If your Majesty asks, 'What must be done for the benefit of my kingdom?' the high officials will say,' What must be done for the benefit of our families?' and the minor functionaries and the common people will say, 'What can be done for our benefit?' The former and the latter will attempt to snatch these advantages from one another, and the kingdom itself will be endangered. In a kingdom of ten thousand chariots, the sovereign's assassin will be the head of a family with one thousand chariots. In a kingdom of one thousand chariots, the prince's assassin will be the head of a family with one hundred chariots. To own one thousand chariots out of ten thousand, or one hundred out of one thousand, may not seem like such a bad lot, but if gain is put before justice, men will not be satisfied until they have everything.
But the Senate, despite its decline in power and public esteem during the second half of the Nineteenth century, did not consist entirely of hogs and damned skulking wolves.
PROFILES IN COURAGE
This disinterested creed was acceptable coming from a Senator, but a President is supposed to leave his heart behind. "Deceit, dishonesty and duplicity are the dominant characteristics of most national leaders."(1) There were few exceptions among the American political leaders of the Sixties. These professionals had nothing but contempt for the author of Profiles in Courage, this amateur who preached indulgence. They underestimated the future of this uncommon admirer of the rational and courteous Whigs of the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. They were somewhat astonished at the organization of this candidate who set up his headquarters in a nine-room suite in the Esso Building in Washington, kept a card file of the 30,000 most influential Democrats in the country, and flew around in a $270,000 Convair cheered by red-headed hostess Janet des Rosiers.
Kennedy covered a million miles, the equivalent of 40 times around the globe, introducing the voters to his sophisticated Messianism, his heroic speeches, and his movie-star smile. "We love you on TV. You're better than Elvis Presley . . ." the students of Louisville told him. Like Woodrow Wilson, he kept repeating, "The hearts of men await our acts." He even declared that the President should be in the thick of the fight. The professionals just laughed. They knew that there are neither friends nor enemies in politics, only colleagues and competitors -- that virtues are nil and tactics are everything. They were sure he would lose, but he won by a hair,(2) and they were surprised. They were even more surprised to learn that the ignorant and obstinate Protestants of West Virginia and the backwoods farmers of Minnesota, fervent supporters of Hubert H. Humphrey, had voted for him.
Once they had recovered, the professionals took a second look at his platform. They noted that Kennedy had taken stands or made promises 150 times on matters of national defense, 54 times on foreign policy, 21 on agricultural problems, 35 on administration and justice, 41 on employment, 14 on business, and 16 on economic policy. They realized that he had managed to rally the Negroes while winning votes on the theme of white supremacy,(3) and that although he claimed to be a liberal he had, on October 4, 1960, accused Eisenhower and Nixon of weakness and failure to act on the Cuban problem. At Evansville, he had even promised to overthrow Castro. He had affirmed his opposition to Communism and promised to strengthen national defense and initiate an anti-missile missile program. At Columbus, Ohio in 1959, Kennedy had described himself as not only a liberal, but a "strong liberal," but conservative Republicans scoffed at the liberal notions of this millionaire, and liberal Democrats regarded him with suspicion.
Realizing that they had been beaten on their own ground, the professionals were even madder when they discovered Kennedy to be a fundamental adversary of their customary practices. The majority of the politicians were opposed to the President's anti-mediocrity drive. They recoiled at his impatience to rid the country of the Nibelungenlied of the Far West and the salesman.
Politics as a career is looked down upon in the United States. Franklin D. Roosevelt called himself a farmer. Even as a Representative, and later as a Senator, Kennedy stood head and shoulders above the mass of greedy and embittered politicians who spend their lives laboriously scaling the ladder of success. "The White House is not for sale," Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon had once remarked. Kennedy was not one of them. He had never belonged to their cliques. He didn't act like a Senator, nor did he regard the Senate as the acme of human evolution.
Most Senators followed the advice of Telemachus: "Service, talent, merit? Bah! Follow the group . . ." From that point of view, Kennedy was on a different level than Everett Dirksen, Hubert Humphrey, and Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana. The day before his inauguration, they were still wondering how on earth he had gotten elected, what with the Senate for Johnson, the House for Symington, the intellectuals for Stevenson, the liberals of the ADA for Humphrey and Stevenson, the civil rights leaders for Humphrey, the labor leaders for Humphrey and Symington, and the Southerners for Johnson. When you came right down to it, Kennedy had only the people on his side.
On January 29, 1961, Kennedy addressed his first State of the Union Message to Congress: "It is a pleasure to return from whence I came. You are among my oldest friends in Washington -- and this House is my oldest home. It was here, more than 14 years ago, that I first took the oath of federal office. It was here, for 14 hears, that I gained both knowledge and inspiration from members of both parties in both Houses -- from your wise and generous leaders -- and from the pronouncements -- which I can vividly recall, sitting where you now sit -- including the programs of two great Presidents, the undimmed eloquence of Churchill, the soaring idealism of Nehru, the steadfast words of General de Gaulle. To speak from this same historic rostrum is a sobering experience. To be back among so many friends is a happy one.
