Having grown up in the "quiet" 1950s, I couldn't help wondering what country and which party Richard Cohen was describing when he invoked Republicans of that era in his latest attack on today's congressional Republicans [op-ed, June 22]. He obviously has never heard of segregationist Democrats, Dixiecrats, Democratic anti-New Dealers or Democratic senators such as Pat McCarran (Nev.) and John McClellan (Ark.) who were as vigorous in their denunciation of communists and their sympathizers as Joe McCarthy.
As far as civil rights were concerned, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock to carry out court orders that its Central High School be integrated. Bill Clinton has often cited this as an act of presidential courage. Does Cohen know it ever happened? Eisenhower made the move over the strenuous objections of Arkansas's Democratic governor (whom Gov. Bill Clinton once considered a role model), Orville Faubus.
Scholars of the courts universally give Eisenhower higher marks on judicial appointments than John F. Kennedy, who named segregationists to the bench in exchange for previous delegate support. Which judges does Cohen think made all the rulings on civil rights that Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon enforced?
In 1957 the Eisenhower administration pushed through a reluctant Democratic Congress the first civil rights bill in almost a century. Southern Democratic senators (led by then-Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson) had so weakened the legislation that Ike threatened not to sign it. He acquiesced after conferring with Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1964 -- when Johnson, accepting his role as "president of all the people" -- moved landmark civil rights legislation through Congress, Republicans in both houses provided the necessary votes to break Democratic filibusters. Voting against the bill were four Democratic senators Cohen has often praised: Vietnam war critic J. William Fulbright (Ark.); constitutional "expert" Robert Byrd (W.Va.); Watergate investigator Sam Ervin (N.C.); and the elder Albert Gore (Tenn.). (The current Democratic presidential hopeful conveniently overlooks this part of his father's record whenever he recites his family's civil rights credentials.)
The most stirring and memorable rhetoric in the debate came from a Republican, then-Senate Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen (Ill). Quoting Victor Hugo, Dirksen said nothing is "so powerful as an idea whose time has come." Is this Cohen's idea of "nasty," "bigoted" and "mean"?
Who is Cohen talking about when he accuses 1950s Republicans of fighting Social Security? Upon the recommendation of the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Robert W. Kean of New Jersey ("Mr. Social Security"), Eisenhower expanded the reach of the program to millions of Americans who had gone uncovered by the 1935 legislation. Working with Congresses of both parties, Ike increased Social Security benefits each year he was in office.
Cohen cannot resist painting all Republicans of the 1950s with the McCarthyite brush. He neglects to mention what the Eisenhower administration and McCarthy's GOP colleagues did to hasten his downfall. Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith was the first senator of either party to take on McCarthy. Invoking "executive privilege," Ike refused to supply McCarthy's investigators with personnel records of State Department officials. One can only imagine what the ex-general, known for his explosive temper, would have done had he learned that people in his administration were rummaging through FBI files of Truman appointees.
Isolationists? Which Republican leaders of the '50s is Cohen thinking of? Certainly not Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (Mich.), John Foster Dulles and Christian Herter (both secretaries of state), Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Nelson Rockefeller or Dwight Eisenhower. All supported the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, NATO and "containment." "Isolationists" neither wage nor win cold wars.
Why does Cohen evoke the name of Abraham Lincoln on the abortion issue? Did "honest Abe" take a position on this when he debated Stephen A. Douglas? It is interesting that Cohen's column about Republican intolerance and litmus tests appeared the day after the New York Times ran a front-page story on attempts by Republicans on all sides of this question to submerge their differences. (Suffragette Susan B. Anthony, incidentally, advocated protecting the rights of the unborn. Does Cohen consider her to have been "anti-woman"?)
As a columnist, Cohen has a right, if not a duty, to attack contemporary officials -- Republican or Democratic -- for positions and actions they take and allow readers to weigh the evidence. He crosses the line when he evokes deceased figures in history to make his point and attributes to them stands they did not take and attitudes they did not hold. In doing so, he pays McCarthy's memory the highest possible tribute by levying unsubstantiated charges and not naming names.
The writer, a member of the Republican congressional staff, writes and lectures on the American presidency.