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“On the other hand, liberals felt it was intolerable to watch the First Amendment freedoms, the most precious ones bestowed upon us by the Founding Fathers, trampled by know-nothings masquerading as patriots.”
-Clark Clifford, writing of the (Joe) McCarthy Era
The Book of the Week is “Counsel to the President, A Memoir” by Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke, published in 1991. This volume was ginormous because the author wrote of the minutiae of interactions of the alpha males who ran the federal government from the 1940’s through the 1980’s.
Born in December 1906 in the St. Louis area, Clifford enjoyed a career in law and politics. In his generation, boys read the “Horatio Alger” book series, the rags-to-riches fairy tales of males who came by their success through hard work and ethical behavior. A bygone era.
In September 1948, Ronald Reagan endorsed Harry Truman for president. In those days, on the Sunday before election day on Tuesday, there was no campaigning. The candidates did not work, else American voters would complain it was the Christian Sabbath. Monday night, the candidates delivered their last radio addresses. On Tuesday, the author went to the home of a friend who had a television, to watch the election returns. Commentators displayed the returns on chalkboards. Battleground states in the 1948 race included Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and California.
In 1949, Truman introduced the Fair Deal initiative, which strove to honor Americans’ human rights, expand the economy and maintain world peace. Also, a Public Affairs department junior-staffer (who risked his career by not “staying in his lane”) pushed for Point Four, despite backlash from the State Department.
Influential speechwriters of the president inserted Point Four (which sought to aid poor nations through modernization) in his inaugural speech. Even so, because it was placed under the auspices of the State Department (which thought of itself as responsible for diplomacy, not charity), the foreign policy initiative went nowhere for more than a year. The speech included three other major themes: the United States’ involvement in the beginnings of the United Nations, Marshall Plan, and NATO.
Through an engaging anecdote, Clifford described the major role that social-drinking played in American society in the 1950’s. Baptist U.S. senator Bob Kerr (D.-OK.), a teetotaler, invited a group of political workers to a dinner party at his home. He duly warned them that he would not be serving alcohol.
A fellow Democrat, Stuart Symington, called all the guests privately, and invited them for pre-dinner drinks at his home. On the appointed evening, all of the guests arrived at the Kerrs’ home, drunk. A good time was still had by all. Clifford’s account strained credibility, however, as he claimed Kerr didn’t detect that his guests had been drinking.
Anyway, the McCarthy Era ended this way:
- In 1953, U.S. senator Joe McCarthy (R.-WI) and his evil sidekick Roy Cohn were called out publicly for attempting to pull strings for Cohn’s draft-dodger friend, who had been drafted.
- In retaliation, McCarthy used HUAC to brand a certain obscure Army member, a Commie. In March 1954, he pressed an Army general to provide more information on the accused. The general refused.
- McCarthy was so incensed, he called for public hearings, to hash out his issues with the Army. Big error.
- LBJ, Senate Minority Leader said the hearings should be televised, and so they were, beginning in April 1954. As is well known, McCarthy was called out for having no decency left.
Yet, upon getting elected to public office, LBJ never did divest himself of his significant interests in radio and TV stations in Austin, TX. Unlike profiteering with its attendant political conflicts of interest, one aspect of American culture that is changing significantly, is the increasing tolerance for people of different sexual orientations.
Johnson aide Walter Jenkins, a devout Catholic, was married and had six children. In October 1964, two undercover officers arrested Jenkins, whom they caught committing a homosexual act (which was illegal!) in the old YMCA building near the White House. The incident was leaked to the press. The Republican National Committee deemed Jenkins a threat to National Security. Jenkins was “cancelled.”
Moving on. When he ran for president in 1976, Jimmy Carter made a promise he could not possibly keep: to always be honest with Americans. He also implied that his administration would be benevolent and forthright. Of course, the voting public paid attention, because they wanted so badly to believe Carter was telling the truth– after the McCarthy Era, Vietnam and Watergate. The joke,
Q: What’s the difference between an honest politician and a UFO?
A: People have seen a UFO
is funny because it rings true.
The author then described a key way presidents can be perceived as effective (whether they’re honest is another story):
“They [a president] must summon the nation to share their vision and values, and by their priorities, symbolize their definition of what they want the nation to be.”
Read the book to learn about Clifford’s career, including how and why he flip-flopped on Vietnam in the second half of the 1960’s, and much more on the major historical events with which he and his political contemporaries had to contend.