The Burton K. Wheeler Center is excited to host Historian Marc C. Johnson as he discusses the importance of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate by reflecting on the career and legacy of Montana’s own Mike Mansfield. Please join us Wednesday, September 20th at 6:00 PM in Montana State University Strand Union Building, Ballroom A for a look back at a great Montana statesman. Registration is free and we encourage donations to help us continue our mission fostering thoughtful civil discourse.
In his new book, Mansfield and Dirksen: Bipartisan Giants of the Senate, Johnson shines new light on the complex relationship across the aisle, and a clear example of bipartisan thinking. The U.S. Senate is so sharply polarized along partisan and ideological lines today that it’s easy to believe it was always this way. But in the turbulent 1960s, even as battles over civil rights and the war in Vietnam dominated American politics, bipartisanship often prevailed. One key reason: two remarkable leaders who remain giants of the Senate—Republican leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois and Democratic leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, the longest-serving majority leader in Senate history, so revered for his integrity, fairness, and modesty that the late Washington Post reporter David Broder called him “the greatest American I ever met.” The political and personal relationship of these party leaders, extraordinary by today’s standards, is the lens through which Marc C. Johnson examines the Senate in that tumultuous time.
Working together, with the Democrat often ceding public leadership to his Republican counterpart, Mansfield and Dirksen passed landmark civil rights and voting rights legislation, created Medicare, and helped bring about a foundational nuclear arms limitation treaty. The two leaders could not have been more different in personality and style: Mansfield, a laconic, soft-spoken, almost shy college history professor, and Dirksen, an aspiring actor known for his flamboyance and sense of humor, dubbed the “Wizard of Ooze” by reporters. Drawing on extensive Senate archives, Johnson explores the congressional careers of these iconic leaders, their intimate relationships with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and their own close professional friendship based on respect, candor, and mutual affection.
A study of politics but also an analysis of different approaches to leadership, this is a portrait of a U.S. Senate that no longer exists—one in which two leaders, while exercising partisan political responsibilities, could still come together to pass groundbreaking legislation—and a reminder of what is possible.
Marc C. Johnson is the author of books on US Senate history, a frequent commentator on American politics and political history, and a fellow at the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Bulwark, California Journal of Politics and Policy, Montana The Magazine of Western History, and the Indiana Magazine of History. He is a columnist for the Lewiston (ID) Tribune and writes regularly on the blog Many Things Considered.
His previous books for the University of Oklahoma Press are Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party (2021), a study of how independent expenditure campaigns upended American politics after 1980 and Political Hell-Raiser (2019), a biography of Montana New Deal-era Senator Burton K. Wheeler, a Spur Award finalist by the Western Writers of America.
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to Idaho’s longest-serving governor, Cecil D. Andrus, and is a graduate of South Dakota State University.
To purchase a copy, visit https://www.oupress.com/9780806192697/mansfield-and-dirksen/ or learn more about Marc at http://www.marccjohnson.com/.
More information can be found here.