Eugene McCarthy, Arthur Jr. Schlesinger, Jeffrey St. John
The Open Mind on the Presidency
VTR Date: March 3, 1974
Guests: Jackson, Henry; Kendall, Donald; Richardson, Elliot; Salisbury, Harrison;...
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THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Sen. Eugene McCarthy
With Jeffery St. John and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Title: The Open Mind on the Presidency
VTR: 12/ 16/73
Good evening. I’m Richard Heffner, your host on this special edition of THE OPEN MIND, as I was a generation ago when the program began. In the 1950s, our first topic on The Open Mind was “The Presidency.” There is every reason why it should be again. And as surely the confusions and uncertainties of our own times demand that such an important thing once again be examined freely, rationally, by minds that are not so cluttered with clichés and certainties that they cannot reasonably generate for us light as well as heat. By those who possess that extraordinary quality, the open mind.
In that first program so many years ago, my guests were confronted not with the problem of restraining an activist president, of establishing his responsibility to the will of Congress, and through it, the will of the people. The Eisenhower style, after all, required no such restraints. Ironically then from today’s perspective the problem then seemed to be how to activate, to energize the presidency of the United States. Yet in the momentous years that have come and gone since The Open Mind began, years of magnificent space explorations, of controversial foreign adventures, of political assassinations, of a black revolution and rebellion of the young. In these years, the American executive seems to have changed so much that one of today’s guests could entitle his most recent book, The Imperial Presidency and another guest, when he ran for the Democratic National nomination for president not so long ago, could call for the demystification, decentralization, and some people felt, even the dismantlement of the presidency.
Clearly then it is time now for me to begin our discussion by introducing my guests, who are today, first, Arthur Schlesinger, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian of Jackson and of Franklin Roosevelt and of John Kennedy, presidential advisor, and author most recently of The Imperial Presidency, Eugene McCarthy, former United States Senator. 1968 presidential candidate, Jeffrey St. John, critic, author, CBS Spectrum commentator.
Mr. St. John, I think I’d like to begin The Open Mind today by asking you whether it’s appropriate in your estimation to use that old saw, “it’s time for change,” in reference to this matter of the presidency. And I don’t mean in terms of the person, I mean in terms of the institution and its powers.
ST. JOHN: Yeah. I think it’s not only time for a change, but what worries me about all the talk about change is that we are talking about changes of form instead of the substantive philosophy. I think the change in the philosophy of the idea of, to use Professor Schlesinger’s very apt phrase, the imperial presidency, because indeed it has become an imperial, almost, as a matter of fact, I called it the coming of the Caesarism, the Caesarist kind of presidencies. What worries me is that we’re talking about forms such as parliamentary government. A president should be held accountable, perhaps the suggestion that Professor Schlesinger made about possibly dissolution of the presidency and calling an election, this is dealing with form, this is not dealing with the core and guts, philosophical guts of the problem today, which is basically the enormous power that the government and the president can, the corrosive power that the government can maintain over its citizens. We did have a philosophical idea at one time 200 years ago that’s, I think it was marvelously summed up in Madison’s phrase, what was it, “the truth of the matter is, all men in power are to be mistrusted.” And I think that that’s the kind of change I’d like to see.
HEFFNER: Gentlemen, I wonder what your comments are. It’s not a formal discussion. Let’s just throw it open. Senator McCarthy?
McCARTHY: Well, it’s pretty open all right. One doesn’t quite know where to begin. If we were to go back, I’d challenge what you said about Eisenhower just a little bit. The Eisenhower presidency was really a much more personal presidency than we’re likely to credit it with having been. He did one or two things that were positive actions in which he took to himself power. But for the most part, he personalized it by really refusing to exercise the powers. In the negative way, he in a sense helped to set the stage for those who in a positive way might make the presidency into what they wanted it to be. It’s not just a question of the president not to have the right to take to himself powers which he shouldn’t take. But it’s also, if you have the right conception, the president doesn’t have the right not to exercise the powers which go with the office.
HEFFNER: Well, how can you not personalize the office?
McCARTHY: Well, you can personalize the style. You can give a certain character to it. But what we’re concerned about is the limits of personalization and of trying to set some safeguards and some guidelines around the edges. But in the case of Eisenhower I say that… you say, well, after Eisenhower, Eisenhower, that this was somehow a presidency in which we had to stimulate him. The fact was it was his not acting which was his personalization of the office. And so, because, you know, he just delegated to John Foster Dulles, who — and Dulles went round the world kind of signing us up everyplace anybody would sign up. Now, Ike didn’t do much about the commitments, but he let them be made. And after he was out of office and Dulles was dead, why the contracts were there. And the Democrats said, “look, you have a legal obligation, SETO, SANTO, everyplace, you know. Or a moral obligation.” And it was, in a way, a consequence, I think, of the Republicans more or less went for Ike, the Democrats did too at that time, and said, “look, you can have the presidency, you know, and whatever you want to make of it, it’s yours.” But I thought that we’d be better off probably if the Republicans in ‘52 had gone with Taft, even though they had won with Taft. Because it would have been a line of party responsibility and a presidency if Taft had won, certainly if Stevensen had won, representing the Democrats, which was in the tradition of presidencies.
HEFFNER: Arthur, do you, Arthur Schlesinger, do you share that point of view?
