Challenge to Democratic Institutions
SENIORITY AND SECTIONALISM
By HON. JOSEPH CLARK BALDWIN, Congressman from the 17th District, New York
Delivered at the Annual Forum of the Foreign Policy Association, New York City, October 3, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 87-89.
YOU have asked me to speak today on "American Policy in the United Effort," from the point of view of the House of Representatives. However, I must point out to you that only indirectly is our House of Representatives a policy-making body. Policy is initiated by the Executive and, to some extent, by the Senate. In the House,that policy is approved through legislation and the granting of funds.
Now I am not begging the question. For it is my deep personal conviction that the House of Representatives has a responsibility, in this crisis, far greater than the passage of legislation and the raising and appropriating of funds.
For, important as these measures are in this total war, everyone of us must assume responsibilities far beyond those we normally face. Certainly the youth of our country, called from their everyday pursuits to risk their lives on our behalf, are splendidly and courageously making great personal sacrifices. Why should Congress be the nation's exception?
Indeed the House of Representatives, above all others, can ill afford to be an exception. Probably never before in the history of Democracy has parliamentary government been so seriously threatened as it is today. And I am not speaking of the threat of an Axis victory. Nor am I speaking of Executive assumption of power. President Lincoln assumed more power than President Roosevelt has ever asked for. Under our Constitution in war time, the Commander-in-Chief can do many things which, in peace time, the President cannot do without impairing our Constitutional liberties.
No, I am speaking of a very definite threat to parliamentary government within the framework of Democracy itself; within, indeed, our very legislative halls. I am speaking of the danger that the elected representatives of the people, perforce the keystone of our democracy, might choose to ignore the challenge presented by the existing crisis.
And what, in its deeper and wider sense, is that challenge? And what should the House of Representatives do to meet it that they have not already done?
Well, in the first place, can anyone deny that the present struggle to the death between Dictatorship and Democracy does not present a challenge to Democratic institutions? Even beyond men and money and arms? Can anyone deny that here is a challenge, spiritual as well as material? Can anyone deny that the representatives of the people have an obligation to meet that challenge, not alone with the material things it is their obvious duty to provide—but with that leadership so essential to maintaining the confidence of the people in their own democratic institutions?
We are raising the armies, we are building the ships, we are voting the monies. We have, in short, done all of the necessary and apparent things. But I say to you, as emphatically and as earnestly as I can say it, that we have got to do more than that.
I say Congress has got to demonstrate to the people, when they call the young in body into the armed services, that Congress itself must be prepared to put the young in mind and spirit in charge of legislative affairs which so vitally and so sweepingly affect the lives of these young citizens.
I'm referring to the self-imposed "seniority rule," under which Congress functions today. A rule which means that should General MacArthur be elected to the House, he would not, as a new member, be, automatically placed on the Military Affairs Committee and would probably have to wait some years before he could get on that important Committee. A rule which means that should Sumner Welles be elected to the House, he would not, as a new member, be eligible for the Foreign Affairs Committee. A rule which means that should the minority party become the majority party in the House, one of the bitterest opponents of our present American foreign policy would become the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Ability, not seniority, is the yardstick which applies today in the command of our armed services. Why shouldn't that same yardstick be applied in our legislative halls? I tell you that this self-imposed seniority rule is a Congressional curse—the repeal of which would be the first step toward that Congressional leadership our country, our cause and our present crisis needs and demands.
The next most important block to legislative leadership is,in my opinion, sectionalism—both latitudinal and longitudinal. Up and down and across the country it goes—capital versus labor, labor versus capital. And yet, you and I knew and Congress must know that, in this country, if the system under which we have so long prospered is to survive, it can never be capital or labor, it must be capital and labor. Or, again, the farmer versus the manufacturer, the plains versus the towns and so on, ad infinitum. This is total war. This is a people's war. This is a death struggle between our way of life and Hitler's way of life. And there is no place in it for sectionalism, least of all in the halls of Congress where sit the elected representatives of the people.
In order to achieve the Congressional leadership the people want, I say to you that Congress must close its doors to those parasitic apostles of sectionalism, the lobbyists. And that goes for all of them.
Finally, there is a third point on the debit side of our ledger which I would like to emphasize. Leadership requires courage. Mere lip service to our United Cause will not suffice. For instance, if it is deemed necessary to draft 18 and 19 year old boys for military service in order to save the State, then for God's sake let's do it. What good will education be to them if they become the chattels of a conqueror? Or, again, what right, in all conscience, has Congress got to appropriate billions of dollars and then refuse to accept the responsibility of raising the money to meet those appropriations through adequate taxation. Legislative courage, irrespective of political consequences, is essential to the successful Congressional leadership I have been talking about. So much for the debit side of the picture.
Now if some of you think that I've spoken out of turn as a junior member of the House, so be it. I don't intend to hedge or apologize. What I've said, had to be said, sooner or later by a member of the House. And my long legislative record in city and state government will prove that I've never been afraid to speak my mind.
What about the constructive side of the picture—now and to come? I submit that with all of its alleged, and by many of us admitted, failings—no War Congress in American history has, by legislative action, more vigorously endorsed an American foreign policy than has the present Congress.
The initiation of the so-called Lease-Lend program, even before we entered the war, established as a matter of fixed American policy—that the United States considers itself not only a factor in, but a part of the United Nations both at war and at peace.
This is dramatically significant. And Congress has repeatedly furthered this policy.
If there has existed abroad any doubts about this point, they must surely have been dispelled when the minority party, in conference of its House members last week, unanimously passed a statement of principles containing the following sentence:
"We recognize that the United States has an obligation and responsibility to work with other nations to bring about a world understanding and cooperative spirit which will have for its supreme objective the continued maintenance of peace."
As to the war effort itself, I should like to bring to your attention equally important actions by Congress and its membership.
The first is the phrasing of our several declarations of war on the Axis powers wherein the House authorized the President to use "all our resources" in the achievement of final victory.
The second is, again, a quote from the policy program unanimously adopted last week by the House membership
of the minority party, the second paragraph of which states: "We oppose any attempts to negotiate peace, or consideration of any peace terms until our arms have won such a decisive victory that we, together with our allies, are able to dictate the peace terms. Freedom is at stake. It permits no compromise or appeasement. The Axis dictators must be vanquished."
We are in this war to the finish. It is our declared American policy. And that means we are in both the war and the peace. America has learned her lesson, at last. In the
past, we have kept out of every peace and gotten into every war. In the future we intend to reverse that picture!
In closing, let me leave this thought with you. Whatever the shortcomings of legislative bodies; whatever the mistakes of government; whatever the sins of commission and omission on the part of our leadership; in a Democracy the final responsibility rests upon you and me as citizens. And in the future, let us not forget this.
For believe me, if more people would live for Democracy, fewer people would have to die for it.