The Political Enigma of Minnesota

Hubert Humphrey vice presidential portrait.jpg

Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat who turned Minnesota blue.

In 1980 and 1984, the United States overwhelmingly elected Ronald Reagan to the presidency, but there was one state that the Gipper never won, and that was Minnesota. Minnesota has been a bit of an odd one among the states, as it has had the longest run of Democratic victories in presidential elections to date yet today it is far from the most liberal state. Contrary to its current reputation as a Democratic state, it started Republican.

Although Minnesota’s first two senators were Democrats, they both would be replaced by Republicans, beginning a Republican domination of the state as the people there were staunchly anti-slavery and the Civil War resulted in Democrats rarely being elected to Congress. However, the conservative orthodoxy of the eastern-based GOP was not satisfactory to all in the state, and a split between progressives and conservatives arose. As it became clear that conservatives were not going to be budged out of party control in the state, progressives tried pursuing options outside of the Republican and Democratic parties. In 1892, the Republican candidate for the first time won without a majority of the vote. In 1912, the state voted for Theodore Roosevelt over Taft and more significantly in 1916 the Republican candidate won by a mere 10th of a percent. Alternatives to the Republican Party were proving viable for Progressives, but voters were not quite ready for Democrats yet. Enter the Farmer-Labor Party.

In 1922, the Farmer-Labor Party ran a slate of candidates and had some significant successes: Republican Frank B. Kellogg lost reelection to Henrik Shipstead and longtime House incumbents Andrew J. Volstead (of the infamous Volstead Act of Prohibition) and Halvor Steenerson lost reelection to Farmer-Laborites. These were fed-up left-wing Republicans who were also non-interventionist. The latter combined with the continuing Civil War legacy prevented them from merging with the Democrats during the New Deal years. However, a young Democrat would come along who would change everything. Hubert Humphrey was crucial in the 1944 fusion of the Democrats and Farmer-Laborers. The people in the Farmer-Labor Party who were more on the right, such as Shipstead, had migrated back to the Republican Party. The Democratic Party in the state has since had the unique name, Democratic-Farmer-Labor. This merger began paying out dividends in the short-run. In 1945, Humphrey won the mayoral election in Minneapolis and gained a reputation as a staunch liberal. Three years later, he made a resounding speech on civil rights at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, calling on the Democratic Party “to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights” (Nathanson). This speech was crucial in getting a civil rights plank into the Democratic Party platform for the first time. That year, Humphrey won a full Senate term by defeating the Republican incumbent by a whopping 20 points, a first for a Democrat since before the Civil War. By 1959, the Democratic Party was dominant.

Other Minnesota liberals would follow Humphrey into success, including Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale. Both Humphrey and Mondale would serve as Vice President and McCarthy would run a peace campaign for president in 1968.The state has leaned Democrat since the merger as the left in the state was able to get organized effectively. However, Republicans may have some cause for optimism. The Democrats won the state by only about 1.5% in 2016 and got the lowest percent of the vote in a two-way race since they lost the state in the 1972 election. Although Republicans lost two suburban districts in 2016, they gained two rural ones that year as well. If Trump can win Minnesota like he claims in 2020 and the suburban losses prove temporary, it may be the start of a new era for the state. When the Democrats began to turn affairs in their favor in the state, the Republicans had been the dominant party for 80-90 years. So the Dems may still have some time, but don’t count out the Republicans.

References

Nathanson, I. (2011, May 23). ‘Into the bright sunshine’ – Hubert Humphrey’s civil rights agenda. Minn Post.

Retrieved from

https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2011/05/bright-sunshine-hubert-humphreys-civil-rights-agenda/

James G. Blaine: The Defeated Candidate

Image result for James G. Blaine

From 1860 to 1912, there was only one Republican who ran for president and never got to hold the office. This was the highly influential Maine politician James G. Blaine, whose candidacy would be notably plagued by ethics issues that would seem very familiar to modern voters.

James G. Blaine got his start in politics young, and in 1862, he was elected to the House as a staunch supporter of the Civil War effort. Although he supported the use of greenbacks during the war, after the war he insisted on gold to pay interest on pre-war bonds and argued that the use of greenbacks was only as an emergency measure to prevent bankruptcy. After only six years in Congress Blaine had developed a sterling reputation for his mastery of parliamentary procedure and was elected Speaker of the House. He accomplished all this before the age of 40.

Blaine was a popular and effective Speaker in shepherding legislation including the Grant Administration’s measures for civil rights and against the KKK, but in 1872 he was accused of taking bribes in the Credit Mobilier Scandal. These charges were never proven but it wouldn’t be the last time he fell under suspicion. In 1875, appealing to Republican Protestants, he proposed a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited any public money coming under the control of religious institutions. This proposal led to accusations that he was anti-Catholic, despite him having married one. Despite the amendment never being adopted, many states passed their own “Blaine Amendments” and many of those remain.

