A beaver booster from Maine has made the latest contribution to the American tradition of combining the mystic and the commercial. Inspired by a dream in which Mamie Eisenhower accepted a fur coat from him, his organization--the Beaver Fur Trappers Association--presented the first lady with $1800 worth of prize pelts. Mrs. Eisenhower paid $385 to have a wrap made, which the trappers figured would usher in a renaissance of beaver popularity.
Besides beautifying Mrs. Eisenhower, the new coat raises once again the thorny problem of whether public officials and their families should accept large gifts. Beaver is not quite Democratic mink in spite of the latest advertising ploy, but the present administration has also been embarrassed by the generosity of King Saud of Arabia. One aide accepted an automobile from the monarch, and there are many daggers, watches and other golden mementos waiting to be distributed. In addition, Senator Wayne Morse has been unkind enough to nag the President about gifts of livestock and a tractor for his Gettysburg homestead.
The President himself has said that acceptance of presents by government officials should depend on good taste. A more pristine view might be adopted, however, to guard against graft and avoid any public misconceptions. No matter what the motive, all large gifts, whether beavers or just plain gold watches, tend to look like indirect payoffs for favors and thus discredit the government.
The Administration should now define more clearly its present rules for its employees and the public, and definite penalties should be imposed for accepting gifts which are clearly more than tokens. It is unfortunate that it is so often difficult to determine innocent from improper gifts. But by prohibiting any large presents, the government would make any real corruption easier to discover and also raise public opinion about the behavior of government officials.