SCHLESINGER: I think what Eugene McCarthy says about the decay of parties is certainly one great contributing factor to the emergency of the imperial presidency. Back in the last part of the nineteenth century when parties were strong, presidents had accountability to their parties as well as to the various other institutions. One didn’t have great personality cults of Rutherford B. Hayes, for example. But as the parties begin to disintegrate, the president stands out alone. I think what we really have is a situation where, through most of American history presidents have operated within the system of accountability. Formal accountability to Congress and the Supreme Court, informal accountability to their own cabinet and executive branch, to their political party, to the media of opinion, the press and so on, to public opinion in general. And that served as a kind of constraint. And sensitive presidents, responsible presidents recognized that they had to operate in this system of accountability. They understood even from the point of view of their getting anything done that it couldn’t be done as effectively or enduringly without a solid basis in consent. But I think what’s happened through a number of factors, and I think it’s primarily the fact that the United States has been in an endless international crisis for 30 years, but I think other factors such as the decay of the parties, such as, I may say, the role of historians and political scientists in building up a doctrine, an uncritical doctrine of the strong presidency. And I would include myself among the sinners here. And perhaps the power of television to some degree. All of these things have resulted in a magnification of the presidency, and in recent years have finally tempted the presidency to try to escape from the system of regular accountability into what seems to me a system by which, I think Mr. Nixon’s view is the president ought to be accountable once every four years at the national election. The national election gives him a mandate, and the mandate ought to shield him from congressional and judicial and political public harassment during his term. It ought to empower him to do what he thinks best for the country. Make war, make peace, disband or to impound, to give out information or hold it back. And that in between elections the president should be responsible, accountable only through the impeachment process. It’s said that the statesman that Mr. Nixon admires most is General DeGaulle, among contemporary figures. And in a sense he’s been trying to establish a Gaullist regime. Though I must say it seems to me he doesn’t resemble DeGaulle nearly so much as he resembles Louis Napoleon.
ST. JOHN: …apart, but I think his conception…
McCARTHY: The American version of fascism.
ST. JOHN: Well, not quite, but it’s getting close. And I’m not speaking of the euphemistic use of the term. I mean in terms of the economic control that the government has. By the way, apropos of parties, I find it interesting, as we all know, the founders of the country were not very high on the idea of political parties. Was it Madison who talked about the creator of faction? And I think that this addresses itself to the point I made earlier about the fact that what you have here is the collapse of the philosophy behind the imperial presidency. The idea that power solves problems. That all you have to do is engineer people into rearrange, or engineer the social landscape, and that somehow this will solve problems. Well, as we know, it’s created problems. But as Senator McCarthy, who has spent a great deal of time in Congress… when you look at the presidency, you can’t look at it as a formalized, structural change, because the presidency has gained this power reason of either the neglect of Congress, or for the fact, take the current energy problem. Everyone’s dumping on Nixon, in many ways justifiably so, I think, because of Watergate. But at the same time, the press has said absolutely nothing, and political leaders, about the fact that it had extraordinary power over the economic viability of the country. And it would seem to me that unless you talk about what is the purpose of a government, sort of want to go back to first principles, since I’m an admitted Aristotelian, the idea that what’s the purpose or government is to confiscate people’s earnings and send boys over sea who have been conscripted? Is it to keep order? Or what is it? And not since the Constitutional Convention 200 years ago have we really had this kind of substantive debate. I wrote a piece very critical of Rexford Tugwell’s New Constitution. I called it a document for dictatorship. And I said let the libertarians and the totalitarians begin this debate. I’ve realized I put it in polemical terms, but that’s the issue, I think, behind this long-overdue discussion about what’s the purpose of the presidency, what’s the purpose of government. Is it to make people happy? Give them certain subsistence? Or is it to, as the original founders of the country talked about, in terms of protecting people’s rights?
HEFFNER: Well, in terms of…
ST. JOHN: And I think that would be a productive question to ask Dr. Schlesinger.
SCHLESINGER: Well, the Constitution says, “to promote the general welfare.’ And I don’t know how much that gets us forward…
ST. JOHN: Right. But Madison and Jefferson did say that this was a sematical quibble in the first Congress. They shot that, about the “promote the general welfare” clause, they shot that down real early, Professor Schlesinger.
SCHLESINGER: Well, they made their effort to do so, but Hamilton, who was also a co-author of The Federalist Papers, had his own interpretation of the general welfare, and I think the fact that Hamilton and Madison…
ST. JOHN: Speaking as a pure Jeffersonian.
SCHLESINGER: I speak as an impure Hamlitonlen.
ST. JOHN: I say that Jefferson was right and that maybe Aaron Burr did a service to the country, with all due deference to the memory of Alexander Hamilton.
McCARTHY: There were some things the Founding Fathers should have anticipated. They were sort of writing a constitution for a government to be run by them. They didn’t really anticipate political parties; they should have. They didn’t anticipate the rise of Jacksonian democracy, that was sort of a shock to them. They didn’t anticipate a large military. They didn’t anticipate action. The Constitution was a sort of anti-foreign-policy document. Yet in all of these areas and many others these changes have taken place. And I think particularly, Arthur said, the decline of the party has opened the way to the presidents accepting that they really had to account to the country only once every four years. There too I think rather… I think they’re significant. They’re not great, shaking observations, but… Now, in ’68, when Lyndon withdrew, he had not built any strength into the Democratic Party organization. There was no money there. And you would think that after seven years of the Democrats having been in the White House, that they would have had, you know a couple of thousand dollars anyway in the party coffers. Well, you have to assume that President Johnson anticipated running a campaign of his own. And not having another center of strength and challenge over here in the party itself. And even before he became president, during the Eisenhower administration, Johnson, with some support from Sam Rayburn, effort was to shift what had been major party functions from the national committee to something called the Senate Campaign Committee and the House Campaign Committee. I remember the first time I ran for the Senate in ‘58, first time I ran in the House. I would get a contribution from the Democratic National Committee. And so it was sort of money that had been purified. It had been cooled off and… You know, he said, ‘well, I got no money from the committee.’ But later on, when I was running for the Senate. Now, you didn’t get any money from the National Committee. You get it from something called the Senate Finance Campaign Finance Committee. And when you got it they were likely to say, “well, you might mention this to Senator so-and-so, that he raised all this money.” So it meant that you had the branding iron put on, you know. Instead of saying, “I’m a Democrat. I get my money from the Democrats.” This function was shifted up here.
McCARTHY: Now, Nixon did essentially the same thing in this last election of his. He didn’t use the National Committee. But he had a special committee, the Committee to Re-elect the President. So it becomes a separate sort of political effort…
SCHLESINGER: And this increases the ioecetary aspect of it, as is pointing out…
MCCARTHY: That’s right. Because if the president runs, if a candidate runs independently of the party, President Nixon running in 1972 paid very little attention to the races for the House and Senate. He obviously was interested in getting the largest possible vote for himself, and he didn’t care particularly, evidently, or given his theory of the role of the Congress didn’t really make much difference to him there.