In 1876, he was commonly thought of as a presidential candidate, but again an allegation of bribery arose against him, this time that that year the Union Pacific Railroad had paid him $64,000 for Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad bonds he owned despite them being of little value. A witness, clerk James Mulligan, testified that the charges were true and that he had the letters to prove it, and that they ended with the phrase, “Kindly burn this letter”. Blaine met with Mulligan regarding his testimony and somehow got a hold of the letters and refused to release them. Although he was unable to win the nomination, his political career continued with his election to the Senate. He became known as the leading figure of the “Half Breeds”, Republicans who supported moderate civil service reform, as opposed to the “Stalwarts”, led by Senator Roscoe Conkling, who supported machine politics. Blaine tried again in 1880, but Garfield, a fellow “Half Breed”, triumphed over him. However, he got the post of Secretary of State. Unfortunately for him, fate had other ideas about his future, with Garfield assassinated and Stalwart Chester Arthur now president, resulting in Blaine’s departure at the end of the year. In 1884, for a third time he ran but the campaign would prove one of the most tumultuous in American history. The voters would have to choose between political and personal corruption allegations.

During the campaign, more correspondence was discovered and he admitted the letters were genuine but denied that they reflected anything detrimental about his integrity or made him dishonest. However, the most damaging letters in the bunch included at the end, “Burn this letter”. Democrats gleefully used this in the campaign, employing a rallying cry of “Blaine! Blaine! Jay Gould Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!” (Rosenberg) The revelation of these letters damaged his campaign enough so that a group of Republicans known as “Mugwumps” deserted Blaine for Cleveland, and for the first time since 1856, a Republican lost a presidential election. One of the best arguments put forth against Blaine compared to Cleveland’s personal peccadillos was “We should elect Mr. Cleveland to the public office he is so admirably qualified to fill and remand Mr. Blaine to the private life he is so eminently fitted to adorn” (Rosenberg). The decision of the electorate in 1884 is reminiscent of that of 2016, in that the voters chose to elect the person with personal scandal in their background as opposed to political.

This run wasn’t the end for Blaine, however, in 1889 he was appointed again to be Secretary of State and proved highly ambitious. He wanted to expand America’s influence throughout the western hemisphere by expanding trade, establishing a customs union, and a Pan-American railroad. Blaine did manage to get tariffs reduced on western hemisphere nations as part of the McKinley Tariff and his ideas were the precursor to the Organization of American States. He served until June 4, 1892, when his failing health combined with the emotional toll of the deaths of three of his children within two years necessitated his retirement. The winter of 1892-93 proved catastrophic for Blaine’s health and he died on January 27, 1893. In numerous ways, Blaine is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton. He was a highly influential figure in his party and rose to be a senator, he faced a candidate with personal scandal, the highest post he got in the federal government was Secretary of State, and finally ethics issues regarding his correspondence resulted in his defeat.

References

Rosenberg, D. (1962). The Dirtiest Election. American Heritage, 13(5).

Retrieved from

https://www.americanheritage.com/dirtiest-election

 

The Problems of Interest Group Ratings

In the course of my political research, I have frequently used votes counted by ideological interest groups to get a handle on what is regarded in history and now as liberal and conservative. The most useful ones I have found are Americans for Constitutional Action (conservative, now defunct), American Conservative Union, and Americans for Democratic Action (liberal). Although all these groups are useful, I have found none of the interest group ratings completely satisfactory in grading ideology for several reasons. These are:

  1. They influence phenomena as much as they report it. They are designed to push legislators. If there are two votes on the same subject, interest groups will pick the one in which their position lost or the margins were closest in victory. Example: confirmations of Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor Jr. in 2005. ADA selected the former and ACU selected the latter. Both were controversial conservative judges Bush was trying to confirm for federal appellate courts. Republicans were unanimous in voting for Brown on June 8 and three dissented on Pryor on June 9, thus ADA chose the Brown vote to portray the Republicans as more right-wing on judicial nominations while ACU chose the Pryor vote to highlight the disloyalty of three Republicans. Votes can be selected for the most extreme positions to penalize party moderates and reduce the difference that is seen between them and staunch believers on the other side.
  2. Sometimes interest groups will highlight pet causes, include votes of questionable ideology, and dock members for behavior outside of votes. ACU, for instance, chose the First Step Act as one of their votes in both Houses despite dissent coming only from a small group of conservative Republicans. This vote does not indicate conservative ideology yet they included it because they participated in its creation. For an example of docking behavior outside of votes, ADA counts failures to vote against senators and representatives. It sure is news to conservatives that failure to vote reflects their position! ACU isn’t innocent here either, as in 2016 they triple-counted statements on the nomination of Merrick Garland. Garland never came to a Senate vote, but the ACU managed to count public statements of wanting to hold a vote on him against all Democrats and a few Republicans, and credited Republicans who went along with McConnell blocking a vote on him.
  3. Conservative ratings don’t tend to do well in determining ideological differences between Democrats and vice-versa. The most egregious examples of this include ADA scoring Tea Party/Freedom Caucus people higher on liberalism than their more moderate, establishment counterparts. For instance, Andy Biggs scored a 25% and Justin Amash a 40% in 2018, while moderate Susan Collins scored a 20%. Also, ACU’s 2017 Senate ratings had over forty Democrats scoring zeroes while only one, Joe Manchin, voted more than once for the conservative position, and he scored an 8%.

