Tuesday, February 20 , 2018, 5:46 am | Fair 37º


Mark Shields: Who Is William McGurn to Question Our Memories of Mike Mansfield?

William McGurn is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal who, according to his company bio, “writes speeches for CEO Rupert Murdoch. Previously he served as chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.”

McGurn is, from all indications, quite a smart man, but he recently wrote something both ignorant and mean-spirited that I cannot let go uncorrected.

In this piece, McGurn urged Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to challenge his own party’s dominant foreign policy and to follow the example of Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, a Democrat who — while championing civil rights, labor rights and the environment in Congress — was an unreconstructed Cold War hawk who opposed detente.

But after saluting Jackson’s legacy, McGurn took a cheap shot at the man who was Jackson’s Senate majority leader and dismissively questioned: “Anyone remember Mike Mansfield?”

Let me tell you what David Broder, the most respected of political reporters, wrote in 1999 after spending a couple of hours with the then-96-year-old: “I had lunch last week with the man I think may be the greatest living American. He is Mike Mansfield, the former Senate majority leader and ambassador to Japan.”

Here’s the case for remembering.

At the age of 14 — long before he would ever become a college professor of Asian history at the University of Montana and serve for 34 years in the House of Representatives and the Senate — Mansfield ran away from his motherless home and, with a forged baptismal certificate, enlisted in the Navy during World War I. He made three crossings of the Atlantic before his age was discovered and he was discharged.

Next Mansfield joined the Army, and after completing his enlistment, he joined the Marine Corps, which kept its promise by sending him to China. Before he was even old enough to vote, Mansfield personally had more honorable discharges from the U.S. military (three) than do all the 2016 Republican presidential candidates (two).

As majority leader, at a time when getting 67 votes was required to end a Senate filibuster, Mansfield was able to pass — with bipartisan support — civil rights laws, Medicare, Medicaid, the Limited Test Ban Treaty and the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.

A man whose word was truly his bond, Mansfield, always giving the credit and the spotlight to others, created a Senate of equals.

But history hung on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — which would federally guarantee the vote to black Americans in the states that had been part of the Confederacy and which Senate opponents filibustered for five weeks.

Every day, after strategy sessions in the office of Republican leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the media would interview the pro-Voting Rights Act senators, led by Dirksen, who loved the microphone and the spotlight as much as Mansfield avoided them.

After a couple of weeks, Mansfield’s chief counsel, Charlie Ferris, reported that a Democratic senator, upset that Dirksen and the Republicans were hogging news coverage, had asked that at least half the senators’ meetings be held in Mansfield’s office.

Mansfield’s response: “Charlie, last year (1964), the Republican Party drifted far from the mainstream during the presidential election. (Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the Senate.) If the public can see the Republican leader each day reporting on the progress of what will hopefully be the most significant civil rights legislation ever, it will be very beneficial for the country to grasp that this bill was being drafted by both parties even in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.” Character.

Long after having served longer as Senate majority leader (16 years) and ambassador to Japan (eight years) than any other Americans, Mansfield died at 98.

At Arlington National Cemetery, you can find his plain headstone with the dates March 16, 1903, and Oct. 5, 2001, and this: “Michael Joseph Mansfield, Pvt. U.S. Marine Corps.” We remember.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >