The Reaction is Launched,
The Road to Reagan
excerpted from the book
Liberty Under Siege
by Walter Karp
Franklin Square Press, 1988, paper
[THE DESTRUCTION OF
THE CARTER PRESIDENCY BY THE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS]
THE REACTION IS LAUNCHED
They had the best of reasons for dismay. The interventionist system
had been the political establishment's single most powerful prop.
It had imposed upon the country an iron discipline. With the "national
security" of the country perpetually at hazard, "loyalty"
to the national leadership had become the citizens' chief virtue,
servility the new patriotism. Dissent was deemed guilty until
it proved itself innocent of weakening the country. "Perhaps
it is a universal truth,' James Madison had written to Jefferson
in 1798, "that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged
to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."
The interventionist system had amply attested to that truth, for
it was used for three decades to justify repression, to justify
official secrecy, to justify tapped telephones, police spies and
agent-provocateurs. The system justified unchecked and overwhelming
executive power; it inspired American Presidents to claim the
power to wage war at will under their inherent authority as Commander-in-Chief,
a claim without the slightest constitutional foundation.
Senator J. William Fulbright, in 1969 was frantically warning
the Senate that
"our government will soon become
what it is already a long way toward becoming, an elective dictatorship."
"I felt I was taking office at a time when Americans desired
a return to first principles on the part of their government."
The thought occurs to President-elect Jimmy Carter as he sifts,
in his methodical way, through all the Inaugural addresses ever
delivered. The awakened democracy is exacting, all too exacting,
and has almost cost Carter the election. When independent voters
began seeing the tribune of the people rushing around the country
embracing Democratic Party leaders, they had deserted his banner
almost en masse.
So the President-elect-a suspect tribune
now-knows well enough what the great bulk of the American people
expects of him: They want the democratic movement to go forward.
What else is an outsider President for? The real question facing
Carter, the terrible nightmarish question, is, 'What will the
Democratic Congress allow him to do? Suppose party leaders in
Congress give him no support at all? What then? "It was bad
enough," says Hamilton Jordan, the President-elect's chief
political aide, "that they didn't know him and had no stake
in his candidacy, but to make matters worse, Carter had defeated
their various darlings in the battles around the country"
'When Carter meets, post-election, with Democratic congressional
leaders in Georgia, fear and hostility, fear masked as hostility,
seem to roll off Carter in waves. "You'd sit at a meeting
with Carter," Representative Morris Udall recalls some six
months later, "and he felt the compulsion to remind you that
he also had your constituents as his constituents and that he
wouldn't hesitate to take Congress on .... It was almost like
he felt a compulsion to do this, as though he felt it was inevitable,
or looked forward to the conflict, or thought it was unavoidable."
"I can get to your constituents faster
than you can by going on television," Carter reportedly warns
the visiting party leaders. A dire threat indeed, an empty bluff,
never to be carried out, but already necessary, or the first hostile
shots have already been fired. Nine days after the election -Veterans'
Day-the Committee on the Present Danger makes its first public
appearance with a declaration of war against Carter's hopes for
arms control and improved relations with the Soviet Union. "The
principal threat to our nation, to world peace and to the cause
of human freedom," goes the martial declaration, "is
the Soviet drive for dominance based on an unprecedented military
buildup"-in fact, a 3 percent average increase yearly since
1970, 2 percent since 1974, but America's "will"-and
America's oligarchy can be strengthened only by "massive
The committee members, it is said, form
a "who's who of the Democratic Party establishment."
Chairman and founder is Eugene Rostow, Lyndon Johnson's Under
Secretary of State, head of the foreign-policy task force of the
Coalition for a Democratic Majority, some twenty of whose members
have become Present Dangerists. "We started over, but with
the same people and the same ideas," explains Rostow. To
discredit the democratic reforms in 1972; to discredit détente
in 1976. The same "ideas" indeed: rule by the few, oligarchy
restored, one way or another. Cochairman of the Present Danger
is Lane Kirkland, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and "heir
apparent" to its president, eighty-three-year-old George
Meany; heir to the votes of 14.5 million powerless union members;
heir to trade unionism's unswerving devotion to the Democratic
machine and the endless Cold War; oligarchy revived, one way or
another. Chief counsel of the Present Danger is Max Kampelman,
once one of the chief political advisers to Hubert Humphrey, now
gravely concerned, among other worries, over the excessive "power
of the press." The nine-man executive committee includes
Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under Kennedy and Johnson, one of
the first American officials to argue that a President's authority
as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. forces allows him to make war at
will. What loathing of liberty burns in these hearts! 'What scant
love of truth! Chairman of the committee's "policy studies"
is Paul Nitze, former Deputy Secretary of Defense under Kennedy
and Johnson, arms control negotiator for Nixon, who quit in "disgust"
in June 1974, now a member of Team B, the tumorous appendix to
the CIA. Nitze has lived for twenty-five years in an atmosphere
of ever-present danger: principal author in 1950 of a momentous
State Department warning to President Truman that unless the U.S.
embarked at once on the largest military buildup in its peacetime
history, the Soviet Union would launch its drive for world conquest
around 1 956-Nitze's "year of maximum danger"; principal
concocter of the fictitious "missile gap" in 1957; principal
author in 1972 of the newest present-danger: Allied "perception"
of Soviet nuclear superiority will bind them in terror to the
Soviet will unless the U.S. demonstrates its "will and resolve"
with a renewed race for nuclear supremacy.
The board of directors of the Present
Danger includes a large and varied collocation of trade union
leaders, bankers, financial speculators and retired officials
of both parties: John Connally; William Casey; Sol Chaikin, president
of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union; and Richard
Mellon Scaife, generous supporter of right-wing causes. Also several
future "neoconservatives" from the Democratic Majority:
Norman Podhoretz; his wife, Midge Decter; Seymour Martin Lipset,
the Stanford University political scientist who demonstrated in
a 1970 work that the greatest menace to political liberty in America
is its exercise by ordinary people. And Jeane Kirkpatrick, that
busy tongue of Hydra-headed oligarchy, now convinced that the
millions of Democratic primary voters who form a pernicious "elite"
have gone one step further into evil and now generate a spirit
of appeasement, and even, says colleague Podhoretz some months
hence, a "culture of appeasement." Appeasement, in fact,
is the leading "idea" of the Present Dangerists. "We
are living in a prewar and not a post-war world," says Rostow.
"Our posture today is comparable to that of Britain, France
and the United States during the Thirties. Whether we are the
Rhineland or the Munich watershed remains to be seen." The
Soviet Union is Hitler's Germany on the verge of launching a war;
the United States, like pre-war Britain, is stewing in fear; détente
is cowardly appeasement, Senator Jackson is a second Churchill
crying in the wilderness (or so readers of Commentary are told).
It remains only to demonstrate-such is the Present Danger's grand
object-that Prime Minister Chamberlain, weak, self-deluded appeaser
of Hitler, who returned from Munich in 1938 announcing "peace
in our time," has been reborn as-Jimmy Carter. The e opening
salvo has been fired.
The second salvo is more subtle, but far
more deadly. On December 6, Democratic legislators assemble on
the floor of the House of Representatives to organize their immense
149-seat majority into a vast burial ground for democratic hopes,
vast burial ground, too, for a Democratic President. The meeting
is open, the first party caucus in history in which bitter defeats,
insidious betrayals, momentous decisions will not be safely hidden
from prying public eyes. The first order of business at the Democratic
caucus is the uncontested election of Thomas P. "Tip"
O'Neill, Jr., of Boston to the great office of Speaker of the
House. A bonhomous man is Tip O'Neill, supple, crafty, intensely
loyal to the party establishment, otherwise treacherous in the
extreme, a parliamentarian who "knows how to strangle without
leaving fingerprints," as the Times puts it ten years hence.
A Speaker, in short, for any season, but especially suited to
this season of secret stranglings, mysterious legislative defeats-the
Reaction at work.
No Speaker in sixty-five years has wielded
as much power as O'Neill will exercise in the forthcoming Ninety-fifth
Congress, for the old autocratic committee chairmen are gone,
wiped out in the democratic awakening. The great new power of
the Speaker, however, must be applied to the entire party contingent-or
not applied-by the Majority Leader, as yet unchosen, the choice
momentous, life and death, in fact, for the democratic cause.
Two liberals are the leading contenders
for Majority Leader: Philip Burton of California, openly disfavored
by "Tip," and Richard Bolling of Missouri. The Californian
is a reformer still resolute; the Missourian is a reformer repentant,
a founding member, in fact, of the Coalition for a Democratic
Majority. A third candidate, who stands no chance whatever, is
John McFall, also of California. The fourth candidate's chances,
too, appear dim. He is a Texas "moderate," leader of
the fight against reform of the national party at the turbulent
1968 convention, a man whose election would restore that bane
of congressional reformers, the old "Boston-Austin axis,"
paralyzer of Congress for decades. Jim Wright, it quickly appears,
has at least one very influential friend. The man who puts his
name in nomination and delivers a furious harangue in his favor
is Dan Rostenkowski, "Mayor Richard Daley's ambassador to
Washington," as Drew of the New Yorker describes him. A delegate
from the Philadelphia machine seconds Wright's nomination. The
Texan's candidacy is becoming intriguing. In a brief speech, Wright
describes what he takes to be the proper duties of a Majority
Leader and his candidacy becomes still more intriguing. "Even
when patching together a tenuous majority he must respect the
rights of honest dissent, conscious of the limits of his claims
on others." A somewhat Deiphic utterance. Does Wright mean
that if elected he will deploy the great powers of the Speaker
as sparingly as possible? Obviously so. Does he mean that if he
is elected, House Democrats will be free to desert "tenuous
majorities" at the expense of the new Democratic President?
To the wise, the Delphic utterance suffices. But it will take
"a lot of figuring," Toby Moffett of Connecticut tells
Time magazine a year later, before younger House members like
himself "learned that it's really no big deal for a Democratic
congressman to oppose a Democratic President." They will
have to be taught. In the meantime Jim Wright has yet to be elected.
On the first ballot the new Speaker ostentatiously
marks his secret ballot for McFall, who has been put up, obviously
enough, to keep Burton, his fellow Californian, from gaining a
possible first-ballot victory and disaster for the nascent Reaction.
First-ballot results are: Burton, 106 votes; Bolling, 81; Wright,
77; McFall, 31. "Liberals" outnumber "conservatives"
187 to 108 at the very least. If "Boston-Austin" is
to be restored, truly shameless effrontery is called for-and will
not be found wanting.
