Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Remember Him?

     He was born in March 1914 in a small, remote town called Rumford, known primarily for its paper mill. The population was 898 in 1890 but grew to over 8,000 by 1920. Then came the Depression and the paper business was decimated. Today the population of Rumford is back down to about 5,000, and the town is known mostly for a nearby ski resort.

     His father, Stephen Marciszewski, had immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1903. He changed his name and married Josephine Cznaranecka from Buffalo, NY. The father worked as a tailor, and his son, who was shy but also known to have a temper, worked with him in the tailor shop as a boy.

Rumford in 1905
     He attended a small liberal arts college, then went to Cornell University where in 1939 he collected his law degree. After a stint in the Navy, he went home, not to Rumford, but to the nearby "big city" of Waterville. He started practicing law, but after a few years he was bitten by the political bug. Do you know who he is?

     He joined the Democratic party in his solidly Republican state, then ran for the state legislature and won. A few years later, the Democratic party was looking for somebody to stand for governor. He agreed to run, out of a "sense of duty," even though nobody expected a Democrat to win.

     The story goes that he had been offered a full partnership at a prestigious law firm. The job was tempting, since he had a growing family (he eventually had five children), along with some unpaid medical bills and a mortgage on a new house. But he nevertheless stuck with his political commitment, choosing "society over self," and went forward with the campaign. When he won his upset victory and entered the governor's office, he reportedly owed $5,000 in medical bills, and his salary as governor was $10,000 a year.

     He served out his term and was re-elected. Then he decided to run for the U. S. Senate. He won with 60 percent of the vote and was re-elected three times, in 1964, 1970 and 1976.

     In the Senate he developed a reputation for honesty and straight talk, but that made him run afoul of Lyndon Johnson, especially later on when he came out against the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, he worked tirelessly bringing home money and projects to his home state of Maine, and he became an early environmentalist, campaigning for laws to curb pollution and passing legislation requiring lower emissions from the automobile companies.

     In 1968 he was nominated for vice president, joining Hubert Humphrey in opposition to Richard Nixon. The Democrats won only 13 states, losing 301 to 191 in the electoral college -- as third-party candidate George Wallace took five southern states and 46 electoral votes.

     So Edmund Muskie went back to the Senate where he was a fiscal conservative, trying to hold down excessive government spending, but also continued to support liberal social causes such as civil rights and the environment. In 1972, Muskie threw his hat into the presidential ring. Initially, he was considered the front runner. He won the Iowa caucus. But his victory was somewhat hollow as George McGovern made an unexpectedly strong showing. Muskie also won the New Hampshire primary, but again, by less than expected.

     There were rumors in the press that Muskie had taken drugs. There were claims that he had used the derogatory term "Canucks" to refer to French Canadians. Then a newspaper reported that Muskie's wife drank too much and used off-color language. Muskie stood up and made an impassioned defense of his wife during a New Hampshire snowstorm. The press said Muskie broke down in tears. Muskie claimed he wasn't crying; there was melting snow on his cheeks. The issue of the tears was never settled, but either way his reputation as the strong, reasoned, level-headed candidate was tarnished, and his presidential campaign fell apart.

Ed Muskie in 1980
     Ed Muskie went back to the Senate until 1980 when President Jimmy Carter named him Secretary of State, after Cyrus Vance resigned in opposition to Carter's ill-fated attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran. Muskie tried to use diplomacy to free the hostages, but he ran out of time as Carter lost the election to Ronald Reagan. At the end of his term, Carter awarded Muskie the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Jan. 16, 1981.

     Muskie stayed on in Washington and practiced law. In 1987 he was appointed a member of the President's Special Review Board known as the Tower Commission to investigate the Reagan administration's role in the Iran-Contra affair. The commission ultimately implicated Oliver North but found that Reagan himself was only accountable for a "lax managerial style."

     Muskie died in in 1996 at age 81, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, lauded as a man who according to author David Revin, "sees change not in radical, but incremental terms," and who "sees leadership as identifying problems, altering people, persuading them to a course of action and assembling the political muscle to put it through."


Linda said...

How appropriate for the morning after the Iowa caucuses. Today tears in public are not so much the undoing of a man, evidence, President Obama, Vice President Biden, And Former Speaker John Boehner.

Stephen Hayes said...

Linda beat me to it. These days Muskie's tears wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. I always liked him.

Olga Hebert said...

I think it is quite likely Muskie had more to do with release of Iran hostages than Reagan. Weren't they released like the day after Reagan's inauguration? I seriously doubt Reagan was up all night talking to Iran and brokering a deal.

DJan said...

I puzzled and puzzled over who it might be, and I didn't even get close! When you said "Maine" I was tempted to google it, but I resisted. I always liked Muskie and felt he must have been a good influence in Washington. Thanks, Tom! :-)

Sally Wessely said...

My how times have changed. I enjoyed reading this. I always liked Ed Muskie. One wonders what kind of president he might have made.

Anonymous said...

The hostages were released on the day of Reagan's inauguration to spite Carter.

Jono said...

You had me this time. I couldn't come up with it until you said it. We could certainly use a lot more men like him today.

Anonymous said...

He talked the talk for sure, but managed to alienate most of the uber left-wing Democrats, which was not good and why I was almost a no show on voting day when the choice came down to Nixon or McGovern. A horrible election.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Someone asked Harold MacMillan, the former British PM, how he would have reacted if someone had said his wife drank too much. His reply was "I would have said 'You should have seen her mother!'".

Barbara said...

I had forgotten a lot about him. I don't remember hearing about the problem with his wife. The story behind our politicians is so diverse and interesting. Enjoyed the post.