Monday, November 12, 2007

Flashback: Yes, Johnson Did Speak to the Nation Before the State of the Union: On Nov. 28, 1963 before Joint Session—But it Was Brief. Hubert Decides on 4-Pronged Strategy to Pass Civil Rights.


[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

Michael Miner of “The Reader” wrote to this website and said that as a young University of Missouri journalism student he is sure he saw Lyndon Johnson speak to the nation from a joint session shortly after the Kennedy assassination. I mentioned that Hubert convinced Johnson not to take up the flow of the nation’s business in an address but wait for the State of the Union occasion on the following January 8. Actually both Michael and I are right.


Johnson’s craven sycophants, Jack Valenti and Bill Moyers, wanted to justify their existence as bootlickers by urging Johnson to take the reins immediately and stamp an indelible impress on the presidency by speaking with an air of command from the Oval Office. They wanted him to address the nation, express great sorrow but impact an unique Johnson imprimatur on the legislative agenda which had languished under Kennedy—particularly civil rights and the tax cuts with the Oval Office as site. It was this that Humphrey argued against saying that the time to unfurl new energy on the legislative agenda should be made in the arena where Johnson was most noted—at the State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. But it was obvious, and Hubert agreed, that Johnson would have to make some public presentation of the change in command in a speech to the nation. The sycophants wanted it to be made in an address from the Oval Office. This Hubert fought to the limit of his energy. He said that Johnson should avoid an Oval Office speech since the contrast between Kennedy’s presentations and Johnson’s would be so great. Hubert stressed that Johnson should go to a special joint session of Congress and speak from the rostrum in the House to show him in a usual congressional setting. Johnson agreed with Hubert and disagreed with Valenti and Moyers on these matters.

While Johnson occupied the Oval Office (as he had every right to do) he did a lot of work at his home in northwest Washington called “The Elms.” As a matter of fact he is recorded on tape as saying that his secretarial staff was making so much noise behind him while he was on the phone that he threatened to go to The Elms where he could use the phone and work without clatter. It was at The Elms on Tuesday night, Nov. 26 that he gathered with Hubert and his private lawyer and trusted confidant, Abe Fortas and worked on his speech to the Congress that was to be delivered the next day. Hubert and Fortas and Johnson finished the speech at 2 a.m. on the 27th. Hubert insisted that Johnson refer to his more than 30 years in the Congress so as to give the nation confidence that an experienced hand was on the tiller. And it was Hubert’s contribution to add the words which became famous for its calm and resolve: “Let us continue.”

The pertinent parts of the speech were masterfully written (with the exception of the windup), showing that in addition to all his other talents, Hubert was quite a speech-writer as well.

Pertinent parts: “All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today. The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time…For thirty-two years, Capitol Hill has been my home…In this moment of new resolve, I would say: Let us continue….NO memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long…No act of ours could more fittingly continue the work of President Kennedy than the early passage of the tax bill for which he fought all this long year….I profoundly hope that the tragedy and the torment of these terrible days will bind us together in new fellowship, making one people in our hour of sorrow.”

The end strikes me as lachrymose because it is such a direct steal from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and it still rings tinny.

It goes: “ So let us here highly resolve that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not live—or die—in vain.” Awful.

Hubert’s 4-Pronged Civil Rights Strategy.

Johnson did his wheeling and dealing in some personal meetings and on the phone as captured on tape and in the book “Taking Charge” with editing and commentaries by Michael Beschloss, but the real lobbying and draftsmanship was done by Hubert day-to-day…and could only be done by someone in long personal meetings. In January, 1964, Hubert rapidly outlined four qualities that the drive must have. First, passage by the House of the civil rights bill (which was done rather duplicitously since a good number of the conservative House members were assured that the conservatives in the Senate would “take care” of the issue and see it would not be passed.

Second, civil rights proponents in the Senate should be bipartisan—none of this stuff of the Democrats running away with the ball even though they controlled the Congress. For that reason, Illinois’ Wizard of Ooze, Everett Dirksen would have to be consulted—and not just consulted but allowed to take a major part.

Third, the Senate proponents would have to be well organized. They would have to see that at least 51 senators would be present during the debates to satisfy the need for a quorum.

Fourth, Hubert would have to see to it that the southerners were accommodated whenever possible on procedural matters.

With the Senate preparing to consider civil rights in March, Hubert decided to get away for a brief vacation. In the back of his mind as always was the thought that he could be chosen by Johnson for vice president later that year. In fact Johnson hinted broadly at it and told Hubert to organize a brains trust and take soundings. A brains trust was set up to meet frequently at Hubert’s home, composed of Max Kampelman, Bill Connell, a Hubert staffer, Ted Van Dyk, a 29-year-old public affairs officer for the European Common Market; Dr. Evron Kirkpatrick (Jeane’s husband, now director of the American Political Science Association; former interior secretary Oscar Chapman; Joe Rauh, Jr. vice chairman of ADA and Charles Brown, manager of Stuart Symington’s 1960 presidential operation. They decided that Hubert’s rival would have to be Bobby Kennedy and decided that by no means were they to be regarded as an anti-Kennedy group.

