Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, who died Thursday in his Washington home at the age of 89, used his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee as a special pulpit for his crusade against American intervention in Southeast Asia. We did not always agree with him then, but respected and still do his insistence on standing up for what he believed. His position on the war in Indochina made him something of a hero to resisters and the young, but had, of course, the opposite effect on the presidents conducting that war. Mr. Fulbright's opposition to President Lyndon Johnson and later to Richard Nixon -- especially since it came from that powerful chairmanship -- caused him to be held in special contempt at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. On the occasion of one particularly antagonistic Fulbright speech on the subject of Vietnam during the Johnson presidency, a staffer announced with false seriousness to all within earshot: "This morning at dawn, the Army Corps of Engineers began dismantling every dam in Arkansas."
In domestic politics, Sen. Fulbright, to his great credit, had been steadfast in his opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy. His record in the Senate on civil rights was something else again: it was dismal. He not only voted against all the laws which in the fifties and sixties transformed this nation, he filibustered against them in company with some of the worst racists ever to serve in the Senate. Like some of the other southern senators who knew better, Mr. Fulbright sought to pay into another account to make up for his failure to act on one of the great moral issues of the time, It was always being said in his behalf that his civil rights position was the price that had to be paid for his foreign policy influence and innovation. But this was a rotten argument. That civil rights position remains a blight on his record..
In a way, the most enduring and positive part of his record concerns the scholarships that bore his name. A man of intellect and academic achievement, Senator Fulbright had been a Rhodes scholar himself, a professor and, at the age of 34, president of the University of Arkansas. This background, and a firm belief in internationalism, led him in 1946 to sponsor the creation of the Fulbright student and scholar exchange program. More than 100,000 individuals have come to the United States, and over 65,000 Americans have gone abroad to study and teach as Fulbright scholars. It was this lasting achievement that was highlighted by President Clinton -- once a Fulbright staffer -- when he awarded the senator the Medal of Freedom in 1993. This legacy, unlike many of the senator's actions, won universal praise from the start. The exchange program continues as an enduring example of William Fulbright's vision of America as an intelligent, generous partner to other countries around the world. It is a wonderful legacy of the man from Arkansas and a fitting monument to him.