McCARTHY: Yeah. He had a list really of people who, Republicans who shouldn’t be helped, and Democrat’s who shouldn’t be molested.
HEFFNER: Yes, but.
SCHLESINGER: So he made it a personal contest in a way…
SCHLESINGER: …and then claimed the mandate.
McCARTHY: But even with the machine and the other thing indicates something was happening in political parties is that even in the Roosevelt administration and Truman and actually I think in the Kennedy administration. But the old practice was to have the Postmaster General who was also the chairman of the party, and a member of the cabinet. So when you sat down to talk about issues, at least you had one person there who said, “look, I speak for the party.” But we’ve, with the help of the liberals we’ve purified the system so much that we’ve taken the post office out of politics and put the justice department in, I guess. You had this fringe, and Republicans did it and Democrats did. And it was a good thing that Jim Farley was in the cabinet. And some might even say Franklin Roosevelt, then the chairman of the party.
SCHLESINGER: Frank Walker…
McCARTHY: That’s right. And that’s how it went. And it was around — what difference does it make? But it’s just one after another of these sort of bridges and lines both of communication and of responsibility.
ST. JOHN: Well, I’m glad you brought up, Senator McCarthy and Professor Schlesinger, that you brought up the Democratic Party, because as we all know, it was begun as a response on the part of Jefferson to what was happening at the time, which gives me a chance, of course, to make a point of mine, which I think you might find at least interesting to bite into and take a few chews. It seems to me that Jefferson’s forming the Democratic Party to fight the bank, and to fight the whole idea of Hamilton and his kind of neo-mercantilism, as I would give that phrase. But this started a trend in this country that has led to this very problem we’re discussing. Jefferson, of course, was no friend of vigorous government, and he wanted to separate politics from economics like he wanted to separate church from state. And it seems to me that it is futile, as was exhibited in the 60s when senators like yourself and critics such as Dr. Schlesinger constantly talked about either cutting off funds to formally deny the president’s power, when basically the president can conduct a war if he has control of the economics of the country. And as a consequence, the futile gestures on the part of Congress which gave the president all this power, and I’m suggesting a radical reform is the separation of politics from economics. I’m sure that that doesn’t set very well with Professor Schlesinger, perhaps with you. But it seems to me the time has come to perhaps think in radical terms, as the founders of the country did I’d be interested to know whether you agree that basically the problem is philosophical and not formal in terms of the forms and structures. Because that’s all we’ve been talking about ever since we’ve been talking about the presidency over the last ten years, is form. We’re not talking about philosophy.
McCARTHY: Well, before we take up that…
ST. JOHN: And you’re a very philosophical person, both of you.
McCARTHY: One other point on this matter of setting the president free. You know, at the very time when the Democrats are saying we really shouldn’t have this, he ought to be accountable, he ought to be responsible to the party and so on, the new proposal for federal financing only of the presidential campaign is another action which will separate the president from the party and away from Congress. And I think the Congress at that should have said, look, the money has to go to the parties for you to establish that you’ve got a party of some substance, the federal money goes to the party. Now, they in turn spend it. But for the Congress to say, “we’re concerned about this personalization off the office and the concentration,” and then say, “Well, we think we’ll have federal financing, but only of presidential campaigns.”
HEFFNER: I certainly want to continue along those lines and then to get back to Mr. St. John’s question. But if I may, I’d like to say to both of you gentlemen, Senator McCarthy and Professor Schlesinger, that, well, you, Arthur, talked about, you smiled when you said there hadn’t been a cult, a personality cult of Rutherford B. Hayes. But if I remember correctly, as a longtime student of Schlesinger history, that was not something to be thrown off quite that quickly. The period of congressional government after the Civil War was a period that I believe you in many ways have decried in the past. It wasn’t a good thing. There was no personality cult, but there was for Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and to a certain extent, belatedly for Harry Truman. In the past we’ve considered that good. What’s changed?
SCHLESINGER: I still think it’s good. I nave no question. It seems to me that our system, a system based on separation of powers, with three branches of government, is a system that has an inherent tendency toward inertia unless one branch of government takes the lead. And most of the time, and most effectively, that leadership has come from the presidency. And it seems to me that that’s essential. I don’t see how our government could work without presidential primacy. And before I would… but I would add to that general view, which I used to argue 20 years ago, is that as an essential also — and this is the part that we left out then — that presidential primacy not turn into-presidential supremacy. In other words, I think the Constitution is an ample document. It gives ample room for presidents to provide for strong men to provide very strong leadership. But I think the strong presidency must be strong within the Constitution within a system of accountability. And I think that what’s been happening in recent years has been the tendency of the presidency to escape from the system of accountability, and that is why we call the imperial presidency and this… Mr. St. John has a different, very considered and very consistent position, but one which seems…
ST. JOHN. To be the hobgoblin of little minds?
SCHLESINGER: …just seems to be, it’s a position which I don’t think would enable government to meet the, you know, complicated interdependent, industrial society couldn’t run on that position. Jefferson was, when Jefferson was president, we were a nation of five million, mostly agricultural. The ideal, Jeffersonian ideal was the small freehold system had some reality then. But even then, Jefferson, it must be said, was much more of a critic of presidential power before he became president, and after he stopped being president, than he was when he was president.
ST. JOHN: You refer to the Louisiana Purchase as…
SCHLESINGER: Well, no, it’s other things. But Woodrow Wilson, alatter-day Jeffersonian in a sense, our last Virginian president, in a way…
ST. JOHN: Sort of a half-baked Jeffersonian.
