Thurmond played an obtrusive role in my life. At age 17, waiting
at home to be drafted into the army, I used to go with senior members
to the Sarsfield Club. I didn't drink yet, but those who did partied
there, listening to music, dancing a bit, with maybe a 3-piece band
on Saturday. Bang! "STROM THURMOND ORDERS / BOTTLE CLUBS CLOSED.
Newly Elected Governor Upholds / State Tradition on Prohibition."
A month later, the Sarsfield Club closed down they couldn't
make it on my Coke-drinking.
Then, just months later, there was what he did to the Carolina Cup,
the great steeplechase event in Camden. Beginning at age 13, I fondled
annually the bookie ports, comparing odds on this horse or the other,
parceling out my $2 bets with solemn deliberation, a thousand bettors
crowding about a corner of the legendary course, spicing up the
race and life in general. Bang! "THURMOND VOIDS BOOKIES / 'There'll
Be No Gambling in South Carolina,' Governor Rules."
All that stuff was about the time of Pearl Harbor, or shortly after.
A few years later, Gov. Thurmond led a third-party mutiny against
President Truman, offering himself as a states'-rights candidate
for president. At the inauguration of the victorious Truman, when
the celebrities filed by to congratulate the winner, the president
declined to accept Thurmond's hand.
He appeared to be about as lost a cause as causes can get, there
being by now no corner of South Carolina where you can't get booze,
or bet on anything. And the states'-rights movement is pretty much
dead, certainly so as a movement touching in any way on civil rights.
But Thurmond? Why, he became a Republican, won the Senate seat,
and re-won it, with heavy backing from black voters, and kept on
doing that right to the current moment, outdistancing the record
of any politician in Senate history. He vowed, when last he ran
in 1996, to stay on through a full term, intending to retire in
January 2003, sometime after his 100th birthday.
And now Fritz Hollings steps in and spoils it all.
is the aseptic Democratic who shares South Carolina with Strom Thurmond,
creating one of those quaint paradoxical pairings so many Americans
are given to, like voting for Engler and Levin, Thompson and Feingold,
Cranston and Reagan. So Sen. Hollings can be expected to vote the
liberal line, but it isn't complementary behavior, rather fratricidal
behavior, to say what he did early in the week about Strom Thurmond.
Strom Thurmond is no longer "mentally keen" and stays
in the Senate because he "doesn't have any place to go."
Sen. Hollings seemed to be relishing his interview with the Greenville
News. He went on to say that Sen. Thurmond was "alert,
he's awake and they get him to votes and lead him around . . . It's
sad because the poor fellow doesn't have any place to go, if you
think on it. He doesn't have a home and someone has said the best
nursing home is the U.S. Senate."
Amendment provides for immobilized presidents, ordaining that if
the vice president and a majority of executive department heads
declare a president unable to discharge the powers and duties of
his office, the vice president will assume the presidential duties.
There is no equivalent provision in South Carolina for recalling
an incapacitated senator, but if anybody in the legislature in Columbia
sits down to consider the formulation of an appropriate act, attention
might be given to how to respond to senators who say unpleasant
and morbid things about their elderly colleagues. Perhaps it should
be unconstitutional to say anything derogatory about anybody over
100, except Bertrand Russell.
Chance had it that many years ago I found myself in Wichita, Kansas,
at the first of ten annual meetings of trustees charged to allocate
money from a deceased philanthropist who wanted to have a little
posthumous effect on the anti-socialist cause. The named trustees
included Sen. Barry Goldwater, Sen. John Tower, Edgar Eisenhower,
J. Edgar Hoover, and Sen. Frank Lausche. At the initial meeting,
we voted in as chairman, Strom Thurmond. Accepting his appointment,
he opened the meeting with a prayer. And at the party that night,
he accepted a (single) glass of wine. If I had said to him, "Strom,
I'm taking odds that you will live to be one hundred years old,"
he might have said no betting was allowed, but I could have told
him we were in Kansas, not South Carolina, and offered the odds;
nobody would have bet, and Strom Thurmond was too much the gentleman
to have spoiled Fritz Hollings's act 34 years later.