Hubert decided to take a brief vacation with Muriel in Bermuda before the big civil rights imbroglio would begin in the Senate. The brains trust ruled that he should go instead to Jamaica (“it’s the same sun, after all” said Kampelman) where the ambassador was Bill Dougherty, a former president of the postal workers union and close pal of AFL-CIO president George Meany. Dougherty arranged for Hubert to stop in Miami Beach on his way home and confer with Meany at the AFL-CIO executive council at the Americana Hotel. He was then invited to partake in the council’s secret strategy session where he filled the members in on foreign and domestic issues for 45 minutes—the only politician ever to do so. Al Barkan the political brains of the outfit, the head of COPE (the Council on Political Education) told Hubert, “Maybe I’m speaking out of turn since the AFL-CIO doesn’t take an official position during a pre-campaign but if I had my druthers I’d say it would be a great thing to have you on the ticket.” Later Meany was to pass the word privately as his views also.

Back in Washington Hubert conferred with President Johnson who for the first time directly alluded to the vice presidency, saying “if I had my choice, I’d like to have you as my vice president.” These were almost the same words Adlai Stevenson used to Hubert almost ten years earlier. Johnson sorely remembered when he lived under the Kennedys’ domination as vice president and wanted to be free of them—especially from Bobby whom he learned to despise. Yet on the other hand he feared eliminating Bobby from consideration because it would risk losing support from minority groups, Eastern liberals and Catholics. Of this the group he worried about most was Catholics who for a short time were so gratified to have one of their own as president.

Gene Toying Delicately with Connally.

At the same time, Gene McCarthy was perceiving Johnson’s dilemma about Catholics. So Gene responded with alacrity when he was approached by none other than John Connally. Connally believed Hubert would be poison for the ticket—too liberal, too antagonistic to the South and also a non-Catholic. Gene privately conspired with Connally and told the Texan that yes, indeed, Hubert was too liberal and moreover too strident about it. Betrayal of Humphrey enabled Gene to get even for Hubert’s not taking a pro-McCarthy position when in 1958 Gene was tussling with Eugenie Anderson for the nomination. Getting even is all you need to know about Gene McCarthy.

So at Gene’s immaculately subtle persuasion, Connally “came up with the idea” of McCarthy on the ticket: a Catholic, close to the South and to the oil depletion allowance boys and not carrying the old civil rights baggage Hubert did. As all intelligence in Washington gets around, Hubert soon became aware of McCarthy’s finagling around with Connally for vice president. But he couldn’t spend time worrying about that now since the big civil rights battle in the Senate was about to begin.

Hubert Runs the Civil Rights Show.

The Senate debate opened on March 9, 1964. To try to head off a filibuster although he knew it was coming, Hubert put on his Sunday face and faced the southern senators. He said, “We will join with you in debating this bill. Will you join with us in voting…after the debate has been concluded? Will you permit the Senate and in a sense the nation to come to grips with these issues and decide them one way or the other?” The request fell upon deaf ears and Georgia’s Richard Russell managed the filibuster. It began on March 30, the day after Easter—a filibuster that would last 57 days. Russell argued the bill was unconstitutional, that it would clap “dictatorial police powers” to the federal government. He decided there would be no compromise and called for the defeat of the bill in its entirety.

As Russell and the other southerners charged that the role of the Senate was being stage-managed in a backroom with Hubert, Dirksen and Bobby Kennedy, that was exactly what was taking place. I talked with Dirksen staffers later, who were in the backroom which took the form of a tough negotiation between management and a union. For accommodation sake the first meeting was in Dirksen’s office to give prominence to the Republican leader’s role in the negotiations.

I would like to suggest, said Hubert as they sipped coffee, “that we ourselves keep from submitting amendments at this time. We’re going to have enough amendments submitted from the floor and we have to save ourselves for consultation when these amendments are submitted to see if we can live with them or not. Bobby Kennedy agreed.

Well the hell with that, said Dirksen. I’ll be godamned if I’m going to be a part of a boilerplate operation. I’ll tell you right now that I have seventy amendments that we’ll have to thrash out right here or I’ll get up right now and say the hell with it.

No-no, I didn’t mean—Hubert began. Bobby gave him the high sign that the game would be lost if the Dirksen amendments were not to be discussed. So they were. All the while Russell and others were on the floor hollering that the fix was in and that a small group was trying to ramrod it through—which was exactly the truth.

