Oscars Oversight — RI Senator Pastore

You will not be hearing the name Tim DeKay tonight when the Oscars are being shoveled out to “Oppenheimer,” the Academy having ignored his compelling performance as Rhode Island Senator John O. Pastore, the first Italian American to be elected to the Senate and co-chair of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.

In a recent analysis of Lewis Strauss’s confirmation hearings, the Washington Post found that in reality, the committee hadn’t been as interested in the Oppenheimer affair as portrayed in the film:

“I am afraid if we go into the Oppenheimer case we are going to be here until the cows come home,” said Sen. John Pastore (D-R.I.) in a May 1 hearing, urging the special counsel not to revisit it.

By the middle of May, Pastore was announcing that he would vote to confirm. As we now know, Strauss’s nomination was voted down 49/46.

At 35 minutes past midnight, on June 19, 1959, in a packed Senate Chamber, the Strauss nomination died on a cliff-hanging roll-call vote of 46 in favor, 49 opposed. The Strauss rejection heralded a period of legislative stalemate for the remaining 18 months of the Eisenhower presidency.

So how did our guy vote? Pastore voted in favor of Strauss’s nomination, while our other senator, Theodore Francis Green of airport fame, voted “Nay.” (More on the hearings here.)

But on the whole, Senator Pastore was an impressive man, highly regarded across the country, and on the right side of issues we liberals hold dear. From his NYT obituary in 2000:

Senator Pastore gained national recognition for his oratory while serving as keynote speaker at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, a choice that reflected President Lyndon B. Johnson’s bid for support from the industrial states of the East, but also a tribute to his ability to rouse an audience.

His voice rising and falling to great dramatic effect, his fists pounding, Mr. Pastore drew roars from the more than 5,000 Democrats at the Atlantic City Convention Hall as he denounced Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee, as a captive of ”reactionaries and extremists.” The response to Mr. Pastore’s speech was so enthusiastic that he enjoyed a brief consideration for the vice presidential nomination that eventually went to Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.

Well that was never going to happen; Johnson knew how to count.

So what did Pastore accomplish during his 26 years in the Senate? He voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Medicare program, funding PBS, and the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. (Read more in Wiki where it describes his reaction to the testimony of Mister Rogers.)

We can all be proud of Senator John O. Pastore . . . and Tim DeKay.

Fun facts:

Pastore — raised on Federal Hill, the son of a tailor and a seamstress from Italy — was born on St. Patrick’s Day.

And the ‘O’ stands for Orlando!


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