“Mr. Clean” was one of Edmund Muskie’s more enduring nicknames, earned for his decades of work on environmental legislation. As a new senator, Muskie was assigned to the relatively undesirable Public Works Committee—allegedly for offending then-Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. Four years later, Muskie was named the first chair of the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, having already become a leader on environmental issues. Muskie continued his chairmanship of the Air and Water Pollution Subcommittee for nearly two decades, shepherding the passage of numerous pieces legislation, including the landmark Clean Air Act of 1970 and Clean Water Act of 1972. After leaving the senate, Muskie continued his involvement in national environmental policy through groups such as the Environmental Law Institute. In Muskie’s view, clean air and water were an integral part of the Democratic Party ideals he believed in. In a speech titled “A Whole Society”, which he gave at the first Earth Day in 1970, Muskie declared: …If we can use our awareness that the total environment determines the quality of life, we can make those decisions which can save our nation from becoming a class-ridden and strife-torn wasteland. …We cannot afford to correct our history of abusing nature and neglect the continuing abuse of our fellow-man. We should have learned by now that a whole nation must be a nation at peace with itself. We should have learned by now that we can have that peace only by assuring that all Americans have equal access to a healthy total environment. …That can mean nothing less than equal access to good schools, to meaningful job opportunities, to adequate health services, and to decent and attractive housing.
U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance resigned in April 1980 following a failed attempt to rescue 52 American hostages in Iran. With less than nine months left in his current term but running for reelection, President Carter asked Edmund Muskie, whom he had considered but passed over for the position of vice president, to lead the State Department through this difficult period. Thus, Muskie resigned his Senate seat after 21 years in office to serve on President Carter’s cabinet. Nine months later, for the first time since 1954, he was no longer an elected or appointed government official. Rather than retiring, however, Muskie accepted a partnership in the Washington, D.C. lawfirm Chadbourne & Parke, and took on leadership roles in numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the Center for National Policy, Maine Commission on Legal Needs, American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on World Order under Law, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Most notable among Muskie’s post–secretary of state activities were his work on the Tower Commission, which was appointed by President Reagan to investigate the Iran-Contra affair, and his leadership of the Nestle Infant Formula Audit Commission, which investigated allegations of unethical marketing practices in developing nations. Edmund Muskie died in 1996, and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
See a video of Muskie speaking about the Iran-Contra affair here.
In this recording taken during a 1990 interview, Muskie recalled his negotiations a decade earlier as U. S. Secretary of State to free the U. S. hostages in Iran.
The Faceless Bastards, or “F.B.’s” for short, is how members of Edmund Muskie’s staff sometimes referred to themselves. The name referred to a story—perhaps apocryphal—from the 1968 presidential campaign trail, in which Muskie is said to have demanded during one particularly long motorcade, “Who are the faceless bastards that are responsible for this schedule?” This caricature drawn by reknowned cartoonist Pat Oliphant was given to Muskie by the F.B.’s in celebration of his 80th birthday in 1994. It stands as a testament to the love and devotion that many of Muskie’s staff members continued to feel for him long after his years in government service were over.
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