Speaker highlights Democrats’ progress

Emily Johns

Former Vice President Walter Mondale hosted a lecture and panel discussion Wednesday in Cowles Auditorium on the 89th Congress’ social and civil rights reforms.

“1965 was a year to be a happy American liberal,” said Michael Beschloss, a historian specializing in the U.S. presidency, who spoke on the panel.

The lecture, part of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ series “Fifty Years: The Mondale Lectures on Public Service,” kicked off the institute’s 25th anniversary celebration of being named after former Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

The 89th Congress, from 1965-66, began soon after passage of the Voting Rights Act, making it possible for everybody in the country to vote.

The majority of people that gained voting rights voted for the Democrats in the 1964 election, said Charles Ferris, who was chief counsel to the Senate majority leader at the time.

In the Senate, Democrats had 68 seats, while the Republicans held 32. Democrats were an even larger majority in the House.

“We believed America’s poor deserved a better break and we would all be better off if they got a decent chance,” Mondale said.

The 89th Congress made a number of social reforms that still exist, he said. The Congress enacted Medicare and Medicaid, passed civil rights and educational reforms and officially declared war on poverty.

“The 89th Congress will also be remembered as the one that finally broke the back of official discrimination in America,” Mondale said.

The liberal Congress however, met criticism from its conservative opponents.

“We were seen as the rubber stamp Congress,” said John Culver, a five-term U.S. representative from Iowa.

The Democrats were accused of too much liberal spending and passing too much legislation too quickly, Culver said.

When riots across the country and domestic unrest disproved the Democrats’ theory that social reform would lower crime rates, he said, the Republicans had an argument against the Democrats that helped them prevail in the next election.

Culver also told a story about the time he moved from Iowa to Washington when he started serving in Congress.

The night before leaving Iowa, he and his wife pulled aside their four-and-a-half-year-old daughter to tell her they were moving.

“We’re going to have to find a new home, a new school, a new church and you probably won’t see your grandparents for a few months,” Culver told his daughter.

Later that evening, she started saying her typical bedtime prayers.

” ‘God bless Mom and Dad, God bless Grandma and Grandpa, and now God, this is good-bye,’ she said, ‘because we’re headed for Washington,’ ” Culver said.

“She obviously knew a lot more about what we were in for than we did,” Culver said with a laugh.