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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Headstone in Arlington

Well, if you only read one Memorial Day tribute, make it James Grady’s Politics Daily post “Pvt. Mike Mansfield: Just One Marine in Arlington Cemetery.” Grady has written a classic tribute to an American veteran, a veteran who also happened to be the longest serving majority leader of the U.S. Senate and an Ambassador to Japan, although none of that is on his tombstone, a simple slab in Arlington National Cemetery, which reads:

Michael
Joseph
Mansfield
Pvt
US Marine Corps
March 16 1903
Oct 5 2001

Grady does a beautiful job of putting the extraordinary humility and integrity of Mansfield — who never had a press secretary — in perspective, in stark contrast to the media-hound politicians of today.
To compress Grady’s moving account, Mansfield was a mine worker who wanted to be a public school teacher, but was prevented from doing so by the Ku Klux Klan, which wasn’t allowing Irish Catholics to become teachers at the time. So Mansfield figured out how to become a college professor, and then a congressman, who overcame McCarthy era smears and rose to majority leader of the U.S. Senate, the one who engineered the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, as Grady explains, he did it “without backstabbing, name-calling, or self-congratulation.” Grady shares an anecdote to illustrate Mansfield’s style:

After a September 1962 congressional leadership breakfast at the White House, parading outside to the microphones for a classic meet the press/get some glory moment came Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Sens. Hubert H. Humphrey and George Smathers, plus Speaker John McCormack, Reps. Carl Albert and Hale Boggs. Mike dodged that photo op. A candid photo caught his back as he hurried away. President John F. Kennedy heard about the incident, had that picture blown up, autographed it: “To Mike, who knows when to stay and when to go.”
Name one politician today who would pass up a chance to blather on TV.

Grady also tells of Mansfield’s uncompromising stand for gun control, even as a senator from Montana and his equally-principled stance against the Vietnam War as a former U.S. Marine. Grady explains how Mansfield refused to allow an emotionally-shattered fellow Senator to quit after his wife and child were killed in a car crash, a Senator who now holds the office of Vice President of the United States.
Today’s Democrats should read Grady’s remembrance of Mike Mansfiled with both pride and an earnest determination to emulate his character. Pvt. Mike Mansfield, Democrat.

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