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Image result for Americans for Democratic Action

 

These ratings organizations serve as much to ideologically police and lobby as they do to observe and report. Indeed, this phenomenon was observed by researcher Emily J. Charnock in her journal article, “More Than a Score: Interest Group Ratings and Polarized Politics”, when she states that “ADA and ACA scores have been heavily utilized in political science as proxies for liberalism and conservatism and used to demonstrate the growing polarization of the congressional parties. Archival evidence suggests, however, that those scores were intended to create the very phenomenon they have been used to measure. They were deeply political rather than objective metrics, which the ADA and ACA used to guide their electoral activities in accordance with an increasingly partisan strategic plan”. This is one of the reasons I am creating Mike’s Conservative Index. This index does not intend to police or lobby, rather observe and report. Indeed, I include votes back to 1861 and there’s no point to lobbying the past now is there? DW-Nominate’s first dimension tends to do a good job of determining most right-wing members of Congress but it doesn’t do so well on the left, especially in periods of ideological flux and I use the figures who scored the highest on the first dimension to determine what good conservative scores ought to be. My goal is to rectify the issues surrounding interest groups and provide a system that is accessible, so instead of scores like 0.382, I assign a solid percent based on key votes. I confess key votes are a necessary evil of the process, and this is one way my system could be critiqued compared to first dimension DW-Nominate. I also admit that after 1946 I use interest group ratings as a guide for votes, but I will often mix ACA (Americans for Constitutional Action), ACU, and ADA counted votes I find most appropriate given the methodology and rules I have employed. I am certain that my scores will not be pleasing for either the left or right for differing reasons. I am sure, for instance, that many abolitionists being conservative and many people who supported the retention of slavery being liberal will raise hell with the contemporary left as will my counting of civil rights legislation in the 1960s as against conservatism raise hell with the contemporary right. My goal is not to please, but to get closer to the truth.

References

Charnock, E.J. (2018). More Than a Score: Interest Group Ratings and Polarized Politics. Studies in American Political Development, 32 (1), 49-78.

Retrieved from

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/studies-in-american-political-development/article/more-than-a-score-interest-group-ratings-and-polarized-politics/0E1ACA09AE94B5D509861EE170B205EC

Examining the Ideology of Presidents

As a part of an ongoing project of mine to determine ideological scores for politicians who served in the House and Senate from 1861 to present, presidents who served in either chamber have been scored as well. My scale, Mike’s Conservative Index, goes from 0 to 100, with 100 being the most conservative score. It can be reversed to “Liberal” score, but bear in mind this is not optimal as this was designed to determine conservatism and liberals may select different key votes to determine ideology. Among the presidents I have examined and given scores, these are based on their legislative records from 1861-present. This means that there are no scores for some very notable presidents including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan as none of them served in the House or Senate. I may calculate scores for them in the future based on records of presidential requests and announced positions, but bear in mind especially for presidents before FDR these may be of limited usefulness. Additionally, these scores tell us nothing about the ethics or efficacy of these men as president, nor do they tell us their record as president. For instance, Senator Harry S. Truman certainly was at least a little bit more conservative than President Harry S. Truman.

Rutherford B. Hayes – 50%

Hayes served one term in the House during the Johnson Administration and established a reputation as a moderate there. What helped push him into the presidency, however, was being an effective governor of Ohio.

James A. Garfield – 86%

Despite his limited time in office, Garfield had a much longer career in the House and proved to be conservative, including on currency, labor, and taxation.

Benjamin Harrison – 95%

Harrison served one term in the Senate from Indiana, and he managed to build up a staunchly conservative record. His presidency does not necessarily communicate this to the modern observer since on domestic policy it was characterized most by two laws passed through inter-party compromises: the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Under his administration, the first anti-trust law was passed, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. However, this one surprisingly cannot be placed on the left-right scale as only one senator voted against since the law granted sufficient flexibility to businesses to satisfy conservatives.

William McKinley – 95%

Before becoming president, McKinley was a notable member of Congress and served as Ohio’s governor. He crafted the McKinley Tariff, which was so unpopular it played a significant role in the Republicans losing Congress in the 1890 election. The 1896 election is also the first one that to a modern viewer is clearly Republican right vs. Democrat left (Bryan). McKinley, even from the time he started serving in the 1870s, had a conservative reputation and was known as a staunch supporter of the gold standard, supporter of tariffs, and opponent of the income tax.

Warren G. Harding – 95%

Harding served slightly less than one term in the Senate and was a safe bet as a conservative vote and voice. On issues that were not meat and potatoes Republican, however, he tended to dodge controversy. Harding backed the popular social policies pushed in his time, including Prohibition, Women’s Suffrage, and immigration restriction. His administration was committed to reducing domestic taxes, raising tariffs, and cutting government expenditures.

Harry S. Truman – 13%

Truman was elected to the Senate in 1934 as a New Deal Democrat and supported most of FDR’s domestic policies while completely supporting his foreign policy. As president, he pushed (mostly unsuccessfully) the Fair Deal to expand the New Deal but was successful in pursuing an internationalist foreign policy with post-war foreign aid packages.

