Tuesday, September 13, 2016

the last book I ever read (Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, excerpt nine)

from Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein:

Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith’s admirers had been approaching her to run for President ever since she issued her courageous 1950 “Declaration of Conscience” condemning Joseph McCarthy. With the Kennedy assassination the cries increased. At the podium of a January meeting of the Women’s National Press Club, Smith listed all the reasons that a woman could never realistically run for President. She concluded, “So, because of all these impelling reasons against my running, I have decided”—long pause—“I shall.” The first female major-party presidential candidate brought down the house.

She had begun her career by taking up the House seat of her husband when he died, in the days when congressional wives were expected to spend half the week calling on embassies, the homes of Supreme Court justices, and the White House—a thrilling exercise consisting of leaving calling cards on a silver tray at the East Gate. After she served out her husband’s term she was reelected by greater margins than her husband ever was. In 1948 she became the first woman to win a Senate seat in her own right; in 1960 Democrats decided to no avail that their only chance to beat her was to nominate a woman. (It was the first time two women faced off for a Senate seat, and the last until 1986.) The “Conscience of the Senate” was a bracingly unpredictable voter, a foe of both COPE and HUAC; whenever a colleague asked for her vote on an issue, she automatically voted the other way. She answered all her mail by hand, never took a dime of campaign contributions, and once held up Jimmy Stewart’s promotion to brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve because “there are others more deserving.”

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