The Kerr-Mills Bill: The Predecessor to Medicare

In the late 1950s, liberal Democrats were pushing for old age health insurance as an addition to Social Security. The original push had been for national health insurance in the form of the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Bill, which would have effectively established the equivalent of the National Health Service in the United States. However, the proposal lacked support from Republicans and Southern Democrats. Thus, the liberal Democrats decided to act more incrementally, choosing to seek aid for the elderly first. Thus, the idea of Medicare was born. Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, opposed the idea, as did powerful wheeler-dealer Sen. Robert Kerr (D-Okla.). However, instead of outright opposition, they proposed a substitute measure. This measure would provide federal grants to states that established their own old age health insurance system. Liberals tried to insert the Medicare Bill in a Senate vote, but they lost 44-51. The GOP tried to insert its own proposal which would provide subsidies for purchasing health insurance, but this was soundly defeated on party lines. The problem was, far from all states adopted it, and it was regarded by advocates of Medicare as partially successful at best and a failure at worst. Even from its very inception, prominent politicians considered it weak sauce. JFK called the measure insufficient and Richard Nixon concurred in this judgment during the 1960 presidential campaign. I get the feeling that the policy was not given enough time to fully work, but history sometimes moves faster than a few years.

At the time of passage, however, the law was highly popular, even earning the praise of Ronald Reagan if not the enthusiastic endorsement of the American Medical Association (AMA), at the time a staunchly conservative organization. Its opponents were quite few in Congress, with the only Senators voting against being Barry Goldwater and Strom Thurmond. Granted, many liberals simply thought this measure better than nothing. Liberals tried to pass Medicare again in 1964, but it narrowly failed a Senate vote. However, the 1964 election resulted in the Great Society Congress, and Mills (Kerr was dead) ended up supporting Medicare, albeit with some changes to win people over. The 1965 Social Security Amendments also included the creation of Medicaid, health insurance for the poor.


McKee, G. (24 February 2016). Prescription for Success. The Miller Center.

Retrieved from

Moore, J.D. & Smith, D.G. Legislating Medicaid: Considering Medicaid and Its Origins

Retrieved from

Social Security: Chapter 4: The Fourth Round

Retrieved from



Mark Twain’s Early Sympathies

On Friday I visited Virginia City, Nevada with an old friend. The town is one of those old western towns, and its most famous resident happened to be Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. Thus, there is a bar and casino named after him and there are historical exhibits about his brief time there as a journalist. I also learned something about him. His early views on slavery and the Confederacy were…controversial.


Twain was born in Missouri, a slave state, and his family had for a time owned a slave. He grew up with some loyalties to the institution, and as the Civil War was approaching, he internally debated as to whether he should join the Know Nothing or Constitutional Union Party. He ultimately voted for the Constitutional Union ticket, which was for preserving the union and slavery. On the outbreak of the Civil War, he briefly joined a Confederate militia, the Marion Rangers. They lasted for a total of two weeks. Twain didn’t feel particularly strongly about the war itself, and traveled to Virginia City, Nevada. The town was rather perfect for him, as its people were evenly divided in their sympathies. He had mixed feelings about the Civil War, as he believed that we could both have a union and slavery. After a short time as a journalist, giving himself multiple pen names including Mark Twain, a dueling prank backfired and he was forced to leave for California.

While Twain’s views on these subjects changed with the Civil War’s end, it is rather interesting in this day and age to look back on commonly celebrated American figures and see where they stood on these issues. For many who are super-conscious on issues of group-based equality, it is far more often a disappointing exercise than not. But is it really that surprising that Twain felt the way he did in his early years given his upbringing and the common sentiment existing in his state of birth? Although Missouri stayed in the US as a slave state, many Missourians fought for the Confederacy, including two of Harry S. Truman’s ancestors. Truman himself, in spite of being the first Democratic president to press for a civil rights agenda, was to his dying day a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and proud of his family heritage.

Overall, although Twain was known as the quintessential American novelist, wit, and satirist, he held a number of views that today are regarded as unacceptable. It is important for us to judge historical figures by the time they lived in. Most assuredly there will be some things we do today that will be condemned by future generations. Perhaps some of these things we have a feeling will be condemned by them, and some of them may take us by surprise. Simply put, hindsight is 20/20.


Glionna, J.M. (20 May 2014). Mark Twain: Inexcusable racist or man of his time? Los Angeles Times.

Retrieved from

Nix, E. (2 December 2014). 8 Things You May Not Know About Mark Twain.

Retrieved from


The Bizarre Political Transformation of Vermont



Vermont is known as a staunchly liberal state. It is the state of Bernie Sanders and Ben and Jerry, Democrats hold overwhelming majorities in the Assembly and Senate, and Vermonters voted for Clinton by over 25 points in 2016. Yet, its demographics would normally shout Republican: rural and almost 95% white, making it the whitest state in the union. The state in fact did fit its demographics, at one time being the most Republican state in the union.

Since the Republican Party’s formation in 1854, the state of Vermont did not vote Democrat for the House until 1958, for governor until 1962, and for the Senate until 1974. While the frequent explanation for the change is that the parties switched ideologically, this does not explain the voters electing people in the first half of the 20th century like Senator William Dillingham, a staunch conservative who headed a Senate committee that in 1911 recommended literacy tests for immigrants. Another example was Senator Warren Austin, a New Deal foe who held the seat currently held by Bernie Sanders, who even went as far as being one of six senators to vote against Social Security in 1935. The switch explanation also doesn’t account for the state voting against FDR four times and until 1992 only voting Democrat once for president. The truth is that until the Great Depression the default mode for the politicians and voters of the state was conservatism. President Calvin Coolidge, a native Vermonter, embodied the views and ethic of the people of the state by and large in his limited government approach. By the 1930s, however, these views were starting to come into question with the GOP splitting into conservative and progressive wings. The conservative wing was known as the Proctor faction, with prominent representatives being the Proctor family, which included Governor Mortimer R. Proctor and Sen. Warren Austin. The progressive wing was known as the Aiken-Gibson wing, with its two namesakes, Senator George Aiken and Governor Ernest Gibson Jr. being its representatives. The Aiken-Gibson wing ended up gaining the most prominence in the state and voters were increasingly supportive.