John F. Kennedy – 13%

John F. Kennedy’s legislative record from an ideological perspective seems to be a bell curve. At the start of his House career, he voted as a staunch liberal, but in the Senate he seemed more on the moderately liberal side, at least until he thought of running for president, when his record shifted and in his last session in the Senate he scored a 0%. His presidency for the most part was liberal in his pushing of the New Frontier, which was sometimes defeated due to the Conservative Coalition in Congress.

Lyndon B. Johnson – 20%

Lyndon B. Johnson is an interesting case. His legislative record spans from his House career, 1937-49, to his Senate career, 1949-61. Johnson started his career as a staunch New Dealer and FDR saw in him a potential successor. He moved somewhat to the right later in his legislative career, but his highest score for a session was only a 34%, during the last two years of the Truman Administration. Sure, 34% is not good by liberal standards, but its even worse by conservative standards. Of course, his presidency on domestic issues proved significantly more liberal than his time as a legislator.

Richard M. Nixon – 78%

Where to place Richard Milhous Nixon politically has always been a subject of controversy. Indeed, I get a lot of disagreement when I assert that he was moderately conservative in his outlook. Liberals in his time liked to paint him as ultra-conservative, but in retrospect they no longer seem to think that true as the era of anti-Vietnam War left-wing radicalism slides further into the past. Staunch conservatives like to paint him as staunchly liberal and it is true that ultra-conservatives had significant differences with Nixon as president. His score of 78% reflects his time in the House, 1947-50, and the Senate, 1950-53. Nixon’s legislative record mostly reflected conservative views on domestic policy with some significant departures on foreign policy. He sided with the internationalist wing of the party, and thus was a good pick for Eisenhower, who wanted someone who would back his foreign policy while appealing to the conservative base. As president, he vetoed some liberal legislation but also backed policies that the Republicans would not have accepted from a Democratic president, including guaranteed minimum income.

Gerald Ford – 80%

Gerald Ford was quite like Nixon in political outlook: primarily favored conservative policies on domestic issues while embracing internationalism. He has a much longer legislative record than Nixon, since his voting record in the House spans 1949 to 1973. Thus, we have on record his votes on Fair Deal, New Frontier, Great Society, and all major civil rights bills of the civil rights era. As president, he reluctantly supported a measure bailing out New York City after initially rejecting it but largely spent his time vetoing Democratic legislation, including measures on surface mining, public works bills, housing aid, agriculture programs, and weakening the Hatch Act.

George H.W. Bush – 85%

Bush’s score comes from the four years he represented Houston in Congress. He proved a conservative on most questions but sometimes cast votes that ticked off the Republican base, thus falling short of ultra-conservative. His presidency largely proved the same if not more so, especially with his acceptance of a raise in income taxes as part of a budget deal with the Democrats. Like his two Republican predecessor presidents, Bush tended to support foreign aid bills.

Barack Obama – 9%

Obama’s four years in the Senate were mostly characterized by opposition to the policies of the Bush Administration. The one issue he seemed to side with conservatives on consistently was for restricting pork, one issue for sure that he and Senator John McCain were on the same page. As president, he pursued a liberal agenda with the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus package that focused on the use of government spending and jobs, and unsuccessful efforts at “cap and trade” and “card check” legislation. These policies I called back in 2009 the “four horsemen of the political apocalypse”. However, he was forced to retreat into deal-making on a domestic level due to the election of a Republican Congress in 2010.

Bonus…Unsuccessful Presidential Candidates:

James G. Blaine, 1884 – 78%

James B. Weaver, 1892 – 18%

William Jennings Bryan, 1896, 1900, 1908 – 6%

Tom Watson, 1904 – 3%

James M. Cox, 1920 – 17%

John W. Davis, 1924 – 21%

Barry Goldwater, 1964 – 95%

Hubert Humphrey, 1968 – 1%

George McGovern, 1972 – 7%

John B. Anderson, 1980 – 63%

Walter Mondale, 1984 – 1%

Bob Dole, 1996 – 87%

Al Gore, 2000 – 14%

John F. Kerry, 2004 – Not yet calculated.

John McCain, 2008 – Not yet calculated.

Mitt Romney, 2012 – Not yet calculated.

Hillary Clinton, 2016 – 7%

Joe Biden, 2020? – 11%

A More Complete Look at the Longest Serving Senator in American History

Robert Byrd official portrait.jpg

On November 24, 2018, I wrote and published an article on this particular senator. I have again written about him partly because I forgot that I did so in the past, but also because I feel I have a bit of a more complete profile on him, particularly on his past and details of his record. I wrote a good lot here so I’m not going to let that go to waste.

In 1942, a young backwoods butcher from Sophia, West Virginia who knew just about nothing but work in his life was eager to recruit for an organization that he regarded as fundamentally patriotic and protective of community life and standards: the Ku Klux Klan. He approved the organization’s opposition to communism and interracial relations, both of which were common views in his time and place. As a boy in the 1920s, he had seen his adoptive father march with the KKK and thus the organization was backed by a family role model. The young man wrote to the Grand Dragon of his area about forming a Klan chapter, and he wrote back that he would visit if he was able to recruit 150 people, and recruit he did among his friends and neighbors. The visiting Grand Dragon, Joel Baskin, told him, “You have a talent for leadership, Bob…the country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation” (Carlson). From this single sentence uttered by a leading member of a marginalized hate group, an obscure butcher embarked on a path that would lead him to become the longest serving senator in American history. The young man’s name was Robert Byrd (1917-2010).

