Faceless men in a dreary place
They were trying to get a quorum the other day in the Senate when I looked down, and the public galleries were half full for the dreary roll call. There was one colorful figure on the floor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of Oneonta, N.Y., and I got to reflecting how the nature of senators has changed over the years. Pat Moynihan is a cross between politician and leprechaun who has served as a Cabinet or sub-Cabinet officer of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford besides being ambassador to India. He is unusual. What is it the modern senator lacks, I got to thinking, compared with the old days? Is it flamboyance , personality, or what? So many are faceless men.Skip to next paragraph
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In the present Senate a number stand out as personalities. There is Edmund Muskie (only he has just left), John Glenn of Ohio (only he is better known as astronaut than senator); there are Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, and Robert Dole (who got national exposure as presidential or vice presidential candidates). Then there is majority leader Bob Byrd of West Virginia (only you have to see him playing hoedown music on his fiddle; as party spokesman he is rather dour). The preeminent senator today for national recognition is Teddy Kennedy. I include Henry Jackson of Washington, Jacob Javits of New York; certainly Russell Long of Louisiana (though he doesn't rate with his fater, Huey). There is William Proxmire and three who recall the old-time southern school: John Stennis, Mississippi; Herman Talmadge, Georgia; and Strom Thurmond, South Carolina. Have I left some out? Yes, certainly, I have, but I am just giving you names for comparison on the Moynihan Scale.
Economist Paul McCracken last week said we should look back 40 years to the old Temporary National Economic Committee and when I said I got trapped in the senatorial roster of the 76th Congress. Yes, June, 1940. What a galaxy! The personalities jump out at you. For a starter I give you Hiram Johnson, Bob LaFollette Jr., George Norris, Gerald P. Nye, Claude Pepper, and Robert A. Taft. I don't say these men were necessarily intellectual giants (some were) but personalities. There's just no comparison today. On the Moynihan Scale they shiver the glass.
I have just started the list. Who's this little man from Independence, Missouri? Why it's Harry S. Truman, who modestly gives himself only three-and-a-half lines in the Who's Who section of the 1940 Congressional Directory, overshadowed by Bennett Champ Clark, senior senator from the state, with 39 lines.
That's only the beginning. What figures they were: the coourtly Henry F. Ashurt of Arizona; Alben W. Barkley, the beloved senator from Kentucky and later vice-president; Tom Connally of Texas; puddler Jim Davis of Pennsylvania; Theodore G. ("The Man") Bilbo; Jimmy Byrnes, South Carolina; Arthur Capper of Kanss; Hattie Caraway. . . . I am merely going down the alphabet. They were all individualists and prima donnas.
Did I mention Carter Glass? No, I missed him in the first list -- he created the Federal Reserve System, was treasury secretary in Wilson's Cabinet, and talked out of one side of his mouth. (Wilson said of him with mock awe, "Just think what Carter would say if he used his whole mouth!") I don't have room for many more: Pat Harrison (Mississippi), Lister Hill (Alabama), Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., lanky grandson of the first Lodge.
I must mention Pat McCarran (Nevada); Charles McNary (Oregon); Sherman Minton (Indiana); Bob Wanger (N.Y.); Burton K. Wheeler (Montana). I'll stop before I hope you. Of them all Claude Pepper, senator from Florida in 1940 is still in Congress, as a representative from Miami.
Why are senators today so colorless compared to old times? I guess it is radio and television.They get elected in a different way. There is less room now for eccentrics and also, I suspect, for towering personalities. Looking down as the Senate filled up with the tedious roll call I thought it rather a dreary place.