The end of World War II saw change for Vermont, if not in party, then in ideology. While Austin’s successor to office was Ralph Flanders, a moderate conservative, the state of the Republican Party was growing increasingly liberal. In 1946, Ernest Gibson Jr. defeated conservative Governor Mortimer R. Proctor for renomination in the gubernatorial primary, being tantamount to election in that time. His victory overturned a key precedent that was important to maintaining GOP power in the state: The Mountain Rule. Under this rule, which had been in effect since the GOP’s founding, governors, lieutenant governors, and senators were chosen based on alternating between residence on the west side and east side of the Green Mountains. Thus, Vermont would always have one senator from the east side and one from the west side, and governor and lieutenant governor would never be from the same side of the mountain (Bushnell, 2009). However, with the advent of freeways and improved roads, the people of the state began to stop identifying themselves so much as from the west or east side and most importantly, stop thinking that these sides required such a balance of power. He also chose to break the precedent of limiting governors to two years in office, choosing to run for reelection in 1948. His administration was characterized by increasing spending on services, highway construction, and increasing funding of education and social welfare programs, paid for by an increase in the state income tax. This was in contrast to the low tax, low services model of previous administrations. Vermonters approved of Gibson’s work, and reelected him. Frustrated with the more conservative legislature, he accepted an appointment to the U.S. District Court of Vermont in 1950, serving until his death in 1969. Although conservatism was still a force in the state at the time, liberalism was now a politically viable option.

Another departure from conservatism was At-Large Rep. Charles Plumley’s retirement in 1950, being succeeded by Winston Prouty, a GOP centrist, who would join Aiken in the Senate in 1958. The last person who could be considered conservative to be elected to federal office from Vermont was Ralph Flanders, who was reelected in 1952. The conservative wing was starting to lose primaries, and the ultimate indicator of a lack of enthusiasm for the conservative wing among Vermonters was the defeat of former Governor Harold J. Arthur in the 1958 House election to staunchly left-wing Democrat William Meyer, who had been endorsed by three Republican newspapers. Vermont voters, however, weren’t ready for his extreme liberalism and talk of disarmament and admitting Red China into the UN. He easily lost reelection in 1960 to moderate Republican Governor Robert Stafford. Meyer would help form the Liberty Union Party, the springboard for Bernie Sanders’ political career. Although Meyer’s time in office was short, this brief break in Republican control helped reinforce the dominance of the progressive wing of the Republican Party in the state. This would be broken somewhat by the election of Democrat Philip H. Hoff as governor in 1962 and Democrat Pat Leahy’s victory to succeed Aiken in the Senate in 1974, both firsts in state history.

Stafford would move up to the Senate after the death of Prouty in 1971 and serve until 1989, being succeeded by liberal Republican Rep. James Jeffords. In 1990, his successor, Republican Rep. Peter Smith, lost reelection to Burlington Mayor Bernie Sanders, who ran as an Independent but identified as a socialist. Jeffords would choose to leave the Republican Party in 2001, finding he could no longer deal with its increasingly rightward drift. His elected successor, Sanders, took office in 2007. Perhaps there was some influence from the immigration of left-wing Bay Staters and New Yorkers like Sanders to push the state even more leftward, but this was a long-term process.

The transformation of Vermont into one of the most Democratic states in the union was about as unthinkable in the 1920s as Wyoming becoming one is today, and it demonstrates that the notion that even the most politically liberal or conservative states must stay that way in the long run is wrong. However, it still possible for Republicans to win gubernatorial races, most recently Phil Scott’s victory in 2016. Republican governors from the Northeast tend to be regarded as economic managers who temper the leftist instincts of Democratic legislatures while simultaneously not being ideologues or culture warriors. He is as of April more popular in his state than Utah’s GOP Governor Gary Herbert (Easley, 2018).


Bushnell, M. (4 October 2009). Ernest Gibson: War hero, politician, GOP reformer. Rutland Herald.

Retrieved from

Bushnell, M. (16 October 2016). Then again: An unpolished public speaker brought a long losing streak to an end. VTDigger.

Retrieved from

Ernest William Gibson. National Governors Association.

Retrieved from

Easley, C. (12 April 2018). America’s Least and Most Popular Governors. Morning Consult.

Retrieved from

Richard Nixon: A Liberal? Not so Fast.


In hindsight, many people look back on Nixon and think of him as a liberal. Even Noam Chomsky claimed that he was the “last liberal president”, and he had stood strongly against his war policies. He is not the first person to identify Nixon as a liberal. As his economic adviser Herbert Stein wrote, “Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon Administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal” (Fund, 2013). National Review seems to agree with this view of him as well, as stated by columnist John Fund (2013) “But viewed in its totality, his isn’t the record of a conservative president. At best, it’s the record of a progressive Republican who, in the end, didn’t view conservatism as a valid governing philosophy – even though it was the basis of the republic created by the Founding Fathers”.  Bear in mind that many of Nixon’s stances actually put him very solidly in the mainstream at the time. Most Republicans and Democrats supported the creation of the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration. In 1970, he imposed a 90-day freeze on wages and prices to fight inflation, which were quite popular at the time. Nixon also enacted the predecessor to affirmative action: the Philadelphia Plan,  supported guaranteed minimum income under the proposed program known as the Family Assistance Plan, and got revenue sharing passed.


