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Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, February 27, 2005
 

Johnson and McCarthy: another connection


Lyndon Johnson's subcommittee - piece earlier today - was a subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee chaired by Millard Tydings of Maryland.

Tydings had investigated Joseph McCarthy's allegations of Communists/subversives/security risks/you name it in the State Department, and found them to be hooey. Whereupon McCarthy had exerted himself to prevent Tyding's re-election.

LBJ employed tactics very similar to McCarthy's in his confirmation hearings for Leland Olds, long-time Chairman of the Federal Power Commission - accusing Olds of being a Communist (or, if Communist no longer, of being a chameleon) and securing his ejection from his post (Master of the Senate p233ff).

(Whilst McCarthy baited Reds for pleasure, Johnson did so for profit. Getting Olds was his way of securing a shower of brown envelopes from the oilmen of Texas, whose rates for natural gas Olds was reponsible for depressing.)

Johnson expected he would be ejected from the chairmanship of his extremely useful subcommittee once Tydings returned in the 82nd Congress. But Tydings never did return: McCarthy's wish had come true.

(Johnson got a little more gravy from McCarthy at the end of his career - MotS p542ff. For ages Johnson - Leader of the Democrats since 1953 - refused to take action against McCarthy, despite his knack of turning his friends against him [1]. Only once the Army-McCarthy hearings had exposed his quarry, and Republicans had turned against him was Johnson prepared to do anything. And that, deft though it was, was so understated as to be appreciated only by insiders.

The Duke of Plaza-Toro - even Tom Daschle - was a VC-winner in comparison. But it worked for him.)

  1. Caro cites Carl Hayden and Harry Byrd as two conservatives McCarthy alienated.

MORE

McCarthy is a sort of counter-example to Johnson's use of the the Preparedness subcommittee: there, scandals were fabricated or exaggerated to generate favourable publicity. With McCarthy, Johnson's aim seems to have been to do as little as possible as late as possible, and at all costs leave no fingerprints - but nevertheless impress his colleagues with his ability to exercise power.

For instance (MotS p552),
Lyndon Johnson had told John McClellan, the subcommittee's senior Democrat, that no matter what concessions made to the subcommittee's Republicans, they must insist that the hearings be televised.
knowing that daily serving up McCarthy's antics to the public would take the remaining gilt off the guy's gingerbread PDQ.

Even as late as April 1954 - after the famous See It Now exposé/stitch-up on March 9 - McCarthy's approval numbers were surprisingly buoyant, unfavourable by only a margin of 38-46 (MotS p551).

And in those 38% were counted most, if not all, of the Texan oil men on the supply of whose brown envelopes Johnson was relying, to feed his own campaign (1954 was his first Senate re-election contest) and, most importantly, to supply the funds he needed to discipline the cats he needed to herd - supplying or witholding cash from their campaigns according as they served or balked LBJ's interests (on brown envelopes and the use Johnson put them to, MotS p405ff).

And, following the 'loss' of China and Truman's sad departure from the White House, few Democrats would want to risk a charge of being soft on Communism.

Plus, there was the awkward question, If McCarthy was so bad, why did none of you do a damned thing against him in the previous four years? No senator had an answer to that question which was not toxic to his chances of re-election.


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