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Secretary Benson

Brass Tacks

By Bryce E. Nelson

Most of the Crusaders have returned from the Holy Land to their executive suites. Of the ten people in Eisenhower's original Cabinet, only four remain. The rest of the first Cabinet which was, as Eisenhower said, "to bring back moral integrity into the government of the United States" have decided to leave that job to others.

The man who was expressly chosen "to help restore faith in the Government" still remains, although he has received more criticism from more directions than any other Cabinet member. Ezra Taft Benson was, in many ways, the very man to embody the idea of the Eisenhower crusade. In 1952, Eisenhower tried to give religious character to his campaign. A perfect choice for a Cabinet post was a man who was obviously religious, one of the highest officers of the Mormon Church. The American press received Benson quite favorably. His religious character, his impeccable family life, and his personal wholesomeness made a favorable impression on the American public.

Benson himself viewed his job as something of a religious mission, he was initially very dubious about taking the job, his Church work being very important and enjoyable to him. But, in November of 1952, Eisenhower met with him and persuaded Benson of the sincerity of his own religious convictions and of the religious quality of his crusade; Benson joined it.

There were, of course, other reasons for choosing Benson Secretary of Agriculture. He knew about agriculture on all levels; he was an exceptional nominee in that he was acceptable to both the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmer's Union, the right and left wing of the farm bloc. He was recommended for the job by some very important Republicans: the late Senator Taft, Thomas Dewey and Milton Eisenhower. His appointment was also very advantageous to the Republican Party in the West. The Mormons are heavily concentrated in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and Southern California and in most other Western states they form a minority significant enough to swing many elections. The political wisdom of the Republican move was borne out in the 1956 campaign when the Mormon areas of the West voted more heavily for Eisenhower than in 1952, in contrast to the rest of the West.

Despite all his qualifications, Benson had very definite beliefs about the agricultural policy. He did not believe in government hand-outs to farmers, but rather in individual initiative in establishing cooperative action. When his views became apparent early in his term, Senator Kerr predicted that he would cause the Republicans to be defeated in the 1954 elections. The title of an article, "Elder Benson's Going to Catch It" in the Saturday Evening Post proved prophetic.

Benson did catch it during and after the 1954 elections. Farm state republicans began to murmur for his resignation and the murmur increased its intensity with the sagging farm economy, the declining farm population, and the 1956 elections. Despite this criticism, Benson was not the man to effect a Nixon-like change in values, and continued in his position of refusing to heavily subsidize the farmer.

Like other Cabinet members in the Eisenhower Administration, Benson was held solely responsible for his Department. It was always the "Benson farm policy," not the "Eisenhower farm policy" that was criticized. But Benson was not subject to his most intense criticism until the last few months. Before, despite all criticism, Eisenhower had remained steadfastly in support of Benson; it was only this year, when Eisenhower himself started to be attacked, that Benson felt the full brunt of farmer discontent.

The most graphic portrayal of Benson's unpopularity was the election of William Proxmire as Senator from Wisconsin and his subsequent dramatic demand for Benson's resignation. Discontent had been obvious earlier in the summer, when for the first time, Benson was criticized for extensive traveling. The height of direct criticism was reached when South Dakota farmers threw eggs at the Secretary of Agriculture.

Criticism of Benson has reached its peak in the last few months, and can only be expected to increase as the '58 elections draw nearer. Despite the coalition of cattlemen, businessmen, and the American Farm Bureau Federation being formed to save Benson, it is likely that Benson will choose to resign in February.

His career is representative of the whole Eisenhower Administration. When he first came into office he was welcomed, like Eisenhower, as a symbol of the revival of moral integrity in government. But as social discontents became more aparent, as mistakes became more noticeable, the originaly important "Crusade" became just another slogan to the American People. Benson is finding, as is Eisenhower, that integrity alone is not enough.

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