Supreme Court’s ruling on school desegregation was possible not only because a substantial minority of Texans were black or brown, but because he was sound on oil and gas. Conservatism on that issue allowed him to work for the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, for public housing and urban renewal, and for foreign aid; this at a time when Texas school boards were throwing out textbooks that even discussed the UN, and when the state’s most prominent newspaper was espousing views substantially to the right of the Chicago Tribune.

In his quest for independence. Johnson had another string to his bow, besides his orthodoxy on oil and gas questions. He was The Leader—a great and famous public figure. Texans were rather proud that one of their own occupied such a position. They allowed him leeway on many issues of less than critical significance to them, and could even tolerate, without accepting, his progressive views on race. He was not a monumental figure, already cast in bronze, as was Russell in Georgia; he was too often seen to be operating and maneuvering (as he could not hide his pleasure in those skills). And as I have said, he was mistrusted by many on both sides in the continuous civil war that is Texas politics. But he was national property, and people thought twice about trading him off for an ordinary senator.

There were other senators, whose unique political status or personalities gave them a degree of independence and allowed them to vote as they, and not the majority of their constituencies, believed. Arizona was growing steadily more conservative as it became a retirement haven for the wealthy, but Carl Hayden had invented Arizona, and could pretty much vote as he pleased, generally with the liberals. Nothing Dirksen might have done—not all his stunning reversals of position, nor his self-amused, specious justifications for those reversals—could shake his majority in Illinois.

Alben Barkley was a permanent part of the Kentucky political scene, and a story about him illustrates a third means of achieving independence while continuing to be elected. It was said that during a campaign in the forties, Barkley was interrupted in the middle of a magnificent town square speech in eastern Kentucky when someone yelled, “How do you stand on FEPC?” Barkley surveyed the crowd. Eastern Kentucky, like eastern Tennessee, had long been divided on the racial issue. There were the grandchildren of Unionists and of Confederates and copperheads in that audience; no one knew how many of each. At last Barkley quietly replied, “I’m all right on FEPC.” And went on with his speech.

Put in its worst light, this third road to independence was simply that of the artful dodger—the fancy-footwork, never-laid-a-glove-on-me lightweight, who never answered the question he was asked but always another, who emitted clouds of gas in which he raced about, seeking to placate those whom he had most recently offended. There was something of him in nearly every senator. Unless a man was a living monument, or unless he was at the very end of his career and cared only for his pride or conscience and nothing for his re-election, he did not ignore the political consequences of what he did. He tried not to meet every thrust of public opinion with his chin. Senator Stephen Young of Ohio made a name for himself by answering foolish or vicious letters with broadsides of contempt; he was widely admired for that, but I thought the public’s favorable reaction depended on there being only one of him. A little vagueness on a senator’s part seemed necessary for civil discourse with his constituency.

Put more generously, many good men remained in the Senate to perform significant public services because they were able to diffuse or refract the image of their opinions on politically dangerous questions. It would have done the country no ultimate good to know their precise views on birth control, intermarriage, or relations with Eastern Europe, if the consequence of that would have been their defeat and replacement by lesser men. Astute leaders like Johnson often sought to frame issues in ways that did not embarrass their more valuable colleagues; and there were many parliamentary devices—motions to recommit dangerous bills or amendments, points of order, and so on—that could be used to avoid an Armageddon of convictions.

The right timing could give a man independence for a while—so long, to paraphrase Eliot, as the moment lasted. One who had been crying in the wilderness, prophesying economic disaster if present policies were continued, came into his own in a time of recession, and so long as it lasted and the public remembered his position, could do no wrong. A John McClellan would have been free to experiment with unusual policies in other fields, because of his identification as a crime-fighter in an age when the fear of criminal violence was widespread.

Once I urged Johnson to take an unusual position on a pending question, and even suggested how he might rationalize his behavior in the eyes of Texas voters. He showed no interest. I walked over to another senator and made the same argument, this time with success. The senator and I were nodding in enthusiastic agreement when Johnson signaled me back to him. I bowed my head beside him to hear as he whispered something I could not catch at first, until he repeated it with rasping asperity: “You couldn’t get elected constable.”

Maybe not, but I was learning more and more about those who could.


I did not know them as well as I knew the Democrats. The aisle between the two sides was only a few feet wide, but the Republicans had their own staff, and there were not many occasions when my work required me to cross it.

