tv Political Career of Senator William Proxmire CSPAN October 20, 2018 10:24am-10:41am EDT
not theirs. economic put their ideas into the position. >> watch the entire town hall from nixon's campaign, tonight at 10:00. on railamerica. you're watching american history tv on c-span3. while in madison, wisconsin we learned about william 1957 whoelected in fought against wasteful spending. in the lastected 1976-19 82 without expecting contributions and spending less than $200. 1982 i spentin $145.
spending the money i got more votes. a lot of your colleagues could do the same thing. >> two thirds could be reelected. >> we are in historic society headquarters. in the archive stacks where the public never gets to go. this is what the inside looks like. filled with miles of boxes of paper. we come to the location where the 200 boxes of the senator and the genocided treaty and the golden fleece awards. senator was a senator from wisconsin who took the seat when mccarthy left in 1957. allthen he won the election
to the 60's 70's and 80's. he served until the end of 1988. one of the remarkable things is he was dedicated to clean government and he thought campaign financing was one of the major sources of corruption. so he spent as little as possible. he refused to accept any donations at all he managed to he elected again and again managed the media well. sidewalksnding on anywhere shaking hands or giving speeches thousands of voters felt like they had personal relationships with them. he understood there was unhappiness among his he was a frugal
person. that -- he was tightfisted. there are stories we did in interviews about him nickel and dime them for ice cream cones. lookedto washington he at the way tax dollars were and did his best to restrain it. in the 1970's he issued press releases on what he thought were the greatest wastes of tax dollars. he called these the golden fleece award. the wards were very -- press releases and like any other press release. his junior staff was charged with coming up with ideas and
discovering places where there was wasted. the senior staff would make sure they had the correct sarcastic tone. this is the first of the golden fleece awards, i believe, for march 11, 1975. it is typical of how he wrote them. senator proxmire said my choice for the biggest waste of taxpayer money for the month of march has to be the national science foundation's squandering of $84,000 to try to find out why people fall in love. the senator said this was the first of a series of monthly awards which would be climaxed by an annual biggest waste of the year award. the national science foundation is devoting $84,000 to study people's dependence on each other in what they call romantic love. they say they want to study this especially between men and women. i object to this because no one can argue falling in love is a science.
not only because i am sure even if they spend $84 million or $84 billion they would not get an answer anyone believed. i am against it because i do not want the answer. i believe 200 million other americans want to leave some things in life a mystery. at the top of things we don't want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa. so that is the tone. he is always pointing the finger at somebody and then appealing to what the reader is supposed to think is common sense. this is another from the summer of 1975 where senator proxmire is not criticizing the cabinet agency but congress itself. he says, i'm giving my golden fleece of the month award to congress for living high off the hog while much of the rest of the country is suffering economic disaster. the senate has approved the addition of up to three new committee staff employees per senator at a salary of $33,976 each. while all senators may not use
their full allotment, it is estimated about half the number would cost up to $6 million." >> without objection. >> it is my understanding the chairman of the judiciary committee and ranking republican member will take up the implementation of the genocide convention. i would like to speak briefly on that subject. the genocide convention implementation act clears the way for the united states to finally approve the genocide convention. >> another issue centrally important to senator proxmire was that the united states should ratify the u.n. genocide convention prohibiting genocide. >> the preeminent example was the deliberate murder of 6 million jews by hitler's nazis in europe before and during world war ii.
these were women, men, and children who had committed no crime. they represented no threat to anyone. but they were gassed. they were lined up and shot. they were starved and worked to death. >> he made a speech every morning proposing such a bill, proposing the senate take action, for 25 years. during his last weeks in office, they moved ahead and finally did ratify the treaty. this other document is his own copy of the speech he gave in 1988, marked up at the last minute with new points to be made, encouraging the united made, encouraging the united states embrace the convention, which they did in his last months in office. this last document is a letter from president reagan, november 1988, congratulating him and saying he has just signed the bill.
he was a person motivated by what was inside him. i don't think he had any expedient or political goals in this. he just thought it was the right thing to do. he thought many things were right or wrong and could be extremely stubborn about them. this was just something he thought a country with our ideals had to step up to and could not dodge the issue. we could not be a renegade in the international community on this issue. senator proxmire was an icon in wisconsin politics. after his death, his family and friends approached us to say, why don't we supplement the papers with interviews with people who knew him? we were able to contract with an excellent historian who interviewed 40 different people, family members, personal friends.
