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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 155

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This is the grave of Ed Muskie.

Born in 1914 to a Polish immigrant father originally named Stephen Marciszewski before he changed his name when he immigrated in 1903, Muskie grew up in a working-class family in Rumford, Maine. His father employed him in the shop he owned and in his off hours Muskie spent a lot of time in the forests. Growing up working-class and in the Maine forests would heavily influence his later political career. He showed a lot of talent early on, graduated as valedictorian of his high school and attended Bates College. He then graduated from Cornell Law School in 1939 and took over a law practice in Waterville, Maine in 1940. When World War II started, Muskie joined the Navy and became a diesel engineer on a boat, rising to the rank of lieutenant.

When he returned from World War II in late 1945, he restarted his law practice. He also wanted to turn Maine into a Democratic Party stronghold. Maine was traditionally very conservative, notable for being one of only two states to vote for Alf Landon over FDR in 1936, along with Vermont. He ran for the state legislature in 1946 and squeaked out a narrow victory. He then wanted to become mayor of Waterville, but lost in 1947. He stayed in the state legislature, become minority leader, and finally ran for governor in 1954. When he won, it was an immense upset in such a rock-ribbed Republican state. Not only did Muskie become Maine’s first Catholic governor, he was reshaping state politics while doing so. In 1958, Muskie entered the Senate after blowing out the incumbent Republican Frederick Payne. Although he and Lyndon Johnson soon hated each other, with LBJ consigning him to irrelevant committees, his great political skills shown through after Johnson became vice-president.

By the late 1960s, Muskie was a party leader and frequently discussed as a potential Democratic nominee for president. He was a huge leader on environmental issues and was one of the greatest environmentalist senators in U.S. history. He pushed through the 1972 amendments to the Clean Water Act that Nixon vetoed, but Congress overrode. He also worked on cleaning up the auto industry, sponsoring the first bill to regulate auto engine emissions. He was on the fence around Vietnam for the first few years of the war, but when he visited the country in 1968, he was outraged and came back to become a Senate leader in opposing the war. He wasn’t going to break ties with party leaders in doing so and in fact was Hubert Humphrey’s VP candidate in 1968, despite disagreeing on this critical issue When Nixon and Kissinger committed treason in defense of Nixon’s presidential ambitions by sabotaging the peace accords that year, Muskie returned to the Senate. On that 1968 campaign, Muskie dealt with the tumultuous politics of that year in an interesting way–when he was heckled at events for running with Humphrey, he invited his hecklers onstage to debate him.

By early 1972, Muskie was considered the frontrunner for nomination. Nixon was going to ratfuck any of his potential strong opponents in order that he could face George McGovern and cruise to reelection. The Nixon campaign created the Canuck letter, falsely claiming Muskie had disparaged Maine’s French-Canadians, which should been ridiculous on the face of it considering he shared a Catholic identity with them against the Protestant Republican elite of that state, the media, beginning with the Manchester Union-Leader, reported it without investigating. It then printed a story about how his wife was a drunk. Talking about these issues may have made Muskie cry, although he claimed it was snowflakes. Moreover, that reprehensible asshole Hunter S. Thompson printed a rumor that Muskie was addicted to the drug Ibogaine because he felt Muskie’s speaking style was so stiff. There was absolute no credence to this. That didn’t stop Thompson from not only making this up out of whole cloth but spreading it around the nation. In a related story, is there anyone more overrated person in recent American history than Hunter S. Thompson, whose positive attributes seem to be nothing?

All of this combined to undermine a very fine person who had a shot at defeating Nixon. Thanks to everyone who was involved. He wasn’t perfect of course. He had an absolutely horrible temper that he could take out on staffers or anyone else around him. And while Thompson was lying about the drug addiction, Muskie did sometimes need pain killers to deal with a really bad back on the campaign trail that may have affected his personality. Plus, he wasn’t very agile on the campaign trail and may not have won that 1972 nomination anyway, although we will never know.

After his campaign collapsed, Muskie returned to the Senate, where he took on an elder role. When Cyrus Vance resigned from Jimmy Carter’s Cabinet after the failure to rescue the Iran hostages, Carter named Muskie Secretary of State. He only served for the last year of Carter’s presidency, but it was a nice way to end his active career. Carter and especially Walter Mondale actually expected Muskie’s appointment to be a political coup who might help him defeat Reagan, but this proved to be a non-factor. Muskie himself was surprised, as Warren Christopher was the favorite for the job, although the latter would get his chance under Bill Clinton. Plus Zbigniew Brzezinski was far too influential in the Carter apparatus for Muskie to do all that much. After Carter lost in 1981, Muskie then served as a lawyer and on various commissions, including the Tower Commission to investigate Reagan’s involvement in Iran-Contra. He mentored a next generation of Democratic political and foreign policy figures such as Madeline Albright and George Mitchell. He also had become the quintessential Washington insider at this time. When NestlĂ© named him to a commission to help make sure they were at least not so evil as to lead to an international boycott of their products, it came out that the company was also paying Muskie’s law firm an hourly wage for the work. Muskie died in 1996, at the age of 82.

Ed Muskie is buried at the confiscated plantation of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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