"I am confident that the friendship will continue. Our Constitution wisely assigns both joint and separate roles to each branch of the government; and a President and a Congress who hold each other in mutual respect will neither permit nor attempt any trespass. For my part, I shall withhold from neither the Congress nor the people any fact or report, past, present, or future, which is necessary for an informed judgment of our conduct and hazards. I shall neither shift the burden of executive decisions to the Congress, nor avoid responsibility for the outcome of those decisions."
He painted a gloomy picture of the state of the nation, denounced its weaknesses, and promised to face its problems squarely, adding: "Before my term has ended, we shall have to test anew whether a nation organized and governed such as ours can endure. The outcome is by no means certain." And he concluded, "It is one of the ironies of our time that the techniques of a harsh and repressive system should be able to instill discipline and ardor in its servants -- while the blessings of liberty have too often stood for privilege, materialism, and a life of ease.
"But I have a different view of liberty. Life in 1961 will not be easy . . ."
An imperceptible shiver went down the spine of Congress. A President cannot be judged on the strength of just one speech, but this President had already acted. The Democrats were disappointed when Kennedy chose McNamara over Stuart Symington for Secretary of Defense, and Dean Rusk rather than Adlai Stevenson as Secretary of State. They noted that Democratic National Committee Chairman Henry Jackson had been overlooked, and that the opposition groups the President needed to reconcile had no Cabinet representation. The Secretary of Agriculture did not come from the Farm Belt and wasn't known for his support of the farmers, and the Secretary of Labor was not one of the names backed by the unions. The job of Postmaster General went not to a politician or to the head of the party, but to an experienced administrator. Nevertheless, Kennedy named Douglas Dillon Secretary of the Treasury rather than J. Kenneth Galbraith in an attempt to reassure the Republicans.(4)
Kennedy's initial legislative proposals were moderate. He needed support on Capitol Hill, and he handled Congress like a wild animal that has to be treated with caution. He knew that there is nothing men like less than the truth, and that politics is a continual struggle, but he was as yet unaware of the burden of the Presidency. It had taken Harry Truman eighteen months to develop his own personal style. Kennedy was later to comment that "The first months are very hard . ."(5) He had difficulty in adapting his way of thinking to that of the politicians. Speaking before the cameras of CBS television in homage to poet Robert Frost, he remarked:
"There is a story that, some years ago, an interested mother wrote to the principal of a school: Don't teach my boy poetry. He is going to run for Congress.
"I have never taken the view that the world of politics and the world of poetry are so far apart. I think politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is that their greatness depends upon the courage with which they face the challenger of life."
When Lyndon Johnson was Senate Majority Leader, he had described the Senate in quite another way:
"The Senate is a wild animal that has to be tamed. You can stimulate it by pricking it lightly, but if you sting it too hard it may yield, or it may go after you. You have to approach it in just the right way, and you have to know what kind of a mood it's in."
Lyndon Johnson had also said: "They told me when I came to Congress that the best way to get along with your fellow Congressmen is to follow along."
A Congressman has only two things to worry about: his fellow Congressmen, who can ruin his career, and his constituents, who can end it. A Senator who fails to support the interests of his state is taking a big risk. Kennedy knew that the Founding Fathers had conceived of the Senate as "a body which would not be subject to constituent pressures" and of Senators as "ambassadors from individual sovereign governments to the Federal Government, not representatives of the voting public."(6) But things hadn't turned out that way. The ambassadors "were very often subject to corruption. Tradition and the law govern the conduct of the members of the executive branch, but the legislators are accountable to no one. Apparently it is impossible to legalize the relationship between money and politics in public life.(7) Three members of the Kennedy administration were millionaires, but they could account for their fortunes, something which the majority of the 40 millionaire Congressmen (18 Representatives and 22 Senators, or one out of 3) would have found it more difficult to do.(8) His vicuna coat cost Sherman Adams, Eisenhower's right-hand man, his White House job, but the shady dealings of Oklahoma Senator Robert Kerr, the uncrowned king of the Senate, were common knowledge.(9) Walter Lippman once said that: "With exceptions so rare they are regarded as miracles of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding, threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular -- not whether it will work well and prove itself, but whether the active-talking constituents like it immediately."(10)
Once Kennedy was installed in the White House and his style of living became apparent, the politicians realized that he had little in common with them. As a rural Congressman remarked in 1962, "All that Mozart string music and ballet dancing down there and all that fox-hunting and London clothes . . . He's too elegant for me." Representative Edward Hebert of Louisiana referred to the New Frontiersmen as "a bunch of striplings who are geniuses in the intellectual community but have never fired a shot in anger." Many politicians were so accustomed to addressing ignorant audiences that their vocabulary never advanced beyond a grammar-school level.(11) The American as opposed to the English language is keyed to the lowest common denominator . Kennedy's English was incomprehensible to them:
"Would you have counted him a friend of ancient Greece who quietly discussed the theory of patriotism on that hot summer day through those hopeless and immortal hours Leonidas and the 300 stood at Thermopylae for liberty? Would you count anyone a friend of freedom who stands aside today?(12)
"Thucydides reported that the Peloponnesians and their allies were almighty in battle but handicapped by their policy-making body -- in which, they related, each presses its own ends . . ."(13)
Who on earth was Thucydides? Where was the Peloponnesos? And what was Thermopylae?
