ROLL CALL: Power and Privilege in the United States Senate by William S. Cohen

ROLL CALL: Power and Privilege in the United States Senate

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Any new senator's dally record of his first year on the job is bound to contain some items of interest; but coming from Maine's maverick Republican--who, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, voted to impeach Nixon (and who keeps a copy of the famous Rockefeller up-yours photo in his den)--this is a mild, conventional, ambiguous performance. At its close, one has almost less idea of where Cohen stands, of what his values and priorities are, than at its start. This is true even of issues that crop up repeatedly during this 1979 tog: just why, for instance, did he and the state's senior senator, Ed Muskie, split on construction of the Dickey-Lincoln Hydroelectric Darn in northern Maine--Muskie supporting it, Cohen opposing it? The one position that Cohen explicates in some detail is his opposition to the unamended SALT II Treaty; and one infers that he favors increased weapons development; but he also emerges as a supporter of a volunteer army, and one is curious to know his reasons. There's little follow-through altogether: after reviewing an aide's detailed memo (reprinted here) on the pros and cons of the Chrysler loan guarantee and noting its generally unfavorable conclusions, after giving a sympathetic hearing to five Maine Chrysler dealers (and taking stock not only of their investment and the number of persons they employed, but also of how many Maine-folk own a Chrysler), did he or did he not vote for the guarantee? What does come across is the constant need to balance local and national interests--most pressingly, in allocating time. As a senator, he has to be broadly informed; as an elected representative, he has to show himself and explain himself. As an active committee member, he wants to attend hearings; as a politician, he's expected to meet with supporters. The problems raised--of too little time for too much work (and no time for one's family), of too many empty formalities and too little substantive debate--are old ones, though nonetheless real. There are also some observations on individual performances (Carter's stumbling, Senate Majority Leader Byrd's highhandedness) and some political sidelights (notably, how Howard Baker lost Maine Republican support for the presidential nomination)--along with a very nice bit about growing up with the name Cohen at a time when ""bigotry was rampant in rural Maine"" and his 72-year-old father, a Bangor baker who still works an 18-hour day. But a great deal of this is either unanchored minutiae or low-key rhetoric--making the book as a whole no match for Elizabeth Drew's more searching Senator (1979).

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster