The State’s Rights Progressive

Image result for William E. Borah

Imagine if you will a senator who through one speech can convince multiple senators to change their minds and fights for numerous progressive stances, yet opposes many measures he thinks of as upsetting state’s rights and wants America to stay out of foreign affairs. Such a politician today would be a fictional character, but this accurately describes Republican William E. Borah (1865-1940) of Idaho.

Early Life

Borah was involved in the politics of Idaho from the very start of statehood, serving as secretary to Governor William J. McConnell, who had also been one of the state’s first two senators. He would marry the senator’s daughter Mary and become a renowned attorney. Although Borah was a Republican, he often held views counter to the party’s and in 1896 he for the first and only time left the party and became a “Silver Republican” due to the party’s full-throated embrace of the gold standard. By 1900, however, the issue had become irrelevant as the economy was booming and Borah supported the foreign policy of William McKinley. So unlike in 1896 when he backed Democrat William Jennings Bryan, he backed McKinley’s reelection. In 1903, Borah made his first try for the Senate, but was defeated by fellow Republican Weldon B. Heyburn, an irascible conservative. In 1906, he tried again, this time seeking to defeat Fred Dubois, who I have written about before. Borah campaigned against Dubois’ continued anti-Mormon stances, which included disenfranchisement. The Democrats got creamed in the 1906 midterms in Idaho in large part due to Dubois so the staunchly Republican legislature elected Borah in 1907.

Borah the Senator

That year he faced two trials, one that he was the prosecutor and another in which he was the defendant. In the former, Borah prosecuted radical labor leader Big Bill Haywood for the murder of former Governor Frank Steunenberg, but was acquitted. In the latter, Borah was accused of land fraud but the motivations behind the trial appeared extremely political and he was easily acquitted.

In 1908, Borah defended President Roosevelt’s dismissal of over 100 black soldiers after the Brownsville affair, which was being attacked by fellow Republican Senator Joseph B. Foraker of Ohio. This was the first time he would defend racial injustice as a senator, but it wouldn’t be the last, which I shall get to later. By 1910, Borah had become a staunch critic of President Taft for siding with the conservative wing of the party on more and more issues including on tariffs and conservation and he backed some critical constitutional amendments, including the income tax and direct election of senators. Although Borah was asked by Theodore Roosevelt to play a prominent role in his campaign in 1912, he refused as he would not leave the Republican Party again. That year, he backed no one for president, and again, it wouldn’t be the last time he did so. With a new president, one might think that Borah would be a bit friendlier to him than Taft, but not quite so. He opposed Wilson more often than he supported and in 1919, he would be one of the two leaders of the Senate irreconcilables on the Versailles Treaty. Borah was so intractable on this issue that he stated that he would oppose the league even if Jesus Christ came to Earth and stated his support. For a Christian, no statement can be stronger.

On the questions of prohibition and female suffrage, Borah proclaimed support for both, but refused to back a constitutional amendment for the latter because he did not wish to force the South to enfranchise black women: he was the only Republican senator to back southern efforts to extend suffrage to white women only. In 1922, he emerged as a powerful voice in the Senate against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, which was defeated. Although Borah proclaimed his opposition to lynching, he once again didn’t want to push a federal measure on the South and believed it to be unconstitutional. On both the matters of the Versailles Treaty and Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, he had used his strong oratory skills to sway senators. The senator served as a frequent critic of the policies of the Republican administrations of the 1920s but on the question of federal maternity aid, he went to the right of both parties in his opposition over state’s rights concerns. Borah proved about as much of a sometimes Republican as he was a sometimes progressive.

