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Middleman Percy

If the people are in a mood to take “anybody but Johnson” next year, anybody will do as his opponent. But the Republicans would be playing a very long shot were they to take it for granted that frustrations over Vietnam, grumblings on the farm, or plain distrust of Lyndon Johnson will put them back in the White House, regardless. Somebody would have a better chance than anybody. But none of the somebodys so far has caught the popular fancy. Romney the Rambler is slipping. Rockefeller the Divorced has other problems, Nixon is a has-been. But what of Senator Charles Percy of Illinois?

Before the 1920 elections, a New Republic writer went to Marion, Ohio, to see the then Republican candidate, Warren G. Harding, and to hear it said that Senator Harding would “restore the country from the decay of Democratic rule, bring down prices, harmonize capital and labor, safeguard American honor and fan the sacred fire of the Fathers.” To each generous tribute, Charles Merz reported, “the Senator bows, not in false modesty, but as a man conscious of his worth and humbled by it.” Candidate Harding was noncommittal, and prudently so. For there was then and now is, as John Lindsay puts it, a “battle for the heart of the GOP.” Mr. Merz took note of that battle in 1920: “For a Party that may fly apart whenever it attempts to reach agreement on a definite issue,” he wrote, “self-preservation advises postponement of the possible catastrophe.” Charles Percy understands that.

The “facts” about Percy reveal no more than would a press agent’s handout on, say, Richard Burton: Forty-seven, handsome, a family man, a self made millionaire at 40, healthy (five hours' sleep a night) and charitable (he’s sorry that Paul Douglas isn’t still in the Senate). He has lost one election (the governorship in ‘64) and won one (the Senate seat in ’66). He has the right connections: his daughter married a Rockefeller and his father was once on relief. He’s a hard-driving executive and a bug on international (including East-West) trade. He is a moderate who supported Barry Goldwater in 1964, moderately. He was against open occupancy laws in Illinois; he thought the real estate people could be brought around to a more benevolent, higher view. Later, he moderated his objection to open occupancy laws, favoring them as long as they did not apply to owners of buildings with five or fewer dwelling units. In 1964 he opposed the Supreme Court’s demand that legislatures be reapportioned on the basis of “one-man, one-vote”; he changed his mind two years later, giving rise to Paul Douglas’ remark that Percy raised vacillation to the level of moral principle. He has been traveling around the country doing a lot of speaking in the past few months, and not long ago was asked at a luncheon of downstate newspaper editors in Illinois – mostly Republicans – what he thought of Dwight Eisenhower, to which he replied that “for the time in which he served, General Eisenhower was a very great man.” Then came the familiar “but.” “But Dwight Eisenhower didn't get my daughter to go to Africa, John Kennedy did that.” You couldn't ask for anything fairer.

Since coming to Washington, Percy has given birth to a new housing bill which accents private ownership, but provides for government-guaranteed loans. He was a C student at the University of Chicago, but he has a Chicago professor or two among his advisers.

We called on the Senator not long ago, to learn more about the man, especially his views on Vietnam. It was puzzling. He does not back off, but rather hovers over questions, from which height he can see all sides. On Vietnam, he places himself “somewhere between President Johnson and Senator Kennedy,” a position difficult to fix with precision. He is still partial to an all-Asian peace conference – including communist China – at which the United States would sit as an observer, its interests protected by such participants as Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand. But he grants that this might not pan out; and anyway, he believes Washington need not be bound by the conference’s decisions. He doesn’t accept any simple domino theory for Asia; nevertheless he sees that “there is a certain amount of credibility to the fact that any show of firmness and determination and resoluteness will cause other moderate governments, who are inclined to believe the best interests of their country are to go along with our policies, would cause them to stay with us.” He approves of “bombing now”; we can only stop it if we “see that we can get something back in return for that action, and a deescalation of the effort on both sides would be a practical basis then for negotiating the cessation of bombing.” On the other hand, he recognizes that the raids on Haiphong and Hanoi “have done very little. They have not certainly weakened the will of the enemy to resist. They have, I think, intensified the will to resist. They provided a common enemy in the sky that can be visibly seen. They have given some credence perhaps to Ho Chi Minh’s assertion that really what the Americans want to do is to take over when that is not our intention . . . the bombing simply has not lived up to any of the expectations.” In general, Percy would be “willing to try anything that was not rash, that was not giving in. . . .”

The GOP might find Charles Percy just right as a compromise candidate.

