POLITICS JANUARY 17, 1976
On an early morning flight in the fall of 1972, an aide handed R, Sargent Shriver the morning paper, which had a story in it about his campaign appearance the previous night. The press account identified him not only as the Democratic vice presidential nominee but as"the brother-in-law" of Ted Kennedy, When he saw that, Shriver dropped the paper to his lap, "I used to be Jack Kennedy's brother-in-law. Now I'm Ted Kennedy's brother-in-law. I suppose in 20 years I'll be the uncle of Robert F, Kennedy, Jr." Now, three years later,he is boldly laying claim to the "legacy" of his famous in-laws in his campaign to become the Democrats' nominee for President.
The main problem with this strategy is that Shriver isn't a Kennedy. And this isn't 1960, it's 1976.
Shriver's assets, and he has some, reflect more the superficial aspects of Camelot, the style and grace the public loved after the votes were counted, the sense of motion for its own sake, than either the toughness of its operatives or the substance of its programs. He can,like those whose legacy he invokes, be "a nifty man with a crowd" (to quote one of his 1972 advance men who isn't backing him this year). He exudes vitality and enthusiasm in public, almost a sense of gaiety as his party discovered in August of 1972 when he joked about being the sixth or seventh choice to be McGovern's running mate.
Shriver's beautifully cut and expensive suits, hisyouthful appearance in his both year, his social poise,add up to a definite plus. Politicians appreciate class atthe top of the ticket. But that doesn't make them signup with a guy who beneath a classy exterior lacks political savvy, as often seems the case with Shriver. An Ohio comparison makes the point. Late in 1959,Kennedy's managers were all over Gov. Mike DiSalle, who not only had a soft spot in his heart for Adlai Stevenson but planned to head favorite-son delegation.They leaned hard, threatened to go into Ohio's primary with their own slate and take the Catholic ethnics, who made up the bulk of the Democratic vote in those days, away from him. DiSalle collapsed under the pressure and agreed to head a Kennedy delegation,the first big breakthrough for Kennedy in a major industrial state.
In 1972 the McGovern camp was having its problems with Frank King, then head of the Ohio AFL-CIO and a pretty alienated guy after Miami Beach. To make points, they arranged for a public tete-a-tete with Shriver when he was campaigning in Cleveland. King and a couple of aides were to come to the hotel coffee shop, order dessert and coffee. Shriver would be notified and he'd join them, in full view of the press. It's the kind of thing that does wonders for the ego of a politician, and nursing those egos is important if you want to be Vice President (or President). King and his aides arrived. They dawdled over their dessert, licked their plates several times as the minutes passed: You can linger over coffee and dessert just so long. Meanwhile, upstairs in his hotel room, Shriver was jumping in and out of the shower, ignoring the pleas from aides on bended knees that he keep his date with King. Finally Shriver went down, arriving in the lobby just in time to say "hi" as King and his men left.
This side of Shriver's personality, mentioned by almost everyone who's worked with him, is best described as "personal anarchy." He shares the tendency with his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, During the 1972 campaign, one night Shriver was scheduled to wind up at a black tie dinner. His schedulers arranged for him to change clothes at a private home en route to the dinner party; however when Shriver was informed of the arrangements as they headed for the private home, he came unglued and demanded that the entire motorcade be rerouted to take him to a hotel so he could check into a room and take his fourth or fifth shower of the day.
The national scene hasn't seen a candidate like that since l960 when Henry Cabot Lodge, as Nixon's running mate, drove GOP politicians up the wall with his leisurely campaign pace. His thing wasn't showers, it was a nap every afternoon. Nor would he take it on the plane or in the back seat of a car. Lodge insisted on going to his hotel and doing it in a real bed.
One must remember that Shriver, like Lodge, is to the manor born, not the grandson of an Irish pol who schemed and clawed his way to the top of Boston's political jungle of the turn of the century. Shriver's German Gatholic ancestors came to Garroll County, Maryland around 1700. They farmed their land, played their role in building a new nation and eventually expanded their activities into what Shriver likes to call "the first agri-business." By the time Sarge arrived, the family's position and affluence were secure. The Shrivers had become part of Baltimore society.
Shriver brings this background into politics along with what he, himself, calls an "extravagant" admiration for his brother-in-law, the late President Kennedy. To Shriver, it translates into good causes. He was the natural for the Peace Corps in the early '60s when the country was awakening from the somnambulism of the '50s, The Peace Corps filled a psychic need. Thousands of restless young people were anxious to mix youthful adventure with a chance to help in underdeveloped countries. Shriver had just the flair to give it credibility. He threw himself into the effort, earning high marks everywhere. He excels as an ambassador of goodwill, in no small part because he has an enduring faith in causes. He worked the corridors of "the Hill" seeking and getting support, used his connections in the worlds of business, finance and politics. The results? That's a topic for another story. The important thing, as far as Shriver's image was concerned, is that the volunteers were sent thousands of miles away, out of mind and sight. The costs weren't terribly high and no one seemed to ask, then, if it was having an impact. Let's just assume the Peace Corps people made a difference.
He faced a different set of circumstances when President Johnson summoned him to the White House and asked him to head up his War on Poverty. This war was to be fought at home, under the very noses of carping critics. Like Shriver, LBJ liked motion for its own sake, loved statistics that proved great things were happening. LBJ wanted a crash program, Shriver is a man who, to quote an admirer who helped set up the rural end of VISTA, "can take an idea and rim with it," He plunged in. Once again, he surrounded himself with bright, young, ambitious men who saw a couple years on the front lines of this war as a passport to better things. This time, criticism grew with the program.