The nation's voters will go to the polls next week to vote on a myth and a record. The myth is that the election of a Democratic Congress would seriously divide the government and freeze all constructive action. The record is that of the 83rd Congress--the first Republican Congress to serve under a Republican President in 20 years.
The myth is easy enough to debunk. It is based on reasoning of the most specious kind. There is, say the myth makers, an unbridgeable gap between the Democratic and Republican parties. If the Democrats gain control of Congress, therefore, the Administration would have its hands tied during one of the most shaky periods of peace the world has ever seen. But the myth simply is not true. The GOP is relying on the President's Midas touch in the hope that everything he blesses will turn to votes. By tacitly lending his name to every politician who marches under the Republican banner, however, Mr. Eisenhower has picked up some rather seedy traveling companions. The last two years have shown that there is more stretch in the name Eisenhower than in most, but it can't begin to cross the ideological chasm that separates Clifford Case from Joe Meek.
The most critical problems of politics today are in foreign affairs and it is in just this area that the Eisenhower policy and previous Democratic policies are most nearly alike. Scratch all the slogans and political mud off of Secretary Dulles and you will have a man who, if not a Democrat, certainly follows the basic tenets of the Truman-Acheson foreign policy. The Administration today is strongly internationalist; it admits it has turned its back once and for all on the isolation of the past.
No Trade or Aid
But the rest of the Republican Party has made no such admission. It showed its isolationist orientation most clearly by nearly passing the Bricker Amendment against strong Executive protests. But if the Democrats managed to defeat the Bricker Amendment, they could do nothing to support the Administration's original sensible policy (sloganized as "trade not aid") of extending the Reciprocal Trade Agreements three more years and cutting swollen tariff schedules. For by the time the foreign trade legislation reached Congress, the Administration had weakly surrendered to Mid-Western protectionist pressure; the Agreements were given a short one year renewal, and the Executive agreed to cut no tariffs.
But if reciprocal trade plans died, at least the "not aid" part of the slogan managed to survive. The Republican 83rd Congress pruned both foreign aid and sorely needed Point Four assistance to an alarming degree.
While the Administration agrees with the Democrats on the aims of foreign policy, there is wide disagreement on the means and the limits. In spite of a highly touted policy of "a bigger bang for a buck" built largely around a highly mobile atomic-armed strategic air power, the Air Force budget was cut 15 percent in 1953 and the spring of 1954 saw slashes in Army and Navy funds. The climax of this irresponsible foreign policy came when the U.S. was forced to back down meekly in Indo-China after all sorts of military posturing and threats of "massive retaliation."
In foreign affairs, at least, a Democratic Congress would mean continuing the same basic policy without the danger that isolationists would trim defense and foreign aid budgets consistent with national security. On the other hand, domestic affairs are not so pressing at this time; while a Democratic Congress and a Republican Administration might mean an stalemate on this area, there would at least be a stop to the4 amazing give-away that the last two years have seen.
Government by Businessmen
The 83rd Congress, and indeed, the Administration itself, has been a businessman's government. In every bit of domestic legislation except the extension of Social Security, the business community has benefitted at the expense of the general public.
In taxes, this effect is especially apparent. Statisticians have estimated that, of every dollar of tax reductions under the new law, only six cents will go to the 74 percent of the nation's families whose annual income is less than $5,000. The reduced tax on dividend income and the ending of the excess profits tax, of course, take the burden off of corporations, and affect the public only indirectly.
The major issue of the 1954 campaign is not taxes but natural resources. The 83rd Congress may be tabbed by future historians as the "give away" Congress--in two years it has given private corporations valuable rights to oil, power, and atomic energy. The tidelands oil is by now a cut and dried issue of a sell out to the business interests of a few coastal states, but the Dixon-Yates Deal is in many ways even more of a give away. The Eisenhower Administration has tried to turn back the clock on 21 years of successful operation in which the TVA has supplied a vast segment of the South with cheaper power than it could ever get from private business. TVA is hardly "creeping socialism," as the President maintains; its low cost power is one of the main reasons that so much capital has been attracted to southern industry. Now, however, the Administration has let out contracts for a power plant that will cost the public, as TVA officials maintain, $140 million more in 25 years than the same type plant built and run by TVA. This could scarcely be called free enterprise: no competing bids were seriously invited; Dixon-Yates has been guaranteed a profit; and the Atomic Energy Commission has been brought into the deal as a power broker, a function for which it was never intended.
There are other domestic issues on the record of the 83rd Congress for which it must answer. In the face of strong Democratic opposition, the Republicans cut the President's recommendation for a desperately needed 140,000 units of low-cost public housing to 35,000 units. Here is a key point in the Eisenhower program on which he was completely deserted by his own party. And in farming, the Administration, with Republican aid this time, lowered farm price supports at a time when the economy itself was declining, thus cutting farm purchasing power and hastening the decline.
If the Democrats gain control of Congress next week, however, they will win more than just a chance to re-write the bad legislation of the past two years. They will be able to institute needed measures that were quite forgotten by the 83rd Congress, such as revision of the Taft-Hartley Law and a realistic immigration policy. More important, they will be able to organize both Houses--to replace as majority leaders such arch-isolationists as Senator William Knowland and Representative Joseph Martin. And publicity-happy demagogues like McCarthy, Jenner, and Velde will lose their chairmanships. The security program would proceed with more sense and less sensation. Two years ago, the Republicans came into office saying it was "time for a change." The nation has seen the change; for most of its citizens it has been a change for the worse.