Urban Confrontation; 23; The New Politics: Back to the Grassroots Senator Lowenstein
From Northeastern University the National Information Network presents urban confrontation. I keep finding people who've supported the war who said Win or get out. And I keep saying to them what we didn't agree about when to get out I never thought we should have won or tried to win or anything. But that's history now let's talk about the present. We can't win the war by withdrawing half our troops we couldn't win it with a half a million troops we could win it. Bombing the north thirty seven months. So you know we're not going to win the war by this halfway withdrawal. Therefore shouldn't you join us now and say since we're not going to win the war let's get out what excuse is there anymore to send people to their death endlessly for something which makes no sense what do you get for the price you pay. We paid a hundred thirty billion dollars three hundred thirty thousand casualties. We're going to go on and on and on like that if we don't say enough. We've done all we can for the South Vietnamese after seven years. If they can't fight their own war we ought not to impose the war on that country. We ought to take ourselves out and let that government then negotiate a peace or fall whatever it is people want to do with it.
This week on urban confrontation Allard Lowenstein congressman from New York and former campaign aide to Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968. This week's program. Politics. Back to the grassroots. Here is your host Joseph Darby. The 1960s will no doubt be described by historians as the decade of the politics of youth. The movement for human rights and against our adventure in Vietnam channeled millions of young people into politics. Our guest today was a prime catalyst in the organization of both of these struggles. Howard K. Lowenstein of New York start of the 1950s as a president of the National Student Association. Ten years later he was organizing white northern civil rights workers in the south. Later he became a major coordinator of Senator Eugene McCarthy's race for the presidency and was as responsible as anyone can be for unseating Lyndon Baines Johnson. Congress on the lawn stand as a former liberal student political leader turned liberal Congressman why do you
think liberals who seek progressive change within our political system have lost so much influence among our young people. Well because we haven't produced results. The basic ills of the society remain one hundred forty one. Kids were killed in the war from this country again last week plus force all of the enemies. There are still seven or eight million children who are hungry. We don't seem to be able to get the country moving and young people who are impatient with these sad failures in American democracy are looking for results they're not looking for idiology. Now what they don't understand yet many of them is that although it's perfectly fair to say that liberalism hasn't produced the results it should have in the last few years the alternatives are worse that radicalism tearing things down not having any idea what to replace it with or repression on the right. Neither of those things have any hope of bringing change. My view of it is that we would have in fact reversed course the country if we hadn't had the assassinations in spring of 1968 that we would now be very close to finished with the process of turning around and ending the war and healing some of these terrible wounds that we've neglected. So I don't
think that it was inevitable that liberalism as such would have failed if that's what the anti-war effort in the effort for social justice at home or to be called. What's happened has been the result not of inevitability but of the specifically in particular the assassination of Robert Kennedy which knocked out the effort that was on its way to success to elect a president and which gave people this terrible trauma this terrible sense that nothing really could work which still hangs over so many people. You know I'd like to challenge the assumption of the very question that I initially addressed to you. I wonder exactly how many young people are really all that disillusion you of course have worked with a particularly disillusioned group of young people people associated with McCarthy campaigns but I wonder how typical they really are that was an elitist a movement of prosperous families well-educated children of suburbs such as Darien Connecticut and bel air or in the Los Angeles area a typical suburbs you know well now I'll challenge your premise that was not I think an elitist movement at all. It was pretty close to generational that whole movement it was very difficult to find any place
Kansas or any other place in the country where in fact the movement wasn't based on general support among younger people. In fact it was based on pretty general support among the general public if you think about where we won campaigns. It wasn't Greenwich Village Scarsdale or Berkeley it was New Hampshire and Wisconsin and Indiana Nebraska and so on so it seems to be very clear that what happened in 1968 was a result of a very broad effort on the part of very large numbers of people. And in that sense the disillusionment is very broad I would agree with you that the people ready to burn banks and ready to do extreme things that are the most dangerous are still a very small minority. But the incubation of that kind of violence on the part of everybody else is very general now sort of isolating the fringe violence which find among so many young people now is a sense that well why should I worry about seizing a building or pushing somebody around 150 more kids will be dead in Viet Nam when the general sense of violence and injustice is so pervasive in the country. So there's a very broad disillusionment among young people now although you're right that it has not all turned into radical action yet
