Mined from the notebooks, Sunday, January 1, 2017. Thursday morning, February 9, 2017.
Actually, there were probably lots of times when Pop was smarter than Galbraith, but I’m thinking of this one time in particular that I know of for sure because I was there
The six foot-nine inch U.S. Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith (Guess which one he is) with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during Jackie’s visit to India in March of 1962, twenty years before five foot-six inch Pop Mannion proved himself smarter than Galbraith, at least on the subject of the Democrats running Southerners for President. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Musuem.
On the drive up this morning to the old Mannion Family Homestead for New Year’s dinner with the clan, Ken and I began listening to Adam Hochschild’s recent book about Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War, Spain in Our Hearts. One of the main figures in the book, young volunteer named Bob Merriman who fought for the Republicans against Franco and the fascists and who may have been one of the models for Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls, had studied economics at Berkeley where one of his classmates was John Kenneth Galbraith. Ken had never heard of Galbraith---Has anyone under fifty? Anyone without a degree in economics, at any rate?---so I gave him quick a biographical sketch and the titles of his two most well-known books---If anyone under fifty has heard of him, have any of them, including the economics majors, read The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State?---and I added Ken’s personal connection to Galbraith. He’s one degree of separation from Galbraith. Through me. I had dinner with him once. Not much of a connection, but it’s a good family story.
It’s a story in two-parts. I think I’ve told the story before, although a long time ago, so I feel it’s safe to tell it again. This time I’m starting with the second part and finishing with the first which is where the title of this post comes from.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Pop Mannion was president of the local chapter of The Freedom Forum, a now long defunct organization of civic-minded professionals who met regularly to hear prominent movers and shakers in government, law, academia, and other patches of the public square speak on important issues of the day. It was sort of a Kiwanis Club for policy wonks and political junkies. In October of ‘82, Galbraith was the invited speaker. As president, it was up to Pop to introduce him. Galbraith was six foot-nine. The lectern and the microphone were set up to accommodate his height. Pop Mannion is five-six. When it came time, they couldn’t find a step stool tall enough for Pop to stand on so he could see and be seen behind the lectern. So he stood beside the lectern and pulled the microphone, which was on a bendable stand, over and down. It required a considerable stretch on his part and caused some good natured laughter. Pop, of course, took it in good fun. But things got more amusing when Galbraith strode over to take the mic. He paused a bit and looked down smiling from his great height, making sure the audience had time to enjoy the Mutt and Jeffishness of the scene. When he stepped up to lectern, he made a bit of a show of readjusting the mic and settling his notes on the lectern, demonstrating that both were still too low for him. Then he began with an anecdote, inspired by the moment.
It was about the first time he met Charles de Gaulle. DeGaulle was a mere six foot five. But it was a novelty for both men to be looking someone they were having a conversation with in the eye without having to stoop and Galbraith felt that was worth remarking on. He asked de Gaulle if he found it was an advantage for a politician to tower over everybody in the room. De Gaulle said he’d found it was but he added, “But we still must beware of the little men.”
Galbraith delivered the line with a slight sideways glance and a smile in Pop’s direction.
That’s the second part. Here’s the first part.
There was a dinner before Galbraith’s speech and---another prerogative of being president---Pop was seated at the head table with Galbraith. I happened to be home on a visit from Boston and Pop had brought me along as his guest so I was at the table too. I didn’t take much part in the conversation. Too tongue-tied and overawed at being in the company of Galbraith, whom I admired, having read both The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State (without having majored in economics---earned a C in the only economics course I ever took) and his Ambassador’s Journal, which I remember as a very interesting book filled with insights into the cultures and ways of India where he served as JFK’s ambassador but which I probably read for the high-toned gossip it included about the Kennedys. Also I was overwhelmed by my now one degree of separation from John Kennedy and all I wanted to talk about with Galbraith was that, but fortunately I knew better and kept my trap shut. You wouldn’t really call it a conversation anyway. Mainly it was a matter of someone asking a polite question and Galbraith then holding forth. That’s the way these things go.
The talk was mainly about politics, naturally, and everybody at the table, most of whom were liberals, wanted Galbraith’s reassurance that things were going to be ok. If you think Democrats and liberals are demoralized now, imagine your way back to 1982. Reagan had won in a landslide in 1980. The Republicans had picked up twelve Senate seats. The bright spot was the House, where the Democrats still held a sizable majority, but it was hard to focus on that. The Senate election coming up didn't look at all promising. (The Democrats did manage to add a seat. Still left them in the minority, 54-46.) And we didn’t have the consolation of having had eight successful years of a Barack Obama as President. The thought of Jimmy Carter filled everyone with a mixture of sadness, gloom, frustration, and fury. The question at hand was what could and should the Democrats do to regroup and whom could they run in ‘84 who’d stand even half a chance against Reagan. No one at the table, including Galbraith had any convincing answer.
No one except Pop.
“Fritz Hollings,” he said.
