To the Victor: Political Patronage from the Clubhouse to the White House
Richard Harris brings to this chronicle of the Senate’s repulse of Judge G. Harrold Carswell at the gate of the Supreme Court the exhilarating spirit of those great Whig historians who preferred to write about a politician only at his moment of highest disinterest. Thanks to them we know everything except what we would rather not know about Fox falling upon George Germain or about Grafton delivering to James the Second the response of the Old Cause.
Harris finds his heroes, as Macaulay and the Trevelyans found theirs, almost always at their best, a best which is so surprisingly good as to constitute, of all unexpected things, an argument for historical optimism. This author is at once engaged in his partisanship and inexhaustible in his researches, two qualities which provide him with an intimacy with his protagonists so enthusiastic as to make their version of Carswell’s rejection his own. To any demurrer that he describes their motives as they would themselves describe them, he can properly answer that the Carswell matter was one of those special moments when the public man so gave way to principle that the reason he gave for doing something was in unaccustomed harmony with the real reason he did it.
Harris attempts no such closeness to Attorney General John Mitchell, who is never visible, although he can occasionally be heard clumsily tramping up and down the back stairs, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. But then, an attorney general who offers his President Judge Carswell as a candidate who is almost too good to be true is of a species of failed malignant that can satisfactorily be explained by its enemies. Moreover, any suspicion that Harris’s senators seem to him rather too good to be true is quickly lifted when they speak of the Attorney General: Then they sound like their old selves—men to whom the only intriguer who cannot be forgiven is the incompetent one.
Harris inspires us with the politician in a moral fit. Martin and Susan Tolchin’s study of political patronage in New York and elsewhere makes us feel resigned to the politician in the transactions of his ordinary rounds. Yet one passes from Harris to the Tolchins with no sense of any change in the cast, at least in type and frequently in personage. In Harris’s book Senator Bayh listens to Dr. Aaron Henry describing the perils of the night endured by anyone who tries to register Negroes as voters in Mississippi. Bayh returns to his office and mutters, “How can you listen to those stories and let Carswell go on the court?” In the Tolchins’ book Senator Bayh enjoys the blessings of an Indiana Democratic organization which taxes every patronage appointee 2 percent of his salary and excuses this extortion as “cheaper than an employment agency fee.”
Harris’s Senator Proxmire is the first man in the Chamber to declare against…
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