Mike Harrington: The Task of Restoring Credibility to Government

Michael J. Harrington '58 is the Democratic congressman from the sixth district of Massachusetts. The third-term lawmaker represents one of the most diverse districts in the Commonwealth--microcosm containing nearly all of America's contemporary problems.

His constituency comprises some 475,000 people. The sixth stretches the length of the rugged North Shore; from the decaying industrial city of Lynn, to historic Salem, through the affluent one-time Yankee enclaves of Beverly Farms and Marblehead, to Gloucester where the shrinking fishing industry clamors for protective trade legislation.

The 37-year-old believes he speaks for his constituents when he states that there has been a "collapse of confidence in Nixon's judgment and his leadership capacities, which in most countries would be sufficient to bring a government down."

"We now have a near absolute majority who are turned off, and who are the 1974 version of the American radical--similar to the malcontent of the '60s. I think that a lot of the underpinnings of the government have been ripped loose, not just because of the energy or economic crisis but by the growing feeling that there is just nothing anymore that is able to perform the function of standing fast and being the subject or object of respect or inspiration."

Harrington, who is married and has five children, is a graduate of Harvard College ('58), Harvard Law School ('61), and a student of the Graduate School of Public Administration ('62-'63). He is teaching a seminar at the Institute of Politics this year, "How the Congress Responds to Crisis." He is confident that Nixon will either resign or be impeached. He speculates that Tuesday's Republican loss of the Cincinnati congressional seat of Rep. Willis D. Gradison Jr. (R-Ohio) to the Democrats will create "more than just subsurface panic" in the GOP, and it will place "enormous pressure" on the president to resign.

"I don't know what in the world the Republican party can do to get themselves divested of Nixon, though I think there are a lot more people thinking about that now than there were a month ago."

Harrington believes that the question of impeachment will come before the House for a vote by the first week of May, and he has already made up his mind that he will vote affirmatively.

"The elements [for impeachment] are certainly there in terms of obstruction of justice and conspiracy judging by the nature of the indictments last week. I suppose, though, I am more comfortable leaving the crimes out and getting into the overall question of the erosion of the capacity to provide leadership credibly."

He is very much a supporter of a broadly structured definition of impeachment, and he does not agree with the president's legal defense.

"Impeachment is a device which was clearly intended by the founding fathers so there would be political as well as criminal occasions where there would be a need to remove the president. Nobody is going to maintain very seriously that it be only on the basis of serious crimes."

Harrington feels that a more difficult issue than impeachment itself will be whether the president should be granted some form of immunity to encourage his resignation. He maintains that the present situation gives the president no "recourse except to stay there and fight it out with the powers and resources of the office which the public collectively pays for."

He thinks the question is, what price is the country willing to pay to get rid of the problem.

Harrington thinks Gerald Ford is a reasonable alternative to Nixon in the event of his removal. "Ford would go a long way toward resolving the subjective problem the country has in confidence in itself and its established institutions. He'll be predictably right-of-center but he'll tend to be aware of the need for some consensus and bipartisan coloration of what he choses to do. I don't think you're going to get anything inspirational or overly creative, but he will be predictable and he'll work hard at it."

However, Harrington is not optimistic about the future of the federal government even if Nixon is replaced. "Enough people are having their dream or illusion of the ethic of their government shattered so that they are now prepared to accept some fundamental questions about the nature of the government, the delivery of services and the degree of leadership."

"Fundamentally I think there is a need for structural change--more openness for a starter and less emphasis on the national security argument. The separation of powers doctrine ought to be seriously re-evaluated if there is ever going to be any effort made to bring the Congress into a role of contributing to the direction the country takes and providing some leadership."