18 JANUARY 1957, Page 5

The State of the Union

By RICHARD fr lie President this week fulfilled his constitu- tional responsibility for giving 'the Congress Information of the State of the Union: It was a listless message, as befits a listless time. Mr. Eisenhower gave it as his view that the Republic is in fine shape and getting finer every day in almost every way. To be sure, he sees room for improvement; he isn't altogether satisfied with farm prices (too low), and he is worried about certain non-farm prices (too high), and he is con- cerned about water (not enough of it), and he could ask better things of the world situation (Communists still being disagreeable). But by and large he finds the outlook good—so good. in fact. that he had his say in only half an hour. Four years ago, when he first set out to clean up what he had described as 'that mess in Washington,' he spoke for an hour and made a good many con- crete proposals. This week he spoke in generali- ties, and the few improvements he suggested were characterised by the fact that they stand quite a distance beyond the outer limits of the realm of the possible. Just at the moment, the chances for Civil-rights legislation in the eighty-fifth Congress seem not much brighter than the prospects for winning Russian consent to an American plan for the international control of inter-continental ballistic missiles. The President was, of course, speaking for effect, but he wasn't working very hard at it; his 1957 State of the Union message will not go down as one of the great documents in American history or even of the Eisenhower administration.

It would be well for anyone thinking of Mr. Eisenhower in his second term to bear in mind the fact that he is the first President to be bound by the terms of the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution, which was declared in force in 1951 and which provides that no President may be elected more than twice. The amendment is at once disabling and liberating. On the one hand, the President disqualified by it must lose influence within his own party. He cannot trade his patronage in the future for the present favours of others. On the other hand, he is himself freed from party discipline, particularly when it comes to speaking of his hopes rather than his expecta- tions. And he can, if he chooses, be bolder than before in the exercise of his exclusive powers. There was some feeling, a while back, that Mr. Eisenhower would be a more audacious President in his second term than he was in his first and that he would press on, as he has several times said he would, with demonstrations of the merit of the 'modern Republicanism' of which he has Spoken so much. Perhaps he will yet•do so. but the State of the Union message gave no promise of this, and on the face of the evidence thus far it would appear that the style and spirit of the Second Eisenhower administration will be essen- tially those of the first.

The White House accounted for the brevity and Spareness of the State of the Union message by the fact that the President, having only a few days earlier appeared before Congress to ask for a grant of authority to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs, was reluctant to make a second appearance at all This would be in part because he did not wish to assume the role of a lecturer and in part because he did not wish to distract attention from his Middle Eastern proposals. which he plainly considers to be more important than anything else. Those proposals are now under active con- sideration in both Houses, and there is no reason to doubt that he will in the end get most of what he wants. For one thing, he already has the better part of it. The President of the United States has no constitutional need to ask Congress to approve, either before the fact or after it, the use he makes of his powers as Commander-in-Chief of the armed services—though if he keeps on going to Congress with requests for authority (he did substantially the same thing in 1955. when he asked for approval to act in the Straits of Formosa), he will build up a body of precedent that might force future Presidents to adopt the Eisenhower style. But he has the power now, and while Congress could, by failing to take the action he recommends, greatly impair his authority to act, it could not deprive him of it. Still and Congress will have in the end to give him what he wants and what at the same time he does not need because a refusal to do so would, in the present circumstances, be an almost insane act of withdrawal. It would be a vote of no confidence in a President just beginning a four-year term and an act that would leave the world and the administration in the gravest kind of doubt about the means and ends of American policy.

The President, in a currently fashionable phrase. has got the Congress over a barrel, and, of course, the Congress is none too happy about this posture. Politicians are not the most trusting of men, and not even the most loyal of Republican Congressmen enjoy the prospect of writing a blank cheque for Mr. Eisenhower. The fact that they have to do it, like it or no, may, however, incline them to be more critical of the other aspects of the President's programme, and it is by no means certain that he will get all he wants in encouragement and funds. A good many Democrats have reservations about the diplo- matic competence of the administration in the Middle East. There is a feeling that, as Dean Acheson has put it, the President's message was too vague to be looked upon as a policy state- ment and was actually an announcement of a strategy in advance of its formulation. There is also a feeling that the components of a policy— military, diplomatic, political—should be dis- cussed and acted upon 'separately and that the package deal the President has offered contains too much for debate and analysis at the present time.

We are in any case in for a good deal of con- troversy over the Middle East, and it is conceiv- able that the Eisenhower style of generously shar- ing powers heretofore exclusively wielded by the Executive Department will at least have the value of forcing us to give some hard thought to an area of the world that up to now has concerned us very little.