But there was more to it than that. In matters of religion Kennedy maintained a strict neutrality, but he had a Catholic conception of the Presidency. While Protestant theory bases political authority on the mandate of the people and a respect for the individual, Catholics regard authority as stemming directly from God. "I have tried to give my government a tone and a style that will serve as a inspiration for perfection," said Kennedy. "Perfection" is a foreign word on Capitol Hill, and Congressmen don't like to be preached at. The American Constitution places legislative power ahead of the executive. The President may request, suggest or advise the Congress, but that is the limit of his formal powers. Congress alone controls federal spending. The President is like a cat on a hot tin roof. His program is entirely dependent on the will of Congress.
"A President who wants to make the most of his office must learn to weigh his stake of personal influence -- power in the sense of real effectiveness -- in the scales of every decision he makes. He must always think about his personal risks, in power terms not merely to protect himself -- that's the least of it -- but in order to get clues, insight about the risks to policy. His own position is so tenuous, so insecure, that if he thinks about it he is likely to learn something about unknowns and uncertainties in policy alternatives."(14)
Only twice in American history has the Senate unanimously backed the President: in 1930 after the Wall Street crash, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Constitution stipulates that the Congress makes policy and the President executes it, but history and the rapid development of the United States have shifted the initiative to the White House. Nevertheless, the legislative system is such that Congress has the power to block not only revolutionary changes, but also needed reforms. Its structure is unsuited to the requirements of modern government. With its negative powers, it is an anachronism.
It is true that by 1960 the Constitution was no longer followed to the letter. Congress retained the right to make policy, but the problems of a modern nation are so complex and so extensive that its members preferred to confine them- selves to representing the interests of their constituents and blocking the initiatives of the administration. America is not adequately represented on Capitol Hill. The nervously conservative majority of the House of Representatives is continually in opposition to the more relaxed and open majority in the Senate. The members of the House, whose electoral districts are smaller, are absorbed by local problems. Because of their two-year term, they are constantly preoccupied with getting re-elected, to the detriment of their legislative duties.
Most Congressmen shy away from the real problems facing the nation, those that can only be solved by federal intervention.(15) Under Eisenhower, the power of the federal government diminished, to the benefit of the states. Washington and Dallas are worlds apart. "Many people in this country speak of Washington as if it were somewhere overseas," says Senate Democratic leader Mike Mansfield.
The states are willing to accept favors from Washington. State highway construction, for example, is financed 93% by the federal government, and federal education subsidies are equally high. But they refuse to accept the obvious -- that the United States are becoming more and more united. Even the regional accents are blending into one, but the cotton planters of the South still don't share the interests of the wheat farmers of the Middle West.
Simultaneously with the development of the Presidential powers since the end of the Second World War, Congress has extended its control over the administration. The federal agencies are at the mercy of the committees on Capitol Hill. What great power today can afford the luxury of an omnipotent legislature?
In reality, neither the President nor the Congress have clearly-defined powers. Their spheres of action overlap. But Kennedy's legislative proposals were more carefully planned al1d minutely detailed than those of any other President, even Roosevelt during the New Deal. Then, the future of the nation was at stake. The legislators knew it, but they grumbled about the "Roosevelt dictatorship" nevertheless, and 25 years later they still had not forgotten.
Few Senators, even Democratic Senators, shared Kennedy's outlook. They voted in favor of his bills because a Senator is expected to support the President when his party is in power, or in some cases because they feared reprisals.
Lyndon Johnson's accession to the Vice-Presidency in 1961 had weakened the majority group in Congress. The Democratic Party is the only true national party, but in the Congress it is split by conflicting local and regional interests. In 1961, the Southern Democrats allied with the conservative Republicans against the remainder of the Democrats, who were supported by a few liberal Republicans. But on important votes the latter returned to the fold. Such party discipline was rarely in evidence among the Democrats.
The pressure of the lobbyists further confused the issues. In 1961, they were responsible for the House rejection of the Federal Education Bill that had already passed the Senate, and in 1962 in the Senate they succeeded in blocking the trade bill already approved by the House. With the 64 Southern Democrats generally voting against him, Kennedy was forced to rely on the votes of the dissident Republican Representatives. The fate of the New Frontier rested in the hands of a few aging Southern Senators, most of whom had been born before the turn of the century and represented rural interests in an urban nation, or hung on the ephemeral support of the nonconformist Republicans.