SCHLESINGER: Wilson said in 1912, “if Jefferson were alive today, he would see what we see. That to achieve his ends requires the intervention of the state.” And I think it is a question of, you have to separate the Jeffersonian means from the Jeffersonian ends. And I think the means which were appropriate in the small agricultural society to achieve Jefferson’s ends were inadequate to achieve those ends in a large, industrial society, and I think my commitment is to the Jeffersonian ends. I think your commitment may be more to the Jeffersonian means.
ST. JOHN: Means as well as ends, because both are, I think, inseparable. The thing that interests me about your comments is the fact — and I think this will kind of vibrate Senator McCarthy’s mind — because the more complex, it is a considered fact of modern industrial life to speak directly to your objection to Jeffersonianism as a modern political ethos. It seems to me that the conceptual basis of Jeffersonian was decentralization. And I think that the Jeffersonian ideal is more imperative and practical today by reason of the fact that you talk about limiting the scope of the state to intervene in people’s lives. And it seems to me that the individual young people who followed Senator McCarthy were talking about these very things in terms of the depersonalization that took place in the universities, for example, by the enormous interventionist policies of government.
SCHLESINGER: I don’t see how you can decentralize the economy, for example, an economy so many of whose…
ST. JOHN: We got rid of prohibition, didn’t we?
SCHLESINGER: … inner tendencies result in decentralization.
ST. JOHN: That was a decentralized program, wasn’t it? I said we got rid of prohibition because we had to. What makes you think that we can’t get rid of deregulation of letting the ICC die a happy death, of allowing the Federal Communications not to be a potential Big Brother, or…
SCHLESINGER: If I could finish my sentence, I say I don’t see how you can decentralize a heavily centralized economy without the intervention of the state. I think without the state we’d have a system much more of the kind we were getting before Theodore Roosevelt, that is a system of marked monopoly and trust. Without the state, far from having decentralization and free competition and a functioning…
ST. JOHN: But it’s government that create monopolies.
SCHLESINGER: … you have monopoly…
ST. JOHN: No. Governments create monopoly. AT&T is a government-created monopoly. Look at any liberal attack on a monopoly and you will find the hand of government. In the power industry, we’re talking about energy today, the government has been guaranteeing business… It has followed the Hamiltonian principle.
SCHLESINGER: You think the trusts and the combines of the ‘80s and ‘90s which led to the progressive movement were created by government? Of course they weren’t created by government.
ST. JOHN: It was absolutely Andrew Carnegie, who got, who opted for tariffs. It was the railroads who managed to get the government behind their cause. It was government, it was the businessmen and tycoons who created these problems.
HEFFNER: Senator McCarthy, you were to…
McCARTHY: Well, I don’t think it’s quite that clear. I think it was the absence of government that allowed those steel companies to grow as they did. They may have gotten some subsidies along the way. Certainly the automobile industry was a free force in America. In fact, it wasn’t until about four gears ago before we, Henry Ford was making speeches for us five years age saying government better not tamper with models unless they want to take the consequences and be responsible for the results which would follow if you tamper with models. I can recall ten or 15 years ago if you bought a Chevrolet, say, and your left hind wheel fell of, they’d say this was a bad year for Chevrolets. And there’s no question of being responsible. They’re saying, you know, turn it in we’ll fix it, or we’ll pay you. Well, the automobile is there, it’s like, you know just a bad year for apples, if there’s a blight this year.
HEFFNEER: But Senator McCarthy, that’s what puzzled me. I was looking through some of your campaign speeches in ‘68, and I was very impressed by the, on the one hand, your strong feeling for what some people have called decentralization or demystification of the presidency, and on the other hand your demand that many changes take place in the economic structure of this country and the economic conduct of this country. And I wondered at the time how you could have the one without the power in the other to bring it about.
McCARTHY: Well, that was the question. I was not against power in government, I was just against having it concentrated in the presidency, and not only that, but exercised in an extra-constitutional way. I have been concerned about the free power in the corporate structure for a long time. One of my better statements, I think, was, I was campaigning for John Kennedy, the issue of the ambassador to the Vatican was an issue in ’60. It seems so long ago, nobody cares now. (Laughter). About the Vatican. But that was a big issue in ‘60. And I remember being asked by a colleague in Washington State, one of the pleas. I said, well, you know, I think you ought to look at it, but if I were president, before I worried about the Vatican, I said, I’d like to get diplomatic representation at the Pentagon, and then I’d try General Motors and US Steel and First Trust of Boston. I could name about 25 centers of power that have much more to do with American policy and with America than the Vatican has, where we’re really not represented. And so that what we have to face up to is what we’re beginning to do now: say to the automobile companies, “you’ve got to make smaller cars. You have to have some kind of exhaust emission control.” Well, this was sort of unheard of. You weren’t supposed to make this kind of a challenge to the automobile industry. It was, you know, unless you, wanted to destroy the economy. This is true in many other areas. It’s not just pollution and so on, but corporations that are producing things that we don’t want and don’t need.
HEFFNER: Do you think that challenges can come from any other source than the presidency?
McCARTHY: It can come from the Congress. As a matter of fact, the pollution control things have come largely through congressional initiative. The Nixon, and most of them came in this administration, but when the president was not really advocating anything. In fact, he was dragging his feet.
SCHLESINGER: He impounded the funds.
McCARTHY: Impounded funds. In a way it was Congress that kept alive the test ban program, that sort of started with Stevensen and his campaign, and Eisenhower let it drift, and Congress kept at it and kept at it, and when Kennedy came in he responded to it.
ST. JOHN: You know, it’s always curious to me on that part of such distinguished company as here that you talk about the concentration of economic power, but you don’t seem to be willing to at least examine the proposition of, for example, the Pentagon. The growth of the military, quote, industrial complex, which is a corruption of language in itself, or a corruption of description, is the consequences of long trends. I think Professor Schlesinger makes this quite clear in his book when he talks about the Nixon aberration being the climax of trends that which a philosophy such as yours and a philosophy such as Professor Schlesinger’s are at the heart of this, the belief of interventionist government. And I am the last one to defend the Pentagon or General Motors, but I would say in defense of General Motors that General Motors tried to introduce a small economy car in 1964. It was called, and starting in ‘61, called the Corvair. And a social crusader by the name of Ralph Nader said this was a dangerous car. GM said it wasn’t. Ribikov just this April said that GM was right after all. Now, if we had the introduction of those cars on a voluntary basis, we wouldn’t have the kind of problems that we have today, which is an illustration that the government’s intervention into a market economy which is less and less free, the problems that it’s created are not, the solutions offered by you two gentlemen is not a reversal of that trend, of deregulating the economy, decentralizing it, and giving more freedom to individual as well as to people, but is to control. And I don’t understand this. It puzzles me.