After serving in both houses of the state legislature, Byrd ran for Congress in 1952. Although his opponents would use his 1940s Klan leadership role against him, he never lost an election. Byrd was at heart a populist Democrat who was wedded to the philosophy of the New Deal but who embraced socially conservative stances on numerous issues. In 1958, he defeated Republican Senator W. Chapman Revercomb for reelection by almost 20 points in what was a bad year for Republicans in a Democratic state. From then on, he would only once get less than 65% of the vote in an election. As a young senator, Byrd studied the rules and soon became a master parliamentarian in the chamber he came to love and cherish. In the 1960s, he took a number of stances that have attracted criticism, such as his record on civil rights. While Byrd had voted for both of the civil rights bills during the Eisenhower Administration as well as a poll tax ban in 1962, he took exception to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He opposed the entire bill save for the weak voting rights section and participated in the Southern filibuster, himself speaking for 14 hours against the bill. Byrd similarly voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and opposed its extension in 1970. He was unique in that he was the only Senate Democrat from outside the former Confederacy to vote against both bills. In 1967, Byrd was one of eleven senators to vote against the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, again the only senator from outside the former Confederacy. His civil rights stances were a notable break from Democratic leadership as he had been a solid supporter of the Kennedy Administration in the Senate and had embraced much of the Great Society, including the Economic Opportunity Act and Medicare. Byrd also was known as one of the leading cheerleaders for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and was a hawk on the Vietnam War. Although he was often sympathetic to left-wing positions on social welfare and redistribution of wealth, he was no fan of the cosmopolitan left. Although his stance on civil rights might have today stopped his Senate ambitions, Byrd was simply too valuable to the Democrats.

He was one of the hardest workers in the chamber and developed such an extensive knowledge on the Senate that in his later years he wrote an award-winning four-volume series detailing the history of the chamber, The Senate: 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the Senate. Byrd was both a student of the Roman Republic and American government and was mindful of the powers and prerogatives of the Senate regardless of who was president. He would say that he served “with” and not “under” presidents and thought the three branches of government ought to be equal in powers as constitutionally intended. Byrd didn’t initially attract a lot of press attention on Capitol Hill, that is, not until he defeated Ted Kennedy for Majority Whip in 1971. Kennedy’s reputation had been harmed by the Chappaquiddick incident in addition to the fact that he was spending a lot of time partying. The work horse had prevailed over the show horse. He further gained in reputation with his ability to whip party votes and was able to be an effective middleman between the liberal and conservative wings of the party. Byrd’s record on civil rights also changed as he moved into leadership and in 1975 he voted to extend the Voting Rights Act for seven years and on multiple occasions he apologized for his previous involvement with the KKK as well as his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He subsequently adopted national Democratic views on these issues for the most part. In 1977, he was elected Majority Leader. Now the most powerful senator, Byrd used his position to help West Virginia secure government funding for projects large and small, necessary and dubious. He was also an accomplished fiddler and even released an album titled Mountain Fiddler in which he also sang. In 1981, he for the first time entered the minority when Republicans gained control of the chamber. In 1989, he gave up his post as Majority Leader to become chair of the Appropriations Committee, where his power to appropriate pork for West Virginia continued. In 1991, Byrd voted against the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas but in subsequent years he voted for conservative nominees to the court. That year he voted against the Gulf War, which stood as a contrast to his Vietnam War hawkishness and portended one of his more famous dissents.

In 1996, Robert Byrd voted for welfare reform but didn’t support other proposals to overhaul welfare programs such as making food stamps block grants. He also didn’t care much for the personal reputation of Bill Clinton despite voting for his acquittal and didn’t campaign hard for Al Gore in 2000, Bush winning West Virginia year. Although initially warm to him, Byrd came to be one of the more notable opponents of his administration and voted against the Iraq War. In 2004, he wrote Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, in which he condemned the Iraq War as being unnecessary and the Administration’s “war on terror” policies as being corrosive to civil liberties. Byrd also opposed the Bush tax cuts and efforts at cutting the domestic budget. However, he maintained his opposition to some socially liberal policies, such as gay rights, while having a mixed record on abortion. On May 19, 2008, he endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president. He supported most of the Obama Administration’s policies and on December 24, 2009, he cast a vote ending debate on the Affordable Care Act. Byrd died the following year at the age of 92. The score he received for his fifty-seven years in federal office on Mike’s Conservative Index was a 29%, indicating he was moderately left overall in his career.

Byrd’s death marked the end of the traditional Democrat and symbolized both the end of the sort of Democrats working class whites supported as well as of the ability to insert pork into legislation. After the 2010 election, incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) banned earmarks, a policy that would have undoubtedly mortified the late senator. The absence of Byrd’s type of Democrat in the modern party I also find has contributed to the increasingly populist tone of the Republican Party and rural regions turning more and more against the strongly cosmopolitan Democrats.