The traditions and peculiarities of the Congressional system further complicated the situation.(16) The vote on the budget was once delayed for four months because Representative Cannon (Missouri), aged 83, and Senator Hayden (Arizona), aged 84, were not on speaking terms. Other Senators like Richard Russell (Mississippi) or Harry F. Byrd (Virginia), who once declared that "the Social Security Administration is bankrupt," were centuries away from President Kennedy in their thinking. The antediluvian rules governing the Congress gave them all the help they needed. Kennedy himself acknowledged that:
"The Constitution and the development of the Congress all give advantage to delay. It is very easy to defeat a bill in the Congress. It is much more difficult to pass one. To go through a committee, say the Ways and Means Committee of the House subcommittee and get a majority vote, the full committee and get a majority vote, go to the Rules Committee and get a rule, go to the floor of the House and get a majority, start over again in the Senate, subcommittee and full committee, and in the Senate there is unlimited debate, so you can never bring a matter to a vote if there is enough determination on the part of the opponents, even if they are a minority, to go through the Senate with the bill. And then unanimously get a conference between the House and Senate to adjust the bill, or if one member objects, to have it go back through the Rules Committee, back through the Congress, and have this done on a controversial piece of legislation where powerful groups are opposing it, that is an extremely difficult task. So that the struggle of a President who has a program to move it through the Congress, particularly when the seniority system may place particular individuals in key positions who may be wholly unsympathetic to your program, and may be, even though they are members of your own party, in political opposition to the President -- this is a struggle which every President who has tried to get a program through has had to deal with. After all, Franklin Roosevelt was elected by the largest majority in history in 1936, and he got his worst defeat a few months afterwards in the Supreme Court bill."
And he added: "No President's program is ever put in. The only time a President's program is put in quickly and easily is when the program is insignificant. But if it is significant and affects important interests and is controversial, there- fore, then there is a fight, and the President is never wholly successful."(17)
Kennedy's legislative proposals encroached upon traditional doctrines and attacked vested interests. It was not often that he emerged victorious from the battle. In less than 3 years, he sent 1,054 bills to Congress. During his first 100 days in office, he made 277 separate proposals concerning anti-recession measures, health, housing, education, foreign aid, Latin America, the highway program, taxes and agriculture. There were too many ideas and they came too fast. His proposals were presented too coldly and analytically, and they implied too critical a view of American society. Congress began to feel uncomfortable. Many legislators felt personally threatened. This was their society. Would there be anything left after the storm?
Then suddenly they remembered that this President had won the election by only 120,000 votes, that 27 of the 50 states had voted against him, and that without the votes of his home state of Massachusetts he would never have entered the White House. They realized too that the majority of the Protestants, the businessmen, the liberal professions, the farmers, and the small town people were against him.
True, Kennedy breakfasted every Tuesday morning with the Congressional leaders and met regularly with party representatives. True, too, he had great respect for Capitol Hill, and when he accompanied a Congressman to his state he went all out to support him. The problem lay elsewhere. Kennedy was on good personal terms with the members of Congress, but he failed to discuss matters with them often enough, and he didn't believe in-committees. In their eyes, he spoke too frankly and refused to dodge the issues,(18) and they didn't like the idea that he intended to govern the United States himself. "The executive branch of the government even wants to control the farmers," exclaimed Senator Dirksen.
In 1961, Congress approved the budgets for national defense and the space program and voted in favor of the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress, but it rejected Kennedy's most important proposals, those aimed at helping the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, the students, the Negroes, and the farmers, and it voted down the measures that posed a threat to the medical profession, the businessmen, the stock- holders, and the states.(19) The bills voted by Congress dealt with problems which, while in some cases urgent, were of secondary importance, and which had only minor political and economic repercussions.(20) The coalitions re-formed on every issue, against an Urban Affairs Department one day, against the extension of Social Security the next. The 87th Congress will be remembered less for what it did than for what it did not do.
But if the Congress was dissatisfied with Kennedy's domestic program, it was even more concerned about his foreign policy. His second State of the Union Message, in January, 1962, did nothing to reassure them:
"Our overriding obligation in the months ahead is to fulfill the world's hopes by fulfilling our own faith . . .
"A strong America cannot neglect the aspirations of its citizens -- the welfare of the needy -- the health care of the elderly, the education of the young. For we are not developing the Nation's wealth for its own sake. Wealth is the means -- and people are the ends. All our material riches will avail us little if we do not use them to expand the opportunities of our people. Last year, we improved the diet of needy people -- provided more hot lunches and fresh milk to school children -- built more college dormitories -- and, for the elderly, expanded private housing, nursing homes, health services, and social security. But we have just begun.
"To help those least fortunate of all, I am recommending a new public welfare program, stressing services instead of support, rehabilitation instead of relief, and training for useful work instead of prolonged dependency.
"To protect our consumers from the careless and the unscrupulous, I shall recommend improvements in the Food and Drug laws -- strengthening inspection and standards, halting unsafe and worthless products, preventing misleading labels, and cracking down on the illicit sale of habit-forming drugs . . .