McCARTHY: It depends on the areas. Eisenhower used to say he was liberal on human matters and conservative on economic ones. But as usual, he had it just wrong. I mean, it’s better in this country to be conservative on human and personal values, because we have a pretty good tradition in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution that’s deeply concerned about these things. As far as economic questions are concerned, I think you can be rather liberal and test large corporations and small ones. But to suggest that we ought to have competition among the automobiles…
ST. JOHN: Well, you do have competition.
McCARTHY: No, you don’t have competition.
ST. JOHN: You have 13 foreign competitors. Is that competition?
McCARTHY: Well, it’s…
ST. JOHN: You’ve got three other people competing against GM. Is that, competition?
McCARTHY: So you break up General Motors. You know, you can spend your whole life in a Chevrolet now. You used to have to change from Chevrolet to Buicks at some stage. They’ve got six different Chevrolets, one for each stage of life. And they advertise. They spend 750…
ST. JOHN: And people bug them.
McCARTHY: …$750 million the automobile industry spends to get you, in this country, to buy the kind of car they want you to buy.
ST. JOHN: Senator, I would rather have people buying cars…
McCARTHY: Everybody gets excited when we spend $100 million every four years in a presidential election. They say, “isn’t this awful? Trying to influence the people, $100 million.” But we stand by and let the automobile industry say almost anything they want to and spend roughly a billion dollars with what we now recognize has been trying to sell us something they shouldn’t have been selling.
ST. JOHN: I would rather have them buy cars than be coerced by government. I think that’s a much better level of alternatives than…
HEFFNER: Let me get into the driver’s seat of this car just for a moment and say I say I appreciate the fact that with three gentlemen like yourselves here we’re going to go off in many important different directions. Let’s go back to this question of — and I didn’t mean that we’ve really been so faraway from it. I appreciate the point that you make, Mr. St. John, that if one assumes that government has a strong role in the economy, then the next question is who’s going to exercise that role. And you’re suggesting…
ST. JOHN: Yeah. I think this is another issue here. The question is, whatever we do, who is going to do it, is what we’re talking about.
HEFFNER: I think that’s a fair point, after we recognize Mr. St. John’s point, that you don’t have the question if you’ve backed out, if you’ve pulled out.
ST. JOHN: And if you put it back in the closet where it belongs.
HEFFNER: Where you say it belongs, and that’s another question. But let’s…
ST. JOHN: No, no. I’m saying I think it belongs right out in the open.
HEFFNER: All right. Oh, you mean the argument. Perhaps…
ST. JOHN: The principle. Not just the argument.
HEFFNER: …we’ll be able to do it another time. Suppose we concede that there are many people, some at this table, and many others, who would make the point — and I was going through Harold Lasky’s classic On The American Presidency, with which you may agree or disagree — but it’s fascinating to me to go back those years, and when he finds that America needs strong government, it needs strong leadership to attain strong government, only the president, granted its characteristics, can provide it with the leadership it requires. And he says so because he believes certain economic changes have to take place in this nation. This is back in the late ’30s. And those changes can take place, in his estimation, with strong government, and strong government means a strong president. Suppose we concede for a moment the argument that there needs to be strong action taken at one time or another on the part of the government. How, in this instance, when many of us are concerned with perhaps an overly strong presidency, how do we balance it? We’ve touted this program as a discussion in part of parliamentary government because there are those who say the answer clearly is to impose upon the American constitutional system a prime ministerial system, a system of greater responsibility, a system which the president directly, legally is rresponsible to the Congress, or at least to the people in the form of a more frequent election than every four years. I wonder if you gentlemen can say now, in terms, Arthur, you mentioned the impact of mass communications, of television. I wonder if it is possible in our times to maintain the small presidency, that you don’t tout now, I know. You argue against the imperial presidency. But is it possible to achieve the ends of the nation with a small presidency in the presence of mass means of communications, transportations, production, et cetera? Isn’t that a question we have to address ourselves to?
SCHLESINGER: I doubt whether there’s much point in the parliamentary solution for Americans. I think that our traditions and our folk ways and our values are so attached to the system of the separation of powers, the parliamentary system of course is one of the unification of powers. If you take the British system, for example, where the executive and the judicial and the legislative powers are all concentrated in a single body, the parliament, and are exercised by the parliament through delegation, where the prime minister is a member of parliament, the cabinet come from parliament, and they are determined by who wins the general election and so on. In England, the parliamentary system has undergone an evolution which British scholars regard as movement in the presidential direction. And one notices a book on the reform of parliament. One was written just the other day by Woodrow Wyatt, former member of parliament. And he argues very strongly for primaries, for investigating committees, for an independent executive, for the whole apparatus of the American system. The great alleged advantage of more frequent elections, the capacity of, I’ve heard people say, “well, Nixon would be out now because we’d have had a vote of confidence.” That may well be, but in point of fact I do not think that a government, an election has been brought about in England, governments losing a vote of confidence once this century. I mean, there have been changes in government, but changes within, like the McMillen succeeding Eden after Suez. But that did not involve dissolution; it just involved reshuffling within the party. So I think that, I mean, I’m the constitutionalist. I think the Constitution has worked pretty well through most of American history. I think the Constitution has certain vulnerabilities; that the vulnerabilities are exploited when someone comes along who absolutely does not understand the system of accountability. And I think that that, there is a constitutional remedy for dealing with presidents who do that, and I would stick to that.