References

Carlson, P. (2011, August). Robert Byrd Consorts With a KKK Grand Dragon. HistoryNet.

Retrieved from

https://www.historynet.com/robert-byrd-consorts-kkk-grand-dragon.htm

 

The Politics Behind the Federal Reserve

In 1907, the American public faced an economic crisis that necessitated reform: the aptly named Panic of 1907. There were runs on banks and President Theodore Roosevelt had to get the help of master banker J.P. Morgan, who had previously been crucial to ending the Panic of 1893. He was able to use his influence and money to alleviate the crisis by convincing bankers to keep the money flowing in the economy. The Independent Treasury system, which on paper was supposed to regulate money supply, proved tremendously weak and unable to cope with the crisis. This panic got the attention of people who were previously skeptical to the notion of a national bank as well as that of the powerful Senator Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.). Aldrich, a conservative, was reluctant to get the federal government involved in control of the money supply, but found that European central banking provided much greater stability. In 1910, Aldrich and a group of bankers which included future Congressman A. Piatt Andrew met at Jekyll Island, Georgia, to formulate a plan. The Aldrich Plan was crafted, in which bankers would act as federal officers and exercise control over the money supply through fifteen regional banks. This plan was objectionable to progressives, who considered it a surrender to the “money trust” and was defeated in a House vote. In 1912, the Pujo Committee investigated the notion that a “money trust” existed and discovered that three bankers – J.P. Morgan, George F. Baker, and James Stillman ran a cartel that controlled eighteen major financial corporations and that a small group of bankers exerted control over the transportation, telecommunications, manufacturing, and mining industries. The committee also found that they were able to manipulate the New York Stock Exchange and had attempted to dodge interstate trading laws. They exercised control over the money supply of the United States, and this was a motivating factor for the creation of central banking system. An up and coming figure recognized the need for centralized banking while simultaneously being concerned about the power of bankers: Woodrow Wilson.

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1912 political cartoon ripping Aldrich’s plan.

Given the split of the Republican Party in 1912, Wilson was elected president and in pushing for the Federal Reserve he found two key allies: Senator Robert Owen (D-Okla.) and Representative Carter Glass (D-Va.). Owen was a progressive while Glass was more moderate in those views and more receptive to banker concerns. The Democratic Party had traditionally opposed centralized banking as Presidents Jefferson and Jackson both opposed a central bank, with the latter ending the Second Bank of the United States. Democrats had voted against the National Bank Act under Lincoln and many in their ranks were initially skeptical of this plan. However, Wilson, Owen, and Glass crafted a compromise in which the bank would be partly public and partly private. An independent Federal Reserve Board was established that governed the Federal Reserve banks (to be headed by bankers) and consisted of seven members, one who is a representative of the banking sector. The traditional advocates of centralized banking, Republicans, objected to this arrangement as they believed that bankers should be at the helm.

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Wilbur G. Kurtz Sr.’s depiction of the signing of the Federal Reserve Act.

In 1913, the Federal Reserve Act passed with the support of all but three Democrats in the House and a solid majority of Republicans in opposition in both chambers. The vote roughly broke down with anti-banker politicians voting for and pro-banker politicians voting against, but there were exceptions. The three Democrats, for instance, were sticking to the traditional Jacksonian opposition to central banking and some progressive Republicans such as Robert La Follette voted against it as too favorable to banks. On the other ideological side, ultra-conservative Senator John W. Weeks of Massachusetts was willing to accept this measure for the sake of stability despite the creation of a Federal Reserve Board and the fact that it had only one representative from the banking sector.

Since then, there have been certain narratives that have basis in La Follette’s objections that have taken hold among the populist right, many of which come from G. Edward Griffin’s book, The Creature from Jekyll Island (1994). Griffin holds that the bank is basically nothing more than the money trust but by government and banks and that bankers manipulate nations into war for their profit, one of the most prominent examples being World War I. This is both conspiratorial and out of sync with the traditional critique that the bank would have been better being run entirely by bankers and would strike many of the Federal Reserve’s principal supporters as strange, as they intended the measure as both a stabilizing measure and a curb on banker power. The primary supporters of the Federal Reserve were men of the left, while its opponents were primarily men of the right. Indeed, La Follette was an exception among Republicans in his own state, who voted for it. More typical was Senator George Norris (R-Neb.), another notable progressive, who voted for it as a progressive reform. The Federal Reserve ultimately replaced the “money trust”, which had been the private sector effort to address the issues of money supply in the economy, among other things. Lastly, I find it outright stunning that Griffin, a lifetime member of the John Birch Society, would find himself on the exact same page on banks and American involvement in World War I as Robert La Follette, a man who called for the nationalization of railroads and would almost certainly have been supportive of the New Deal given that his son, La Follette Jr., was. Politics makes for strange bedfellows!