"These various elements in our foreign policy lead, as I have said, to a single goal -- the goal of a peaceful world of free and independent states. This is our guide for the present and our vision for the future -- a free community of nations, independent but interdependent, uniting north and south, east and west, in one great family of man, outgrowing and transcending the hates and fears that rend our age.
"We will not reach that goal today, tomorrow. We may not reach it in our own lifetime. But the quest is the greatest adventure in our century.
"We sometimes chafe at the burden of our obligations, the complexity of our decisions, the agony of our choices. But there is no comfort or security for us in evasion, no solution in abdication, no relief in irresponsibility.
"A year ago, in assuming. the tasks of the Presidency, I said that few generations, in all history, had been granted the role of being the great defender of freedom in its hour of maximum danger. This is our good fortune; and I welcome it now as I did a year ago. For it is the fate of this generation -- of you in the Congress and of me as President -- to live with a struggle we did not start, in a world we did not make. But the pressures of life are not always distributed by choice. And while no nation has ever faced such a challenge, no nation has ever been so ready to seize the burden and the glory of freedom."(21)
A man is revealed more by what he writes than by what he says, and even more by what he does than by what he writes. The Senators took inventory of the year 1961:
- on March 9, the Communists prepared to seize power in Laos;
- on April 12, the Soviets sent a man into space;
- on Apri119, Castro repulsed the timid American invasion at the Bay of Pigs;
- on May 1, Hanoi predicted that it would control South Vietnam before the end of the year;
- on May 30, Trujillo was assassinated in the Dominican Republic;
- on June 4, Khrushchev told Kennedy in Vienna that the West would be driven from Berlin;
- on June 21, Khrushchev announced his intention of signing a separate peace treaty with East Germany;
- on July 4, Khrushchev and Brezhnev sent a message of congratulations on the occasion of the 185th anniversary of American independence;
- on July 8, Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union was obliged to postpone the reduction of her armed forces;
- on July 26, President Juan Qudros of Brazil re-established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union;
- on August 13, work began on the Berlin Wall;
- on September 1, the Soviet Union resumed nuclear testing;
- on September 25, in a speech to the United Nations on the subject of Berlin, Kennedy quoted a Russian author;(22)
- on October 27, the United Nations General Assembly requested the Soviet Union not to explode a 50-megaton bomb, and on October 28 the Soviets exploded it anyway;
- on November 25, President Kennedy granted an interview to Aleksei Adzhubei, Khrushchev's son-in-law.
Adlai Stevenson, Kennedy's Ambassador to the United Nations, had declared: "The problem is not power, but moral righteousness. Foreign Chiefs of State regard United States foreign policy with astonishment, hilarity, or disdain." He was speaking, of course, of the foreign policy of the previous administration. Seventeen years after the end of World War II, the Congress noted that the only real allies the United States had left were the Germans, the Japanese, and the Spanish. While Representative Otto Passman of Louisiana was denouncing what he called the "internationalists," Kennedy was saying: "In urging the adoption of the United States Constitution, Alexander Hamilton advised his fellow New Yorkers to 'think continentally.' Today, Americans must learn to think intercontinentally."
"Acting on our own, by ourselves, we cannot establish justice throughout the world; we cannot insure its domestic tranquillity, or provide for its common defense, or promote its general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. But joined with other free nations, we can do all this and more. We can assist the developing nations to throw off the yoke of poverty. We can balance our worldwide trade and payments at the highest possible level of growth. We can mount a deterrent powerful enough to deter any aggression. And ultimately we can help to achieve a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion."(23)
In April 1962, a Gallup poll revealed that a majority of the American people approved of what Kennedy was doing. He was as popular as Eisenhower. He grew more and more sure of himself. Congressmen and their wives were invited to the White House. They were forced to admit that he was much more accessible on the telephone than Ike, and that, unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt, who refused to receive his Congressional enemies, Truman, who cold-shouldered the Senators who had ignored him as Vice-President, and Eisenhower, who had kept his distance, Kennedy was on good terms with everyone. But his Congressional adversaries regarded his smiles as nothing more than clever tactics, and their committees continued to block his proposals.(24) They knew that they were up against an activist, a President who thought in broad strokes, not in terms of petty administrative details, an ultra-liberal who was on good terms with the unions and the Negroes, but whose strong point was not administration.
He made maximum use of public relations and his direct access to the people to win popular support for his programs. Certain Democrats noted that his actions were more judicious than his words. They concluded that he was a persuasive, but not a dominant, President. The Republicans were less indulgent. They were wary of his intelligence, his generosity, and his ambition. The Republicans in the House were more vehement in their criticism. "He's a clever politician," they said. "He's only popular with the press. There's not a quarter of the people in my district who approve of his program." The President was labeled an opportunist and egocentrist. "He talks like Churchill and acts like Chamberlain," they cried. "For him, a Southern Democrat is the devil himself."
