Remembering Ed Muskie
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CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: With his six foot four inch frame, low key manner, and wry humor, Edmund Muskie was often called Lincolnesque, and that made him an ideal vice presidential candidate for the ebullient Hubert Humphrey on the Democratic ticket in 1968. Still, it was a losing ticket. In 1970, Muskie’s star rose when he responded in a nationwide speech to a divisive Republican campaign that attacked the patriotism of college students and Democrats.
EDMUND S. MUSKIE: (November 1970) In the heat of our campaigns, we have all become accustomed to a little anger and exaggeration. Yet, on the whole, our political process has served us well.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: After that, Muskie became the favorite to win the 1972 Democratic Presidential nomination. But being the front-runner for over a year proved difficult. During the New Hampshire primary, Muskie choked with anger and seemed to cry because of a couple of nasty articles in the “Manchester Union Leader.” One article proved to be a hoax. The other attacked Muskie’s wife. Muskie then attacked publisher William Loeb.
EDMUND S. MUSKIE: (February 1972) By attacking me, by attacking my wife, he has proved himself to be a gutless coward. And maybe I said all I should on it. It’s fortunate for him he’s not on this platform beside me. A good woman–
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The episode came to symbolize the collapse of Muskie’s Presidential campaign because of the perception that he was weak. Muskie then went back to the Senate and headed the powerful Budget Committee until President Carter tapped him to be Secretary of State in 1980.
EDMUND MUSKIE: (April 1980) You know, I never have been a stagnant kind of individual. I’ve been in the Senate 22 years. I’m still stimulated by the challenges that it offers, but here’s a whole new arena in which to deal, whole new set of challenges, whole new kind of authority, a chance for growth, and how could I say no?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: As Secretary of State from 1980 to ’81, Muskie guided the successful negotiations to free the American hostages held in Iran. He then retired from politics and became a partner in a Washington law firm. Today he was remembered as a statesman.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the thoughts of NewsHour analyst Mark Shields, a former Democratic strategist who worked on Muskie’s 1972 Presidential campaign, and George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader who also worked for Muskie and succeeded him in the Senate when Muskie became Secretary of State. Senator Mitchell, how should we remember Edmund Muskie?
GEORGE MITCHELL, Former Senate Majority Leader: I think it’s important in today’s poisonous political process to remember Ed Muskie as a man who demonstrated that you can succeed in politics without compromising your integrity, that you can do well and be a good person at the same time. He was really remarkably successful in his legislative career. It’s hard to think back now 25 years ago but there wasn’t any environmentalism. There wasn’t any national awareness, and there weren’t any laws protecting the environment. He more than any other person and almost single-handedly created a national consensus for protection of the environment, wrote and had passed the landmark environmental laws through the force of his own character, personality, knowledge, and skill. He rose to the highest or nearly the highest levels in American politics and still at the same time maintained a high sense of integrity.
JIM LEHRER: Where did the environmental interest come from?
SEN. MITCHELL: We’re all products of our environment. He grew up in a small town in Maine that had a paper mill in it, that emitted a lot of waste into the water. He then went to a small college in Maine on the same river. I think he saw in his own lifetime the problems that existed. He became aware of it, gradually more and more. He serves as governor, got to tour our state, and then as he became a senator saw it throughout the country. And he combined very detailed technical knowledge with a practical sense of how to get things done. And so I think he was a superb legislator, but most importantly someone who as I said succeeded without compromising his high level of integrity.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what would you add to that?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: (Tempe, AZ) I guess what I’d add to what George Mitchell said is this, Jim, that he was the last of the whales, the last of these great senators, legislative giants, Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Warren Magnuson of Washington, Richard Russell of Georgia, John Stenis of Mississippi, Phil Hart of Michigan. Ed Muskie stood with them. Only Mike Mansfield, a former Senate Majority Leader, remains of that group. These were men who by their force of their intellect, their character, their skill, their personality, and their wiles were dominant legislative figures. Remember this, what George Mitchell just said, there was no legislative remedy for the environmental fouling that had been done by Americans to the land that we inherited. And Ed Muskie wrote those laws, and more important than what he did, and what he did was historically important, was how he did it. He forged a consensus, a unanimous consensus, this was a radical revolutionary–
JIM LEHRER: Not just in Congress–
MARK SHIELDS: No.
JIM LEHRER: But you mean in the country.
MARK SHIELDS: I’m talking in the country. First in the Congress.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: With Howard Baker of Tennessee and Jim Buckley of New York, and John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky. He brought these radical proposals out of this committee with unanimous support, and then he forged this consensus in the country to the point where in 1995 as Speaker Gingrich revealed to Paul Gigot, and Paul talked about it in this very broadcast, the biggest mistake the Republicans made were trying to undo the environmental laws that Ed Muskie had largely written. I mean, that’s the national consensus. He built that. That’s an enormous achievement.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Mitchell, both you and Mark have said that he was a great legislator, that he–is he also the names that Mark just listed in the U.S. Senate–is he also on a list that includes Benjamin Franklin, Henry Clay, Robert Taft, and others who, who, who were of Presidential timber but didn’t make it and if so, why not in his case?
