Politics has struck its dullest season in many years. Gone are the spirited and fundamental debates of yesteryear. Politicians argue now whether postal wages should be increased by 7.5% or 8.2%, or whether minimum wage rates should be raised to ninety cents or one dollar per hour. But these splits fail to shake the earth; nobody really cares. The dream of the "liberal" pundits—a bipartisan domestic policy—has come true.
The Democrats, bereft of issues for 1956, must fall back on personalities. (They charged that Air Secretary Talbot used his high office for his private profit.) The Republicans, likewise devoid of issues, nail their hopes to Ike's personality. The Eisenhower press writes eloquently of Ike's chief virtues: his sincerity, warmth, and charm.
In our television era, politicians—like soap—are "sold" to the public in attractive and gaudy packages. Unlike soap, however, we never get a chance to unwrap and test the contents of the package. When we gauge an office seeker by his smile or by the charm he gives off, we chase a will-o'-the-wisp. We poor voters, bombarded by press releases and staged TV appearances, can't know a man's true character. We can only judge his policies, for different policies cause different results. So we must learn to tell the difference between a man's smile and his ideas.
Furthermore, not the man who carries it out, but his policy touches our lives most profoundly. Let debates on principles and issues disappear from the political world, and the voter may as well toss a coin to select one "personality" over another.
One interesting debate in the 84th Congress took place in June, during the burial of the Dixon-Yates contract. Suddenly, the legislators found themselves plunged into the fundamentals of the TVA—the nation's showcase of socialism. Reviving an old Fair Deal project opened the sluice of argument: Should the taxpayers build a generating plant for TVA, so that TVA can supply more electricity to the Tennessee Valley. Representative John Phillips) (R., California), led the fight which killed this perennial plan. Let's look at the arguments Phillips and his backers used.
Rep. Phillips: "We have paid into the budget of the TVA year after year ... more than $1,800,000,000. ... we are away beyond any reasonable consideration of the firming up of power."
Rep. Charles Halleck (R., Indiana): "Are we to continue to spend hundreds of millions of the taxpayers' money ... from all over the country, to enable the people of the TVA area—and heaven knows I do not object to their being aided within proper limits—to expand steamplant power production ad infinitum when we know ... its disadvantages to the rest of the country?"
Rep. Leslie Arends (R., Illinois): "The continued existence of TVA is not in question. ... The basic issue is whether ... we shall promote Federal public power rather than private enterprise. It is essentially a question whether we believe in socialism or whether we believe in free private enterprise."
Rep. Charles Nelson (R., Maine): "Where private utilities cannot develop it (power), certainly the Federal government should. But we do most strenuously object to asking our (Maine) workingmen to pay in taxes for building an artificial steam plant to produce low-cost power which ultimately results in taking away their jobs."
Rep. Kenneth Keating (R., New York): "There is a proper sphere in this great country for both public and private development. There are some projects so vast that they do not lend themselves to private development (but) ... we are dealing not with the original construction of TVA, but with ... whether we will permit further expansion to be paid for from the pockets of all the taxpayers, or ... whether we are going to stand four-square for the furtherance of private enterprise and initiative."
The leftists wisely saw that these arguments were against socialism yet accepted the TVA system. They noted that those argued against handouts for one region failed to attack all regional subsidies so scored these telling points:
Rep. William Natcher (D., Kentucky): "It is true that this section of the United States has benefited as the direct result of the establishment of the TVA but ... should we, as American citizens, destroy our national parks which are owned by the Federal Government due to the fact that the immediate sections receive great benefit therefrom?"
Rep. Joe Evins (D., Tennessee](/place/tennessee)): "The gentleman from New York (Taber) ... talked about how much money of the taxpayers of the city of New York was spent on the TVA. I would like to advise the gentleman that in the State of New York alone the Federal Government has spent $308,945,000 on rivers and harbors. I wonder if he thinks this is mistreatment of the Tennessee taxpayers."
Someone should have shown the courage of libertarian principle to answer Yes to these fundamental questions. But one congressman, Representative Bruce Alger, a freshman Republican from Dallas, Texas, brought the fresh breeze of clear principle into the debate. How shocked his listeners must have been when they heard: "I have a practical solution ... that we sell the TVA to the people in that area. ... The development of power ... is not the prerogative of the Federal Government. It is unconstitutional. Public power, by definition, is a form of socialism and no oratory can conceal or change it. ... Government is to protect our rights and freedoms, not compete with them. ... If socialism is bad, for us in the United States, then a little bit of it is bad. Any degree of a disease is as bad as the disease itself. ... Let the Socialists stand up for what they believe. Let those who believe in free enterprise so state. ... Two wrongs do not make a right. A bad law should not be continued or tolerated by a reduced appropriation. Let us sell the TVA. ... let us not argue the merits of another steam generator, the elimination of fertilizer manufacture, or more or less annual running expense."
No one commented on this brilliant suggestion, in Congress or out. The legislators continued on their former ways. But as long as men like Bruce Alger serve in Congress, fighting for fundamental principle, America may feel hope for the cause of liberty.
Our government punishes one airline company while it subsidizes another. One airline, North American, receives no subsidy and yet pioneered in low-cost aircoach service. Showing an excellent safety record, North American forced the other reluctant companies to enter the cheaper aircoach field. Yet the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Federal agency that dictates to the airline industry, is warring unceasingly against North American.
First, the CAB charged that North American had infringed on American Airlines by using the word "American" in its title. We had never thought that "American" was a private monopoly of any company or group. Curiously, the CAB never charged Pan-American Airlines with equal guilt. But then, Pan-American is not competing with such disturbing efficiency. In reversing the ruling, the United States Circuit Court blasted the CAB, and found that the Board had exceeded its authority by an attempt to foster monopoly.
Now the CAB has revoked the operating authority of North American on technical grounds. Senator Sparkman charges that the governmental regulations were designed to be discriminatory, and CAB Vice-Chairman Joseph Adams has strongly opposed both attacks on North American. This hamstringing of a young airline clearly shows the role of our many regulatory agencies: they harass private enterprise and promote a monopoly.