The Congressional elections of 1962 were a disappointment to the Republicans, who gained few seats, probably because of Kennedy's vigorous stand during the Cuban missile crisis.(25) But the Democratic majority was only a chimera. Kennedy's legislative program still hung on the votes of three or four Democrats, and most of his proposals were still pending before Congress.
In January 1963, Kennedy went on the offensive.(26) In the first six months of 1963, Congress approved 29 of his bills, but not the most important of them.(27) He re-introduced the tax cut proposal aimed at stimulating the economy, and his measures providing aid to students, old people, and the poor.
The Congressmen were more concerned about their mail. Their constituents urged a renewed offensive against Cuba and a decrease in federal spending, and they opposed any agreement with the Soviet Union. Legislative egoism is always a reflection of that of the voters. In the first days of the new administration, the Republican as well as the Democratic Congressmen had tried to steer the flow of federal dollars towards their states, but now the floors of the Capitol groaned under the burden of increased federal spending.(28)
On June 19, 1963, Kennedy introduced his civil rights bill, The temperature of Congress shot up ten degrees and the debate was lively, but civil rights was holding up the whole legislative program. Many Democrats disagreed with Kennedy about the urgency of this law. Many more Americans agreed with the Southern Senator who declared, "Kennedy's in a trap and I think he's beginning to realize it more and more."(29) They doubted that the administration could control the civil rights leaders, and when the President declared that this control depended on the passage of the civil rights bill, they accused him of blackmail. A breath of revolt swept through Capitol Hill.
The Republicans proclaimed that this was the most political administration they had ever known. They refused to vote his tax cuts without comparable cuts in federal spending, and they opposed his foreign aid program.(30) In the last days of his administration, Congress sank into lethargy. Not only the major projects of the administration, but also the bill increasing taxes to provide funds for unemployment relief and urgent measures such as those concerning the Export-Import Bank and the regulation of cotton and milk prices were being held up at the Capitol. On May 25, 1961, Kennedy had told Congress:
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth . . . in a very real sense, it will not be one man going the moon . . . it will be an entire nation."
But in 1963 the majority of the voters were prosperous and self-satisfied. They weren't interested in the future. A Representative just back from his constituency declared. "My people don't want a lot of legislation. They are fat, dumb, and happy. They don't know what is going on in Washington, and don't want to know. They think there are too many laws. Maybe we ought to go on a repealing spree and get rid of some we already have on the books."(31)
Machiavelli had written, "We see by the experience of our times that those princes have become great who have paid little heed to faith, and have been cunning enough to deceive the minds of men. In the end, they have surpassed those who relied on loyalty." And Richard Nixon, a man who understands American politics, remarked, "Kennedy's weaknesses are to be found in his successes -- both in domestic and in foreign policy."
America was fat, dumb and happy.
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1. Frederick II.
2. The results of the 1960 Presidential election were:
Kennedy: 34,221,355 votes (49.7%)
Nixon: 34, 109, 398 votes (49.6%)
3. In 1957 at Atlanta and at Jackson, Mississippi he had criticized Eisenhower's intervention at Little Rock.
4. Galbraith, a liberal Democrat and Harvard professor of economics, was named Ambassador to India.
5. To William H. Lawrence of ABC television in December 1962.
6. Profiles in Courage.
7. The Citizens' Research Council of Princeton, NJ estimated
total campaign expenditures (reported and unreported) at $200 million in 1964.
Time has suggested that the actual figure may be closer to $400
million. Barry Goldwater's unsuccessful presidential campaign cost $19.3
million, John Lindsay's campaign for Mayor of New York $2,000,000, and Nelson
Rockefeller's Governorship race $5,000,000. It can cost $100,000 to run for a
seat in the House of Representatives. The result is to rule out office seekers
with modest means. As Time points out, "A candidate must now be rich or
have rich friends or run the risk of making himself beholden to big
contributors by accepting their big contributions."
A further consequence of the financial pressures on political candidates is
to open the way to corruption. Time calls political contributions "the
basic nourishment of democracy." California Democratic boss Jesse Unruh says,
"Money is the mother's milk of politics." Yet the laws governing the sources
and the use made of political contributions are considered a joke, a "swiss
cheese" full of loopholes.
The 1925 Corrupt Practices Act, the consequence of a reform that originated
with Teddy Roosevelt, prohibits contributions from national banks,
corporations, labor unions and Government contractors, and limits individual
contributions to $5,000 a year per candidate. It sets a limit on spending of
$5,000 for a House candidate, $25,000 for a candidate for the Senate, and
$3,000,000 for any political committee -- yet in 1960 the Democratic National
Committee reported a $3,800,000 deficit. In 1964, 10 Senate and 77
House candidates reported no expenses whatsoever. Presidential and
Vice-Presidential candidates and intrastate committees are entirely exempt
from these provisions. One way used to get around the $3.00,000 limit is to
create a number of different interstate committees, each authorized to spend
$3,000,000 a year, and which secretly channel funds to the unreporting state
committees. Public cynicism is such that only 10% of the voters make political
contributions. Even the nation's greatest political figures flout the laws.
