Mansfield and Herblock: two American giants

The Mike Mansfield I knew back in the 1960s was the most frequent guest at Monitor breakfasts. He came again and again, eager to share his views on foreign affairs and legislation moving forward in Congress. He clearly liked reporters. And we liked him.

As Senate majority leader and influential member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Mansfield was a powerful force. But he was so modest and unassuming. He never forgot where he came from - how he started out as a copper miner in Montana.

At our breakfasts, Mansfield wasn't an easy guest. Mike - and he would insist on being called "Mike" - didn't have the usual politician's tendency to answer questions with a flood of words. Instead, this candid man would reply to question after question with simply a "yep" or a "nope." Once a reporter told me he had counted 30 of these cryptic answers at one of these morning sessions.

Mike simply wasn't an equivocator. He had a view, and he refused to cover it up with gibber-jabber. This was wonderfully refreshing to us journalists.

But, invariably, Mike with his terseness would have responded to so many questions that - well before our 9 a.m. scheduled closing - I'd have to be pushing my colleagues to come up with queries. I'd then have to prod with, "Don't tell me you have run out of questions." And I remember how Mike would throw back his head and laugh when I made this call for help.

I talked to Mike almost every week when President Johnson was increasing US involvement in the Vietnam War. I wouldn't even have to call for an appointment. I would arrive and wait outside his office, knowing he would sweep me in to see him as soon as he had a free moment. He had read the Monitor, he said, since his college days. And he remained an admiring reader - saying he had always profited by reading our foreign-affairs coverage.

Anyway, he told me "off the record" early in the Vietnam War of his reservations about escalating US involvement in the conflict. Then, later in the war, as American casualties mounted, Mansfield's position became public knowledge when he let it be known that he shared the view of his friend, Sen. George Aiken of Vermont, who said the US should simply "declare victory" and bring its troops home.

After Mike left the Senate, I never could coax him to come to breakfast again. He always would reply warmly and gratefully, but with the modest comment, "I don't have anything to say." Even after he completed his tour as ambassador to Japan, I got the same answer.

We lost another American giant in recent days: the Washington Post's great cartoonist Herblock (Herbert Block). Herblock was a battler of demagogues and those who would encroach on our civil liberties. And he couldn't stand hypocrisy. I always turned to his cartoons when I opened the Post. I didn't always agree. But he almost always gave me a smile or a laugh. That's what the old-time political cartoonists were able to do - and what most modern cartoonists fail to do.

I got to know Herblock at many Gridiron Club meetings and dinners over the years. Roscoe Drummond - one-time Monitor luminary and long-time member of this Washington journalists' club - had told me I would be "surprised" when I met Herblock. "From his cartoons," Drummond said, "you would expect he'd be a tough guy. But he's a sweet man."

Herblock could be devastating with his pen. But in person, he was gentle and friendly. He'd come up to a group of us and, after shaking hands and asking how we all were, he'd tell a little non-political joke. Then he'd kid a bit with us about nothing much. And that would be that. But I would most remember, as he left our group, his sweet, almost childlike smile and his lack of any vestige of self-importance. And I would think: Who would guess he's won three Pulitzer Prizes for his individual work, and shared another Pulitzer with his newspaper?

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