There was plenty of senatorial traffic across the center aisle, however—mostly Democrats going over to buttonhole Republicans, seeking their support or acquiescence on Democratic bills. Johnson was particularly wide-ranging and seemed to regard the Republican side as quite as much within his domain as the Democratic. A few Republicans did come across from time to time, in search of allies: William Knowland, Styles Bridges, or Everett Dirksen to see the conservative Southerners; Javits to see Humphrey, Douglas, or Morse. But the majority of Republicans seemed content to sit, like melons in a patch, waiting for someone to gather them.

Nevertheless they told much about American politics that could not be learned from the Democrats alone, and for that reason I made notes on some of them.

GEORGE AIKEN OF VERMONT: Robert Frost as a senator; red tie, white hair, blue suit. He would be out early on snowy New England mornings, feeding the animals. stacking wood, checking the maple sap runoff. A man of sturdy independence, with a ready shoulder for a neighbor’s bogged-down car. He was Mike Mansfield’s great friend (theirs was, I believed, one of the few enduring simple friendships in the Senate). Aiken was a composite of the early American virtues. He could also be intensely partisan—though he often voted with the Democrats, particularly in behalf of rural progressivism and an internationalist foreign policy.

FRANCIS CASE OF SOUTH DAKOTA: somewhere in every public school room in America, there is a little boy who throws and throws his hand up before the teacher before the child she has called upon has had a chance to think of the answer. He knows the answer at once; his soul cries out for the chance to give it, perhaps because he needs to be praised, or because he must hear the orderly “click” when the right answer tits onto the question. He is oblivious to the scorn of his fellow students; the information is the thing. Francis Case was that little boy grown up, pale, square, and deadly dull. His revelation that a gas lobbyist may have tried to bribe him hit the Senate like a truck loaded with wheat from the hard plains of South Dakota. He could have said “tried to rape me” and been believed; no one would have supposed that Case had the imagination to make it up. When he died, this little man, so tidy and severe, left a monument which archaeologists a millennium from now may find to be proof of our productive genius, or madness, or both—the interstate highway system.

EVERETT DIRKSEN OF ILLINOIS: what can be said about him now that anyone who observed him does not already know or sense? When Dirksen succeeded Knowland as Republican leader, a Democratic power mused, “He will be the ideal Republican in that job. The Republicans are the party of the special interests. Most of them represent one or two. Dirksen represents them all.” Through sheer chutzpah, he almost made that a virtue: the individual businessman was everywhere oppressed by government, so who was to help him, defend him, seek a fair audience for him, unless it was his elected representative? This struck a sympathetic chord in many members; most of them used the same rationale. It was OK so far as it went, but of course it often went too far.

I had a friend who drank a great deal but never suffered a hangover because, he said, hangovers came from moral guilt about drinking, and he had decided that drinking was not bad. Dirksen seemed to feel the same way about his frequent changes of course in matters of public policy—anti foreign aid. pro foreign aid, anti foreign aid, and so on. Change was to be preferred, he said, because “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” quoting Emerson. (It was a long time before I realized that Emerson had actually said, “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”) Dirksen changed sometimes because his party altered its course behind him, sometimes because he was persuaded to do so by Democratic leaders, and sometimes because Presidents—Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson—made him feel he must, for the country’s sake. Moderate Presidents could touch him, though on the Senate floor he might sing the Taft conservative hymn, the I-don’tunderstand-why-we-should refrain; could touch him because he was susceptible to their kindness and appeals to his patriotism. When they said that he alone could sway sufficient votes to redeem the country’s honor and ensure racial peace, he responded. I admired him for that. Others were less sympathetic. On Dirksen’s birthday one year, while the Senate went through its ritual round of arch or heartfelt congratulations, I asked a Southern power who had made many arrangements with Dirksen over the years why he did not join in the celebration. “He is a delightful companion,” he said, “but he changes too often for me. I never know where he is.” If he was all politician, as flexible as a reed in the prevailing wind, he was also an individualist who did not yield his personal idiosyncrasies to the common taste, and he was brave in the face of pain.

JOHN MARSHALL BUTLER of Maryland, JOE MCCARTHY of Wisconsin, WILLIAM JENNER of Indiana. and HERMAN WELKER of Idaho—four peas in a bad pod. Butler was a well-dressed lightweight, a “pipsqueak,” as journalist Gerald Johnson called him; Jenner was a rough infighter whom Welker, heavy with drinking, followed about the chamber as a malign hound trails a harsh master; McCarthy alone had the energy to convert venom into action. The voters of four states had sent them to the Senate. It was enough to give pause to the most committed believer in the democratic process. One could understand the attractions of conservatism; but why should such small-minded, hostile men, without purpose except to injure, represent the people of those states? There were logical antecedents—their vicious campaigns, and the naive responses of their opponents; factionalism that destroyed their opposition from within; a national tide of reaction that swept them to shore. But why them? Why not men like Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts, or even Edward Martin of Pennsylvania, a captive mouse of industry? If the people of Idaho and Indiana rejected liberal politics and economics, it seemed to me that they might have chosen those of the Union League, instead of an American Falange.