HEFFNER: But isn’t that the, trivially, the problem that Senator McCarthy raised before? The personalization. If you have the right person you’re all right; if you have the wrong person, you’re in the soup.
ST. JOHN: Power is always personal.
McCARTHY: Well, excepting that, we’ve all talked about it so much, to think we’re protesting. And Nixon’s is extra-constitutional action. And some of that was tolerated by the Congress. You don’t really have to change the structure of the Constitution to change that; you just have to be sensitive to it and the Congress has to. I think there are some areas in which the Congress has really given up its… it’s really not a question of having power taken from it, but they’ve moved rather freely to give it up. For example, the acceptance of broad treaties, for example, by the Senate. Commitment to NATO, which was reasonably well-defined. I could just then go to SATO and SANTO and all sorts of executive orders and so on which ought not to have been given, or if given there ought to have been some method for checking upon their exercise. Well, this is a procedure which of some degree of review and reexamination or of calling the president back in somehow, which is a procedure that could very well be adopted and accepted by a president and by a Congress. In some rather limited ways we have shared responsibility between the president and the Congress. Not very important. Some things like when the Reorganization Act said if the president reorganizes and Congress doesn’t disapprove in 30 or 60 days it goes into effect. The, oh, I think, military construction at home before the army of the Pentagon can build a significant installation at home they have to get the approval of, I think it’s the Joint Committee of Armed Services of the House and Senate. Well, that’s good and bad. At least there is a congressional group that sort of explains why we’ve got so much in Georgia and Texas and Mississippi and so on. But in any case, this was a case in which the Congress had the machinery for control and exercised it it in part. We do something like that with watersheds, I think, in the Department of Agriculture. But there’s an executive decision, but it has to be ratified by a committee-of Congress. And the prospect of doing, using this method in many other areas is one which we haven’t really…
HEFFNER: But if we haven’t developed it, is it possible that what we’ve been talking about kind of goes with the territory? The territory being the 21st century…
ST. JOHN: That’s precisely the point that I wanted to make, is the fact that I think before we discuss institutional and formal changes in our current system, without sounding like I’m from Rutherford, I’m a constitutionalist too.
HEFFNER: Well, that makes two of you here.
ST. JOHN: But much more of a strict constructionist. And I’d like Professor Schlesinger and Senator McCarthy’s comment, because I think it’s really central to what we’ve been discussing here. We are trying in the 20th century, in a modern industrial society, I will concede you, Professor Schlesinger, that much, we are trying to operate with a document that in its conceptual and philosophical foundations talked about limiting the powers of government. And yet we have had demonstrated by the critique of such eminent historians as yourself and political leaders such as Senator McCarthy the enormous abuses of that power. The question I pose to both of you: can we possibly deal with the powerful presidency when we have an 18th century document that talked about philosophically limiting the power of government, and we’re trying to operate as an unlimited democracy, whereas we were basically a republic? That seems to me is the central problem that has manifested all of these other problems that we’ve been discussing. For example, you talk about the presidency. You abhor the idea of the personalized presidency. Well, I do too. But Lord Actin — I’m not talking about power corrupts — but he said very clearly, “history is not woven with innocent hands. Of all the factors that degrade and demoralize men, power is the most constant and most active.” And power is always going to be personal. It has been since the time of ancient Greece.
McCARTHY: Well that’s, we don’t deny that. The question is, how do you limit the exercise of power by a person beyond, you know, the Constitution was…
ST. JOHN: You follow the founders’ earlier prescription. You limit the power of government, you separate politics from…
SCHLESINGER: Well, you must forget, I think you forget the historical origins of the Constitution. The Constitution was not…
ST. JOHN: I try not to, Professor.
SCHLESINGER: …formed to limit power. It was formed to establish a strong central government. We have what you would really like probably is something like the Articles of Confederation. That was not what the founding fathers wanted. They wanted a strong central government. They did not want a tyrannical central government. So they tried to…
McCARTHY: There’s a statement in the Declaration about the purposes of government. They’re pretty far-reaching.
HEFFNER: But suppose you went in the other direction. Suppose you said to Mr. St. John, “It’s a nice thought. It is an 18th century document, and yours are 18th century ideas.
ST. JOHN: Absolutely.
ST. JOHN: People accuse me of living in the 19th century, and I say, “No, I’m living in the 18th.”
HEFFNER: Well, I’m going to…
McCARTHY: Well, you want to change a whole philosophy. All we’re saying is that philosophy is…
ST. JOHN: But all political changes are…
McCARTHY: Well, all right. If it is an instrument, the Constitution is reasonably good. That there are some changes taking place in which I think we have to rearrange the method in which Congress and the president participate in making decisions.
HEFFNER: That’s why the question I would ask you, sir, is whether, whatever our intentions and our desires and our wishes for the future, do you think that it is possible within the context of the kind of society we have, with all of the pressures toward conformity and mass production, mass transportation, mass communications, et cetera, is it really possible to accommodate ourselves to a nicer balance, or perhaps should we be looking to newer formulas?
McCARTHY: Well, I think we could do quite a lot within the structure. Let me give you an example of, what is it, two, three weeks ago President Nixon made his first energy speech. Now, all the networks, he said, “stop the networks, I want to get on.” They all stopped, got him on.
McCARTHY: You know, and he talked for 15 minutes, I think, and every paper had a headline, and this is what the president said. And about six or seven days later, Carl Albert, Speaker of the House, supposedly the second most powerful man in Washington…
SCHLESINGER: And the man then in succession with the president.
McCARTHY: At that time he was to succeed the president in case of death. A man from Oklahoma, who supposedly knows something about fuel, makes a major speech. Five inches in The New York Times, I think five or six inches in the The Washington Post. I don’t think there’s anything in the Minnesota papers. I asked and they said, “no, we didn’t put anything in.” As far as I know, it wasn’t mentioned on a major network. Now, what does this mean? Does it mean that what the Speaker says doesn’t mean anything?
ST. JOHN: Carl Albert’s a very dull speaker.
McCARTHY: Well, but Nixon is…
ST. JOHN: According to my colleagues in the media.