Caught in the Draft

Having to prosecute a distasteful war and reform an unpopular draft, President Johnson opted for a prudent compromise – public relations. He voiced concern, appointed a commission, endorsed its results, then did nothing. He did not sanction an Administration bill or amendments to the expiring law; he did not fight the amendments passed mainly on the initiative of the House Armed Services Committee.

The House Armed Services Committee took fair advantage. It voiced its own concern and appointed its own commission, the Clark Panel, to counter the conclusions of the President’s Marshall Commission. Chaired by retired General Mark Clark and including no less than three former football coaches and athletic directors, the “Civilian Advisory Panel” interviewed a spectrum of experts ranging from Pentagon and Selective Service officials, on the right, to members and staff of the Armed Services Committee, on the left. The moderates were represented in writing by the national commander of the American Legion and the commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Thus armed with the requisite advice (including that of its own chairman, L. Mendel Rivers, who testified as an expert for his own “advisory” group), the committee proceeded to write the conclusions of the Clark Panel into law. In the conference with the representatives of the Senate, Mendel Rivers’ team carried nine of 14 points. Although the Senate had approved an extension of the Selective Service Act without significant amendment, its conference committee found itself at a serious disadvantage. The Dodd censure resolution, which would formally preempt consideration of other legislative matters, was scheduled for the middle of June. Predictions were that the Dodd affair would take the rest of the month, while the June 30 expiration date of the draft law was drawing nigh. The Senate conference committee had to fold.

The Mark Clark amendments, signed into law by the President last week, express equity only as a fortuitous by-product of military requirements. For example, the President’s authority to reverse the order of call from oldest to 19-year-old first is consistent with the military judgment that, in the language of President Johnson's congressional message, “older recruits are generally less adaptable than younger ones to the rigors of military training.” General Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also testified younger recruits are more “eager” than older ones. (At Fort Knox recruits do push-ups to the chant, “kill, kill.”)

The amended draft law does empower the President to eliminate graduate school deferments and therefore the de facto exemptions which follow from these deferments. The military had no objection to this. However, undergraduate deferments are retained in order to insure the military a source for officer procurement. President Johnson himself was loathe to promise the elimination of these deferments (even though recommended by his own commission) and instead called for “congressional debate” on the question. In its report, the House Armed Services Committee noted, “A young man who chose between service in 1963 and serving in 1967, and now serving in Vietnam, might well have wished that he entered service in 1963.” The point is irrefutable.

Although endorsed by Thomas Morris, assistant secretary of defense for manpower, the “Fair and Impartial Random” selection system was struck down. There will be no lottery. However, the President is empowered, although not required, to establish the Clark Panel's “Modified Age Class” system: 19-year-olds and most graduate students drafted before others.

Graduate students would be treated as 19-year-oIds for draft purposes. But which 19-year-olds are called first? Those whose birthdays fall earliest in the month. Men born later in the month would have a better chance of not getting tapped. It’s an irrational procedure and the President isn’t expected to follow it; the essentials of the old system will be retained.

Occupational deferments remain (the pro-lottery Marshall Commission would have dropped them). Some quarter of a million men are not called up because their professions are ostensibly “in the national interest.” Most of the 40 occupations listed by the Department of Labor as critical are in the scientific and technical fields: all engineers, all physicists, all mathematicians are deferred. Curiously, only half of those actually given II-A deferments are working in fields on the Labor Department’s list. Labor Secretary Wirtz, who opposes critical occupations deferments, testified before the Senate that most of the other deferments were granted to men in defense industries which local boards deemed not only in the national interest but in the local community's economic interest.

The new law also reflects the House committee’s concern over the 1964 decision of the Supreme Court in US v. Seeger. The court ruled that the draft law’s requirement of a belief in a “Supreme Being” as a prerequisite for conscientious objection meant a “sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in the life of the possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualifying for the exemption.” The committee wrote into the law the explicit provision that, as “used in this sub-section, ‘religious training and belief’ does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views, or a merely personal moral code.”

The last magnificent obsession of the committee was the tightening of laws governing the prosecution of offenders against draft law provisions. Representative F. Edward Hébert (La.) was careful to make “a very distinct distinction"” between freedom of dissent and “acts of disloyalty or treason or sedition.” Nevertheless, Rep. Hébert asked, “Why can the Carmichaels and why can the Kings, and other individuals of that ilk stand before the American people and incite riot. . . .” Hebért and his colleagues want to “eliminate this rat-infested area in the country.”