McFall withdraws from the contest. The
second ballot's results are: Burton, 107 votes; Wright, 95; Boiling,
93; or 200 "liberals" versus 95 "conservatives."
The time for effrontery has arrived. By way of preparation Boiling's
"liberal" supporters had "speculated all along
that Burton might attempt to aid Wright to eliminate Boiling,"
Congressional Quarterly reports. Now they vow to do to Burton
what they pretend Burton has done to Boiling. They throw their
"liberal" support to Wright, and to, with Bolling out
of the race, mirabile dictu, Jim Wright is elected Majority Leader,
148 to 147. Thus Mayor Daley, iron champion of iron party discipline,
bequeaths to the House of Representatives-two weeks before his
death-a Majority Leader who vows to exert no discipline at all.
The incoming President's legislative program will not meet walls
of defiance. It will fall victim to "party anarchy,"
die in the "breakdown of party discipline," a "breakdown"
preconcerted by the iron discipline of the big-city-machine delegates
to Congress and their ancient southern allies. In broad daylight
in this age of reform, the "Dixie-Daley alliance," the
"bosses and the boll weevils," the ancient party machine
has taken an iron grip on the House. It quickly appoints loyal
henchmen to all the key positions in the leadership claque.
"You have never seen democracy shown
like it was today," O'Neill hastens to inform the press,
lest reporters suspect that what they just saw was "the never-ending
audacity of elected persons." Nobody contradicts the Speaker;
where the inner life of Congress is concerned, the members keep
silent; the great cockpit of party power is shrouded in darkness
by a tacit vow of omertà, and woe to the bringer of light.
When the Ninety-fifth Congress convenes
on January 4, Senate Democrats-sixty-one strong-make analogous
preparations for the "outsider" President. They, too,
must elect a special kind of Majority Leader. To "smooth
the way for legislation formulated by a Democratic President,"
notes Congressional Quarterly, is the traditional role of a Democratic
Majority Leader. Hubert Humphrey, reelected to the Senate, would
dearly love to play it; it may be the "last hurrah"
for the old hero of the party. "Beloved by all" is Humphrey,
but his chances are nil. The former Vice President is no man for
the game now afoot.
He is much too decent, much too old-fashioned,
has too much of the "executive" viewpoint. He would
actually try to "smooth the way" for Carter when what
is required is obstruction and treachery and knives wielded in
the back alleys of Capitol Hill, where the Democracy, of necessity,
must do its fighting. Three hours before the Democratic Conference
is scheduled to vote, "beloved" Humphrey, deserted by
nearly all, sadly withdraws his name. The majority leadership
goes uncontested to "a little-known parliamentary technician"
named Robert Byrd, "a moderate conservative," self-styled,
from West Virginia, who strongly favors costly weapons systems,
strongly opposes internal Senate reforms and has previously opposed
civil rights for black people.
To President Carter, Majority Leader Byrd
will appear a man of the most exquisitely touchy pride. "Sometimes
he refused even to discuss with me other matters of importance
which he thought could be safely postponed. Sensitive about his
position, he made certain I paid for my mistake whenever I inadvertently
slighted him." The Senate, on the other hand, knows Byrd
as a laborious lickspittle, "your spear carrier," he
calls himself, brought up in direst poverty, referred to by his
colleagues as Uriah Heep, so Time reports a year hence. A more
Heepish legislator has perhaps never been seen in the United States
Senate. Early in his senatorial career Byrd was the hanger-on
and errand boy of the eminent Senator Richard Russell, whom he
addressed as "Senator Russell" in true 'umble Heepish
fashion. When Senator Teddy Kennedy became the Democratic whip
to demonstrate his humility, it was Byrd who did Kennedy's drudgework,
but not without thoughts of revenge. Like 'umble Uriah, Byrd smiled
and groveled and waited his chance. In 1972 he turned on Kennedy
and challenged him for the whip's position. A party prince versus
the party's toady, and the toady gained the palm. Now Humphrey
has fallen to Heep, for the Democratic oligarchy knows that whatever
needs to be done, no matter how shameless, no matter how treacherous,
Byrd will do it. "Our problems," says the new Majority
Leader, "will be as great in many ways now that we have a
Democratic President as they were under a Republican President."
Nothing Delphic about that. Byrd's "leadership," notes
Time, "allows senators to follow their own convictions and
accentuates the independence of the Ninety-fifth Congress."
There will be no "smoothing the way"; obstruction, rather,
and deadly postponements and many a quick-flashing knife blade.
Senate Democrats move at once to strengthen
Byrd's hand. Defeated for Majority Leader, Humphrey, the well
beloved, would like to be chairman of the Democratic caucus; small
honor, indeed, for so tireless a party champion, but Humphrey,
cancer devouring his life, loses again. The chairmanship is given
to Byrd. Liberals would like the party caucus to name the members
of the Democratic Steering Committee, the powerful body which
gives out the committee assignments, making and breaking careers.
The appointive power is given to Byrd. Liberals would like the
caucus to have final control over scheduling legislation; the
scheduling power is given to Byrd. There are things which must
be done-tricks, treacheries, stabbings-which sixty-one Democrats
cannot safely discuss in a body. Best leave it to Heep and turn
a blind eye.