When Gerald Ford Tried to Impeach a Supreme Court Justice

Recently the Democrats have been trying their damndest to relitigate the Kavanaugh confirmation by entertaining impeachment. Justified or not, people have strong feelings about the justice and subscribe to one of two narratives: 1. He is not guilty of what he is accused of and is being ruthlessly and unethically pursued for political reasons. 2. He is guilty and what’s more is representative of the men in society who have reaped its rewards despite their violence against women. For this narrative, his confirmation and Republicans defending him constitutes more evidence for the “war on women”. Both narratives are mutually exclusive, and neither one can be admitted by the other side. If you have read some of my articles here, you probably know which narrative I subscribe to. Anyway, few justices in history have evoked such visceral reactions as Kavanaugh, but one who approached this level was Justice William O. Douglas.

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William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 1939-75.

Douglas was one of the Supreme Court’s prime liberals and was both the longest served (1939-1975) and most prolific opinion writing justice in history. With quantity, however, came a cost of quality. For instance, justices tend not to use his majority opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) to justify the existence of an implied “right to privacy”, rather the concurring opinion of John Marshall Harlan II. In addition to his staunch liberalism on subjects such as the rights of criminal defendants, commerce powers, reapportionment, and civil rights, his personal life was also a subject of criticism. Douglas didn’t possess the greatest character: he wrote and told lies about the struggles of his early life, was a heavy drinker, and was a notorious womanizer who had four marriages and openly pursued other men’s wives. Additionally, his third wife claimed to a law clerk that he “beats me up all the time” and would often otherwise ignore her (Garrow). His children found him to be cold and distant and even “scary” at times in hostility. Douglas didn’t care what others thought of his private life and needless to say, he would not pass under the standards of #Metoo. Even The Nation regarded him as disappointing for not being as accomplished as other court liberals such as Earl Warren or William J. Brennan. Taking offense to his personal life, rulings, and business dealings was House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, who people don’t tend to have strong feelings about given his middling presidency.

Image result for Gerald Ford

In 1970, Ford, a frequent critic of the Warren Court’s rulings, introduced articles of impeachment for Douglas, with the case centering on his financial affairs, although his personal life and liberal record were certainly motivators for him. He condemned him for having financial ties to a foundation partly funded by casinos as well as permitting an article of his to be published in Evergreen Review, a publication he regarded as obscene. Ford’s action was widely viewed as retaliation for the Democratic Senate’s rejection of two of Nixon’s nominees for the Supreme Court, and this certainly was at least part of the motivation for this action. During this time, he gave justification for impeachment that mirrors what current Democrats have tried to use to justify efforts against both President Trump and Kavanaugh: “What, then, is an impeachable offense? The only honest answer is that an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers to be at a given moment in history” (Davis).

Ironically, although the case against Douglas ultimately fell flat, Ford would choose Douglas’s successor and would ultimately write him a very nice departing letter. Ford’s appointment, John Paul Stevens, would prove to be one of the most conspicuous liberals on the Supreme Court. Efforts at purely political impeachment may be an exercise certain members of the House undertake, but we have yet to have one that was based entirely on this. It is also an open question as to whether the American public will ever accept such an impeachment.

References

Davis, K.C. (2017, June 12). The History of American Impeachment. Smithsonian Magazine.

Retrieved from

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-you-need-know-about-impeachment-180963645/

Garrow, D.J. (2003, March 27). The Tragedy of William O. Douglas. The Nation.

Retrieved from

https://www.thenation.com/article/tragedy-william-o-douglas/

 

 

 

David I. Walsh: Irish Catholic Trailblazer for JFK

The Democrat most celebrated who is associated with Massachusetts is President John F. Kennedy. He was the first Catholic president but the state he came from was at one time a Republican stronghold with only small Democratic enclaves in Boston. Kennedy had been only the fourth Democrat elected to the Senate in the state’s history, and this was possible thanks to some trailblazers, the first major one being David I. Walsh (1872-1947).

David I. Walsh, an Irish Catholic politician in a state dominated by Republican WASPs, made his way up in Massachusetts politics as a progressive reformer, pushing government to take care of matters of social welfare. He served in the Massachusetts State Legislature from 1900-1901, where he opposed imperialism and  child labor. Walsh was defeated for reelection on account of his vote to restrict hours of women and children. In 1912, he was elected lieutenant governor, the first Democrat to serve in this position in seventy years. In 1913, he was elected governor and served two years. Walsh proved to be a different sort of Democrat on racial issues than many of his time, calling for film censorship of Birth of a Nation and would support civil rights measures throughout his career. As governor, he increased worker’s compensation payments, improved facilities for the mentally ill, supported women’s suffrage, and tried to institute initiative and referendum. In 1915, Republican Samuel W. McCall, who had managed to unify the party, defeated Walsh for reelection. However, Walsh would soon return to politics, this time on a national stage.

In 1918, ultra-conservative Senator John W. Weeks was showing signs of vulnerability. Although women’s suffrage had been defeated in a 1915 statewide referendum, public opinion in Massachusetts and elsewhere was shifting and anti-suffrage politicians were starting to lose reelection. Weeks was conspicuous in his opposition to the suffrage amendment and Walsh was equally so in his support. He made it a central issue and women’s organizations campaigned strongly for Walsh. On election day, he prevailed by over four points, the only Democratic gain in the Senate in a Republican election year that saw victories for pro-suffrage candidates. Walsh was only the second Democrat in history to represent Massachusetts in the Senate and the first to be elected by popular vote.