There are some reasons to believe that Nixon’s liberal reputation is overstated and done so to a significant extent. Although the creation of the EPA, OSHA, and the Endangered Species Act are looked back on as progressive moves as is his Clean Air Act, it must be kept in mind that these measures got close to universal acclaim at the time of their passage. The same was true with the price controls instituted at the time. Consider the margins of passage for these measures:

Clean Air Act of 1970

House vote on June 10, 1970: 374-1.

Senate vote on September 22, 1970: 73-0.

The Senate bill was a bit stronger than the House bill, and although the vote was unanimous, John Williams (R-Del.) and Robert Griffin (R-Mich.) were opposed but did not vote as their colleagues, ultra-conservatives Paul Fannin (R-Ariz.) and Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), were absent but supported the measure. By signing the measure into law, Nixon was in accord with Barry Goldwater and all but two senators.

Occupational Safety and Health Act – Created Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration.

Senate vote on November 17, 1970: 83-3.

House vote on December 17, 1970: 310-58.

Endangered Species Act

Senate vote on July 24, 1973: 92-0.

Final House vote on December 20, 1973: 355-4.

The Endangered Species Act, for instance, got no votes against in the Senate, which at the time had figures such as Barry Goldwater and Jesse Helms serving. On final passage, it only had four extremely conservative members of the House voting against. The sagebrush rebellion took a few years to fully mobilize against policies restricting land use in the name of environmentalism.

Opposition to the ways these measures were implemented came from conservatives, and at times not long after passage. Efforts to push back OSHA’s extensive reach were underway as early as 1972, with the most popular push-back measures being efforts to exempt small businesses from its coverage.

Nixon’s prosecution of the Vietnam War was staunchly critiqued by leftist anti-war Democrats, as he opposed proposals for pulling out before the U.S. could put South Vietnam in a solid position to defend itself from North Vietnam. He often vetoed domestic spending bills on cost grounds, opposed strengthening controls on the oil industry in 1974, and opposed the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1974. Nixon also opposed busing as a means for school desegregation, issued an executive order effectively restoring the Subversive Activities Control Board, opposed increasing federal aid to education, opposed strong minimum wage legislation, opposed high public works spending, and opposed a comprehensive child development program. As for the Clean Air Act? Nixon backed a proposal by Rep. James Hastings (R-N.Y.) in 1973 to postpone emissions standards for vehicles from 1975 to 1977.

Overall, I think Richard Nixon politically was moderate with a dash of ruthless pragmatism. While he backed a number of conservative backlashes to liberal policies, he pioneered a few of his own, particularly with the Family Assistance Plan. While he took a stance on Vietnam that was for winning as opposed to pulling out, he also backed numerous foreign aid measures. He ultimately was in spirit an Eisenhower Republican. Nixon stood often to the right on issues of spending, minimum wages, etc., but stood to the left on certain issues of social welfare and in particular foreign policy. He thus deserves both praise and condemnation from a conservative perspective.


Fuller, Jaime. (2 June 2014). Environmental policy is partisan. It wasn’t always. The Washington Post.

Retrieved from

Fund, J. (11 January 2013). Nixon at 100: Was He ‘America’s Last Liberal’? National Review.

Retrieved from

Kenworthy, E.W. (11 June 1970). A Clean-Air Bill. The New York Times.

Retrieved from

Kenworthy, E.W. (23 September 1970). Tough New Clean-Air Bill Passed by Senate, 73 to 0. The New York Times.

Retrieved from

Third Parties: More Important Than You Think

Third parties in contemporary American politics are often met with humor and derision. Although there are two “Independent” members of the Senate currently serving, both caucus with and mostly vote with the Democrats, and no third-party members currently serve in the House. Perhaps the most consequential recent third party run for president was Ralph Nader’s Green Party run, which many Democrats blamed for Al Gore’s electoral vote loss in 2000. The Green Party remains insubstantial, having never elected anyone to the federal level and its influence as a party is minimal, serving at best as a spoiler for Democrats. Third parties that are effective in the United States tend to be splinter movements away from one of the two major parties, and when one of the parties satisfies them sufficiently on their issues, their members merge into that party.

Although many third parties have existed in the United States and even won seats in federal elections, I will go over the most consequential ones.

Anti-Masonic Party

The first third party formed in U.S. history had Freemasonry as its bête noire. Its members believed that the secretive organization was involved in the 1826 disappearance of one of its critics and former members, William Morgan, who was about to write an expose on them and thus violate his oath of secrecy. Although they were originally a one-issue party dedicated to destroying Freemasonry and secret societies, after their growth in the 1828 election, they started adopting positions on other issues. They also favored a national bank, internal improvements, and tariffs. These policies would become planks of the Whig Party platform.

Numerous politicians who had gotten their start in the Anti-Masonic Party would become major political players, including Millard Fillmore, Thaddeus Stevens, William H. Seward, and Thurlow Weed. In 1832, the party ran former Attorney General William Wirt, a former Freemason, for president. Wirt had been a Freemason and was not critical of them. The ticket only won the state of Vermont, and the party folded within three years. Its followers migrated to both the Democratic and Whig Parties.

Free Soil Party

The Republican Party was not the first distinctly anti-slavery party. That honor goes to the Free Soil Party. Founded in 1848 to oppose the expansion of slavery into western territories, the party ran presidential candidates in two elections. This party formed after the Democratic Party convention did not endorse the anti-slavery Wilmot Proviso. However, the Free Soil Party fell short of endorsing abolition of slavery. Their slogan was “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, Free Men”. Some notable politicians who associated or came out of the Free Soil Party were former President Martin Van Buren, its 1848 candidate, and Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Van Buren’s 1848 run ultimately netted no states, but the party had members serving in the House and Senate. By 1854, the party was folding as its remaining membership was moving to the newly formed Republican Party.