Thus, in the very heart, or conning tower,
of the Democratic Congress, the organization of the Reaction swiftly
moves forward. The Central Intelligence Agency, too, collapses
before it. On December 26, the New York Times reveals Team B's
crushing victory over the agency's intelligence analysts. "New
CIA Estimate Finds Soviet Seeks Superiority in Arms." A closely
held secret now blared to the world, the estimate was more than
somber-it was very grim, an intelligence source tells the Times.
"It flatly states the judgment that the Soviet Union is seeking
superiority over the United States forces," a speculation
about Soviet intentions which the CIA had carefully eschewed in
the past. "The insiders shifted 180 degrees," a Team
B member crows to the Times. Confronted by Oligarchy's "experts,"
the Agency has turned belly up. The new Estimate, says the Washington
Post, "is a high barrier for the Carter administration to
overcome" in its pursuit of arms control. "Even if the
Carter administration disagrees with the new National Intelligence
Estimates on Soviet strategy, it cannot be readily rewritten.
It will appear in two or three volumes that serve as a reference
for policy-makers across the top echelon of the government."
That is the point of the whole enterprise-to
transform Present Danger alarms into the new official orthodoxy-at
the expense of the outsider President, at the expense of the revived
Still in Plains, Georgia, still awaiting
inauguration, Carter is already a strangely isolated figure. "Press
interviews and other statements made it obvious that the overwhelming
Democratic majorities in both Houses were not about to embrace
me as a long-awaited ally in the Executive Branch."
The AFL-CIO is openly hostile. This winter
the national ward heelers produce, in partnership with right-wing
lobbyists for U.S. nuclear supremacy, "The Price of Peace
and Freedom," a film depicting the Soviet military threat,
the folly of détente and the menace of arms control. On
January 10, the union chieftains assail the President-elect for
neglecting the poor in his "economic stimulus" package.
The Right and the poor are the unions' upper and nether millstones,
between which they hope to grind Carter to a pulp-not to the advantage
of the poor.
The Washington press is as hostile as
it dares to be and sends out light skirmishers for the preliminary
assault. "Before we arrived in Washington some of the society
page editors were deploring the prospective dearth of social grace
in the 'White House and predicting four years of nothing but hillbilly
music, and ignorant Bible-toting southerners trying to reimpose
Prohibition on the capital city. The local cartoonists had a field
day characterizing us as barefoot country hicks with straw sticking
out of our ears, clad in overalls, and unfamiliar with the proper
use of indoor plumbing."
There is also the matter of reorganizing
the Executive Branch. The authority to do so, subject to a one-House
veto, has been granted without demur to Presidents Truman, Eisenhower,
Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Carter has talked ad nauseum during
his election campaign of reorganizing the Executive Branch and
has been asking House Democrats to give him the authority to do
so since the November meeting in Georgia. Thus far, the Democrats
have refused. Jack Brooks of Texas, chairman of the Government
Operations Committee, considers one-House vetoes unconstitutional.
Speaker O'Neill disagrees, but supports the chairman, whereupon
290 other Democrats fall in behind the Speaker. As a result, when
Congress convenes, a terrified Carter, envisioning a "highly
publicized defeat" on his first day in office, cannot find
a single Democrat willing to introduce his reorganization bill
to the House. "The breakdown of party discipline" only
occurs on command. 'A hair-raising experience," Carter calls
it, and so it is meant to be.
There is the matter, too, of Theodore
Sorensen, President Kennedy's former aide and Carter's choice
as director of Central Intelligence. On January 13, the appointment,
seemingly unexceptionable, runs into "unexpected difficulties,"
reports the Times. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been
shown two Sorensen affidavits concerning the celebrated "Pentagon
Papers"-the classified documentary record of U.S. involvement
in Vietnamese affairs. The affidavits say what every member of
the committee understands perfectly well: that the classification
system is grotesquely overblown, that high-ranking officials,
Sorensen included, routinely use "top secret" files
in writing their memoirs; that the Pentagon Papers had posed no
threat whatever to national security. Fury, nonetheless, sweeps
through the Intelligence Committee. Pentagon Papers no threat?
Liberals join hands with conservatives, with the John Birch Society,
with every rabble-rouser of the Right they can muster, to block
the appointment of Sorensen.
The President-elect in Plains, Georgia,
knows nothing of this until January 15 when Senator Byrd, at his
regular Saturday press conference, announces that Sorensen's confirmation
faces "considerable difficulty." What is more, he tells
the press, he doesn't think he will endorse Sorensen either. Heep's
knife quivers in the director-designate's back. Carter says a
few words in Sorensen's defense, but the President-elect has no
stomach for this fight. On Monday, January 17, the first day of
the confirmation hearings, Sorensen, "with trembling hands,"
reads to the committee a "strident" defense of his character
against "scurrilous and personal attacks," against "outright
lies and falsehoods." He defies those "who wish to strike
at me, or through me at Governor Carter." Upon saying which
he withdraws his name from consideration as
director of Central Intelligence. The
Reaction has scored another victory over liberality of mind and
draws first blood in the destruction of a President. To gauge
the full measure of the victory-and of Carter's stunning defeat-parliamentarians
delve into the archives and report that only eight Cabinet-level
appointees have ever been rejected in the entire history of the
United States. The last time a Senate of the President's own party
had done such a thing was in 1925. Byrd "just wanted to teach
Carter a lesson," a "junior" Democratic senator,
nameless, explains to Time. And the lesson is: How feeble is a
president with no party to support him.