Borah and the Great Depression

In 1932, the senator tepidly supported Hoover for reelection but made no speeches on his behalf, only on issues. On New Deal legislation, he proved supportive of the Tennessee Valley Authority and was initially supportive of the Agricultural Adjustment Act (until he opposed the final vote) but strongly opposed the National Industrial Recovery Act. For the latter, Borah opposed the establishment of government-sanctioned cartels as harmful to small business. On foreign policy, he applauded the Roosevelt Administration’s diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union, a policy he had advocated for years. The USSR was on good terms with Borah for his efforts and a connection to him could go a long way for an American seeking assistance in the nation. In 1936, he tried to win the Republican nomination for president and critiqued the conservative party leadership, stating in response to objections that certain expansions of government power were unconstitutional that “You can’t eat the Constitution” (Mason, 52). Borah didn’t win the nomination for two reasons: first, he was too progressive for party regulars and second, by this time he was 71 years old. Once again, in 1936 he supported neither candidate. The following year, Borah staunchly opposed the Roosevelt Administration’s court-packing plan as he believed it would fundamentally corrupt the separation of powers.

Borah and War

In the late 1930s, anxieties about war were coming to the forefront and finally culminated in Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Borah did not drop his views on foreign policy just as most of the old progressives stuck to their guns on the matter. Although disgusted by Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, he didn’t want the United States to intervene in Germany’s affairs as he believed individual nations should be free to address the depression in whatever way they thought best and opposed the United States taking in a wave of Jewish immigrants when unemployment was so high. Borah had sought to travel to Nazi Germany to try to convince Hitler out of pursuing war, but the invasion of Poland had started before he could make satisfactory arrangements. He stated in a strikingly naïve response to the invasion, “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler—all this might have been averted” (Hutchinson, 37). Borah died only months after the start of war, a big loss for non-interventionists.


Borah was many things that would make him completely unfit for politics in modern times, but he was more than good enough for the people of Idaho in his day. They loved his independence, honesty, strong convictions, and a staunch commitment to non-interventionism. Borah’s philosophy of governance was perhaps best stated by himself, “I would sooner lose in a right cause than win in a wrong cause. As long as I can distinguish between right and wrong, I shall do what I believe to be right – whatever the consequences” (Hutchinson, 55).


Hutchinson, W.K. (1940, January 29). News Articles on the Life and Works of Honorable William E. Borah, Late a Senator from the State of Idaho. Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office.

Mason, R. (2012). The Republican Party and American politics from Hoover to Reagan. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Loose Lips Sink Ships!: When a Congressman Blurted a World War II Secret

Kentucky Congressman Andrew J. May

In 1939, as the prospect of war drew ever nearer for the United States, Representative Andrew J. May (D-Ky.) became chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. This was a powerful committee and major decisions were made about the allocation of war funding as well as who got war contracts. The latter part plays a significant part in the story of Congressman May, which I shall get to later. On the outbreak of World War II, members of this committee, particularly the chairman, were privy to classified information. In June 1943, May thought it would be a good idea to brag about American naval capability at a press conference after he had returned from a tour of naval bases. In the process, he revealed that submarines could go lower than the Japanese had thought and thus they placed their depth charges too shallow. Many newspapers reported this information, and the Japanese responded as you’d expect. The consequences were estimated by Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, who commanded the Pacific submarine fleet, to be the loss of ten submarines and 800 lives. He commented, “I hear Congressman May said the Jap depth charges are not set deep enough. He would be pleased to know that the Japs set them deeper now” (Blair, 397) . If his estimate is correct, this amounted to 20% of submarine casualties during World War II.

This was not the only place of trouble for May – in 1946 a scandal broke that he had accepted bribes and steered munitions contracts to the inexperienced Garsson brothers. The Garsson brothers shipped out mortar shells with defective fuzes, resulting in the deaths of 38 soldiers from premature detonations. May lost reelection and was subsequently convicted. Both him and the Garsson brothers went to prison for bribery. May was pardoned by President Truman in 1952, but was unable to relaunch his political career.


Blair, C. (2001). Silent victory: The U.S. submarine war against Japan. Annapolis, Md: The Naval Institute Press.