The American Party

Although the American (“Know Nothing”) Party’s existence lasted from 1844 to 1860, it had a brief period of significance. The American Party gained followers after the collapse of the Whig Party in 1854, including a number of future Republicans. The party stoked fears of Catholicism, claiming a “Romanist” conspiracy existed to subvert civil and religious freedom in the US. They sought to limit immigration to stop this “conspiracy”. For a time, they had significant representation in Congress, with one of their members, Nathaniel Banks, serving briefly as Speaker of the House as part of an opposition coalition. In 1856, they nominated Millard Fillmore for president without his consent, and he only won Maryland. After the Dred Scott decision, most of the Northern Know Nothings bolted for the Republican Party, while the Southern members would largely vote for the Constitutional Union ticket in the 1860 election.

The Greenback Party

The Greenback Party, which ran candidates for president in the 1876, 1880, and 1884 elections, stood for a continuation from the Civil War of paper currency unbacked by gold. This was as opposed to a return to hard, bullion-based money, favored by the Republican and Democratic parties. They also stood for a number of policies that would be associated with the progressives, including an 8-hour day and support for unions.

The Populist Party

The Populist Party constituted one of the greatest threats to the two-party system we know and don’t love today. In 1891, in response to discontent by farmers, the Populist Party was founded for the purposes of expanding the government’s role, particularly for aiding farmers discontented with the status quo. They also stood for limiting immigration, for women’s suffrage, and for nationalizations of numerous industries. They were a substantial challenge to Republicans in the Midwest and Democrats in the South. In 1892, they nominated former Greenback Party Congressman James B. Weaver for the presidency, with his running mate being James G. Field, former Attorney General of Virginia and a Confederate veteran. The Populist ticket won a number of Midwestern states, including the traditionally Republican Kansas.

The Populist Party was also able to win seats in the House and Senate during their relatively brief period of existence, electing people from states such as Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Alabama. In 1896, they concurred with the Democratic Party’s nomination of the populistic William Jennings Bryan. This was a partial success for the Populist Party as they had influenced the Democrats enough to nominate a candidate who represented them, but in the process the party lost members who migrated to the Democrats. The Populists had disappeared from Congress by 1903, and the party folded in 1908. The Populists had succeeded in influencing the Democratic Party agenda in the long run, but had failed to maintain a permanent presence.

The Progressive Party’s Three Incarnations

First Incarnation: Theodore Roosevelt’s Split with the GOP

After serving two terms, Theodore Roosevelt decided to follow the Washington tradition and not serve more than two terms, naming William Howard Taft as his successor. Unfortunately, Taft proved to be not even close to as popular or as fit for the role as Roosevelt, and people had begun to tire of the conservatism that characterized the Republican Congress, which Taft closely worked with. Particularly irritating to progressives was Taft’s acceptance of a tariff reduction bill that only reduced them by 5% overall and his Secretary of the Interior Ballinger’s feud with conservationist Gifford Pinchot. Roosevelt decided to break tradition and run for a third term in 1912, but after failing to win the GOP nomination, he formed the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party, which called for such policies as restricting campaign contributions, reducing tariffs, a social insurance system (what we now know as Social Security), an eight-hour workday, and women’s suffrage. His running mate was Governor Hiram Johnson of California.

Roosevelt’s bid split the Republican Party and resulted in Taft winning only Utah and Vermont in his reelection bid. Roosevelt won more states and more of the popular vote, making this the only occasion in which a third party candidate in the two-party system outperformed a candidate of one of the major two parties. The Bull Moose Party retained a presence in the House and Senate until 1916, when the party decided to shut down and join Roosevelt in support of Charles Evans Hughes, with many of its members returning to the Republican Party. This version was undoubtedly the least radical of the three incarnations, with some of its members eventually becoming conservatives, such as Hiram Johnson.

Second Incarnation: Robert La Follette’s Split with the GOP

Senator Robert La Follette (R-Wis.) was one of the greatest boat-rockers in the history of the Senate. At one time a man who was loyal enough to GOP orthodoxy to be considered for leadership, his views had grown more progressive, and by the time he had been elected to the Senate, he was easily the most left-wing Republican in the chamber. His level of staunch progressivism was too much for Theodore Roosevelt, who preferred cooperative approaches as opposed to political battling. La Follette, however, retained quite a following in his home state. He notably opposed the Federal Reserve because he thought it gave private banks too much power, opposed American entry into World War I, opposed restrictions of civil liberties during wartime, and supported nationalizing certain industries.

By 1924, the conservatives of the GOP were riding high in the party with Calvin Coolidge but La Follette was riding high in his home state: with the exception of moderate Republican Sen. Irvine Lenroot and Socialist Rep. Victor Berger, all federal elected officeholders from Wisconsin were now progressive Republicans. Unable to stomach Coolidge and the private-sector oriented policies the GOP was pushing, he launched his own White House bid. His candidacy not only attracted progressive Republicans, but also progressive Democrats who were dissatisfied with their party’s choice of corporate attorney John W. Davis, who identified with the party’s conservative wing. His running mate was fellow Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, a progressive Democrat. Although La Follette only won his home state of Wisconsin, he won a significant number of rural midwestern counties, exposing dissatisfaction with the Administration’s agricultural policies. The run tired out the aging La Follette, and he died the following year. However, his son, La Follette Jr., would carry on the torch and lead many Republicans in the state out of the party when it opposed the New Deal. The Progressive Party became briefly dominant in the state, electing its own members of Congress from Wisconsin and even one in California. They supported most of the New Deal but were staunch non-interventionists. However, after the 1938 midterm elections, conservative Republicans made a comeback, and by 1946 the Progressive Party shut its doors, with La Follette defeated for the Republican nomination by none other than Joseph McCarthy. The La Follette brand of Republicanism had come to an end.

