Mary Chilton Abbot’s Washington Watch
Ike’s Memory Short on W. Va.
May 2, 1960
Mary Chilton Abbot’s Washington Watch
Ike’s Memory Short on W. Va.
Washington – Veteran Washington correspondent May Craig re-opened an old wound at President Eisenhower’s press conference last week when she asked if there isn’t something that can be done about West Virginia’s starving children.
Eisenhower’s reply—taken from the verbatim transcript—was:
“Well, Mrs. Craig, you say they haven’t been helped. I thought they had. Now I’m not going to try to generalize here or make any alibis. I will find out exactly what has happened because in talking to the secretary of agriculture over the years I assumed that for those people that were really destitute that there was methods of helping them so that they got enough to eat.”
Last year, during the discussion of residual oil import restrictions, Sens. Jennings Randolph and Robert C. Byrd had a 15-minute appointment with the president. At that time they outlined the desperate situation and described the conditions under which some of these children live.
Randolph revealed the President’s reaction during hearings held by the special Senate Committee on Unemployment Problems. After saying that he saw “a tear in his eye” he quoted Eisenhower as saying:
“This is something I never realized existed to the degree to which you indicate it exists in West Virginia.”
And there are indications that Eisenhower has been told before about these children who simply don’t get enough to eat. West Virginia’s Congressional delegation ahs filled the Congressional Record with stories of children with rickets, rotten teeth and deficiency diseases.
We might be excused for being a little bitter on the subject at this point, but we can’t think that the President will learn anything very useful from a discussion with the secretary of agriculture.
Back when it was suggested that the surplus commodities diet be enriched to provide a minimum nutritional level, Agriculture Secretary Benson snapped:
“Yes, and we could give them shrimp cocktails, too.”
A strong upsurge in the Democratic tide was seen by Sen. Gale McGee on a recent speaking tour, he told a neighborhood get-together last week giving the Democrats a chance to acquire Senate seats in some rare and unusual sections of this country.
Republican Karl Mundt is in real trouble in South Dakota, he said, and Democratic Rep. George McGovern has a real opportunity to win. Popular Democratic Gov. Herschel Loveless is doing well in his race for the seat which is being relinquished by Sen. Thomas Martin (D-Iowa); Rep. Lee Metcalf (D-Mont) is well ahead in the contest for Sen. Murray’s s4eat and the Democrats even have a change to pick up the late William Langer’s seat in North Dakota.
McGee is the bright young history professor who wrested a Senate seat away from Wyoming’s lackluster Frank Barrett—a nonentity’s nonentity—in 1958.
He further said that the “Nixon image” is in bad shape; the vice president reached a popularity peak too early and then had nowhere to go but down. Nixon won’t win many Democratic votes, McGee predicted, and there is still a very real possibility that the Republican pros may dump him at the last minute and put Nelson Rockefeller at the head of the ticket. He thinks the New York governor would be very, very hard to beat.
As to the Democratic candidate, McGee—who emphasized that he wasn’t expressing any personal preferences because he expects to be an uncommitted delegate to the convention—pointed out that historically the “field” has ganged up to knock off the front-running candidate in the primaries. If this happens, the vice presidential nomination will be Kennedy’s without question and the Presidential candidate will have to be someone who is not a senator, not a Catholic and not an Easterner. Who meets all these qualifications? Adlai E. Stevenson.
And speaking of Stevenson, the two-time Presidential candidate created a sensation during his Washington visit recently. He spoke to packed crowds wherever he went and was almost as big a sensation at the French Embassy reception as the guest of honor—President Charles de Gaulle.
We think it is time that someone utter a public apology for Gov. Underwood’s behavior of the last few days . . . specifically his ridiculously sophomoric “demand” that the National Broadcasting Co. cancel any further broadcasts of West Virginia’s deplorable economic conditions.
The Governor, by his inept and inane action, did more than any television program or newspaper report to give the outside world a picture of West Virginia as a backward hick state. And if the Governor of the state is of such immature mind as to make such a public demand on NBC, what must those in the outer civilization think of the rest of us?
But, while offering a sincere apology for the actions of our Governor, we also wish to offer a note of explanation. . .
Because of the current political situation Gov. Underwood is now going through the periodic cycle in which he defends West Virginia against the publicizing of our economic ills.
This was the Governor’s original position. He felt we should not talk about our troubles, implying that if everybody just kept quiet they might go away.
There was criticism of his stand by those who felt there was little chance of getting anything done for those who were unemployed and hungry and distressed if their plight were hidden.
Late last year, the Governor made a quiet trip through the state’s distress areas. What he saw seemed to chock Underwood just as much as it seemed to shock David Brinkley, the TV reporter whose reports drew the Governor’s ire and the demand that such reporting be stopped.
At least Underwood took to television with a “report to the people” in which he narrated a filmed report that was just as desolate as anything Brinkley presented. Certainly there was enough similarity that if Brinkley’s report was “rigged”, as Underwood charged in his telegram to NBC, then the Governor’s report of a few months ago was also rigged.
As with the Brinkley series of reports and as with most news reports on the state’s conditions, Underwood stressed that there were also bright areas in the West Virginia economy picture.
But the Governor was sufficiently shocked by what he had seen in the distressed areas to tell the 1960 Legislature that “many of our people are hungry, but many more despair.” And, after citing the prosperous areas, he added: “And yet, others of our citizens are out of work; some have been out of work for years. They and their families are cold and hungry. Their communities are devoid of business; their children are leaving West Virginia; their homes are neglected and run-down; their morale is low, their spirits discouraged.”
We don’t know if the Governor did any “rigging” or “coloring” of the news, as he accused Brinkley of going, but what he told the Legislature was duly recorded at the time without protests or demands to cancel further reports.
Actually, this has all the earmarks of being part of a Republican campaign issue. Since Senators Humphrey and Kennedy, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, had talked about the state’s distressed areas—and also tried to do something by passing a bill which President Eisenhower vetoed—the state Republicans decided they could create an issue by attacking any reference to West Virginia’s troubles.
Besides Underwood, National Committeeman Walter S. Hallanan, State Chairman Daniel Louchery and gubernatorial candidate Harold Neely, among others, have gotten into the act.
Neely’s approach has differed from Underwood’s only in that it was not sophomoric. Neely used the freshman approach. He wanted Kennedy and Humphrey to “go home”—and what this sage decision had to do with qualifying him to be Governor he did not say.
It may well be that both Humphrey and Kennedy have been a little loose in making reassuring promises to people who are out of work and hungry. It may well be that Brinkley talked about the West Virginians who are starving, without saying anything about those who have two cars and an overloaded garbage can. It may also be, as Underwood contends, that no one has died of starvation in West Virginia, that they’re just hungry.
But this has nothing to do with the stark facts that West Virginia does have its troubles and they’re not going to be solved by ignoring them.
Neither does it have anything to do with the agonizing fact that Gov. Underwood’s “demands” are making us look like a bunch of stupid clods instead of just plain clods.
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