In Lloyd Bentsen’s campaign strategy, now is The liberal hour By Bill Hamilton Austin Black Texans who opened the front door to go out to work or to vote on Saturday, May 2, in cities around the state found an unusual little tabloid newspaper shoved under the screen. During the night, circular carriers had placed copies of “PV The People’s Voice” on every porch and doorstep where Negroes lived in East Austin, North Dallas, on San Antonio’s east side, in the Bottoms of Houston, and in other black neighborhoods. Clearly, “PV” was not a normal newspaper. It had no ads. In contrast to most neighborhood papers which circulate in low-income neighborhoods, it was neatly laid out and expensively printed with plenty of photographs. And on the front page of PV, under the headline “PEOPLE TO BE PROUD OF,” were photographs of four men: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the slain leader of the Southern Christian Nobel Prize winner; John F. Kennedy, the late president whom blacks tend to recall as an ally in many hard civil rights battles during the early sixties; Lyndon B. Johnson, the Southerner who as president secured passage of two major civil rights bills; And Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr., the Houston tycoon and candidate for the United States Senate. It was strange company for Mr. Bentsen, whose radio and television spots around the state literally shouted out the evils of “bussing,” a term which nearly everyone has come to recognize as a euphemism for something much bigger and more far-reaching. One who read “PV” with no prior knowledge of Bentsen might have been persuaded that this man was deeply concerned about black Texans and was, in fact, willing to stand on the front lines and fight for equal rights and opportunities for blacks. BENTSEN’S simplistic pandering to the black vote a white candidate telling black residents what they \(the nothing new, nor, sadly, is it a device used solely by the black hat conservatives. It F-vas not very effective; in spite of the “PV” iarrage, Bentsen received few black votes anywhere in the state. The writer is an Observer editor-at-large who is working with the Democratic Rebuilding Committee. But as I reflect on Bentsen’s successful campaign to dump Sen. Ralph Yarborough and to restore to power the John Connally wing of the Democratic Party, two things about “The People’s Voice” leap out. First, it is a particularly base and false document which projects in a most cynical way the image of Bentsen as a man who stood alongside JFK, LBJ, and Dr. King in the important battles. . Nothing could be further from the truth. Second, the approach which Bentsen took to woo black votes is not unlike his tease aimed at Texas liberals these days, in hopes of winning liberal support in the November general election. This is the liberal hour in the Bentsen campaign, even as the final hours of the primary was the time for secret civil rights promises. The 724,000 Texans who supported Senator Yarborough in the spring have become Mr. Bentsen’s new niggers. How else can one explain Mr. Bentsen’s sudden concern for unity, for party solidarity and Democratic strength, for an end to the war in Vietnam, for an overhaul of the national economy, for a bigger Big Thicket, for huge federal spending on education and welfare in short, his about-face on all of the things which the Bentsen spots called “Un-Texan” just a few weeks ago? With no irony in his voice and with sincerity as thick as Houston’s air, Bentsen is trudging patiently from county to county saying time and again, like a broken record: “Can Texas afford the luxury of a disunified party? Can we afford to lose a major Democratic seat in the United States Senate?” Like the Southerners who fired on Fort Sumter, however, Bentsen knew and, we must assume, was prepared to accept the consequences of running such a bitter, no-holds-barred campaign against Senator Yarborough. Now he is merely telling us what he thinks we want to hear. BUT BACK to “The People’s Voice” for a moment. Here’s what Bentsen was trying to sell black voters in those final days, while on white radio and TV he raved against Yarborough’s alleged positions on school bussing, riots and prayer: “. . . It’s a great time to be alive. The opportunity is here. Doors are being opened that have never been opened before; business ownership by black men everywhere; federal foundations and bank financing is available. Lloyd Bentsen is concerned. “We stand between the dying, old, and the emerging, new. The old, where black men stood at the back and side doors with their heads in their hands, begging for financial help; the emerging new … black men walking as men into banks, mortgage houses and the federal agencies.. ..” Small wonder that Bentsen received few black votes. What does a welfare mother or a life-long janitor care about walking into banks and mortgage houses? Is it a privilege to borrow money from one of Mr. Bentsen’s banks at a modest interest rate of 81/2%, or more? Inside the paper are pictures of LBJ, with unidentified blacks gathered around Bentsen signs, in front of a Bentsen-owned hotel in Houston, and in front of photo blowups of Dr. King. In only one photo are the black people identified and they are Curtis Cokes, a Dallas fighter, and Jasper Baccuss, who was criticized during the campaign for receiving a campaign salary from Bentsen while working on a federal anti-poverty payroll. On the back page, the Bentsen paper attacks Yarborough for saying, in 1956, that he was opposed to “forced integration,” for allegedly refusing to ride with LBJ in Dallas on the day of the Kennedy assassination, and for supporting “malcontent and discontented Eugene McCarthy, but not Hubert Humphrey.” Speaking of the Humphrey campaign, Bentsen says in the paper, “if we would have had the earlier support of Yarborough we probably would have won the presidency.” And so on, down to an article which mimicks Dr. King’s “I have a dream” statement of 1963 with a “We have a dream” eulogy to Bentsen. That was the tone of Mr. Bentsen’s appeal to Negro voters. Since the primary in which he defeated Yarborough, Bentsen has been equally delicate in approaching the Senator’s liberal supporters. IN SAN ANTONIO, in June, he told the press he will, if elected, work for “an immediate end” to the war in Vietnam. Pressed for detail, however, he praised the Nixon Vietnam policy and said he opposed both the Cooper-Church and McGovern-Hatfield amendments to curtail U.S. involvement. In Austin, meeting with a skimpy turnout of precinct chairmen and party workers, he talked about poverty and equal rights. The rhetoric was rich, but there was no substance. He continues to oppose the guaranteed income welfare proposal which the Administration has set forth, calling it a something-for-nothing scheme. August 7, 1970 15
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