Third Incarnation: Henry Wallace’s Split with the Democrats Turned Communist Subversion

Unlike the previous two Progressive Parties, this version did not come from a split in the Republican Party. Henry A. Wallace Jr., who had been Agriculture Secretary, Vice President, and Secretary of Commerce, had been fired by President Harry S. Truman for publicly opposing his anti-communist foreign policy in 1946. He decided to run on a platform that called for such policies as conciliation with the USSR, nationalization of the energy industry, national health insurance, civil rights, and expansion of unemployment benefits and welfare. His running mate was the ultra-leftist Sen. Glen Taylor (D-Idaho).

Wallace not only refused to expel communists working on his campaign, but the CPUSA endorsed him and the campaign was in fact controlled by communist leaders William Z. Foster and Eugene Dennis, who staffed the campaign with their loyalists (Dodd, 205). Even worse, the CPUSA was under the direct control of the Kremlin. Wallace had been completely and utterly duped by communists, and although the ticket won no states and got only 2.4% of the vote, it was the closest the USSR ever came to electing a president. Wallace would eventually quit the Progressive Party after condemning North Korea for its aggression in the Korean War and would become anti-communist.

The States’ Rights Democratic Party (1948 run)

As Senator, Harry S. Truman had voted for civil rights legislation but had never been passionate about it, doing so only to win the black vote in Missouri. However, his attitudes changed after becoming President. He was horrified to learn of black veterans being shot for attempting to vote in the South, and resolved to support a civil rights plank. His order for desegregation of the Armed Forces ticked off Southern Democrats as did his support of a Fair Employment Practices Committee, anti-lynching legislation, and abolition of the poll tax. Southern dissatisfaction with Truman was channeled through South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond, who gained the nomination of the States’ Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat) in 1948. His running mate was Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi. This ticket was explicitly segregationist and had no intention of winning the election, rather serving as a kingmaker for whichever party could make the best deal for their votes. The ticket won the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Thurmond would go on to have one of the longest Senate careers in history, being elected to the body as a Democrat in 1954, switch to the Republican Party in 1964, and serve until 2003.

The American Independent Party (1968)

Governor George Wallace of Alabama became the face of segregationist resistance to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, notoriously declaring in his 1963 inaugural address that he stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. Urban riots, the Vietnam War, and the counter-cultural movements that characterized the 1960s attracted people outside of the South to Wallace, and he realized an opportunity. He ran as a populist who capitalized on racial resentment, dissatisfaction with American foreign policy, and opposition to the hippie and anti-war movements. Wallace’s running mate was Curtis LeMay, who was prone to be cavalier about the use of nuclear weapons, which didn’t help the campaign. Ultimately, the ticket won the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Wallace would try again in 1972, but was shot and paralyzed by attempted assassin Arthur Bremer. He tried for the Democratic nomination unsuccessfully in 1976. By this point he had disavowed segregation. Wallace continued to be elected Governor of Alabama until his retirement in 1987. The AIP ran ultra-conservative Congressman John G. Schmitz in 1972, former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox in 1976, and ultra-conservative former Congressman John Rarick in 1980.


Dodd, B. (1954). School of darkness. New York, NY: The Devin-Adair Company.

Mai-Duc, C. (17 April 2016). The ‘angry man’s candidate’: George Wallace and the roots of the American Independent Party. Los Angeles Times.

Retrieved from

Political Party Platforms – American Independent Party Platform of 1968

Retrieved from

Stevenson, F. (22 October 2013). Party politics 101: A look at political history of third parties in America. Deseret News.

Retrieved from

Vaughn, W.P. (2015). The Anti-Masonic Party in the United States: 1826-1843. The University Press of Kentucky.

The Purge – FDR Edition

By 1938, the Democratic Party had gained so much power and its tent had grown so large that it included far leftists, centrists, and rightists alike. Although at the height of his political power, FDR also had increasing trouble with recalcitrant Democrats, particularly those in the Senate, who would often vote with Republicans on opposing the New Deal. These included Carter Glass and Harry Byrd of Virginia, Millard Tydings of Maryland, and to a lesser extent Walter George of Georgia, “Cotton Ed” Smith of South Carolina, Pat McCarran of Nevada, and Guy Gillette of Iowa. These politicians had broken with Roosevelt on two issues that he used to define party loyalty: his 1937 court-packing plan, which was an epic political miscalculation, and a controversial government reorganization plan that its opponents had denounced as the “Dictator Bill” for its centralizing of power. Both measures got zero Republican support and very publicly split Democrats. Roosevelt was frustrated by these losses, and sought more political unity.

Roosevelt ultimately sought to remake this large, ideological patchwork party into a distinctly New Deal party that embraced a large federal government for purposes great and small for the public. Among those who had crossed him, he couldn’t target Byrd or Glass of Virginia, as Byrd’s political machine ran the state and Glass was an institution in of himself. However, there were five prime Senate targets: Tydings, George, Smith, McCarran, and Gillette. All five of these men had opposed court packing and the reorganization plan.

Millard Tydings was easily the worst offender of the five. He had voted against most New Deal legislation, including signature measures such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act. He had complained on the Senate floor about the Administration moving towards dictatorship. Tydings and Roosevelt not only politically disagreed, they also personally disliked each other. Roosevelt was quoted as having said to Harold Ickes to “Take Tydings’ hide off and rub salt in it” (Dunn, 191). Roosevelt wanted him replaced with Rep. David J. Lewis, who had been a major drafter of the Social Security Act and was an Administration loyalist.

