January 4, 2013
Everett Dirksen’s most famous quote, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money,” is something he likely never said, but the “Liberace of the Senate,” one of his many sobriquets, was known for his stories, smooth style, and as the most effective floor leader the U.S. Senate had experienced.
A 1962 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,874437,00.html" l "ixzz2GvtBqhe3" Time Magazine cover piece captured this picture of the Republican from Illinois:
“He speaks, and the words emerge in a soft, sepulchral baritone. They undulate in measured phrases, expire in breathless wisps. He fills his lungs and blows word-rings like smoke. The sentences curl upward. They chase each other around the room in dreamy images of Steamboat Gothic. Now he conjures moods of mirth, now of sorrow. He rolls his bright blue eyes heavenward. In funereal tones, he paraphrases the Bible (" 'Lord, they would stone me . . .'") and church bells peal. "Motherhood." he whispers, and grown men weep. "The Flag!" he bugles, and everybody salutes.”
Dirksen was elected to the House of Representatives in 1932 as a moderate Republican, who was focused on the dire, pressing problems of the Great Depression; winning his seat against the headwinds of a Democratic landslide. His pragmatic approach, and support of much of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, earned him criticism from Republicans. The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized that Dirksen had “changed his mind 62 times on foreign policy, 31 times on military affairs, and 70 times on agricultural policies.”
He explained his political approach with typical verve: “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.”
He was re-elected seven times to serve the 16th District, but in 1947 he was diagnosed with a severe eye disease, which his doctors said would cost him his eye. He did not run for re-election in 1948, and did not lose his eye. He ran for the Senate in 1950, beating incumbent Democrat Scott W. Lucas, the Senate majority leader, 54% to 46%. The then-popular senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, campaigned vigorously for Dirksen against Lucas.
In 1959, Dirksen was elected Senate Minority Leader, and built a reputation as the best floor leader the Republicans had seen. He served in the position until his death on Sept. 7, 1969, and was instrumental in stopping the Southern filibuster and getting passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said of the bill, "Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment, 'Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.' The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied."
He supported the war in Vietnam, introduced a constitutional amendment to allow school prayer, and campaigned for the marigold to be named the national flower. And was praised by his colleagues, Republican and Democrat, as the quintessential leader of the opposition party. As a member of President John Kennedy’s staff said during the 1962 Congressional elections, "Who could dislike Dirksen? He gets his arm around your shoulder and, well, he's a total pro, able, cute and clever."
Dirksen said of himself in an interview, “When I face an issue of great import that cleaves both constituents and colleagues, I always take the same approach. I engage in deep deliberation and quiet contemplation. I wait to the last available minute and then I always vote with the losers. Because, my friend, the winners never remember, and the losers never forget.”
Dirksen quit college and enlisted to fight in World War I, where he served as an artillery spotter in a tethered balloon. After the war, he joined his brothers in starting a wholesale bakery, and was elected to the Pekin city council in 1927. He lost the GOP primary in 1930; it was his last loss in an election.
With his “Gallant Men” he won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording in 1968.
He was married to Louella Carver, and their daughter, Joy, was married to Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker until she died from cancer in 1993.