Memorable.

Photographer: Bob Burchette/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Anyone Remember Mike Mansfield? I Do.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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William McGurn, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, hailed an unlikely new conservative hero this week: Senator Charles Schumer, who opposed the Iranian nuclear deal. The New York Democrat, McGurn wrote, has a chance to become the new Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the principled and influential Cold War Democratic hawk who died in 1983.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, McGurn invited Schumer to challenge his party's prevailing foreign-policy doctrine as Jackson memorably did in his time.

It's too bad McGurn felt compelled to take a gratuitous and wrong-headed slap at Jackson's equally memorable colleague, Mike Mansfield.

"Anyone remember Mike Mansfield?" McGurn scornfully asks.

Let's educate him.

Mansfield was, as McGurn recognizes, the longest serving majority leader in Senate history. Longevity isn't irrelevant. Witness baseball's celebration of Cal Ripken, who broke Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive games played.

But more than the time, it's the quality of Mansfield's service from 1961 through 1976 that shines. It was one of the most productive periods in the history of the Senate, highlighted by the landmark civil rights bills of the 1960s.

Sure, those were facilitated by President Lyndon Johnson's political genius, but they also owe much to Mansfield's legislative leadership. At one point Democrats complained that he was giving too much credit to Republicans, especially Minority Leader Everett Dirksen. Mansfield explained that the GOP had gone through a difficult time on civil rights, and that the country would benefit from bipartisan consensus.

Mansfield, who represented Montana, was a a forceful and prescient critic of the Vietnam War and a strong liberal on domestic issues.

But he also offered counsel and sometimes support to President Richard Nixon in domestic endeavors. During the economic slump of the early Nixon years, Mansfield called for cooperation across the political aisle, saying the recession was not Republican or Democratic and declaring, "Both parties had much to do with bringing us where we are today."

When the Watergate scandal surfaced, he named a special Senate committee. To the consternation of some liberals he tapped a conservative North Carolina senator, Sam Ervin, to lead the panel. The Ervin committee paved the way for Nixon's eventual departure from office.

After Mansfield retired from the Senate, President Carter made him ambassador to Japan, one of the two or three most important diplomatic posts. Four years later he was renamed to the post by President Ronald Reagan. His service was much praised and Mansfield remains to this day one of the most revered Americans in Japan.

Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts once said he could envision two Senate colleagues at Philadelphia in 1776: Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Mike Mansfield.

Mansfield died in 2001 at 98. Before he turned 20, after lying about his age to serve in World War I, he was in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. He went on to become an Asia scholar, five-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 24-year senator, and 12-year ambassador to Japan.

He's buried in Arlington cemetery. His gravestone reads simply, "Michael J. Mansfield, PVT U.S. Marine Corps."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Jonathan I Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net