Walter George had supported much of the early New Deal legislation, but he had dissented on a few critical occasions, such as when he voted against the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, which had the impact of abolishing holding companies. Roosevelt had appeared in Georgia on a campaign stop in 1938 and in his speech basically read George out of the party, supporting a young challenger named Lawrence Camp.

Ellison DuRant “Cotton Ed” Smith had been a fixture of South Carolina politics since 1907. He was an utterly provincial politician, with his two primary planks being keeping the price of cotton high and maintaining white supremacy. A die-hard racist, Smith had walked out of the 1936 Democratic National Convention when he saw that a black minister was going to deliver the invocation. He had once been described by Time Magazine as a “conscientious objector to the 20th Century”, and he did nothing to dissuade people from this impression (Smith, 2016). Like George, he had supported much early New Deal legislation but had dissented on the Public Utilities bill. Roosevelt had a strong challenger in mind in Governor Olin Johnston, a New Deal supporter who had backed the Fair Labor Standards Act.

If the name McCarran sounds familiar to you, it is because Las Vegas’s airport is named after Pat McCarran for his legislative contributions to the development of aviation. He was something of a political wild card and not favored by the state Democratic establishment. The state party had permitted him to run for the Senate in 1932 with the belief that he wouldn’t win against the popular Republican Senator Tasker Oddie. He surprised everyone not only by doing so, but also forming his own political machine, which he used to great effect. McCarran had made a speech on the Senate floor in 1937 that while not his best speech, it was his most famous one, called the “Death Battalion Speech”. In frail health, he denounced the “court packing plan” as a danger to separation of powers, and had delivered this speech against doctor’s orders. This speech was widely covered in the press, and the headline for the Nevada State Journal read, “McCarran in Death Battalion – Senator Ready to Give Life to Defend Constitution” (Edwards, 79). This had given him significant political support to say the least, considering that most Nevadans opposed the plan.

Guy Gillette had only been in the Senate since 1936 when FDR targeted him for defeat. He was not really a conservative, just unpredictable in his views. Although he had cast his votes against the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, he supported many other New Deal measures.

None of the five men were defeated in the primaries, and all of them won reelection. It turns out, Democratic voters at the time resented presidential interference in their primaries. The only scalp Roosevelt got was the chair of the House Rules Committee, John J. O’Connor, who was reportedly difficult to work with. Roosevelt never attempted a party purge again. The Democrats also lost 71 House seats and 6 Senate seats in the midterms. Although this was not enough to roll back the New Deal, it was enough to stop additional measures.

Tydings would be reelected one more time in 1944, but would run into political trouble after butting heads with Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), dismissing his charges of government subversion as a hoax. He lost reelection to McCarthy-backed candidate John Marshall Butler in 1950.

After prevailing over Camp, George would find himself increasingly opposed to FDR’s domestic policies while backing his foreign policy. He became a respected statesman in the Senate, particularly on foreign policy. George was also notable for having introduced the Southern Manifesto on the floor of the Senate on March 12, 1956, possibly serving in this role to head off a primary challenge from the significantly more vocal segregationist Herman Talmadge. However, he subsequently realized he would probably lose to him and opted not to run for reelection that year.

Roosevelt had in the case of Smith probably done him a favor, as in all his bids for renomination he never won overwhelmingly and was vulnerable. By 1944, he was 80, in poor health, and had become a full-blown opponent of Roosevelt. Not having the fortune of Roosevelt’s interference in a rematch against Governor Johnston, he lost renomination and died three months later.

McCarran’s opposition to the court packing plan earned him political immortality, as he gained significant Republican support. He would continue to serve in the Senate, irritating Democratic liberals with his pre-war isolationism, his support for Francisco Franco, and for sponsoring two major laws regarding his favorite subjects: immigration restriction (Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, aka McCarran-Walter) and anti-communism (Internal Security Act of 1950, aka McCarran Act). He died in office in 1954 shortly after making a speech calling for Democratic Party unity.

By winning reelection in 1938, Gillette had done what no Democrat had done before in the state of Iowa. He subsequently voted against Roosevelt’s policies with greater frequency, often opposing his foreign policy. Gillette would not be so fortunate in 1944, as he would be defeated by Republican Governor Bourke Hickenlooper. Gillette would make a comeback, serving one more term from 1949 to 1955 before again being defeated for reelection.


Dunn, S. (2010). Roosevelt’s purge: How FDR fought to change the Democratic Party. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Edwards, J.E. (1982). Pat McCarran: Political boss of Nevada. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press

Jurdem, L.R. (21 July 2017). Fighting his party in Congress didn’t work for FDR. It won’t work for Trump. The Washington Post.

Retrieved from

Pou, C. (29 January 2008). Walter F. George (1878-1957). New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Retrieved from

Smith, J.E. (2007). FDR. New York, NY: Random House.

Smith, S.K. (1 August 2016). Smith, Ellison Durant. South Carolina Encyclopedia.

Retrieved from

The Precedent for Don Blankenship: James A. Haley of Florida

Today, there is a possibility convicted former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship will get the Republican nomination for the Senate in West Virginia. For those who don’t know about him, he served a year in prison for conspiracy to violate mine safety rules, which led to the deaths of 29 miners in an explosion in the Upper Branch Mine in 2010. If he wins, he would not be the first convict to have been held at least partly responsible for deaths to get a nomination nor would he be the first to be elected to federal office. The precedent is James A. Haley (1899-1981) of Florida.


Before Haley entered the world of politics, he was an accountant, and easily his most prominent client was the Ringling Brothers Circus. He grew close with the family, and in 1942 he married Aubrey Ringling, the widow of Richard T. Ringling, son of one of the original Ringling Bros. In 1943, he became the first vice president of Ringling Circus and director of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The following year, he would preside over the worst fire in circus history, the Hartford circus fire.

The cause of the fire remains unknown, but the use of paraffin and gasoline wax as a waterproofing agent for the tent canvas inadvertently spread the fire, with falling pieces of the tent severely burning audience members. A total of 169 people were confirmed to have been killed in the fire, over half of them being children. Haley and other Ringling Bros. executives pled “no contest” to charges of involuntary manslaughter given the use of the wax. He served eight months in prison, being released in 1945 and pardoned by Florida Governor Millard F. Caldwell. However, many people in Haley’s home district in Florida did not hold him responsible, and believed that people needed someone to blame for the fire because they couldn’t find an arsonist. Not held responsible by the people of his state, Haley was elected to the House as a Democrat and served from 1953 to 1977. He voted as a conservative and was a forceful advocate for veterans. Today, he has a veterans hospital named in his honor in Tampa, Florida.

While I have pointed out the similarities, there are some differences between Haley and Blankenship. First, Haley was pardoned while Blankenship remains on probation. Second, Haley didn’t run in Connecticut where the fire occurred, he ran in his home state of Florida. Third, Haley didn’t try to shirk blame afterwards, he and his fellow executives had pleaded “no contest” while Blankenship continues to blame the government. And fourth, there is a difference in intention. Although the fire killed far more people, the use of the flammable paraffin wax was not legally prohibited for use. The explosion was a product of intentional violations of the law.


Cavanaugh, J. (1994). The Hartford Fire, 50 Years Later. The New York Times.

Retrieved from

The Life of James A. Haley of Florida. U.S. House of Representatives.

Retrieved from

Zines, J. Congressman James A. Haley: An Overview. Florida Southern College.

Retrieved from

John J. Williams: An Honest Senator

In 1946, Democratic Sen. James Tunnell of Delaware, a staunch New Dealer, looked unbeatable. The Republican Party had difficulty recruiting challengers, so when livestock feed businessman and political novice John J. Williams (1904-1988) stepped up, he easily gained the nomination. His platform consisted of four planks:

“1. To eliminate class hatred and racial prejudice under our flag.

2. To remove all controls that are shackling both industry and labor.

3. To balance our budget and check inflation.

4. To revive the faith of the American people in their Government” (Morgan, 2016).

Williams campaigned door-to-door, attended community dinners, and made his case that economic controls were hindering efficiency and growth. On election day, he prevailed over Tunnell by 12,000 votes. His campaign reflected his commitment to honest government and economy: he returned $1078.28 of his $6,500 in campaign funds to the Republican National Committee.


In the Senate, he would vote his platform, opposing Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Johnson’s Great Society. Although Williams gained a reputation as a staunch conservative and a Republican partisan, he had another reputation: as the “Sherlock Holmes of Capitol Hill”.

“The Conscience of the Senate”

In 1949, he discovered $96 million missing from the Commodity Credit Corporation. In 1951, his investigations blew wide open a scandal in the IRS in which employees were embezzling taxpayer funds, making it look like taxpayers who had paid still owed money. 125 IRS employees were convicted on charges of bribery, extortion, and perjury among other crimes (Pearson, 1988). Williams’s fiscal conservatism and honesty applied to himself as well: he fought with the U.S. comptroller general to return all but $300 of his $1800 stationery fund to the Treasury, which after years he eventually won. For a time the “Conscience of the Senate” was considered for Vice President, but he eschewed the notion of running for executive office, wishing to maintain his independence.

In 1962, Williams pursued LBJ’s top aide and influence-peddler Bobby Baker on corruption charges regarding his company, Serve-U Corporation. He had established this company with friend Fred Black and mobsters Ed Levenson and Benny Sigelbaum to provide vending machines for companies working through federal grants. While this investigation would send Baker to the penitentiary for fraud, theft, and tax evasion, Williams had a greater target in mind: his boss. He got one of Baker’s associates, Don B. Reynolds, to testify that LBJ had demanded kickbacks in exchange for his business and testified about witnessing a $100,000 payoff to him for securing the Fort Worth TFX contract (Simkin). The date of the testimony was November 22, 1963.

After LBJ was sworn in, he used Reynolds’s FBI file to launch a smear campaign to discredit him, including accusations that he had supported Joseph McCarthy and uttered anti-Semitic statements on a visit to West Germany. On Reynolds’s January 9th testimony, he did not implicate Johnson, as he didn’t want to go up against him now that he was president. Williams almost took down a president, and that president wanted to get him. In 1964, LBJ funneled DNC money to Elbert N. Carvel, Williams’ challenger in the Senate election (Savage, 158). In spite of the election being a landslide for Democrats, Williams held on by 3 points. Johnson would not be free of the thorn on his side.

Although Williams had voted against Medicare and Medicaid, he wanted to make sure they were being run ethically now that they were law. With Sen. Russell Long (D-La.), he investigated fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, with the results of their investigation leading to the issuance of new rules on the prevention of fraud in the programs in 1971.

Civil Rights, Vietnam War, and Spending

On the question of civil rights, Williams had supported the desegregation of the armed forces but did not support Brown v. Board of Education (1954), finding it to intrude on state’s rights. However, his public urging of the people of his state to obey the decision in spite of disagreement quelled potential civil unrest after an agitator from a group called the National Association for the Advancement of White People came to Delaware (University of Delaware). Williams did vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (he cast the vote that broke the filibuster of the bill) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He supported legislative rather than court remedies to end Jim Crow.

On the Vietnam War, Williams was critical of the conduct of the war, concluding the US either needed to commit to winning or conclude its involvement, and predicted that it would be ended by negotiation (University of Delaware). Williams was also concerned with civic disturbances from anti-war demonstrations, and called for restraint just as he had with the Brown decision.