SEN. MITCHELL: I believe he not only was of Presidential timber, but that he would have made a superb President had he been elected. Of course, he had faults. He was human like all the rest of us. He made mistakes, but first, he was, in my opinion, one of the smartest public officials ever. He certainly–
JIM LEHRER: Smart–
SEN. MITCHELL: Intelligent.
JIM LEHRER: What do you mean?
SEN. MITCHELL: Brilliant, intellectually capable of easy analysis of a problem, capable of coming up with practical solutions.
JIM LEHRER: Take in a lot of information?
SEN. MITCHELL: Oh, tremendous. He was really very, very smart, the smartest person I’ve ever known, period. Secondly, he had a good practical sense of how to get things done in a democratic society. Mark talked about that. Remember, in the environmental laws, he didn’t just change the laws. He changed the way Americans think and the way they live. It would be unthinkable now for someone to suggest that we suddenly let factories and municipalities start dumping all their sewage into rivers, which we did for almost all of American history until he changed laws and changed minds and changed attitudes. So he was very significant. And he was an imposing personal figure. He was six feet four, powerful voice, big head, very imposing, and, and could be an intimidating figure. I think it’s a tragedy for him personally but more for the country that he wasn’t elected President.
JIM LEHRER: Why wasn’t he elected President, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, before Ed Muskie, there was no Democratic Party in name. He and Frank Coffin, the former Congressman, former federal district judge, are the fathers, the parents of the modern Democratic Party. Remember this. Maine voted before any other state in the union. They used to hold their elections in September. In September of 1954, Maine, one of the two states that Alf Landon had carried against Frank Roosevelt, elected this young Polish, son of Polish immigrants, Catholic, Democratic governor. It electrified the country, it shocked the country. Ed Muskie went on from there to be elected, to be reelected in a landslide, the first Democrat ever popularly elected from the state of Maine in its history. What ill prepared him for a national campaign was that the very strength he brought to the legislative process, that of patience, perseverance, listening to the other side, tenacity, are not a premium in a presidential contested field, multi-candidate. That’s where the sound bite, the quick jump, the ability to smooz and all the rest of it really count. Ed Muskie before 1972, when he ran for the presidency, had never been in a Democratic primary in his life. He had never run against other Democrats and competed for Democratic primary votes. I think that as much as anything, the very strengths that he brought to the Senate leadership that he’s so historically demonstrated, were almost liabilities, as he sought the presidency.
SEN. MITCHELL: Well, I think there’s another factor as well that has to be mentioned. The campaign to reelect President Nixon–
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
SEN. MITCHELL: –the Republican candidate that year–had a highly organized, well-distributed campaign of dirty tricks. It’s come to be known as the dirty tricks campaign. That clip you showed earlier of New Hampshire was based upon, originated in a hoax fabricated by the Republican campaign to embarrass Sen. Muskie.
JIM LEHRER: They sent hundreds–I remember, in the Watergate hearings, they sent hundreds of pizzas to his rallies and weird things like that.
SEN. MITCHELL: Oh, hundreds of pizzas to the room in the middle of the night. What was sent to the rallies in Southern states, for example, were hundreds of manufactured phony cropped pictures of Sen. Muskie intended to inflame white Americans against black Americans and vice versa, false statements, just, just a terrible campaign, and it had an effect. They feared him. They undermined his campaign, and he lost–not that that was the only factor, but it was a significant factor.
JIM LEHRER: What about the crying incident, Mark? Did he cry or did he not cry, and how important was that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, these are different times, obviously. I mean, when Ed Muskie came to the defense of his wife, Jane, who was unfairly and viciously attacked by one of the really ugly men in American political history, William Loeb, the publisher of “Manchester Union Leader,” who did front-page editorials titled “Kissinger the Kike” and “Moscow Muskie,” questioning the patriotism and loyalty of Sen. Muskie, but when he, when he attacked Jane Muskie, it was too much, and Ed Muskie came to her defense. Ed Muskie didn’t come from a touchy-feely era. This was before Alan Alda and Phil Donahue and people–inner child speaking and all the rest of it–and he did. He filled up with emotion at that moment, and, and somehow men were not supposed to do that at that time. And, and I think it, it became for many a sort of a cause for concern of some sort.
JIM LEHRER: That he lost control or something. That was the word.
SEN. MITCHELL: Look, he did choke up for a minute, but think about this. In this election year, if a candidate publicly defended his wife against a scurrilous, untrue attack, and choked up while doing it, I’ll bet you it would help the candidate.
JIM LEHRER: Win by acclamation maybe.
SEN. MITCHELL: Yes. So at least in that respect and in many others, Ed Muskie was ahead of his time.
JIM LEHRER: Right. And we’ll just leave it there. Mark, Sen. Mitchell, thank you both.
SEN. MITCHELL: Thank you, Jim.