All that stands between partyless Jimmy Carter and a nightmarish
term of office is the esteem of the American people. On Inauguration
Day, President Carter, the suspect tribune, begins a two-month
campaign to regain it. The campaign begins not with, but after
his Inauguration address, which is brief, cautious and speaks
scarcely at all to the democratic yearnings of the country. For
those yearnings, which Carter well understands, he has prepared
a stunt or stratagem which electrifies and delights the hungry
The new First Lady, a woman intensely
devoted to a husband entirely wrapped up in himself, describes
the occasion well: 'After a light lunch at the Capitol following
the Inauguration, we climb into the waiting limousines and drive
outside the grounds in perfect formation. Then the cars stop,
to the great surprise of everybody but the Secret Service and
our family. The word spreads down the parade route. 'He's out
of the car!' people yell. 'They're out of the car' . . . and we
keep walking and walking, smiling and laughing, warm as we go
through the snow and ice in the subfreezing temperature. All along
Pennsylvania Avenue are people wearing green-and-white woolen
Carter hats, left over from the primaries in New Hampshire and
Wisconsin .... I didn't realize the impact the walk would have
until we stepped onto the street and began to hear all those voices.
Just as we want to be close to the people, they want to be close
to us. 'Hello, Jimmy. Hello, Rosalynn,' they call again and again.
'Good luck. God bless you.' Some are crying, standing in the cold
with tears running down their cheeks. I can't feel the cold at
The promise of republican simplicity,
how powerful an appeal it makes! In swift succession Carter enrolls
his daughter, Amy, in a local Washington public school, places
a ban on the playing of "Hail to the Chief" and "Ruffles
and Flourishes"; offers a Lincolnian pardon to Vietnam draft-resisters;
holds a "fireside chat" in a cardigan sweater, attends
town hall meetings, answers questions from the floor, answers
questions from the entire country on a live, call-in radio show,
promises equity, fair play, a "government as open and honest
as it can be"-"setting a style of leadership now,"
Newsweek well puts it, "so that he will in fact be able to
lead later on." Carter's "approval rating" soars
to the 70 percent mark and stays near there for months.
On television, Capitol Hill cannot compete
with the 'White House and does not try. It has its own select
audience, however, the Washington press corps, quite strategic
and superbly pliant, made pliant by the code of "objective
journalism," a code which boils down to this one fundamental
rule: "Thou shall not think for thyself, seek instead a high-ranking
source." Two is evidently being added to two; the result,
say administration officials, is almost certain to be four. Whether
this result is intended has not yet been confirmed. Under the
code of objective journalism, news is not only what the powerful
do; its purport is what the powerful say it is. The code thus
performs a daily political miracle: It prevents reporters from
corrupting the news so that the news may be corrupted by the newsmakers.
It is imperative that the Washington press
not suspect Capitol Hill of aiming at a President's ruin. Grounds
for suspicion, however, already abound. For one thing, harsh mockery
has greeted Carter's economic-stimulus package. Even the dimmest
reporter, with head full of cant, might wonder what has happened
to this outsider President's "honeymoon" with Congress.
Reassurances must be supplied at once. "I don't think there's
the slightest possibility Congress is going to war with the President,"
says Senator Long of Louisiana, a chief general in the war. What
of Carter's stunning defeat in the Sorensen affray? "Nobody
declared war on Carter. The honeymoon isn't over," replies
Senator Howard Baker, Republican Minority Leader, as eager as
any Democrat to keep from objective journalism and the American
people-the destruction of a Democratic President at the hands
of a Democratic Congress: Collusion keeps secrets well.
It is the 'White House that attacks us,
insults us, assails us, congressional leaders complain to the
minions of objective journalism. Frank Moore, the President's
inexperienced liaison with Congress, is singled out for particular
attention. Day after day "veteran legislators" take
reporters aside to tell them what a "laughingstock"
he is, how "downright offensive" he is, what a "confrontational
attitude" he has. "At the rate it's going now he's not
going to last. He's going to be the first sacrificial lamb,"
a veteran legislative aide tells Congressional Quarterly. "He's
a good boy. He's getting a helluva lot of criticism he doesn't
deserve. Somebody's got a knife out for him."
The Speaker's knife has been busy since
the Inaugural. Hamilton Jordan sent him, he claims, some inferior
back-row seats for an Inaugural celebration, which may or may
not be so; Jordan himself adamantly denies it. "I said to
Jordan," the Speaker tells reporters, "'when a guy is
Speaker of the House and gets tickets like this, he figures there's
a reason behind it.' " According to the Speaker, the President's
chief political adviser then replied: "'If you don't like
it I'll send back the dollars.' " To which incredible insult
to the most powerful man on Capitol Hill the Speaker tells the
press he replied: " 'I'll ream you out, you son-of-a-bitch.'"
Such is bonhomous Tip's story, word for word, as it appears in
the New York Times Magazine on July 24, 1977, by which time it
is a twice-told tale destined for a not-insignificant place in
the history books. After the Speaker has been insulted so grossly,
is it any wonder that virtually no important piece of legislation
submitted to Congress by Jimmy Carter is destined to pass? Meanwhile)
like Pavlovian dogs, the Washington press corps is being conditioned
to bark on Oligarchy's cue.
