28 AUGUST 1964, Page 7

The Housekeeper



e Democrats gathered with no question left unsettled for them except the name of their Vice-Presidential candidate.

A majority of their delegates were reported to support Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. He is a man whose parts and devotion peculiarly commend themselves to Democratic activists, but the significance of their choice was mostly in its anticipation of President Johnson's wishes. The President had long hinted his preference for Humphrey; the Senator himself had reportedly been encouraged by even stronger private intima- tions.

From Washington, Mr. Johnson let it be known that he would announce his choice of running mate only after he himself had been nominated and then in a three-minute television talk to the convention from the White House. He had every reason to expect these delegates to need no more protracted infusion of the Holy Spirit.

All weekend, then, the names of Senate Majority Leader Mansfield and Senators McCarthy of Minnesota, Pastore of Rhode Island and Muskie of Maine and even of General Maxwell Taylor hung like beads of mist in this sedative air. Someone observed that there were only two possible reasons why the President was waiting so long to name his man. Perhaps he had not yet made up his mind, which was irre- sponsible. Or perhaps he had made up his mind and was indulging the false hopes of four good friends and inflaming the unnecessary concerns of a fifth, which would be merely cruel.

But perhaps there was a third reason. Everyone enjoys Mr. Johnson's dedication to the uses of power; but very few like to mention his simple pleasure in its display. Every President has by tradition, the exclusive right to select his Vice- President; but most Presidents have observed a measure of hypocrisy in its exercise. Mr. Roosevelt. who is otherwise President Johnson's model in all things, made Secretary of Agriculture Wallace his Vice-President in 1940 and provided the convention with a public outlet for that spleen which has suffused every prior Democratic con- vention by its third day. In 1944. while professing the most earnest admiration for him. Mr. Roosevelt dumped the unfortunate Mr. 'Wallace and substituted Senator Truman, au the while acting like a President under the most irresistible pressures from the Democratic Party profes- sionals. Both of these were gaucheries so unac- customed in Mr. Roosevelt as to feed the suspicion that they were deliberate and served his hatred of boredom and his enjoyment of dis- order. Mr. Johnson does not enjoy disorder, on the contrary the occasions which please him are those which instruct all present that the decision is his alone and its acceptance unanimous.

The Manual of Rules and Procedures for the Democratic National Convention has one stately

sentence which reminds us that we gather again for the only traditional American political cere- mony without authority, prescription or codifica- tion in law: 'Each National Convention is a law unto itself and adopts its own agenda and order of business.' National conventions have been laws unto themselves. Mr. Johnson, having already tamed a Congress which proved fracticius to every President before him, now renders the dictum that a National Convention is its own law a dead letter. Where Mr. Roosevelt managed con- ventions by pretending they were unmanageable, President Johnson manages them by reminding all present that he is their manager.

He is not a man generally liked, but he is respected to a point past all critical judgment. Part of this respect comes from the fear he arouses; he has an itch to manage all matters which gives his humblest servitors the uneasy sense that nothing is too small for his notice. The President's large fortune is generally credited to Mrs. Johnson's passion for business, this conven- tion is an indication of her husband's passion for housekeeping.

The committee which is charged with writing the Democratic platform met all the week be- fore the convention, enduring at its end the effrontery of Governor Wallace of Alabama and through its middle the tedium of pleaders for waterways and railroad rebates and the salvation of the American watch industry. On Saturday, a visitor met former Senator William Benton, a politician habitually passionate and a philoso- pher tirelessly articulate. He thought the plat- form committee might come up with its final version by Sunday, 'if the White House gets it to us by then.' it was plain that Mr. Johnson did not trust these ordinarily independent spirits to the extent of one comma.

This authority comes from his own nature and from the nature of the alternative to him. The few Democrats who do not fear Mr. Johnson fear Senator Goldwater quite enough to take care of all impulse to dissent from him.

We may be watching in fact the establishment of an American political order for whose parallel we must look not to our own restive, disordered tradition but rather to George 11's England, with Mr. Johnson both as king and his first Minister, and, one hopes, a Hervey lingering and record- ing somewhere in the palace. Mr. Johnson as ruler is enough of a Hanoverian to make us think of the separation of Attorney-General Kennedy rather in terms of a Hanover monarch's quarrel with a Hanover Prince of Wales. Mr. Johnson, as steward, is rather like Sir Robert Walpole; all of us here are, as the President's children, no less pious than Horace Walpole was, but we recognise what filters through Horace's piety.

'Sir Robert Walpole would attempt for honest ends where strict moraliR did not countenance his opinion; he always disclosed his arts after they had effected his purpose . . . [He] loved power so much that he would not endure a rival; Mr. Pelham loved it so well that he would endure anything.' There is, too, the lowness of tone in private conversatiOn which Horace en- compasses with the gentle reproof of 'little delicacy.' But the President is otherwise Hano- verian; there is a piece of him which is uni- formly meritorious and absurd. For those too conscious of these royal weaknesses, there 'needs only the thought of the Pretender and his court and the unrest in the Highlands. We are grate- ful for the part which is Sir Robert and, as for the part which is Hanoverian, we have only to think of the Stuarts.