Senate leaders feel that detailed information about campaign contributions is
" none of the public's business," and many legislators are afraid the truth
would shock the voters. None are prepared to permit their challengers to
benefit from new and stricter codes.
In 1962, President Kennedy appointed a committee that recommended a modest
string of small reforms: tax relief for small donors, repeal of limitations on
individual donations and interstate committee expenditures, tighter reporting
and a registry of election finance to help enforce the rules. Congress ignored
A further consequence of the financial pressures on political candidates is to open the way to corruption. Time calls political contributions "the basic nourishment of democracy." California Democratic boss Jesse Unruh says, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." Yet the laws governing the sources and the use made of political contributions are considered a joke, a "swiss cheese" full of loopholes.
The 1925 Corrupt Practices Act, the consequence of a reform that originated with Teddy Roosevelt, prohibits contributions from national banks, corporations, labor unions and Government contractors, and limits individual contributions to $5,000 a year per candidate. It sets a limit on spending of $5,000 for a House candidate, $25,000 for a candidate for the Senate, and $3,000,000 for any political committee -- yet in 1960 the Democratic National Committee reported a $3,800,000 deficit. In 1964, 10 Senate and 77 House candidates reported no expenses whatsoever. Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates and intrastate committees are entirely exempt from these provisions. One way used to get around the $3.00,000 limit is to create a number of different interstate committees, each authorized to spend $3,000,000 a year, and which secretly channel funds to the unreporting state committees. Public cynicism is such that only 10% of the voters make political contributions. Even the nation's greatest political figures flout the laws. Senate leaders feel that detailed information about campaign contributions is " none of the public's business," and many legislators are afraid the truth would shock the voters. None are prepared to permit their challengers to benefit from new and stricter codes.
In 1962, President Kennedy appointed a committee that recommended a modest string of small reforms: tax relief for small donors, repeal of limitations on individual donations and interstate committee expenditures, tighter reporting and a registry of election finance to help enforce the rules. Congress ignored it.
8. In this regard, US News and World Report comments: "Many of the fortunes were amassed by the Senators and Representatives themselves . . ." (February 25, 1963).
9. On October 7, 1963, Bobby Baker, secretary of the Senate
Democratic Caucus and known as the 101st Senator, resigned from his post
following accusations of irregular financial manipulations and
influence-peddling. Baker, a former Senate page who had served as "a sort of
valet to some of the most powerful men in America," had been recommended for
his job by Lyndon Johnson. In a few years he had amassed a small fortune.
It appears that when he found himself in financial difficulty in 1962, he
appealed, at Johnson's suggestion, to Senator Kerr, who promptly opened a
$300,000 bank account in Baker's name in Oklahoma City. In January 1966, Baker
was indicted for income tax evasion. He was brought to trial in January 1967,
but went free on $5,000 bail. Senator Kerr died on January 1, 1963.
It appears that when he found himself in financial difficulty in 1962, he appealed, at Johnson's suggestion, to Senator Kerr, who promptly opened a $300,000 bank account in Baker's name in Oklahoma City. In January 1966, Baker was indicted for income tax evasion. He was brought to trial in January 1967, but went free on $5,000 bail. Senator Kerr died on January 1, 1963.
10. As a Senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy voted in favor of the St. Lawrence Seaway and freer trade. Both of these bills ran counter to the interests of the New England shipping and textile industries.
11. The same Congressmen could be seen slipping furtively away from a White House dinner in order to light a cigar.
12. Farewell remarks to the participants in the Summer Intern Program, August 28, 1962.
13. Frankfurt, June 5, 1963.
14. Professor Richard E. Neustadt.
15. Certain Congressmen didn't hesitate to take advantage of
their position. Newspaper stories in 1962 revealed that federal funds were
made available to US Congressmen traveling abroad.
In Paris, for example, "He (the Congressman) decides how much -- the
Embassy doesn't question it. After that, he is on his own conscience. For all
the Embassy knows, the money could go for night clubs or gambling or perfume,
as well as for hotels and meals. The Embassy also stands ready to give him
whatever other help he asks -- a car , driver, reservation for dinner, night
club or theater. 'Anything except women,' says an official of one Embassy in
Europe. 'We draw the line there.'" (US News and World Report, September
In the years after World War II, these distractions were paid out of
"counterpart funds" (local currency deposited by a foreign government in
counterpart of US dollar aid), but in Europe these funds are nearly exhausted,
and the money now comes from other sources, for example the Department of
In Paris, for example, "He (the Congressman) decides how much -- the Embassy doesn't question it. After that, he is on his own conscience. For all the Embassy knows, the money could go for night clubs or gambling or perfume, as well as for hotels and meals. The Embassy also stands ready to give him whatever other help he asks -- a car , driver, reservation for dinner, night club or theater. 'Anything except women,' says an official of one Embassy in Europe. 'We draw the line there.'" (US News and World Report, September 24, 1962).
