Finally, the All-Star Senate write-ups I began around New Year’s are over after two months. But I think the list has larger implications behind just giving biographical data on my 100 choices, so I’m going to post two more appendices to my list. This is the first of them, a list of interesting facts and trends that I either discovered or had reaffirmed during my research and writing for this project.
#1: The late 1960s and early 1970s Senate was almost eerily strong, thoughtful, generous of spirit, and skillful. The 93rd Senate (’73 to ’75), for example, had 28 All-Stars– more than a quarter of my all-time top 100. Screw the age of John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Age of Aquarius was the actual golden era of statesmanship.
#2: Unintentionally, this list ended up being quite racially diverse. Two Asian-Americans were on the list (Daniel Inouye and Hiram Fong), two men with heavily Native-American ancestry (Ben Nighthorse-Campbell and Charles Curtis), and one Hispanic (Dennis Chavez) made the cut. It falls well under the actual percentage of minorities in the country, but given the unspoken white-guys-only rule that prevailed for much of U.S. history, that’s not too bad. Only two women made the list– Margaret Chase Smith and Barbara Boxer, and a few more got honorable mentions, including Barbara Mikulski and Nancy Kassebaum. If I were to revisit this list 50 years from now, when I am a retiree with entirely too much leisure time, I am certain this list will have a great deal many more women. The Senate only had 2 women serving in 1992 (incidentally, also Mikulski and Kassebaum), when the number tripled after the elections held that year. Within the current Senate, Susan Collins, Kirsten Gillibrand, Lisa Murkowski, Kelly Ayotte, Amy Klobuchar and Maria Cantwell are relatively young, popular in their home states, and not going anywhere for a while.
#3: The Senate was rather unimpressive, at least in the personalities it attracted, during its first 30 years or so. This was partly a product of the Senate being indirectly elected, via state legislators. Popular heroes were therefore eschewed in favor of obedient flunkies, who were sometimes mailed their voting instructions, and regularly replaced every six years before they could accrue experience and independence. But more than this, the Senate was simply a place where careers went to die– there was little allure to the office. Not surprisingly, most of the All-Stars come from the era (1913 and after) when they were elected by the popular vote. Only a small handful of senators from the Early Republic got on here. This is particularly strange given how we idealize the early period in our nation’s history and make demi-gods out of those who were present at the creation and worked in the government during those first years. We should be critical of this kind of ancestor worship anyway, but the bad, undistinguished senates from this era help to nudge the Founders off their pedestal.
#4: Up until recently, securing federal dollars for your home state seemed like the most sure-fire way to get elected. It trumped ideology, party affiliation, every other consideration that you can name. While there are several offenders, some of the worst have included Robert Byrd, Ted Stevens, Daniel Inouye, and especially Warren Magnuson. This is, to say the least, problematic, and shows how incredibly valuable and coveted a seat on the Appropriations Committee could be.
#5: Civility ebbs and flows– not out of some mythic, quasi-Hindu cyclical nature of history. No, the members of the Senate themselves have to work hard to cultivate an atmosphere where graciousness, trust, and comity can flourish. To these ends, the Washington Nationals baseball stadium, the Senate cloakroom, the Congressional cafeteria are all places that are just as significant as the Senate floor for getting the business of the people accomplished. I have commented this blog in the past how the Senate has lost its civility, but it is not an inevitable narrative of declension. With a concerted effort on the part of its members, it can be revived.
#6: We no longer trust young people to do great things. Lots of All-Stars were young men in their early 30s when they first started serving: Henry Clay, most notably, but also Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, Birch Bayh, and Richard Russell. Right now, the youngest guy in the Senate as of this writing is a 40-year-old, Utah’s Mike Lee. And I hate to say it, but he ain’t exactly top-100 timber.
#7: Only two U.S. presidents made the cut, pro-union Southerner Andrew Johnson, and legendary Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. Lots of other presidents served in the body: James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, William McKinley, Warren Harding, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama– but each of them either wasn’t in there long enough to have an impact, or wasn’t especially distinguished. Significantly, the only two on this list were not initially elected for the job, they inherited it through an assassination. We just don’t choose first-class senators as our presidents. This is another post entirely, but we tend to choose “Washington outsiders” to do the job.
#8: Lots of vice-presidents DID make it in, though. Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Joe Biden, Hannibal Hamlin, and John Calhoun (and, of course, Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson too.) This makes a bit more sense, since you’d want to balance a ticket with a consummate insider, and someone who is nationally known. Senators can do that for you.
#9: Yet, the All-Star Senate boasts a number of unsuccessful presidential candidates. These include Willie Mangum, Daniel Webster, Stephen Douglas, Henry Clay, Strom Thurmond, Robert LaFollette, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, and Bob Dole. Unsuccessful vice-presidential candidates among the All-Stars are Joseph Robinson, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Hiram Johnson, Henry Davis, and Bob Dole again.
#10: Those who think government is bad will almost certainly govern badly.