On February 1, a four-page memorandum
circulate anonymously in the Senate Armed Services Committee,
Henry Jackson, untiring foe of arms control, chairs the subcommittee
on arms control. The memorandum is the work of one Penn Kemble,
executive director of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority
and a "close adviser" of Jackson's; assisting Kemble
is one Josh Muravchik, an aide of Jackson's newest Senate ally,
Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, who eloquently laments the
"erosion of political authority in America." The memorandum's
immediate object is to attack an alleged "unilateral"
disarmer, Paul Warnke, Carter's choice for chief arms negotiator.
Its larger object is to help dislodge a galling impediment to
the further advance of the Reaction.
In November 1974, the United States and
the Soviet Union had reached a strategic arms control agreement,
initiated by Nixon, negotiated by Kissinger and supported by Congress
and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. With a few outstanding difficulties
unresolved or postponed these "Vladivostok Accords"
can be quickly transformed into a formal arms control treaty,
commonly referred to as SALT II. This is just what Carter intends
to do and just what the Reaction is desperate to prevent. It will
give the new President a striking popular triumph, will strengthen
détente and "the culture of appeasement," will
weaken, perhaps fatally, the American "will." The revival
of fear, the iron discipline of the Cold War, the destruction
of Carter, the stifling of democracy: All that Oligarchy so urgently
seeks could be wiped away in one cheap victory-provided by Nixon,
who loathed everything the awakened democracy stands for. The
irony of it incites added fury in the ranks of the Reaction.
Brzezinski is the Reaction's secret agent, ready to betray the
President to his enemies if it will help them overthrow détente.
Such is the treacherous intriguer who meets with Carter each morning
at eight and often four times a day. Already in State Department
circles "dark rumors" are afloat that Brzezinski is
meeting secretly with Jackson's aide, Richard Perle, to lay the
"deep cuts" trap for Carter.
'What Speaker O'Neill and Majority Leader Wright have done this
April day is exactly what the Reaction requires: They have invited
the heads of the largest corporations in America to walk into
the offices of congressmen, make free of Capitol Hill and f direct
all the influence they can muster to kill off any legislation
they j do not like; a "limited agenda" which will leave
the "outsider" President without a single democratic
reform to his credit and which will alter, in due course, the
political atmosphere of the country.
... On national television, broadcast
from the Oval Office, the ( National Energy Plan is launched on
April 18. "With the exception of preventing war, this is
the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetime,"
the grim-faced President warns. "The alternative may be national
catastrophe." Two days later, before a joint session of Congress-an
immense solemnity this-the President outlines the various regulatory,
tax and pricing measures which make up the administration's complicated,
comprehensive energy plan. Like a gambler at the racetrack, fatigued
with petty calculations, Carter bets all his official prestige
on the legislative success of this single enterprise. What is
more, the White House wants everyone aware of the magnitude of
the bet. "This will be a measure of Carter's ability to lead
the country. It is a greater test of his leadership than any other
single issue." So Hamilton Jordan advises the press. A few
days before, Senate Democrats had harried Carter into withdrawing,
in humiliating fashion, his proposal to give every taxpayer a
fifty-dollar rebate as an economic stimulus. The energy program,
however, cannot be trifled with so readily, cannot be strangled
without leaving fingerprints. If it is killed it must be done
in full view of an alerted electorate. Defeat the President here
and the White House is an empty shell. Such is the White House
message. The energy program is both a gamble and a dare.
... Is it possible that Carter is losing
his abject fear of the Democratic establishment? Congressional
leaders are wary, have good reason to be: Destroying a President
is a dangerous business, and quite as unprecedented for the doers
as for the done to.
... Liberal Democrats tirelessly belabor
Carter for his fiscal conservatism, fall mute when "conservative"
Democrats kill off his democratic legislation. "Even Nixon
had his partisans here," says an anonymous House Democrat
in May, "but you never hear anyone saying, "Let's do
it for Jimmy'"
... On June 9, a House Ways and Means
subcommittee and a House Commerce subcommittee tear the National
Energy Plan to shreds in devastating "tentative" votes,
testing, perhaps, how far Carter can be pushed before he "takes
one to the country."
... Carter gets a telephone call from the Speaker asking him to
accept unvetoed that very compromise. "I thought for a few
seconds, considered the progress we had made in changing an outdated
public-works system, decided to accommodate the Speaker and then
agreed to his proposal."
A trifling concession, seemingly, but
Carter, looking back, knows better, many years too late, alas.
A "timid" decision he calls it; what frightened him
he does not say, but it is not difficult to guess: If he does
not "accommodate the Speaker" (and betray those who
bravely stood by him on June 14), the House leaders will destroy
his energy bill. "I regretted it as much as any budget decision
I made as President." But why such deep regret for so small
a matter? Because the decision "was accurately interpreted
as a sign of weakness on my part." A fateful sign indeed.
At the height of his power as President, when the Dixie-Daley
Congress has good reason to fear him, he has revealed to the gimlet
eye of Oligarchy that he still trembles before it. The Oligarchy
has little to fear from Carter. Oligarchy can do with his leadership"
whatever it likes, whenever it needs to.
Even in early August this is excessively sanguine. In the Senate,
the tax portions of Carter's energy legislation will fall under
the sway of Senator Long, a hostile party oligarch who has just
joined forces with Republicans to protect a three-day filibuster
that effectively kills off public financing of congressional elections-"David's
victory over Goliath," exclaims topsy-turvy Viguerie, who
credits the New Right with this triumph of power and wealth over
the democratic "Goliath.'