McCARTHY: I would almost stop trying to impeach Nixon if he’d promise not to go on radio and television in the next two years. I could get along without that show.
ST. JOHN: You won’t get any argument there.
HEFFNER: What’s your answer?
McCARTHY: Well, what I say is that if Albert, the Speaker, has no power, then the networks are right in taking him off. But if his power, if he has none and it should be built up, then you don’t do it by not putting him on. You say, ‘well, it’s too bad, but we want to establish a little bit of a balance here.” So at least the Speaker of the House can stand against the president. You say, “well, put him on anyway.” And maybe in five years, when you put the Speaker of the House on, the public will say, “That’s the Speaker of the House.”
ST. JOHN: Senator, if we had a decentralized Federal Communications Commission, I think, or the federal communications was limited to an electronic traffic cop instead of interfering in programming, if you followed that Jeffersonian ideal of decentralizing, maybe we could get Carl Albert as well as the president, and we’d have more balance. Whereas…
McCARTHY: We had decentralized press, as far as I know, there are only two papers.
ST. JOHN: The press is for powerful government. They just… Look, Claire Booth Luce, who certainly is no oracle, put it rather succinctly, I thought, when she said, “The problem…
McCARTHY: She might be the oracle.
ST. JOHN: …the press is the only one that can challenge the power of the executive.” She says the problem…
McCARTHY: Yeah, yeah.
ST. JOHN: …is that they hate Nixon the dictator, but the love the dictatorship.
McCARTHY: Well, why didn’t they put Albert on then? And they could have written a story about him…
ST. JOHN: Because they’re intimidated by the presidency because he can use the Federal Communications Commission.
McCARTHY: Not the press. I can see where the networks… and the networks live in fear. But this is not quite true of the press.
ST. JOHN: The press is regulated by antitrust laws, which you believe in. It’s regulated by a host of advertising pressures, all dealing with.
McCARTHY: None of those would have kept him from putting Carl Albert on.
HEFFNER: Okay, then…
McCARTHY: And they didn’t. They could have put him in, you know, everybody could have given him…
ST. JOHN: But these are powers that the presidency can exercise.
HEFFNER: Forgive me for being repetitive in this, but…
McCARTHY: That’s all right. We’ve all repeated ourselves.
HEFFNER: And it’s really the historian who’s supposed to repeat himself rather than history, if I remember correctly.
ST JOHN: I will. (Laughter)
HEFFNER: Let me just raise this question once again. Senator McCarthy, what’s the response to this? A means by which somehow you can make certain that Congress gets its fair shakes, that the speaker has his day in court, and that somehow we balance the equities here, or inequities?
McCARTHY: Well, I think part of the fault is in the Congress itself. And again, it’s in the parties. Especially when you have a situation such as we have now. If you have a democratic president he sort of nominates the Congress, and if a democratic Congress the speaker becomes the agent of the president. And if you have a strong president like Eisenhower, that was even we’re politically afraid, it seemed. But when you have a situation like this where the Congress is controlled by Democrats, and you have a president who is in disrepute if not disgrace, supposedly weakened, then it seems to me there’s none of the excuses that usually run, can be called or invoked to explain why the Speaker of the House and the Democrats don’t stand up and say, “this is our position.” I think they ought to get out their own budgets. It’s not hard to do. Brookings Institution does it. There are several budgets come out every year. And say, “this is our program and this is where we stand.” But then you’d have to have the press accept that and give as much publicity to the congressional budget as they do to the presidential budget, or at least give something approaching as much recognition to the Speaker of the House when he lays down an energy program as you do to Richard Nixon when he doesn’t lay one down, and just tells us we’ve got a problem.
HEFFNER: But you think that, and you think that can happen within the context of real and contemporary pressures?
McCARTHY: Well, I think, for example, you know, if the press and communications media said, “look, we have to build up the Speaker of the House.” Got a good chance to start.
ST. JOHN: Well, you’re putting into Agnew’s conspiratorial thesis I think…
McCARTHY: I think conspiracy, it’s just, they just don’t, they don’t put together what they’re not doing and what they’re criticizing.
HEFFNER: Professor Schlesinger?
SCHLESINGER: Yeah. I would warn against the illusion of mechanical or structural solutions here.
ST. JOHN: Bravo.
SCHLESINGER: It seems to me that the question is essentially one, in that invaluable phrase contributed to us by the woman’s liberation movement, of consciousness-raising. I think the structure of the Constitution is pretty good. I wouldn’t object to that. But I think what we have to have is some means of making future presidents much more sensitive to the system of accountability, and making future congresses much more sensitive to the responsibilities which they have abdicated. And I think the way to get that done is through the first step obviously to make clear to presidents and future presidents that any president who places himself above the law and the Constitution cannot get away with it. I think nothing is going to have more of a better deterrent effect in containing the imperial presidency than action by, at this stage now, to make it clear that presidents who betray their responsibilities, abuse their power, as it seems to me President Nixon has, can’t get away with it.
ST. JOHN: Samuel Nobel pointed out something which is apropos to what you have just said, Dr. Schlesinger. He said in effect that the hidden issue of Watergate – and please forgive me if I’m plumbing for another one of my pet principles – he said the hidden aspect of the ’72 election was the enormous economic powers of the presidency, his ability to manipulate and literally – he didn’t say this, but I’ll say it, to buy the elction, to make so may promises to so may people by reason of the economic powers that he had, that he could, you know, in a way, inferentially, Samuel Nobel in his book essentially says that this accounts in some measure for the enormous plurity that the president was able to pile up in ’72.
SCHLESINGER: Yes, but I think this is a very important point. What the two powers the Congress has had through American history to maintain its position in the Constitutional balance have been the power of the purse, which Madison called the most effectual guard of our freedom, and the power of oversight and investigation. And what President Nixon has done almost deliberately is to set out to nullify those two vital congressional powers. The doctrine of unlimited impoundment nullifies the power of the purse and enables him to impose his own priorities as against those mandated and legislated by Congress. And the doctrine of absolute executive privilege nullifies, can nullify the congressional power of oversight and investigation. I think that the kind of situation which Samuel Lebral describes and Jeffery St. John just mentioned is the result of the extent to which the president himself is able to dictate these economic priorities. He’ll shift government funds into those parts of the nation or those sectors of the economy which are going to be helpful to him, and starve those like the educational sector, which he thinks, and so on. But this is within the power of Congress to reclaim the power of the purse. It’s one of the few powers that they clearly have in the Constitution.