Dirksen’s amendments dealt almost entirely with enforcements by the Justice Department. He wanted lax enforcement and they were handed over to Bobby to look at. Dirksen and Bobby had a strange relationship. Bobby must have seen in Dirksen something of his own father because the amendments seemed to be much tougher for Hubert to swallow than Bobby who would lose a lot of power if the Dirksen amendments were to be adopted.

I’ll tell you, said Hubert after old Everett wheezed his way through the amendments, we gotta get a substitute bill. The substitute was run by Lyndon who didn’t like to do it but Hubert told him that it was either this way or no way. Hubert got hold of Dirksen but Dirksen gave him the same story. So the substitute bill was written. The main thing was that the Justice Department would be held back from intervening only unless there was “a pattern or practice” of discrimination and even then only after one who claimed he was being discriminated against would take it to the newly created Community Relations Service of the Justice Department and the EEOC both. And only after that as a last resort to the court.

If we do this, Hubert told Dirksen, we’re counting on you to round up enough Republican votes for cloture (ending the filibuster). Dirksen said he could. Dirksen was the best nose-counter in the Senate.

Hubert’s Personal Anxiety.

At that point Hubert was called away to an emergency phone call. It was Muriel. Their son Robert had been diagnosed with cancer of the lymph glands. He would have to go immediately to the Mayo Clinic where doctors would determine if they could knock out the cancer by chemo or would have to resort to an operation.

Hubert told very few about this. He calculated that this might be taken by Dirksen—a crafty negotiator—as a sign of weakness and the old man would press home his advantage (Dirksen was not known as a sentimentalist in negotiations).

While Hubert fretted and was unable to go home to be with his son, the substitute bill which won over dissident Republican votes was introduced on May 26, the day before Hubert’s 53rd birthday. He cut a birthday cake in Dirksen’s office and another one in his own office. He was unusually sober and haggard. He said he felt like he was 103 but he didn’t let on to his staff or anyone around him why he was worried. Dirksen took it that Hubert was worried over the bill.

Johnson was so tied up with other matters including what to do with Vietnam, that Hubert set the date to pull the plug on the filibuster—June 10. Hubert was working in his office the night before the cloture vote when Johnson called him and asked how many votes he had to shut off the protracted debates. Hubert said he had only 66—one shy of the required two-thirds majority. Johnson lectured him like a truant kid. Hubert finally had enough, being treated like a serf and burdened with worries about his son. So he told the 36th president that he could execute an impossible biological act upon himself and hung up. Right after that he got word from Dirksen who was working late in his own office that Dirksen had rounded up two more votes—Hickenlooper of Iowa and Williams of Delaware. Hubert called Johnson and the two made up. Johnson said that after this was over, Hubert ought to take some time off with his family.

Yes, Hubert thought, with the family. Here I’m not even home when all this is going on.

In the middle of all this, he talked to his son Robert on the phone. Robert was told he had to have an operation at Mayo. Robert said, “Dad, I guess I’ve had it.” Hubert almost passed out. He had been told by physicians at Mayo that Robert’s chances were good. He put on his old ebullient Hubert act and talked to the boy for an hour, expressing a vow that he would recover and what they would do when he got out of the hospital.

Then he hung up, terribly guilty that he wasn’t with his boy. He closed the door, told his secretary he was not to be disturbed, put his forehead down on his desk and wept.

At 11 a.m. the next morning, exactly the first anniversary of Kennedy introducing the civil rights bill and almost 16 years after Hubert’s civil rights speech to the Democratic National convention, the buzzers sounded and everybody rushed to the floor to vote. Hubert sat in the front row next to Mansfield and Harry Byrd. The longest filibuster in Senate history ended with a 71 to 29 vote for cloture.

Hubert couldn’t leave because he didn’t want to blow it. Nine days later on the night of June 19, 1964 the Senate approved the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 by vote of 73 to 27.

The night after the vote, Hubert flew to Minnesota to be with his son. The son recovered and was pronounced in good shape. On July 2 Hubert was back in Washington to witness the signing of the bill by Johnson.

At the signing, Johnson looked over his shoulder at Hubert who was crying out of nervous exhaustion and said: “This is for Hubert without whom it couldn’t have happened.”

But the dilemma for Johnson still existed. Whether to swallow hard and run with Bobby Kennedy, thus retaining the eastern liberals and Catholics, or to free himself of the Kennedy burden and pick Hubert, risking war with the South and alienation of the Catholics or to go with Gene McCarthy, which would likely mean keeping the Catholics, losing a bit of the eastern liberals but salvaging what remained of the Southern conservatives. Johnson began to ponder this seriously. Hubert started to get his old anxiety attacks and Gene? He just kept ambling around making under-his-breath wisecracks about Hubert and his penchant for emotionalism.

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