The “down” Years 1972-74

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On January 1, 1975, at the age of eighty-two, George D. Aiken of Vermont retired after thirty-four years in the United States Senate. A moderate Republican, he was known for his Yankee wit, crustiness, and independence (he traditionally breakfasted with the Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield of Montana, a Democrat). For the last three years of his career in the Senate, Aiken—a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and the Agriculture and Forestry committees, as well as of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy—kept a diary, dictating his entries at the end of each week. They were dramatic years of change and tragedy that encompassed the bombing of Cambodia, the end of the war in Vietnam, new relationships with Russia and China, Watergate, and increasing economic difficulties. Here are excerpts from that diary, which has just been published by the Stephen Greene Press under the title Aiken: Senate Diary, January 1972-January 1975 . We begin the senator’s remarks with his entry for January 22, 1972.

COPYRIGHT © 1976 BY GEORGE D. AIKEN

I have never seen so many incompetent persons aspiring to high office and apparently well financed in their efforts to achieve it. Some of the subcommittees of important congressional committees appear to be used largely for the promotion of the aspirations of this or that member of Congress. These subcommittees are granted large appropriations which will be used to a great extent to promote the political aspirations of the subcommittee chairman. I would be inclined to oppose these appropriations in the Senate were it not for the fact that in the executive branch of government there are many agencies and subagencies which can legally use appropriated funds to ensure the re-election of the President.

Congress has passed a Fair Election law which the President will probably sign, but it will not be very effective in making candidates honest.

Week ending January 29, 1972

Undersecretary of Agriculture Phil Campbell and other officials from the department met with the Republican members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture to explain the President’s agriculture message. … None of us like it, since it appeared to be an effort to downgrade or even eliminate the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Just who thought up this proposal is a mystery. …

We are told that one of the slogans of the Defense Department is “If it works, it’s obsolete.” I am afraid that someone has told the President that this same slogan or formula should apply to the Department of Agriculture, because as I understand the President’s proposal, the programs that have worked best for a long time are due for a downgrading. Congress will not agree. Someone has persuaded the President to make a political error. Agriculture is still by far our most important industry.

Week ending February 12, 1972

Politics have prevailed almost to the point of hypocrisy. As an example, one prominent Democrat is loud in his advocacy of getting food to the refugees in East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh, while at the same time expressing great sympathy for the dock workers, who are preventing the shipment of such food. Although it is assumed that the dock strike is causing the greatest loss to American agriculture, it is my opinion that labor itself may be a greater loser than the farmer.

Week ending February 26, 1972

The sixth week of this session has now passed, and we are finally getting down to work. On Tuesday the Senate by a large majority, 73 to 21, applied cloture to the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] bill, which had been dragging since our return to the new session in January. Surprisingly enough, the bill passed the Senate that very afternoon. … Actually the EEOC bill was largely a political gesture and will doubtless be as difficult to enforce if it becomes law as the Honest Election bill, which the President has signed. Human nature being what it is, we can’t make people honest and good simply by passing a law. …

Week ending March 4, 1972

Monday night about a dozen members of the Senate went out to Andrews Air Force Base to meet President Nixon, who was returning from his trip to China. …

On the next day … twelve members of the Senate and nine from the House went to the White House to listen to further discussions by the President, Secretary [William P.] Rogers, and Henry Kissinger. … The President was obviously tired, as testified by the fact that he started to speak to us at 10 A.M. and kept talking for about one and a quarter hours, a rather unusual length of time for President Nixon to speak. As a matter of fact, when one is very tired and starts to speak, one finds it difficult to reach a stopping point. …