one of the people interviewed was longtime washington commentator mark shields who was on his staff in the mid-1960's. with the same vigor and colorful language you see on the news hour on pbs still every friday night, shields talks about his time with proxmire and what an example he was, what a mentor he was. >> taking on the major lending institutions and merchants of the country on truth in lending was a great example. you cannot comprehend the resistance there was. to somehow give the information to these consumers would be disarming, it would put them in a noncompetitive position. it would be so unfair and unjust. they spent -- these guys in $600 suits and $200 shoes, $6,000
suits, whatever, they made the argument. with paul douglas from illinois, they stood up to it. he was unmoved. he was unthreatened. that was the wonderful thing about him. that is that wonderful characteristic, how liberating it is to know what you believe and not to be moved or terrified or inhibited. he was not a plaster saint. don't get me wrong. he was not a perfect man. he was a public man. he was a wonderful boss. >> among the best are two very long interviews with his wife, ellen proxmire, she is very candid, very sharp minded, very clearheaded and honest about his
successes and failings. she was there for everything. she and he rejuvenated the democratic party in wisconsin. there had been no democratic party to speak up for 20 years in the 1950's when they and a handful of others brought it back to life. >> the democratic party did not exist in wisconsin. there was the progressive party and the republican party. there was a small group of men, including warren, carl thompson, who began the murmurs of a political unit that would oppose or be different from the progressive movement and republican party. he ran three times for governor and lost all three times, so we thought the career was over. we had no plans ever to run
again for anything. and then fortuitously, mccarthy died in the spring of 57. people started calling bill saying you have to run, you are the best-known democrat. >> she talks in the second interview about how she found in his top dresser drawer near the end of his career a pamphlet he picked up about alzheimer's disease and recognizing the symptoms in oneself. >> in 1988, nobody talked about alzheimer's. nobody knew what it was. some years after he left the senate, i found the pamphlet about alzheimer's. he knew something was going on. i don't think he knew what it was. he maintained, after he left the senate, he kept writing columns and making speeches and going on t.v. for a while.
>> he had always been a health fanatic. he jogged 10 miles a day and the -- would jog to his office. when he recognized the symptoms of alzheimer's coming on, he started to learn more about it. but he did not talk to anyone about it. her interview describes how the two of them went through the process of accepting he was losing his mental faculties and would have to retire from office. >> he continued to speak around the country when asked or would write a column. he would write a press release. on a saturday night, he would say we have to get in the car and hand-deliver these press releases to the "star" and "post." that was bizarre. he would get lost if he was out walking.
>> he served on a variety of boards of organizations interested in the same things he was like good government and consumer protection and so forth. but certainly by the late 90's, he had withdrawn from public life. he lived in an assisted living center, i believe in maryland or in the district, and towards the end of his life used to get up and try to go back to his office in the capital and they would have to restrain him. the legacy he left behind was twofold. first government could be and should be clean. second, a person of real integrity could make a difference. he did get lots of successful legislation through that guarded consumer interests, or the genocide treaty in the end, and exposed waste and corruption in government. those were the two legacies for the nation. it is hard to imagine today an elected official who could be such a maverick.
he not only went after the opposite party, the people in his own party hated him. lbj hated proxmire. when he thought about running for president at one point, he quickly learned he could not raise the money to run for president because he took his orders from his conscience and not from the people who had money or the marketing consultants. it is hard for me to imagine any career politician being able to do that today. >> i suppose i want people to hard, i didorked without thought was right. i followed my conscience. i helped some, i hope. to present the terrible perspective of the holocaust. can watch this and other programs on the history across
the country on c-span.org. this is american history tv, only on c-span3. tv,ext, on american history at the end of a three-day conference, on the 19th century american west, scholars discuss the value of studying western history, how key events influenced the west involvement and cultural and political trends today and in the future. the aspen institute posted this event. i want to begin by thanking staffand the institute and everybody. i do not think i could have felt more welcome, coddled, taking care of, assisted i want to thank of you participants because it is rare when you