Hollings was then senator from South Carolina. He’d been governor. He wasn’t especially conservative for a Southerner of his time, but he was far from especially liberal either. Pop was wasn’t thrilled with him, he was just putting his name out there for discussion, but he thought Hollings was competent and personally appealing and he looked the part of President. That last was important. Carter had never looked like anyone’s ideal of a President and by the end of his term he looked beaten down, careworn, defeated, and unhappy. And that wasn’t even in comparison to Reagan. Pop thought we needed someone robust and confident-looking and confidence-inspiring to stand toe to toe with Reagan. More to the point, though, he thought we needed to run someone conservative enough to carry states in the South and Midwest. Galbraith disagreed. Vehemently.
“No!” he boomed. Actually, I don’t remember if he boomed. I don’t remember what he sounded like, actually. But I remember he was emphatic enough that he as good as boomed. “No more Southerners!”
He didn’t add not now! Not ever! Never! But it was implied.
I suspect he wasn’t thinking only of Carter. As a member of Kennedy’s inner circle, he didn’t hold Lyndon Johnson in the highest regard either.
When Ken and I reached the old homestead, I told Pop about what we’d talked about on the drive up. He remembers that night. Remembers introducing Galbraith. Remembers Galbraith’s joking at his expense. He remembers having dinner with him. He doesn’t remember that turn in the conversation, although, considering the time he doesn’t doubt the question came up. So he doesn’t remember making his case for Fritz Hollings. Know what else he doesn’t remember?
Sic transit etc.
Another thing Pop doesn't remember? Ever thinking he was smarter than John Kenneth Galbraith. But time proved Pop right and Galbraith wrong, at least on the question of running a Southerner. Took ten years to do it, though.
Hollings did try for the nomination in 1984. Didn’t get very far. I doubt Pop was much surprised or cared. By that time he had his eye on another Southern governor. Guy who’d been the youngest governor in the country and had ended his two-year stint as the youngest ex-governor a month after that dinner with Galbraith, 1982 being the first of the Comeback Kid’s comebacks.
Yes, in 1982 and in 1992, Pop was thinking like a New Democrat. Keep in mind, though, that Pop is one of the last of the true New Deal Democrats. In his heart, Franklin Roosevelt is still his President. Pop served two stretches as our town’s supervisor---Sounds like he was in prison. I imagine that some days it felt like he was.---the first go-round for ten years, the second for eight. During his time in office, he built parks, improved the infrastructure, and worked on his stamp collection, just like his hero. I have to ask him if he was inspired to start collecting stamps when he was a kid by the example of the President. At any rate, as a politician, Pop modeled himself on FDR as best he could. He was able to do something however, FDR couldn’t do but would have liked to have done and tried when he could manage it to do---balance the budget. Things have to be paid for and as Pop liked to say, throwing shade at Republicans, “You can’t do it with smoke and mirrors.”
In the spring of 1961, President Kennedy sent his Vice-President on a series of good will trips to Africa and Asia. It was partly done to give Lyndon Johnson, who was already feeling miserable, bored, useless, and neglected as VP, something to do that might help cheer him up. "I cannot stand Johnson's damn long face,' Kennedy told Florida Senator George Smathers. "He just comes in, sits at the Cabinet meetings with his face all screwed up, never says anything. He looks so sad." It was Smathers who suggested sending Johnson on around the world trip "so he can get all of the fanfare and all of the attention and all of the smoke-blowing directed at him, build up his ego again, let him have a great time." In May, Johnson landed in India, where he came under the satirical eye of Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith.
Galbraith...gave the President a sample of his famous wit in a note about Johnson's arrival. "Lyndon...arrives next week with two airplanes, a party of fifty, a communications unit, and other minor accoutrements of modern democracy. I...will try to make him feel good that he was on the ticket. His trip may not be decisive for the peace of Asia. The East, as you know, is inscrutable." In New Delhi Johnson had what he called "a belly to belly talk" with Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru, an neutralist in the Cold War. [Baffled editor's note: "Belly to belly"? Look at Nehru in the photo up top. He was five-ten. Johnson was six-four.] A want of "appreciable business" between the two produced long silences on Nehru's part until Johnson hit on the subject of rural electrification, a matter on which they were in fervent agreement. The conversation impressed Galbraith as innocuous: "Both Nehru and Johnson spoke rather formally on education, which they favored; poverty, which they opposed; freedom, which they endorsed; [and] peace, which they both wanted."
The rest of Johnson's stay in India consisted of brief trips outside New Delhi, where he campaigned as if he were running for Congress. Galbraith told a translator: "If Lyndon forgets and asks for votes, leave that out." Johnson rode on a bullock cart, drew water from a well, laid a cornerstone at an engineering institute, shook hands all around, handed out pencils with the inscription, "Compliments of your Senator, Lyndon B. Johnson---the greatest good for the greatest number," and recounted the triumphs of electrification in rural America. Galbraith advised the State Department that Johnson "carries all precincts visited and would run well nationwide."
That's from Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 by Robert Dallek.
Please help keep this blog chugging along: buy books! Dallek's Flawed Giant, along with Hochschild's Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, Galbraith's The Affluent Society and The Great Crash of 1929, and the Library of America's collection of some of Galbraith's most influential books, Galbraith: The Affluent Society & Other Writings, 1952-1967: American Capitalism / The Great Crash, 1929 / The Affluent Society / The New Industrial State are available at Amazon.