Medicare’s Birthday

Washington held a big birthday party for Medicare last week. But those who came at the call of the President to the National Conference on Medical Costs spent less time celebrating the program's having survived its first year than debating why the kid is costing so much. In 1966 the price of medical care in general rose 6.6 percent – twice as fast as the cost of living. Hospital care costs went up 16.5 percent, doctors’ fees 7.8 percent.

HEW has been bending over backward to avoid suggesting that hospitals and doctors are profiteering from a welfare program they had so stoutly opposed. It is pointed out that in 1963 the average hospital worker was making less than $1.25 an hour (ironers in Memphis made 45 cents an hour; maids and kitchen help less than 50 cents in Atlanta). Now they are covered by the minimum wage, and that has driven up costs. Also, people are consuming larger quantities of drugs; the prices of medicines have not gone up lately, but more money is being spent. Even without Medicare, says HEW, we could have expected costs to go up and up.

Finally, fees charged by doctors and hospitals have spiraled, and that is said to be inevitable as equipment becomes more expensive and as subordinate employees get larger salaries. Since the nation is not producing new doctors fast enough to meet the health needs of a growing population, physicians must see more patients who, because of programs like Medicare and Medicaid, are seeking more medical attention. Hospitals which in 1950 charged $14.40 a day and in 1965 charged $44.48, will someday soon be charging $100.

No one’s to blame – certainly not the poor who no longer need to neglect their health, nor hospital workers for trying to get something a little better than a poverty wage, nor suppliers for bowing to inflation, nor pharmaceutical companies and druggists for charging the same old high prices, nor doctors for cashing in on the new, tax-supported benefits.

If Medicare is expanded to cover all Americans, not just the elderly, and if and when drugs purchased by out-patients are paid for by the government, costs will probably rise again. To keep these increases in line, many more doctors will have to be trained, group practice encouraged, more paramedical people made available to take the load off doctors, and resources of hospitals pooled so as to reduce duplication of expensive and specialized facilities.


At his June 25 press conference in New York, Soviet Premier Kosygin told our UN correspondent, Philip Ben, that resumed Soviet arms aid to Egypt and Syria is “a question between the Arab countries and the Soviet Union.” The problem of arms shipments to the Middle East “can be considered and resolved” once the Israelis have withdrawn from Arab soil. That’s likely to take a while. Meantime, the United States should reconsider its own arms policy.

Senator Church said last week that since World War II the US gave $322-million in arms to the Arab nations, and sold $28-million worth to Israel. The result: “Outside Old Jerusalem, American tanks manned by Jordanians met American tanks manned by Israelis.” In 17 years, this country has given away $37-billion worth of arms and sold an additional $16-billion worth. Currently, the US is disbursing six times more arms than Russia. In the past five years, said Church, almost $3-billion of US arms sales has been on credit; loans to underdeveloped countries are guaranteed by the Defense Department (“Selling Arms Abroad,” NR, February 11). When poor countries buy more arms than they can afford, the US further obliges them with “budgetary support” (now totaling $10 billion) “to sustain the very military levels we ourselves encouraged.” It's like a pusher lending to a junkie. Poor nations ought to have the sense and willpower to refuse. But Chile’s response when the US withdrew an offer to sell supersonic jet fighters was to buy British ones, even as Chile’s Foreign Minister Gabriel Valdez was deploring as waste Latin America’s annual spending of $1.4-billion on arms. President Johnson told the Latins that their excessive military spending takes “the clothes off the backs and food from the stomachs andeducation from the minds of the children.” But doesn’tMr. Johnson stop the Pentagon pushing arms saleswherever it can (Chile didn’t get the jets it wanted onlybecause they were needed in Vietnam).

This country and Russia have both suffered backfires on their arms sales policies. In Indonesia, a Soviet-equipped army butchered the communists; the army the US equipped in Iraq brought down the government Washington was supporting there. Senator Church suggested last week the best way to avoid getting American fingers burned in this filthy trade is to keep American hands clean of it.


Young as they are, the Jaycees who heard President Johnson last week in Baltimore must have been carried off in a Hood of nostalgia – back to the Eisenhower era of cookouts and positive thinking. It was a gloriously old-fashioned Fourth of July speech. The voice was Lyndon’s, but it echoed Ike – you never had it so good. The Jaycees cheered, whistled, cranked sirens, for in their middle-class hearts, they knew he was right: “criticism is no doubt good for the soul, but we must beware that it does not upset our confidence in ourselves”; we should count our blessings and compare what we have to what our grandfathers had; “the cussers and the doubters [should] be relegated to the rear”; “protesters and peaceniks” who “walked over the tulips” at the Pentagon are a pitiful handful.

