Hoover the Vulgarian
(Editorial in The Nation, 30 November 1964, page 394)
In any other nation that espouses the democratic ethos, a vulgar outburst
of the kind indulged in recently by J. Edgar Hoover would constitute a national
scandal. But not here, not in these United States, where for reasons that must
remain forever inexplicable. Mr. Hoover has long enjoyed almost total immunity
What the Warren Commission Report said about the role of the FBI in the Dallas tragedy was mild enough, but even that comment Mr. Hoover cannot accept: from this moment on he will nurse a vendetta against the commission, from the Chief Justice down to the least member of the staff. Even so, the attack on the Warren Commission Report could be dismissed as mere pique; Hoover has never accepted the proposition that the agency he heads is subject to criticism—from any source. At a different level is his crude reference to Martin Luther King—a man of the cloth—as “the most notorious liar in the country.” Dr. King may have been factually inaccurate about the number of FBI agents in the South who are southerners by birth, but he was—and is—on firm footing when he inveighs against the role that the FBI has played in the South in the past. Of recent months, the FBI has been doing a good job, by all accounts, in checking on violations of the civil rights of Negroes. But it did not act until it was ordered into action, first by President Kennedy, and later by President Johnson. Its previous record on civil rights was miserable, nor is Dr. King the only person who has pointed to it. “Liar” is an ugly word and notably so when used by a person of Mr. Hoover’s prestige—false though it may be—and power, which is all too real. An Attorney General of “guts,” to borrow one of Mr. Hoover’s favorite words, would promptly call Mr. Hoover to account for his intemperate attack on Dr. King.
But far more serious are certain other remarks made by Mr. Hoover in the same interview. It is preposterous that the nation’s chief law-enforcement official should want to turn the clock back by advocating that 16-year-old delinquents be tried for serious crimes as adults. It is equally preposterous for him to demand that “bleeding heart judges have a little more guts when handing down decisions” in juvenile cases. It is, of course, characteristic of Mr. Hoover that he should—against the great weight of historical evidence—find informers to be “truly patriotic individuals and not the scum the psuedo-left wingers call them” But what is one to say of a chief law-enforcement official who suggests that pedestrians on city street at night carry a whistle or a tear-gas pen (actually illegal in New York City without a police permit) or be accompanied by a dog? What poverty of imagination! Why not suggest that they ride around in tanks, armed with hand grenades, Tommy guns and bazookas, and wear bullet-proof vests?
The fact is that Mr. Hoover, for all his fame and prestige, is an oaf. One can look up what he had to say on these same subjects many years ago (the quotes may be found in Max Lowenthal’s fine book on the FBI) and it becomes clear that his views have not changed in the slightest degree. He was addicted to stupid stereotypes then; he still is addicted to them. He held then the same uneducated views on crime and law enforcement that he holds today. He has learned nothing in all his years in high office; his manners, his language and his ideas are as vulgar now as when he first joined the FBI. It is a constant affront that such a man should hold high office; much worse is the fact that he should be widely venerated as one of the nation’s valuable public servants. Fortunately he cannot hold on to the office forever, but must we wait until death taps him on the shoulder? There is always the possibility that he may, at some point, offend the Establishment, or that his temper may at last prove to be his undoing. It is unlikely, but one can dream.
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