... The Majority Leader's [Henry Jackson]
hostility to the 'White House, moreover, has intensified, grown
venomous, seems by late July almost half-mad. On July 7, Carter
had proposed one-House approval of the sale of advanced radar
equipment to the Shah of Iran, whom the Dixie-Daley Congress overwhelmingly
favors. On July 22, notwithstanding, Byrd orders Carter to withdraw
the proposal on the trumpery pretext that the Senate has only
another week to consider it. He whines, he pleads, he begs his
fellow Democrats to back him against intolerable presidential
arrogance; persuades Senator Baker, who strongly favors the sale,
to oppose it; gets three "senior" House Democrats on
the International Relations Committee-all of whom strongly favor
the sale-to vote against it; gets several Republican members of
this House committee, who also favor the sale, to absent themselves
on the day of the vote, whereupon the committee, which overwhelmingly
favors the sale, "confounded nearly all expectations"
by voting against it, compelling a humiliated Carter to withdraw
the proposal, humiliating the Shah in turn. Heepish spite and
malice, stored up in a lifetime of laborious groveling, Byrd vents
upon Oligarchy's victim, political duty and psychic impulse beautifully
congruent in our senatorial Heep.
The President, nonetheless, is rapturous with joy and relief-true
measure of his secret fears: The Democratic establishment has
chosen not to destroy him! The nightmare is over! "I've been
deeply grateful at the spirit of cooperation and harmony that
has evolved because of the leadership in the House and the Senate,"
he tells ABC News, which has come to Plains, Georgia, on August
10 to interview the President, surprisingly victorious, not least
to himself. "I feel more and more like an insider,"
says the former champion of the people against the insiders. "I
feel part of the Washington government now, not in an embarrassed
way, but in a natural way. And I believe there's been a restoration
of harmony and cooperation and national purpose between the White
House and the Republicans and Democrats in the Congress, which
is very healthy for the country."
How great were Carter's terrors and how
measly and self-regarding are his hopes! And how utterly baseless
THE ROAD TO REAGAN
How can Carter bear the agony of so much failure and defeat? 'What
it is like to be reduced to irrelevance in the greatest office
in the world is likewise beyond imagining. The President soldiers
on, appears calm, endures; hopes for one big "victory"
that will save his presidency. The unprecedented notion of personally
negotiating a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, decided on
July 31, is born of that desperate, tenacious hope. Carter's aides
do not have his power of self-suppression. In this season of defeats
bordering on debacle, press secretary Jody Powell sinks into despondency
so deep, he says, it is nearly "clinical." Seeing the
grim, despairing look on Powell's face, a small-town reporter
asks him if he intends to resign. Despondency is punctuated by
rage. "They resent us," says Powell, unnamed, to a US.
News and World Report interviewer. "If Hamilton Jordan went
up and groveled at the feet of every member of Congress it still
wouldn't change their minds." "Paranoia" afflicts
the White House, retort the pundits of the press, as if to warn
Carter of what he can expect by way of denunciation should he
dare accuse party leaders of savaging the first President ever
forced on them by the people.
On July 27, the Ways and Means Committee,
by a vote of 25 to 12-the twelve being angry "outgunned"
liberal Democrats who pleaded in vain for the Speaker's support-report
out a tax bill which gives the lion's share of a $16 billion tax
reduction to the wealthiest 5 percent of the country, now referred
to as "the middle class"-the vast middling population
of the country, once the nation's pride, being suddenly demoted
to the lower orders in this season of quackery and sudden change.
An almost total defeat for President Carter, the tax bill provides
the 37,000 richest households with a capital gains tax reduction
of $25,000 a year, a gross dispensation of privilege now described
as "increased incentives for risk-taking and job-creation."
"Outrageous," cries the outspoken
Abner Mikva, for $25,000 is more than what 90 percent of American
families earn in a year. "Revolutionary," say jubilant
Republicans when the House passes the tax bill by the immense
margin of 362 to 49 on August 10. The Democrats have given up
at long last their efforts to "redistribute the wealth,"
say Republicans, for mitigating the gross unfairness of the tax
system has suddenly become-in this season of quackery-an assault
on the deserving rich. They have accepted by overwhelming vote
the old "trickle down" doctrine that the riches of the
rich are the blessings of the people. "We've turned around
the whole thrust of what tax reform was two years ago," says
a Republican senator, have turned it, in truth, inside out. Republicans
have reason to be jubilant. The popular party has openly abandoned
tax justice, abandoned equality of rights and burdens, abandoned
citizenship itself, has proclaimed by overwhelming vote that America
is an economy suffering from republicanism-the innermost idea
of the American Right, its pith, core and essence-and so paves
the way for its rule. The American people [will have to follow
as best they can.
There is no mystery about supply-side economics. Its object is
to overcome the single greatest obstacle to the final triumph
of the Reaction-the sheer vote-repelling ambitions of the Republican
Right, with its laissez-faire sharks, its minimal government for
the powerful and excessive government for everyone else, with
its deserving rich and its ill-concealed elitism. The supply-side
fairy tale is "the necessary first step in the renaissance
of the GOP," says Wanniski, and so it is. "The Democrats
offer the voters a menu of soup, salad, fruits, wines and beef,"
says Representative Jack Kemp of Buffalo, first "supply-side"
congressman, while "Republicans have said, 'Come to our table
and we'll tighten your belt' . . . that's not a very appetizing
menu and I want to change it"-from vote-repelling Old Right
candor to New Right demagoguery. Kemp's proposal for a 30 percent
tax cut "has given Republicans a new argument, a new style,
and it's delightful," says jubilant Senator Richard Lugar
in this season of Republican jubilance.