They cheered the President’s inventory of our national treasures: Our education, our prosperity, our feeding habits are second to none anywhere. “We own half the trucks in the world. We own almost half of the radios in the world. We own a third of all the electricity that's produced in the world. We own a fourth of all the steel. Our health conditions rank favorably with those of other countries in the world. And although we have only about six percent of the population in the world, we have half of its wealth. And bear in mind that the other 94 percent of the population all would like to trade with us. . . . Now I would like to see them enjoy the blessings that we enjoy. But don’t you help them exchange places with us, because I don't want to be where they are.” There it is. Don't “tear our country down and our flag down,” and “more money will be spent on poverty in the United States and trying to do something about it this year by the federal government than we spend on Vietnam.”

Boosterism, H. L. Mencken called it. Mencken was a cusser and a doubter.

While You Weren’t Looking

The Senate ratified a new international convention on narcotics in May at the urging, said Senator Mansfield, of three federal agencies – “the Departments of State, and Treasury, and by Mr. H. J. Anslinger.” No one in the chamber laughed at the equation, because for many the blessing of Mr. Anslinger is about all that is needed to vote for an international treaty – without debate and without soliciting a single opponent’s testimony. They knew Harry, former assistant commissioner of prohibition, then for 32 years US commissioner of narcotics, and now at 75, US representative to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

At the one-day public hearing on the narcotics convention earlier this year, a deputy assistant Secretary of State, a special assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury and Mr. Anslinger were the only witnesses who appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All three favored ratification of the treaty, which had been gathering dust since it was drawn up in 1961. According to the committee’s report, it “received no indication of opposition to it at this time from any source in this country.” No unfriendly witnesses were sought, none was found.

Thus, the treaty passed by a vote of 84-0 on May 8 – an event so unremarkable as to go unreported in the newspaper of record, The New York Times.

Known as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, it has been agreed to by 58 nations and became binding on the United States last week. It provides for control of sowing, reaping, processing, packaging, importing, exporting and selling so-called narcotic drugs throughout the world. It replaces a ragbag assortment of earlier treaties of uneven application. Its most noteworthy provision is that for the first time it subjects marijuana to international control. It even commits India to a phase out of hashish.

In Senate testimony, Mr. Anslinger had said: “[One] important reason for becoming a party to the 1961 convention is the marijuana problem. . . . Several groups in the United States are loudly agitating to liberalize controls and, in fact, to legalize its use. In the convention it is very specific that we must prevent its misuse. If the United States becomes a party to the 1961 convention we will be able to use our treaty obligations to resist legalized use of marijuana. This discussion is going on all over the country, in many universities, and in fringe groups, and it is rather disturbing.”

Indeed, there is discussion, and considerable controversy over marijuana's “misuse.” It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that an agreement of this kind could have been approved with no debate and no contrary evidence.

Last February, before that one-day committee hearing, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice issued its report. The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society. Chapter eight, on “Narcotics and Drug Abuse,” expressed serious reservations about our laws against marijuana. State and federal laws, providing as they do for fixed minimum sentences for marijuana violations, need to be reevaluated, said the commission; sentencing discretion should be restored to judges. The commission took issue with the assumption that marijuana is addictive or predisposes a user to addictive drugs. It questioned the hypothesis that persons under the influence of the drug are induced to commit crimes. It recommended that the National Institutes of Mental Health undertake an exhaustive study of marijuana use. Someone who had worked closely with the Crime Commission might have told the Foreign Relations Committee or Mr. Anslinger that not all of the returns on marijuana are in.

Last month the Crime Commission released a special supplement on drugs. Richard H. Blum, a researcher at Stanford's Institute for the Study of Human Problems and a consultant to the Crime Commission writes: “If the equivalence between alcohol and marijuana is to be accepted as an operating assumption until more facts are at hand – and we think that it is a prudent position to take – it then follows public debate is in order with regard to the best regulation of marijuana.” Blum would make marijuana more, not less, freely available, specifically to medical research. He would reduce legal penalties, not freeze them in international law. (“There . . . appears to be good reason to moderate present punitive legislation so that penalties are more in keeping with what is now known about risks; that is, they are not great.”)

A second consultant, Michael P. Rosenthal, assistant professor of law at Rutgers, in the supplementary Crime Commission report, recommends removing criminal penalties for simple possession and use of marijuana. He’d cut off the supply but not penalize the user.

Anslinger, however, believes the treaty means that marijuana will never be legalized in this country:“We've got [it] locked up so tightly now they'll neverchange the law.”

This article originally ran in the July 8, 1967, issue of the magazine.