One Year Later: On Presidential, Senate, and Gubernatorial Polling, 2004-18


A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about the 2018 election and tried to make predictions based on what I was seeing days before the election. As a politics junkie, election years are like a prolonged sports season for me and I feel a rush as Election Day comes ever closer and I wish to revisit this subject. I revisit my predictions and expand my investigations into polling. On my five predictions, I proved correct on all of them. The best resource to look at is poll averages, but I’ve noticed there have been some upsets. I have defined an “upset” as the result being the opposite of what was predicted through RealClearPolitics poll averages. Given the increase in upsets over the years, I have become interested in measuring average poll biases. Since RCP records with averages go back to 2004, I am looking back to this point to measure and compare average Senate and gubernatorial polls to results.

I have not been able to find if there were any RCP polling averages for gubernatorial races in 2004, but I found four tossup Senate races and of course, Bush vs. Kerry. Overall, there was an average Democratic poll bias of 0.9% among the five races, with the one upset being Republican Mel Martinez’s Senate victory in Florida. 0.9% was also the average poll bias towards Democratic nominee John Kerry. 2004 wasn’t really a year of surprises except for people who didn’t pay attention to poll averages.

2006 and 2008 were quite predictable years in the major tossup races, with there being no upsets at all in 2006 and only one in 2008, when Al Franken defeated Norm Coleman for reelection in Minnesota by a hair. In truth, as memory recalls, little was surprising about 2008. While Democrats faced a nightmare election in the House in 2010, they pulled off a few favorable upsets in the Senate, which could be attributed to the hardliner candidates the GOP nominated in Colorado’s Ken Buck and Nevada’s Sharron Angle, both of whom were projected in RCP averages to defeat the incumbents. The average polling error for the latter election was 8.3%. While 2010 was a blowout year in the House, it was merely a good year in the Senate. The following election cycle would prove a highly ironic one on the polling front.

I remember in 2012 that given some worrisome polling results and publicity, Republicans were eager to dismiss bad polls and there was even a blogger who wrote about poll skewing and was releasing “unskewed polls” that showed victories for the GOP. It turns out this guy was right…there was poll skewing but he got the direction wrong. In a most bitter irony for the Republican Party that was eager to believe in “skewed” polls against them (which I sheepishly admit I was one), the 2012 election constituted the height of Republican bias in polling, with an average bias of 3.8 points in tossup races. Montana and North Dakota proved the upsets in the cycle as Democrats kept these seats, with North Dakota being the biggest shocker. If that poor blogger had only chosen to write one election season later, however, he would have been right.

In 2014, the Republicans were on an upswing and that was the first year I worked on a successful state election campaign. I remembered 2012 so I was, in a manner of speaking, conservative in my enthusiasm. After all, although I didn’t know this at the time, the GOP had historically underperformed their polling numbers. That year’s Election Night party was triumphant and jubilant, unlike two years before. The GOP had outperformed average polling, and in this case it was by 2 points. This was also the year of the absolute worst average Senate polling blunder, which predicted that Kansas would elect Independent Greg Orman by a little under a point, but Republican Pat Roberts won reelection by almost 11 points.

2016 was the pinnacle of Democratic poll bias with an average of 3.4 points and in eleven of the thirteen tossup races there was an average polling bias to the Democrats. There were also not two, but three upsets in the Senate. Republicans Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin won reelection while Democrat Maggie Hassan narrowly defeated New Hampshire Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte. Easily the greatest upset of the three was Ron Johnson, as many pundits had been writing his political obituary earlier in the year and I thought he was certainly going to lose. Of course, the greatest upset of the year, indeed, the greatest upset in modern political history, was the election of President Donald Trump. Polling was biased by 1.1% towards Clinton and she won the popular vote by 2.1%, but she had not paid enough attention to certain critical states that Trump unexpectedly won, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The one upset in the gubernatorial races was the Republicans keeping Indiana in their column.