it's turned a lot of people off America sort of on the drugs or on to doing nothing that kind of apathy is part also the results of the failure to change the direction the country. One of the social all of those taken place. Is the even larger number of people who are reacting and moving toward the right wing on the political spectrum. Every time you have a confrontation that frightens people into thinking that the choice is Abbie Hoffman or Julius Hoffman and you have a situation where people in this country tend to turn to the right there's no question that distorter and chaos results in a stronger support for oppression. No question about that but the fact is the country hasn't turned to the right on any of the specific issues you can think about countries turned if it's turned anywhere toward our program. Everyone is now committed to withdrawal from Vietnam. That was the big fight two years ago. And that's really not a turn to the right. The president isn't carrying out the policy he talks about he's not withdrawing from Vietnam. But nonetheless he has to use the rhetoric of withdrawal to keep support. Certainly on domestic questions we're now committed to providing a floor under which people don't have to
live and they can't earn money. That's not a turn to the right. Although again the words that we use aren't fitted by the deeds that we carry so there is a gap in rhetoric between what the president says and what he does. If we don't succeed in ending the injustices that frustrate so many people young people or other people we are going to have increasing difficulty maintaining a faith that democratic process can work and if that happens and disturbances become more widespread all the problems that flow from that kind of tactic then we could very well have a turn to the right that would be a great tragedy because it won't end the the problem make it worse for the country rejected the idea of moving to the right it wanted to have change it didn't want to move it illogically left or right it want to change it wanted to get away from war it wanted to get away from tax programs that are unfair and from endless sense of revulsion developed over the way we're not coping with our pollution problems and our problems of transportation and urban decay all these things it's almost a national litany now we can recite them all together but those are all the liberal things that if the word means anything those are things that we were talking about and fighting about
for a long time. Our problem was that because of no fault of anybody's except a certain certain you ended up without a standard bearer to lead the people who wanted to change the country around to lead them into the position where they could do it. I wonder if there were not some more profound forces at work which accomplished the defeat of the Democratic Party in 1968 in addition to the assassination of Robert Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan the very coalition upon which the Democratic Party has been based for so many years a coalition of liberals and intellectuals and blue collar workers and city people and southerners that coalition seems to be breaking apart. What do you think will enable the Democratic Party to collect another coalition and return to a majority position. The basic fact seems to me is that the country wants change it's fed up with what's been going on. My own view is that Richard Nixon is now just exactly as vulnerable as Lyndon Johnson was his alleged popularity is 3000 miles wide in about an inch deep. People trust new presidents they expect them to do better than old ones when the old ones were Lyndon
Johnson so there was a great period of hope and trust in Richard Nixon. That's wearing out. He hasn't done anything that's helpful to people who are troubled by inflation or tax burdens or war or any of the other things. Now the question is you see which way do they go when Nixon doesn't succeed producing change if the Democratic Party nominates a candidate who is able as a candidate to appeal to the sense of frustration in the country given a sense that he cares and understands the problems of the country and wants to change things. The Democratic party will gain power again if they don't if they run a candidate who does not come across to the ordinary person is concerned and interested and able to cope with these problems. Nobody a logical tie is going to drive people one where the other they'll then turn to somebody else. And I think that's the key to understanding the political situation United States now has very little idiology has very little commitment to one party or to one point of view. I don't think of myself as a liberal is one reason why it's difficult to talk in these sort of set phrases. The thing I think I'm an independent like I think most Americans are. I think it's quite clear that my views on the war and on social
problems at home are pretty much the views of the mainstream in this country. I could have gotten elected if they weren't we would have been able to win all those primaries if they weren't. So the notion that I represent in some way one ideological point of view seems to me to be oversimplified. People just don't want to go on with the way that things have been. That's the common denominator now. Blue collar white collar black white whatever. But there is the terrible problem that people are so confused and lost is so self-doubting now about the capacity to influence events that some parts of the country given up on electoral politics entirely and that in turn produces events which polarize other people against them in other words if the middle class and the poor and the young and the black all the people who share frustration over the way things are. If they could see that together they represent the majority view in the country and they could then turn things around and the terrible distortion of the way we spend our money. Ninety one billion on defense for 3000 overseas bases all the rest of it that makes no sense for security and that makes it impossible to cut taxes and impossible to deal with inflation. If
people could see these problems as united in the way that they're leading us to disaster I think we would have an overwhelming support for our program and our kind of Canada. Well how much time are black and white radicals spending on making alliances and coalitions with white middle class people who are frustrated for different and similar reasons how many Saul Alinsky saw there are in this country moving out and organizing the middle class moving up within the corporate structure to create change. Well no I don't think that change basically is going to come because black and white radicals organize the middle class. What I'm saying something quite different what I'm saying is we need in this country some radical changes but I don't believe they come by radical action. They come by political action under the First Amendment the protections of the Constitution. They come because most people in this country are not sick and racist and imperialist and eager to see people pitted against each other. They come because there's a common interest in making this country makes sense to its own people and to the world and that's what we have been doing out of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. So it isn't a question of how many people are organizing the radical base in the middle
class. It's a very different question. You see the middle class as long as it thinks that it's the poor in the black who are sort of stealing their inheritance as long as they think that it's the problem that they face that the reason they can't stay in homes that they want to own and so forth is that there is a distortion against them in favor of poor people. As long as that happens there's a difficulty in avoiding polarization between these groups. It's a kind of stupid class warfare that this administration is encouraging trying to make middle class people feel are enemies of the poor in the black and the young. That's just not the case. Statistically I'm not talking about philosophically statistically you could end all of these things that the middle class is worried about only by ending the war in the military bloat in the things which the poor and the black wanted. It seems to me that's the case it has to be made very clearly the United States now we have to bring people together not turn them against each other and bring them together so that instead of having hatred and fear the come the nominator there is a common purpose shared which seeks to make justice possible for all Americans. Well how do you propose to do this bringing together if electoral process is going to work doesn't this bringing
together have to eventually devolve to a precinct by precinct form of organization within the system. Yes I think that you're back now to the first point that you raised the most troublesome point which is that events in the last few years have cast sufficiently grave a doubt over the process about whether we can in fact affect change. And there are enough people who are determined to have change. Who are not prepared to wait eternally for food for their children and for an end of the war before they have to decide whether they're going to go off and get shot in the war. They're not people who feel this desperate urgency to change that if we don't succeed in moving the country rather faster than we have then the failure to move the country through these electoral processes will produce the kind of polarizing hatreds that will make it very difficult to bring the country together. So when you say how would you bring the country together. I think the answer can be given in several different styles you can talk about how meaning a program and the program must
begin with withdrawal of the American troops from Vietnam in the end of the draft. It must begin with doing something about housing for poor people who had less units of housing bill per year than Bob Taft wanted 25 years ago as a minimum then. It's got to go into the whole problem of reforming the tax structure so oil companies don't pay less than one tenth of one percent of their income in taxes. Well middle income people who work very hard pay 35 percent. These are the ways you bring people together you make sense out of the country instead of continuing to do things which tears apart and deny us the chance to work together. We should pause at this point in the program to let our audience around the country know that we're talking with Congressman Allard Lowenstein of New York. We're talking in his offices here in the House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington. Congressman you've touched a number of times on the Vietnamese War. This is one profound fact of American political life in the past six or eight to 10 years of the question that I have for you is is either the Nixon administration or the Johnson administration really responding to the
pressure being applied. Have any of the moves the alterations in policy really been a one to one reflex action in response to the groundswell of opinion against the war. Well they both have responded obviously of the Johnson administration responded very clearly to the public pressures in the first place by Johnson removing himself as a candidate in the face of the overwhelming defeat he was going to face in Wisconsin. And of course then in the stopping of the bombing all of this was a response to public pressure left to themselves they would certainly never have done those things neither Johnson nor the Joint Chiefs So it's clear there was success in that sense from the public pressures the next administration equally clearly talks about what it calls its orderly withdrawal in response to the tremendous public pressure to get out of Viet Nam. Now the problem has been that the responses have been not adequate to the public desires and that the next administration succeeded in buying itself a certain degree of public support because of the use of our rhetoric of saying it was making what it called an orderly withdrawal. As you may remember the president said on November 3rd and made it very clear that he said the choice was between
his orderly withdrawal and our precipitate withdrawal. That's not the choice ours is the only withdrawal we want to withdraw as fast as is consistent with the safety of the American troops. And with relocating what Vietnamese feel they want to leave if there's a new government. What his program is is an endless staying in it's a disorderly staying in not an orderly withdrawal. It's an escalation laterally across the rest of Southeast Asia in a way which is very dangerous and it's basing its its whole program on the theory that the American people could be fooled into thinking withdrawing by taking out certain numbers of troops spaced in such a way that theoretically they are going to be coming home while at the same time theoretically the South Vietnamese can go on to try to win the war. That policy is not a policy it's a deception. South Vietnamese government you and Key cannot win the war and they cannot if they're not going to win the war protect us so that we can maintain the bases there. That Secretary Laird has said we want 50000 troops to be left in South Vietnam as a residual force if we want a residual force in South Vietnam we're not going to be able to have that unless we win the war and
we're not going to win the war by withdrawing troops. So the program is a deception it's an impossibility I keep finding people who have supported the war who have said Win or get out. And I keep saying to them what we didn't agree about when are get out I never thought we should have won or tried to win or anything. But that's history now let's talk about the present. We can't win the war by withdrawing half our troops we couldn't win it with a half a million troops we couldn't win it. Bombing the north thirty seven months so you know we're not going to win the war by this halfway withdrawal. Therefore shouldn't you join us now and say since we're not going to win the war let's get out what excuse is there anymore to send people to their death endlessly for something which makes no sense what do you get for the price you pay. We paid a hundred thirty billion dollars. Three hundred and thirty thousand casualties we're going to go on and on and on like that if we don't say enough. We've done all we can for the South Vietnamese after seven years. If they can't fight their own war we ought not to impose the war on that country. We ought to take ourselves out and let that government then negotiate a peace or fall whatever it is people want to do with it. But in the context of the checks and balances of our American three party institutions the
judicial system the Congressional system the presidential system aren't you relatively powerless to make these points with regard to the president's conduct of the war that this is an era of strong presidents. I wonder whether the Congress really has it to make these points. So it's very very hard you're right we have very little visibility. Our great national figures were struck down. That's why we're in this terrible position now. We can talk all the time as we try to do go here go there. But of course it's quite accurate that as long as the president can take television on every network for half an hour on the vice president and they say what they want in the rebuttals aren't there how do people get access to what the facts are. It's a terrible terrible problem of the media being dominated by support for the present program and I think that's the only reason we haven't made clear to the country so far that what's happening is not what they thinks happening but we have to keep trying the radical response to this. Certainly not all radicals but many of them is to throw up their hands and say You see nothing you do works. Well that's just not so. We were able without access to the media we were able to reverse the
presidency in 1968. We're going to do it again unless we quit. What's up for grabs now is whether all the people who care about this are sort of philosophized into Mobile ism if they're logged into feeling that nothing can work then we won't succeed then the country will go on in this terrible business and the polarization will get worse. Frustrations will build to be more violence more counter violence. That's the prognosis the scenario that I think holds. The unraveling of this country if it comes that's why you say I speak with passion how can you speak with less than passion about people being killed pointlessly all the time how can you speak with less than passion about people being deceived into thinking things are happening that aren't watching the price you pay for that. The erosion of democracy and the erosion of faith in self government. The Congress is very largely impotent because we function under rules that make it impotent. How can you function under a system of chairmanships of committees based on the theory that whoever sits there the longest should run the committees. Nobody else gets a chance to be heard unless with the approval of these people. That's not the way democracy functions we have to end the seniority system. People become committee chairman in Congress on the
average eight years after they have to retire from every other public office that they might hold. And that's wrong. Don't you ever get the impression that radicals who want to burn the bank blow up the bridge in protest are in their own way copping out from the tough and dirty. Day to day political work of organizing precincts of doing the less abstract and less rhetorical work of social change in a free society. Well they have a right to decide they don't agree with the tactics that other people want to use I don't want to judge their decision. Well why do you back off from a value judgement if one is very necessary here. No because to say that it's counterproductive to burn a bank or to say that it's counterproductive to disrupt and to blow up buildings implies that we have the same goals. And that's not true. It's counterproductive of my goals when they burn a bank but from their point of view what they're trying to do in fact is to discredit people like me what they want to do as many of them as does is to prove that the war is just an irrelevant symbol that what they want to do is to force
the country to its knees in a way which would make a whole new society emerge and you don't know what that would be. So I can't really say that they're copping out of that they're counterproductive what they're doing is perfectly faithful to their view of what should be done. What I have to see is good sound people who want to see the country turned around misled into thinking that that's the way to do it because that's the danger of. You see the thing that's at stake what is the way to do it what is your way what is your approach the only way you can do it is to strengthen not to undercut the Constitution to implement it where it's been violated to keep the First Amendment as the standard of what's tolerable behavior and what's not. And then in that process to educate the country as we did in 1968 the hard day to day work of going to people not spitting at them and not blowing up their buildings but speak to people and make them see that the time has come when they've got again to get into this fray this difficult fray of turning the country around by voting out the people who support the war who support social justice at home who have never been willing to end the barnacles on democracy to grown up like seniority and like the failure to deal with and the need to reform
the way in which we collect and spend our money. That's all you can do. You can demonstrate additional to that. But if you demonstrate in lieu of winning these elections people say well 100000 people demonstrated 90 million stayed home. What you gotta do then is to make clear that we represent the main thinking of the American people as clearly we have in the past as clearly we could in my judgment again. I don't think that there's any question that the greatest danger we face in this country is the quitting of those people who if they would work could in fact win elections and turn the country around. Some people say well you're not going to do it fast enough for me and I can sympathize that how can you fail to be impatient when you know that even as we're talking there are these terrible needless deaths going on in this terrible erosion of the people's hopes. You have to be impatient to be impatient doesn't mean to be irrational. What it means is to see what the situation is and then to tries best you can to move as fast as you can to end the things that are wrong and you do that in this country not by plotting random violence and other tactics that force people to confront each other in the worst
way possible. You do it through the path that Martin King and Robert Kennedy stood for in that they were on the way to leading this country to doing before they were killed. Now with their death we have to be honest to say that it's no longer certain that we can do it. Quite clearly anyone asserts that certain we can make the country come together and solve these problems is not telling the truth. But neither is anyone telling the truth. Is it certain that we can't do it because it's only two years ago that we were that close to doing it. Or you can say truthfully now is that while it's not clear if we can or can't it's much more essential that we make the effort to do it because we see now what the alternatives are and they're just unpalatable alternatives. One last question here the very end of this program a very logical one. Where will it all an earlier guest Julian Bond seem to paint a rather foreboding picture of young people blacks poor people people discontent impatient who could not wait and took the revolutionary path. Civil war resolved. Possible and put down by massive reaction from the right concentration camps rather gory picture of possibilities
and America's Future. Is that the way it will end. God forbid you put in that way. We're on must we not think about the unthinkable in order no way are you likable. Absolutely you have to face it that's the path we're on now. If we don't begin to right the wrongs and end the wars and heal the wounds we're going to end up in that situation and that's the tragedy of the polarization that the far right the far left both seek all the time how many people listening to this program at this very moment really heard it when you just said that's the path we're on now. Do you think Americans will be tuned into the problems that the country faces soon enough. I pray God they will because this country has the opportunity to be the most blessed place in the history of the human race God's given us more opportunities to live. Well all of us to live well to be good to be were justice and and peace and freedom the things we talk about are realized for all people. But it's also clear that if we don't make this opportunity come true we're going to end up unraveling and if we unravel it will be
not because it was inevitable but because the people who cared and saw it didn't take the trouble to to act. I think there's a line of Yates Center Cannot Hold here Anneke is loosed upon the world. The best lack all conviction in the worst are filled with passionate intensity. We're getting close to the point in this country with that awful vision of Yeats can come true. I don't think it will I don't think we need to talk quite so somberly as you say that others have on this program. But if we're not aware that that's will end up if the people who want to see basic social change with reconciliation if they don't get into it and work then of course the stage will be copped by those who who turn people against each other and who want hate as the only hope they have to gain power. And we've got to be aware that that the danger is very much closer now than even two years ago before the end of this next two or three years. Will either of turn the country away from this path. Or I'm afraid it may be very difficult turn it away from this path.
You know it isn't hard to argue with a man like you Congressman. Loewenstein at least to the degree that it is certain that if a country like ours is to survive as a united people a dynamic and progressive changes in our policies and priorities will be in order to meet these modern challenges and to make those changes I think we're going to need men ready to take the chances and run the risk of offending the powerful people in the country and I think our audience would agree we spent the last 30 minutes talking with one such man. Congressman Allard Lowenstein of New York and only time will tell whether the strong words that you've used on this program can be translated into the realistic workable programs for change that are necessary to save this country. Northeastern University has Brock Allard Lowenstein. Risen from New York. And former campaign aide. To Senator Gene McCarthy in 1968. Today's program. The new politics. Back to the grass roots.
The views and opinions expressed on the preceding program. Are not necessarily those of Northeastern University or this station. Questions I asked were the moderators method of presenting many sides of today's topic. Your program host has been jealous of our baiter Director Department of radio productions. This week's program was produced by Jeffrey Feldman. Directed by David Brown. With technical supervision by John Fox. Executive producer for urban confrontation is Jeffrey feld. Urban confrontation is produced for the division of instructional communications at the nation's largest private university. Northeastern University. Requests for a tape recorded copy of any program in this series may be addressed to. Urban confrontation. Northeastern University Boston Massachusetts 0 2 1 1 tie. Your announcer. Dave Hammond. This is the national educational radio network.
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- Urban Confrontation is an analysis of the continuing crises facing 20th century man in the American city, covering issues such as campus riots, assassinations, the internal disintegration of cities, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. Produced for the Office of Educational Resources at the Communications Center of the nations largest private university, Northeastern University.
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