Williams’ greatest legislative victory came in 1968. After realizing that a tax increase was inevitable, he worked with Sen. George Smathers (D-Fla.) to successfully add provisions to cut spending by $6 billion. If the government was going to tighten its belt, it would do so by increasing revenue and limiting spending.

Standing Up to His Own Party

Williams was also not afraid to stand up to his own party. For instance, he went against the Republican Old Guard when he voted to censure Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954 and he successfully pushed for the resignation of President Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Sherman Adams, over the relatively minor “mink coat” scandal. A persistent critic of foreign aid who had voted against the Marshall Plan, he did not support increasing foreign aid because Eisenhower wanted it, as some other Republican critics of Truman’s foreign aid spending had. He also at times butted heads with President Nixon. He opposed his Supreme Court nominee Clement Haynsworth over ethics allegations, opposed expanding the war into Cambodia (but opposed the Cooper-Church Amendment to limit the President’s power to support Cambodia, as the measure it would be attached to extended the same support to other nations), and opposed the ambitious Family Assistance Plan as he feared it would cost too much and expand the welfare rolls.

End of Career

In 1970, Williams chose not to run for reelection, believing that elected officials should not serve after the age of 65, but continued to play a role in politics. He joined the American Enterprise Institute in 1972 and the following year he was considered to replace Spiro Agnew as Vice President. Williams again declined the post. In 1980, he joined a bipartisan group called the Committee to Fight Inflation, which lobbied for such measures in Congress.

John J. Williams was not a man prone to supporting large, costly government schemes that purport to better the American public. He’d rather have our government make good use of taxpayer money and be honest in its dealings. He is also one of my political heroes.


John J. Williams Biographical Note. University of Delaware.

Retrieved from

Morgan, M. (12 January 2016). Williams: An outsider determined to make a difference. Delmarva Now.

Retrieved from

Pearson, R. (13 January 1988). John J. Williams, 83, Dies. The Washington Post.

Retrieved from

Savage, S.J. (2004). JFK, LBJ, and the Democratic Party. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Simkin, J. John J. Williams. Spartacus Educational.

Retrieved from


The Parties Since Star Wars: An ACU Rating Based Comparison of the Parties of 1977 and 2017

Recently the American Conservative Union released their ratings for members of Congress for 2017, and my God the Democratic Party has never looked more liberal. For 2017, the ACU found that the Senate’s average score for Democrats was an amazingly low 1% with the highest scorer being Joe Manchin (W.V.) with a mere 8%. The lowest Republican scorer was Susan Collins (Me.) with a 48% and the GOP average Senate score being 80%. The highest Democratic scorer in the House, with an average of 5% liberal average score, was Collin Peterson (Minn.) with a 26%. The average Republican House score was 82%, with the lowest scorers being Reps. John Faso (N.Y.) and Frank LoBiondo (N.J.) at 37%. Even compared to ten years ago the Democrats look much more liberal, but let’s go back a bit further for the purpose of shock value…to the year 1977. Star Wars was released, France was still performing executions via guillotine, disco was all the rage, and long lines to get gas were a thing thanks to price controls. It so happens that the parties were also a bit different.

A long time ago in a galaxy right, right here, the average conservative score for a House Democrat was 27%. You read that correctly…the average score was higher in 1977 than the highest score in 2017. The highest scoring Democrat was Larry McDonald of Georgia with 100%! Although he was quite an aberration being the most non-Democratic Democrat of all time, the runner-ups for most conservative Democrat in the House were:


Dave Satterfield (Va.) – 95%

Harold Runnels (N.M.) – 95%

Dan Daniel (Va.) – 92%

Richard Ichord (Mo.) – 92%

Omar Burleson (Tex.) – 92%

Sonny Montgomery (Miss.) – 91%

Not only did the Democrats have a perfect scorer, they had six ultra-conservative runner-ups. In the Senate, there were Democrats and Independent Harry Byrd Jr. of Virginia, who caucused with the Democrats. The highest scorer in that chamber was James Allen (Ala.) with an 89%, and the average was 23%. That average is 15 points higher than the highest Democratic score in the Senate in 2017. His runner-ups included Harry Byrd Jr. (Va.) with 82% and John Stennis (Miss.) with 72%.

The GOP’s average in 1977 was a 79%, so not that much different from today…but their lowest scorer was Charles Whalen (Ohio) with a mere 10%. The runner-ups?

Millicent Fenwick (N.J.) – 24%

Silvio Conte (Mass.) – 24%

Pete McCloskey (Calif.) – 33%

Newton Steers (Md.) – 33%

Margaret Heckler (Mass.) – 34%

Stewart McKinney (Conn.) – 38%

A bit of a more liberal pool of people in the House depressed the average GOP score slightly. The Senate, however, is more dramatic. The average score was a 64% and its lowest scorer was Jacob Javits (N.Y.) with a 0%! Runner-ups for such staunch liberalism were Ed Brooke (Mass.) and Clifford Case (N.J.) with 3%.

Major party changes would be occurring in the next ten years: by 1987, all of the top conservative Democrats were out of office or dead save for Montgomery and Stennis of Mississippi, the latter of whom would retire the following year aged 87. On the Republican side, only Conte would remain, with McKinney dying of AIDS that year. While it is clear that change definitely happened as there are no Democrats serving in Congress even close to as conservative as any of the people I listed and for Republicans there are at least no equivalents to Whalen or Javits, we must consider if the ACU’s standards for legislative performance rose since, particularly in the last few years. In all, it is interesting to see the extent of change in the parties, especially leading up to the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980.


Federal Legislative Ratings, 1977. American Conservative Union.

Retrieved from

Federal Legislative Ratings, 2017. American Conservative Union.

Retrieved from