THIS YEAR'S contenders for LBJ's old Senate seat have spiced up their tired, worn-out rhetoric with a healthy dash of godless mud-slinging, perhaps hoping to arouse the state's sleeping voters. During the last few weeks, the studied, statesman-like poses originally struck by Republican incumbent John Tower and Democratic challenger Bob Krueger have, in part, given way to the childish stance of petulant name-callers. Virtually devoid of substantive issues, the campaign has become a contest to see who can paint the most nefarious portrait of his opponent. And the prize will most certainly not go to the most accurate artist.
Tower has taken to calling Krueger, who is 43, unmarried and the inheritor of a medium-sized family fortune, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Not to be outdone, a Krueger aide recently sent an article to newspaper editors all over the state which insinuates that Tower is a womanizer who likes his whiskey. The ploy so incensed Tower that he canceled four joint T.V. appearances with Krueger, claiming that his rival is "uninhibited by the truth." Last week Tower refused to shake hands with Krueger, who has yet to apologize for the mailing of the article. That's serious business in a state that prides itself on hospitality, cleanliness and godliness. And to top it all off, Tower is now threatening to sue Krueger for libel.
But this campaign is tainted by more than just personal smears. The candidates have reached inside the grabbag of political stereotypes and pulled out a couple of humdingers for each other which bear little resemblance to the genuine articles. Tower depicts Bob Krueger as a lackey to big labor. A spot commercial shows John Tower heroically resisting a bull-dozer driven by AFL-CIO President George Meany, carrying a slip of paper in his pocket which reads, "Krueger's vote." The commercial conveniently overlooks one crucial fact--Bob Krueger's mixed record on labor issues. For example, he voted against common situs picketing and repeal of right-to-work statutes, but supported some moderate reforms. The AFL-CIO gave him a 39 per cent rating last year.
IN HIS CAMPAIGN LITERATURE Tower is portrayed as the fearless defender of "our fellow Texans against the forces moving to destroy America's economic, social and moral values": the "Eastern Labor Bosses," the big government spenders, the supporters of the Panama Canal treaties and busing, and the opponents of a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in public schools. Here at least Tower is truthful. In his 17 years in the Senate, he has spoken as the obstructionist, the perennial naysayer. He has never authored any major piece of legislation.
Krueger, on the other hand, has tried to make effectiveness the central campaign issue. He claims Texas has lost 11 military bases because Tower wasn't "tending to your business." But these pragmatic appeals have not inspired the state's voters as did former U.S. Senator Ralph Yar-borough's fervid, heart-felt speeches. Krueger is a cold fish. At a recent function Krueger was even unable to woo an audience of liberals. After speaking for ten minutes, a lonely voice hollered-out, "Attack Tower some more." But Krueger just didn't seem to have the heart for it, and the liberals left feeling cheated. If he couldn't inspire them, the audience presumed he could at least stir up their anti-Tower juices.
But Texas liberals, who can be counted on to poll a solid 30 per cent of the vote just about any time, have learned their lesson. In 1961 hordes of them defected to vote for a small-time Republican political science professor named John Tower, thinking a good liberal could beat him easily the next time around. But Tower was shrewder than they had expected--he managed to build up a base of support that has sustained him in office. This election year marks the most serious challenge Tower has faced since he first went to Washington.
Krueger is also a former professor, whose specialty is Shakespearean literature. He quickly climbed the success ladder at Duke University to become dean of arts and sciences, just as he has scaled it in Texas politics. And he makes no bones about the fact that he wants to be President someday. Bob Krueger, to say the least, is an ambitious man.
Perhaps one key to Krueger's success is his unctuous style. He has never been much of a hell-raiser. John Womack '59, professor of History, who was with him at Oxford, recalls that Krueger "kept very clean, never swore, never complained, never raised his voice, kept to his room and his studies, said hello pleasantly, and fairly radiated that he wanted no trouble. If the rest of us got drunk and let the cows into the Master's garden, to eat his roses and tramp his poppies, Krueger hid for a week in the library. He was one of the few Texans I've ever known who looked as if he wished you wouldn't say it so loud that that was where he was from."
Krueger's style hasn't changed during his two terms in the U.S. House. "His remarks are laced with deference toward his elders and respect for the traditions of the House," a commentator noticed. As for voting records, Krueger is a conservative. But Tower is a veritable neanderthal. In 1977, for example, the incumbent Senator voted for gas deregulation, deployment of the neutron bomb, development of nuclear breeder reactors, and multinational corporation subsidies through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He voted against just about everything else.
BACK IN 1972, however, Tower did cast a good vote for bilingual education, and he has been making political mileage out of it ever since. Mexican-American radio stations have been inundated with ads touting the vote. There are billboards plastered all over the Spanish-speaking parts of town that say "Tower, Con Nosotros." Tower, he's with us.
Like Tower, Krueger's record is not particularly uplifting. In fact, in the 1977 Americans for Democratic Action rating, he barely squeaked by Tower as the less conservative (20 per cent to 15 per cent). Krueger voted for food-stamp cutbacks, relaxation of urban air pollution standards, construction of the B-1 bomber, agribusiness subsidies: and the list goes on and on. Krueger cast a few token votes for labor, and has a fairly good record on civil-rights issues. For instance, he supported an extension of the ERA ratification deadline. But on economic issues, Krueger is all Republican.
Both candidates are staunch advocates of the state's oil and gas interests. Krueger first gained notoriety when, as a freshman representative, he almost pushed a deregulation bill through the House. Bumperstickers which read "Krueger of Texaco" have surfaced recently, parodying his campaign slogan, "Krueger of Texas." And what Tower lacks in flair as a champion of industry, he makes up in consistency.
THE MOST RECENT POLL shows Krueger with a three-point lead over Tower, but 17 per cent of the voters are still undecided. Tower, with a two-to-one fundraising advantage, will have an edge in the last weeks of the campaign as he launches a media blitz. But Krueger, who has been campaigning like a whirling dervish since last year, might just pull out a victory. Even if he does, the nation is unlikely to see any substantial change in Texas's leadership on economic issues. And Lone Star liberals will still be waiting for the knight on a white horse who will save them from pissants and pablum.