In the years after World War II, these distractions were paid out of "counterpart funds" (local currency deposited by a foreign government in counterpart of US dollar aid), but in Europe these funds are nearly exhausted, and the money now comes from other sources, for example the Department of Defense.
16. The chairmanships of Congressional committees are awarded on the basis of seniority.
17. December 17, 1962.
18. One evening at the White House, a Latin American political figure drew President Kennedy aside and started talking about the desperate position of his country, threatened, he claimed, by "political agitators and Communists." The President thought for a moment and then replied, "That's a very nice dress your wife is wearing." Coming from anyone else, this remark would have been considered a clever ploy, but Kennedy left the United States perplexed.
19. Rejected by Congress were proposals for:
- hospital and medical care for the aged under Social Security; 20. Approved by Congress were measures to:
- raise the minimum wage from $1 to $1.25 an hour; 21. January 11, 1962.
22. "One recalls the order of the Czar in Pushkin's 'Boris
Gudenov': 'Take steps at this very hour frontiers be fenced in by barriers . .
. that not a single soul pass o'er the border, that not a hare be able to run
or a crow to fly.'"
23. July 4, 1962.
24. The proposal for a tax cut and the bill establishing a
withholding tax on dividends and interest. The Southern Democrats blocked a
bill outlawing the literacy tests used in voter registration.
25. The composition of Congress following the 1962 elections
was as follows: Senate -- 67 Democrats and 33 Republicans; House of
Representatives -- 256 Democrats and 178 Republicans.
26. See Chapter 12, "Condemnation."
27. In the first six months of 1963, Congress voted to raise
the ceiling of the national debt and approved a plan for controlling
28. The 1962-1963 budget totaled $92.6 billion, as against
$87.7 in 1961-1962, and $81.5 in 1960-1961.
29. US News and World Report. August 12, 1963.
30. United States foreign aid had totaled $5.1 billion in
1962-1963. Kennedy managed, nevertheless, to maintain the requested level for
1963-1964, a total of $4.7 billion. (Foreign aid in the last year of the
Eisenhower administration totaled $4.2 billion.)
31. US News and World Report. August 12, 1963.
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- an Urban Affairs Department;
- stand-by power for the President to cut taxes;
- withholding of taxes on dividends and interest;
- aid to public schools and colleges;
- an overhaul of the unemployment pay system, with more federal controls;
- a curb on literacy tests used to block Negro voters;
- public power from the US Atomic plant;
- federal scholarships for college students;
- repeal of the 4% dividend credit and of exclusion for first $50 in dividends in federal income tax returns;
- broader powers for the Federal Trade Commission over business practices;
- aid to medical schools;
- rigid controls over grain farmers;
- a permanent Civil Rights Commission;
- pay for teachers' education;
- schooling for illiterate adults;
- changes in expense-account rules;
- new tax rules on overseas earnings;
- aid for migrant farm works, etc.
- appoint more federal judges;
- tighten federal drug laws;
- finance about $5 billion worth of public works, including $900 for emergency projects in depressed areas;
- raise postage rates 1 cent;
- raise federal wages;
- authorize the Justice Department to subpoena company records in civil antitrust cases;
- enlarge national parks;
- start a $435 million plan for retraining the unemployed;
- empower the President to call up 150,000 reservists and endorsing any needed action in Cuba;
- adopt new laws on crime and gambling;
- provide additional help for small businesses;
- approve a higher debt ceiling;
- cut the duty-free allowance for travelers returning from abroad.
- hospital and medical care for the aged under Social Security;
20. Approved by Congress were measures to:
- raise the minimum wage from $1 to $1.25 an hour;
- raise the minimum wage from $1 to $1.25 an hour;
21. January 11, 1962.
22. "One recalls the order of the Czar in Pushkin's 'Boris Gudenov': 'Take steps at this very hour frontiers be fenced in by barriers . . . that not a single soul pass o'er the border, that not a hare be able to run or a crow to fly.'"
23. July 4, 1962.
24. The proposal for a tax cut and the bill establishing a withholding tax on dividends and interest. The Southern Democrats blocked a bill outlawing the literacy tests used in voter registration.
25. The composition of Congress following the 1962 elections was as follows: Senate -- 67 Democrats and 33 Republicans; House of Representatives -- 256 Democrats and 178 Republicans.
26. See Chapter 12, "Condemnation."
27. In the first six months of 1963, Congress voted to raise the ceiling of the national debt and approved a plan for controlling agricultural production.
28. The 1962-1963 budget totaled $92.6 billion, as against $87.7 in 1961-1962, and $81.5 in 1960-1961.
29. US News and World Report. August 12, 1963.
30. United States foreign aid had totaled $5.1 billion in 1962-1963. Kennedy managed, nevertheless, to maintain the requested level for 1963-1964, a total of $4.7 billion. (Foreign aid in the last year of the Eisenhower administration totaled $4.2 billion.)
31. US News and World Report. August 12, 1963.
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