One thing only makes this transparent
demagoguery politically feasible: the assured complicity of the
Democratic Party establishment. Supply-side economics is not just
a false promise of plenty; it is a sinister mask for deprivation.
The American people are told that they can enjoy a huge tax cut
without loss of the "welfare state"-by sworn foes of
the welfare state. They are told they can devour the fisc with
impunity by champions of a shrunken fisc. They are told they can
eat their cake and have it, too, by those who want that cake devoured
and gone forever. Expose the supply-side hoax, and shark's motives
stand exposed. Lay bare the real intentions behind the new quackery,
and Reaction's triumph would be immensely complicated. Republicans,
however, have complete faith in the popular party now. The coup
de main has supplied the earnest. "The Democrats have seen
the business point of view." And so the Reaction rolls on.
By the autumn of 1979, too, the Democratic Congress has made itself
a mere adjunct of the corporate swarm, an open auction for corporate
wealth. "Access was now openly for sale," writes Teddy
'White, normally a celebrator of American public life, unable
to celebrate this new "loose money" which has grown
"more important in the purchase of political influence than
at any time in living memory." Congress, for sale, is more
than ever the mouthpiece for corporate quackery, ever more daring
in its quackery. It declares that the poor are not poor enough
(having declared in 1978 that the rich are not rich enough), must
be made poorer to "combat inflation." The Federal Trade
Commission, empowered by the democratic awakening, disagrees;
looks to monopoly and oligopoly as a prime cause of inflation.
The very thought is now forbidden, taboo. The inflation, by decree,
is an instrument of the Reaction, and of no other ideas or thoughts
or initiatives. Inflation is caused by government, caused by egalitarianism,
caused by republicanism; capitalism is flawless. So Oligarchy
decrees, as quackery spreads, thickens, buries public life beneath
it. The FTC, persistent, tries to "strengthen the role of
competition," gets savaged, humiliated, decimated by Congress
this autumn, for so the corporate swarm would have it and so Capitol
Hill, for sale, obliges, obliges so eagerly the very bribe-givers
are ashamed for the bribe-taking Congress: "I don't like
doing this-it's terrible. But it's you guys who've put Congress
on the auction block."
Does this money pollution, which can shame
a lobbyist, shame the Democratic Congress? No, the Democratic
Congress, our Dixie-Daley Congress, finds the money pollution
even now insufficient, inadequate, a mere trickle. More, ten times
more, corrupt money-and money ten times more corrupting-must be
sucked into the vortex of Oligarchy before Oligarchy can begin
to feel safe from the democratic menace, which, Antaeus-like,
never dies, however crushed to the ground it might be. So, on
December 20-the same day, coincidentally, on which the Senate
Armed Services Committee unanimously condemns the SALT II treaty
despite all that Carter has paid and betrayed for it-Congress
enacts a campaign-financing measure which destroys what is left
of democracy's shield against the corrupting political power of
wealth. The measure passes quietly, in "a rare demonstration
of harmony," passes by acclamation, votes unrecorded, not
without reason. The measure, which is strongly urged by the United
Auto Workers-another "liberal" Democratic gift to "labor"-allows
the political parties to spend limitless amounts of money for
"party-strengthening activities" and "get-out-the-vote"
drives in presidential elections. Funds may come from any source
whatever, from sources forbidden since 1907-union treasuries,
meaning the workers' dues; corporate treasuries, meaning the stockholders'
money; as well as the deep pockets of "fat cat" donors-no
need even for a PAC. Why put corrupters to trouble? This limitless
PAC-less soft money, so-called, goes unrecorded, cannot be traced.
A corporation could give "twenty million bucks and you don't
have to show it," says a Republican Party official.
This limitless, secret, corrupting money
goes straight into the hands of the national party leadership,
gets redistributed to its favored local candidates, its favored
local parties, its favored aspirants for presidential nominations.
It makes a mockery of federal funding of presidential elections,
tried only once-in 1976-and already turned into a fraud by the
all-devouring Reaction. It is meant to make a mockery, too, of
popular control of presidential nominations, this being, perhaps,
the most important object of all. It favors the powerful few;
it weakens, inexorably, silently, in ways hard to measure, the
political voice of the many, for it restricts the public realm
to Oligarchy's hacks and handmaidens, or will in due course. It
is of immense and immediate advantage to the presidential chances
of Ronald Reagan, enacted this December 20, 1979, just in the
nick of time, by the Democratic Congress, by acclamation-for "labor."
The thinnest and flimsiest of pretexts can conceal from honest
citizens the brutal fact of collusion and complicity in American
party politics, so let this be said as forcibly and as candidly
as possible, marking the turning point in this chronicle of the
Reaction: Two political parties have united to destroy a feeble
democrat. Now they will unite-collude more deeply still-to exalt,
protect and sustain a feeble tyrant, will call upon him to bring
the populares to heel, like a signor summoned by frightened magnates
)quell some turbulent Italian city-state.