In the main, I thought Republicans dull, humorless, complacent, and shortsighted—in league, on the one hand, with exhausted but portentous institutions like the church and the Legion; on the other, with selfish business interests. I thought Democrats by nature festive, original, articulate, and sympathetic to the poor. There were almost as many exceptions to this as there were supporting examples, but that did not prevent me from holding the opinion.

In Southerners I discovered, or devised, a residual populism beneath the racial bigotry. Contrarily, when a Southerner expressed a benighted opinion, I was likely to think it picturesque. When he voted against a needed social reform. I accepted his resistance as natural. Not so with Republicans. What was colorful among Southerners was simply reactionary in those across the aisle.

These were unfair distinctions, and I knew it; but I devised a kind of “literary” basis for them. The South, I believed, was obsessed with character and language; it was violent in thought and action, and yet it was curiously tolerant of extravagant personalities. There was also its ancient -and generally honorable involvement in international politics, which gave promise that in times of crisis a few Southerners would, through instinct and heritage, serve the country well. Many Southerners in Congress were as plain as a business letter; but the region itself was so vivid that I thought its politics should be judged substantially as art.

There seemed to be no such traditions or obsessions in the Midwest—in the Republican heartland. Respectable as most of them were. Republicans were uninteresting. Hence I judged their views, not in the context of personality or in the realm of art, but purely as ideology—stark and homely as steelrimmed spectacles, mighty proud to be made in America.

I was easier on Southerners, of course, because I was one. Given the chance. I would have pitched in to fight half of them in their home-state elections. But in Washington, where many Northerners were wet and intolerant toward all things Southern, I found myself defending what I detested back home. Perhaps everyone is inclined to do this, who spent a happy childhood in an identifiable region. The attacks of outsiders, even when intellectually unanswerable, never seem to account for the pleasures of growing up there, and in witnessing to those pleasures one resists hearing what one knows to be true. When the attack is a universal indictment—for example, all Southerners are racial bigots, all Midwesterners are Babbitts—one urges the exceptions, and if the debate goes on long enough, and if there is enough to drink, one romanticizes the exceptions into a universal defense: most Southerners are not racial bigots, most Midwesterners are decent sons of the soil.

For a Southern liberal in Washington, there was another, opposing need, that of being accepted by the political establishment of the city. Despite Republican control of the White House and Southern control of the Congress, the lively political spirit in Washington was Northern-Democratic; not the Northern democracy of the city bosses, but of those who believed in “taking chances for peace,” government intervention in the economy, aid to the distant poor, and civil rights laws. I wanted such people—reporters, columnists, editors, lawyers, and administrators of Roosevelt and Truman days, the staffs of liberal senators—to think me one of them, as in philosophic attitude I was. Often I found myself being introduced at dinner parties in a way that suggested — without, it seemed, intentional condescension—that I was “all right,” a Southerner who wanted the right things; and sometimes, to prove my credentials, I responded with sardonic comments about those Southerners with whom I had just been working the Senate chamber. This must have made me uneasy, for I was quick to defend the same men when others joined and intensified the attack.

I envied those who sallied forth with unalloyed spirits, attacking or supporting without hesitation. But I often found my original opinion about a man or an issue to be insufficient, one-sided, or plain wrong, and I became wary about absolute views. And a fascination with personality—with whatever it was that made men strong or weak, driving or passive, hard or vulnerable—made it difficult to concentrate on their philosophies, or even on their actions, as the sole basis for judging them.

In time I found many dull Republicans to be interesting men, worth being “fair” to. And once I started down that road, it become harder to laugh at malicious assaults upon them. Dogma gave way to sympathy; the sharp edge of combat was dulled by fellow feeling. This was perhaps inevitable in any group so tightly circumscribed as was the Senate and its staff, but the threat it posed was ominous: that one would become just another member of the corps of professional political men that invests every capital and city hall, men to whom a slap on the back and a kind exchange are more important than belief. Politics as practiced by such men—the politics of personality without conviction—bears the same relationship to serious governance that a dry grin bears to love. If one abhorred the politics of the doctrinaire, one had also to resist the politics of the club car. □