KC Johnson

Week of April 13

April 13: Scandal & Success

  • Michael A. Bernstein, “The Contemporary American Banking Crisis in Historical Perspective,” The Journal of American History
  • Loch K. Johnson, “Covert Action and Accountability: Decision-Making for America’s Secret Foreign Policy,” International Studies Quarterly

People for the American Way–ad against Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork:

April 15: The Rise of Partisanship

  • Mark Stern, “Party Alignments and Civil Rights: Then and Now,” Presidential Studies Quarterly

Willie Horton ad:

resignation speech, House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas), after allegations of ethical improprieties brought by several Republicans, led by Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich:

. . . I’m not trying to give you a [sic] exhaustive list of what might happen. I — I know there are others who have views that are equally relevant. You know, perhaps we want to consider a [sic] outright abolition of all honoraria and speaking fees altogether. Maybe we want to do that — I don’t know; it’s up to the House — in exchange for a straightforward, honest increase in the salary for members of all three branches of the government. It is intolerably hurtful to our government that qualified members of the executive and legislative branches are resigning because of the ambiguities and the confusion surrounding the ethics laws and because of their own consequent vulnerability to personal attack. That’s a shame. It’s happening.

And it is grievously hurtful to our society when vilification becomes an accepted form of political debate and negative campaigning becomes a full-time occupation; when members of each party become self-appointed vigilantes carrying out personal vendettas against members of the other party. In God’s name, that’s not what this institution is supposed to be all about. When vengeance becomes more desirable than vindication and harsh personal attacks upon one another’s motives and one another’s character drown out the quiet logic of serious debate on important issues, things that we ought to be involved ourselves in. Surely that’s unworthy of our institution and unworthy of our American political process. All of us in both political parties must resolve to bring this period of mindless cannibalism to an end!! We’ve done enough of it!

[sustained applause lasting close to one minute]

I – I – I pray to God that we will do that and restore the spirit that always existed in this House.

When I first came here, all those years ago, 1955, this was a place where a man’s word was his bond, and his honor and truth of what he said to you were assumed. He didn’t have to prove it. I remember one time Cleve Bailey of West Virginia, in a moment of impassioned concern over a tariff bill, jumped up and made an objection to the fact that Chet Holliefield had voted — in those days we — we shouted our answers to the votes, and Holliefield was back there in the back and Bailey said, “I object to the gentleman from California vote being counted. He came down and voted late. He said he was not in the chamber when his name was called and therefore he’s not entitled to vote.”

It was a close vote. Speaker Rayburn grew red as a tomato and I thought he was gonna break the gavel when he hammered. He said, “The chair always takes the word of a member.”  And then because I was sitting over here behind Cleve Bailey, I heard other members come and say, “Cleve, you’re wrong. Chet was back there behind the rail and I was standing by him when he answered;  his answer just wasn’t heard.” And others said you shouldn’t have said that. And Cleve Bailey, crusty old West Virginian, came down here and abjectly, literally with tears in his eyes, apologized, for having questioned the word of a member. Now we need that.

Have I made mistakes? Oh, boy, how many? I – I made a lot of mistakes. Mistakes in judgment, oh yeah, a lot of ’em. I’ll make some more . . . Have I contributed unwittingly to this manic idea of frenzy of feeding on other people’s reputations? Have I — Have I caused a lot of this? So maybe I have. God I hope I haven’t. But maybe I have. Have I been too partisan? Too insistent? Too abrasive? Too determined to have my way? Perhaps. Think so. If I’ve offended anybody in the other party, I’m sorry. I never meant to. Would not have done so intentionally. Always tried to treat all of our colleagues — Democrats and Republicans — with respect. Are there things I’d do differently if I had ’em to do over again? Oh boy. How many may I name for you?

Well, I tell you what. I’m going to make you a proposition. Let me give you back this job you gave to me as a propitiation for all of this season of bad will that has grown among us. Give it back to you. I will resign as Speaker of the House effective upon the election of my successor. And I’ll ask that we call a caucus on the Democratic side for next Tuesday to choose a successor. I don’t want to be a party to tearing up the institution — I love it.

To tell you the truth, this year it has been very difficult for me to offer the kind of moral leadership that our organization needs, because every time I’ve tried to talk about the needs of the country, about the needs for affordable homes — both Jack Kemp’s idea and the idea we’re developing here — every time I’ve tried to talk about the need for minimum wage, tried to talk about the need for daycare centers, embracing ideas on both sides of the aisle, the media have not been interested in that. They wanted to ask me about petty personal finances.

You need — You need somebody else. So I want to give you that back. And we’ll have a caucus on Tuesday. And then I will offer to resign from the House some time before the end of June. Let that be a total payment for the anger and hostility we feel toward each other. Let’s not try to get even with each other. Republicans please don’t get it in your heads you need to get somebody else because of John Tower. Democrats, please don’t feel that you need to get somebody on the other side because of me. We ought to be more mature than that.

Let’s restore to this institution the rightful priorities of what’s good for this country. And let’s all work together and try to achieve them. The nation has important business and it can’t afford these distractions. And that’s why I offer to resign.

I’ve enjoyed these years in the Congress. I am grateful for all of you who have taught me things and been patient with me. Horace Greeley had a quote that Harry Truman used to like: “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident. Riches take wings; those who cheer today may curse tomorrow; only one thing endures –character.” I’m not a bitter man. I’m not going to be. I’m a lucky man. God has given me the privilege of serving in this greatest institution on earth for a great many years, and I’m grateful to the people of my district in Texas. I’m grateful to you my colleagues — all of you. And God bless this institution. And God bless the United States.

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