Walsh proved left-wing in his early Senate years but broke with the Wilson Administration over the Versailles Treaty – Irish Catholic Democrats in Massachusetts harbored a strong dislike for Britain and viewed the treaty as a way of propping up the power of the British Empire. He could be thought of as a strong reservationist on the treaty, voting for Henry Cabot Lodge’s version of the treaty with reservations and against a treaty with none. Walsh by and large opposed the policies of the Harding and Coolidge Administrations and opposed income tax reductions. In 1924, he fought for a plank at the Democratic National Convention condemning the Ku Klux Klan for its animus to Catholics and Jews. That year, he lost reelection by less than two points in the Coolidge wave to Speaker of the House Frederick Gillett but the death of Lodge that year opened the door for his return: he managed to best Republican placeholder and Coolidge friend William M. Butler in 1926 by over five points.

Walsh staunchly opposed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua and criticized the Hoover Administration’s handling of the Great Depression. Although he initially backed the New Deal, he was never enthusiastic about it and by 1935 he was having differences with the Roosevelt Administration which grew so great in significance that he reluctantly endorsed Roosevelt mere weeks before the 1936 election. Starting in 1939, Walsh’s differences on foreign policy came to predominate his relations with the Roosevelt and he joined the America First Committee. Once again, the cause of the British was unpopular with the Irish Catholics of the state, and as their utmost representative Walsh fought against American involvement abroad. A young John F. Kennedy felt no different on the subject and supported the America First Committee at the time as well. Walsh retained his popularity with the voters, winning reelection in 1940 by a greater margin than FDR. However, this would not last.

In 1942, the New York Post, at the time a staunchly interventionist newspaper, claimed that Walsh had frequented a Nazi-infiltrated male brothel that catered to members of the US Navy. Although his fellow senators defended him and after an investigation the FBI exonerated him on the charge of frequenting the brothel, this smear hit him hard as it was an open secret in Washington as well as with many Massachusetts voters that he was gay. Walsh never admitted this publicly, but President Roosevelt stated his belief that it was true to Vice President Henry Wallace and Majority Leader Alben Barkley. After World War II, he supported the founding of the United Nations but opposed the Anglo-American Loan Agreement, a major loan to Great Britain to help stabilize its economy. Along with the allegations about his frequenting a brothel, his stance on foreign policy didn’t age well and in 1946 he was badly defeated for reelection by internationalist Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (who made no mention of the scandal), losing by almost twenty points. Walsh himself didn’t age well either and died only five months after leaving office at 74, but in the same year he lost, John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress. It was Walsh’s influence and achievements that had built the foundation not only for fellow Irish Catholic Kennedy’s rise, but for that of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts as well.

 

The Real Indiana Jones Was a Conservative Republican

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In 1911, South American history lecturer Hiram Bingham III (1875-1956) formed the Yale Peruvian Expedition and managed to discover and properly identify the ancient civilization of Machu Picchu. He would visit the place twice more, the final time in 1915. This was an amazing discovery for a non-archaeologist and in 1948 he wrote Lost City of the Incas, detailing his discoveries and theories. He served as an inspiration for the character Indiana Jones and most archaeologists will only dream of making such discoveries in the course of their careers.

Bingham’s prominence resulted in a political career in the United States, and in 1922 he was elected lieutenant governor of Connecticut. In 1924, he was elected to replace the late Senator Frank B. Brandegee, a tragic figure who had committed suicide on account of failing health and finances. Like Brandegee, Bingham was a staunch conservative. He even went as far as opposing reauthorization of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act, which had been passed overwhelmingly in 1921. Bingham also became known for his advocacy for the commercial expansion of aviation and became known as “the flying senator” for his stunts such as landing a blimp on Capitol Hill.

Political Trouble

In 1929, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee investigated Bingham’s professional relationship with his clerk, who served as a lobbyist when off the clock. This allowed said lobbyist special access to Finance Committee meetings on tariff legislation. Although initially the Judiciary Subcommittee condemned Bingham’s arrangement but called for no action, Bingham responded poorly and accused the subcommittee of engaging in a partisan “witch hunt”. The result of his reaction was further investigation by the Senate, resulting in his censure on November 4th of that year. He is only one of nine senators to be censured for their behavior in office. Bingham’s experience serves as an important lesson in not placing your foot in your mouth.

Bingham’s censure combined with the Great Depression’s impact on the Republican Party resulted in his defeat for reelection in 1932, losing to Democrat Augustine Lonergan. Ironically, at least two of his seven sons would take vastly different political roads: his son, Alfred Bingham, was a radical before he settled on being a New Deal Democrat, and another son, Jonathan Bingham, served as a staunchly liberal Democratic Congressman from New York from 1965 to 1983. Yet another son, Hiram Bingham IV, was a diplomat who saved over 2500 Jews from the clutches of the Nazis in France. These included the painter Marc Chagall (with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship), political theorist Hannah Arendt, and novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger.