FIGHTING THE ODDS: The Life of Senator Frank Church by LeRoy & Rod Gramer Ashby

FIGHTING THE ODDS: The Life of Senator Frank Church

Email this review


An exhaustive, nicely done biography of the late Idaho senator Frank Church, whose four terms (1957-81) ran from the beginning of the Cold War to the post-Vietnam era. A liberal Democrat who ""resembled a rejuvenated New Dealer,"" Church represented an extremely conservative and Republican state. Ashby (History/Washington State Univ.) and journalist Gramer note that even though he developed considerable national clout, Church was always fighting for survival back home. Elected at age 32, he was one of the youngest senators in US history. His role in passing the 1957 Civil Rights Act, by supporting the removal of a section deemed too liberal by some, gave early notice that Church would ""balance his idealistic impulses with political realities."" But this ""tendency to compromise,"" write Ashby and Gramer, ""also provided the basis for criticism that followed him"" throughout his career. The keynote speaker at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Church helped usher in the ""new liberalism"" of the Kennedy administration. His ardent sponsorship of wilderness-preservation legislation alienated Idaho big business, and his emerging role as a Senate ""dove"" during the 1960s spurred a right-wing backlash that culminated in a nearly successful recall movement in 1967. He survived, according to the authors, by politicking against gun-control legislation in his state. He defied his own party's president on the war in Southeast Asia, and it was his bipartisan Cooper-Church amendment that -- on paper, at least -- prohibited the use of ground troops in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. He achieved national recognition when he chaired committees investigating the CIA and ITT's manipulation of the Chilean elections and, later, looking into the ""profits from Pentagon-sponsored export sales"" garnered by weapons manufacturers Lockheed and Northrop. While overtly pro-Church, this is nonetheless a fine examination of the fate of New Deal liberalism, its role in the Cold War, and its failure to stand up to what the authors call the ""growing power of the New Right.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
Page count: 792pp
Publisher: Washington State Univ. Press