ST JOHN: It’s also another aspect of bureaucracy behind the president.
McCARTHY: Well, they have begun to do it by going…
HEFFNER: Professor Schlesinger, would you be… I’m sorry, go ahead.
McCARTHY: Well, the debt ceiling which the Republicans initiated has turned out to be a powerful congressional weapon to control the executive branch in its expenditure function.
SCHLESINGER: Except in the end. I’m against it. I think it…
McCARTHY: It’s like a New Year’s resolution. I mean, it has turned out to be that. I think you’re talking about some of the other powers, like airroutes, for example.
SCHLESINGER: Oh, absolutely.
McCARTHY: American Airlines, for example. You know, even these can be shared. The one program somewhat of this kind that gets so much criticism from the press is the allocation of sugar quotas. Because the Congress participates in the allocation of sugar quotas. So every time they come up, there is article after article about who represents, you know, Venezuela and Peru and, it used to be Cuba, the Philippines. The Agriculture Committee in the House sets the quotas, and the Finance Committee in the Senate sets the quotas. And so they say, “take it away from Congress.” They shouldn’t be involved in this. Where does it go? It goes to the White House. So the whole game would be played, supposedly, in the State Department or in the White House in the same way that the allocation of overseas air routes now is entirely a State Department, actually a White House privilege. Well, we say, “Well, you need people like that to do it. You can’t trust Congress.” Why not in some of these areas? You know, that sugar thing works out all right. Maybe we gave Ireland 10,000 tons one year because they had done something at the UN, but it, you know, it wasn’t a bad thing to do. And it seems to me that some of these major decisions of this kind where all you can do is sort of after the act now, and often with an investigation in which the White House won’t cooperate.
ST. JOHN: Well, if we separated economics and politics we might be able to do that.
McCARTHY: Separate out some of it, anyway.
HEFFNER: Let me… We’re coming on to the last few minutes. And I’m just so intrigued by this paragraph in Arthur Schlesinger’s new book, The Imperial Presidency, talking about the strengthened president. You say, Arthur, This has not been a bad thing for the republic. It was presidential leadership, after all, that brought the country into the 20th century, that civilized American industry secured the rights of labor organization, defended the livelihood of the farmer. It was presidential leadership that protected the Bill of Rights against local vigilantism and natural resources against local greed. It was presidential leadership spurred on by the Supreme Court that sought to vindicate racial justice against local bigotry. Congress would have done few of these things on its own. Local government even fewer. It would be a mistake to cripple the presidency at home because of presidential excesses abroad.”
McCARTHY: I agree with that. Notice I said presidential leadership and not presidential power.
McCARTHY: Presidential leadership implies getting Congress through the processes of consent.
HEFFNER: But you also said…
McCARTHY: It’s one of those things we started in the Democratic Foreign Labor Party in Minnesota before the presidency even knew about them.
HEFFNER: That’s where all good things come from, Senator McCarthy. But Arthur then goes on and says, “don’t forget, Congress would have done few of these things on its own.” And I wonder whether you don’t have to deal with that, and again wonder what goes with the territory of Congress is inaction in these areas, and with the presidency, maybe even an imperial presidency, strong action.
SCHLESINGER: I think Congress, as Gene McCarthy has been saying, is a great accomplice in its own plight. I mean, it’s Congress… I think, you know, the world’s complicated and dangerous. No one wants to take responsibilities, particularly true in foreign affairs. It’s very tough for a congressman to oppose what a president says is necessary for the nation, so few of them do it. There’s no risk in supporting the president. And so that I say I think the thing, the great source of the erosion of power, the great source of the imbalance of this that has come about, has seemed to me the international crisis over the last 30 years.
HEFFNER: And you would not make constitutional changes, Professor Schlesinger, I understand, and Mr. St. John, you wouldn’t either.
ST. JOHN: Oh yes, as a matter of fact, I would.
SCHLESINGER: Well, I would make…
ST. JOHN: The 27th – or is it the 28th? I can’t keep up there are so many.
HEFFNER: Oh, those amendments.
ST. JOHN: The 26th Amendment of the Constitution would read that there shall be a separation of power between the economic and political functions of the republic. HEFFNER: Okay, and in, Senator McCarthy…
ST. JOHN: And then let the Supreme Court argue.
McCARTHY: Well, I would repeal most of the amendments that havebeen adopted since the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment. I think thereare only one or two that are of much significance. Particularly the 25th Amendment on vice presidential suppression.
SCHLESSINGER: You’re keeping woman’s suffrage, I trust.
McCARTHY: I’d leave that in, yes. And the 18-year-old-vote, and one or two others. But I think we ought to have, you know, probably some rather serious and maybe some constitutional amendments dealing – or maybe do it by statute – dealing with two or four things. I think it clutters up the whole scene. It confuses campaigns, and it leaves us with all this question of when is the president going to die and if so will this man be a good successor and provider for an interim president. And in a process whereby we could pick someone to succeed. One process if the president has died or has gone out of office for some reason in good standing, another if he’s gone out in disgrace.
HEFFNER: And I’m afraid that’s the point at which, in disgrace, we have to end the program.
ST. JOHN: In disgrace.
HEFFNER: I’m sorry, gentlemen, I don’t have the temerity to try to sum up all the important ideas that have been exchanged today. I’d simply like to thank you all for joining me on THE OPEN MIND, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Eugene McCarthy, Jeffrey St. John.
And thank you, in the audience for joining us after such a long absence of The Open Mind. I hope that we’ll meet you again soon. This is Richard Heffner. Good night. And as an old friend used to say, “good luck.”