Hollings forthright in memoir
MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK. By Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings, with Kirk Victor. University of South Carolina Press. 360 pages. $29.95.
Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings had a reputation for speaking his mind during his many years in office, and he continues to be familiarly forthright in his political memoir. The former senator's colorful oratorical style is taken directly to the written page as he depicts government as having "gone into the ditch" or decries "the charade of free trade."
Most of government's problems, he believes, can be traced to the loss of bipartisanship among the nation's leadership, as exemplified by the recent decline of collegiality in the U.S. Senate, where Hollings served nearly 40 years.
"Making Government Work" is a political memoir and omits most of the senator's personal history. But the chapters dealing with his years as a state legislator and hard-charging governor include anecdotes that provide insight about how government works at the personal level.
For example, Hollings tells how he was able to gain the support of powerful Sen. Richard M. Jeffries, D-Colleton, for the state's education television network: "I knew how to appease him and make his objections disappear. I appointed Richard M. Jeffries Jr., his son, chairman of the first Education Television Commission. After that, South Carolina educational TV was launched!"
And a timely bottle of bourbon produced by the young governor for Sen. Edgar Brown and the Senate Finance Committee helped advance his initiative for technical education at a critical point. The appropriation was key to one of Hollings' greatest achievements at the state level.
Hollings is straightforward in describing how political realities forced accommodations on many seeking office in South Carolina in the 1940s and '50s. Even as he sought to improve conditions for the state's black schools as a legislator, his efforts were explained as necessary to fulfill the mandate of "separate but equal."
"No politician who called for anything other than segregated education could remain in office," he writes.
Hollings' friendship and political association with the Kennedys began in the 1950s, and he clearly cherishes the alliance despite the political problems it created for him among his constituents. Those included, he says, his primary loss to Sen. Olin Johnston in 1962. Hollings writes: "South Carolinians had apparently decided that their smart-ass young Governor had sold out the state to an unpopular President Kennedy. In their view I was spending too much time with the 'rat pack' and Hollywood big shots and partying with folks whose family had made their money pushing liquor." Incidentally, Hollings expresses the belief that organized crime was behind both Kennedy assassinations.
The personal touch is less evident in Hollings' discussion of his Senate years, and the latter chapters suffer as a result. National politics, he contends, have become increasingly partisan and consumed by the fervid chase for campaign contributions. Two constant themes of his book are the corrosive power of money in politics and the erosion of fiscal responsibility in government. The perspective he provides on each issue is instructive and disheartening. For example, he notes, the cost of a credible campaign for U.S. Senate in South Carolina now tops $10 million and requires constant fundraising by the candidate.
Hollings offers solutions, some of them vintage Fritz. On the "free trade" issue, for example, he paraphrases Shakespeare: "The bankers and their economists have become so blinded by profit they forget their country; they forget their own well-being. This causes me to counsel: 'Kill all the economists.' We'll never get by this 'free lunch' and 'free trade' nonsense until the economists have been eliminated from the picture."
Hollings believes that events ultimately will vindicate his view of government and the necessity of political give-and-take for solutions. (Free-trade advocates need not apply.) His own successes in the Senate, including a major initiative for fiscal accountability, telecommunications reform and protections for the coastal environment, help make Hollings' case. His memoir offers ample evidence that compromise is possible, even when conflicting agendas and large egos are involved.