2018 was seemingly a year of contradictions: Democrats gained 41 seats in the House, but lost two in the Senate and won less gubernatorial races than expected. Indeed, this year there were six upsets, three in the Senate and three gubernatorial, with four of the six being Republican victories. Were Ohio to have an RCP average tabulated, it would have been there too as Democrat Richard Cordray was leading in polls over Republican Mike DeWine. Despite the record number of upsets in an election year, average polling bias was at its second lowest this year in tossup races, only 1.2% more Democratic than the actual vote.

In summation of biases:

2018 –  D +1.2

2016 – D +3.4

2014 – D +2

2012 – R +3.8

2010 – R +2.9

2008 – R +1.4

2006 – R +1.7

2004* – D +0.9

*- No gubernatorial races with RCP averages for 2004.


Lysander Spooner: American Anarchist

Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) was a most unusual man in American politics yet he carried influence in his time. It can be safe to say that no one agreed with him on everything, thus he has fans who are anarcho-capitalist and anarcho-socialist. Spooner was a lawyer who often took up some odd causes, including defending Millerites on the charge of vagrancy. They had stopped working because they believed the world was coming to an end. He was also a militant foe of slavery who advocated a slave rebellion and tried to assemble a group to rescue John Brown after the Harpers Ferry raid. He wrote The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845), which held that the Constitution prohibited slavery and the U.S. was not constitutionally obligated to defend the institution. This view was subsequently embraced by Frederick Douglass. However, he supported the South’s seceding from the US as a legitimate course of action and wrote No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority (1867), which opposed treason trials for Confederates.

Spooner opposed any regulation of interest rates, any occupational licensure, and any restrictions on the issuance of private currency. Yet, he also opposed the wage labor system (wanting individual ownership of means of production instead), which leads to socialists identifying with him in addition to his membership in the socialist organization First International. Spooner’s most famous venture, however, was distinctly capitalist in nature. In 1840, it cost 18.75 cents to send a letter from Baltimore to New York (which was 25% of average wages), so he decided to form his own business in 1844, American Mail Letter Company. The competition managed to pressure the postal service to lower stamp prices to 5 cents. The company lasted for seven years and won legal challenges against its authority, but Congress passed a law mandating a legal monopoly for the postal service in 1851.

Spooner’s influence continues today and The Unconstitutionality of Slavery was even cited by Justice Antonin Scalia in the Supreme Court’s 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller, when he wrote that the right to bear arms is necessary to fight slavery. Justice Clarence Thomas also cited his book in another gun control case, McDonald v. Chicago. Spooner was overall a radical individualist, wishing for maximum autonomy for the individual.

When Texas Was Progressive

Since the 2018 election, the Democrats have been rather enthused at the prospect of Texas going to them and thus becoming more progressive. To modern ears this would come off as surprising, but it would actually be a bit of a return to form for the state. After the Civil War, Texas elected a lot of politicians who were in their time progressive. They fought big business, favored free coinage of silver, and opposed imperialism. However, this was before Texas got its reputation as a state of oil. The Texas oil boom did not start until 1901, and it wasn’t until the 1920s when the oil industry really came into its own. In 1928, the state for the first time voted for a Republican president. The state was slow to catch up with its increasing development and the voting populace remained by and large rural southern in their thinking. Among prominent progressives in the state in the early 20th century included Senators Charles Culberson and Morris Sheppard as well as John Nance Garner (before his 2nd term as FDR’s VP) and Sam Rayburn. Senator Tom Connally was for a time one of the leading spokesmen for FDR’s New Deal policies, but with the onset of World War II, he grew more conservative with the rest of the state.

These people were opponents of the Republican administrations of the 1920s and were strongly supportive of Wilsonian progressivism. What started the state on its conservative path was its increasing wealth, increasing dissatisfaction with FDR’s use of executive power, and the idea that the Democratic Party could turn away from being a “white man’s party”. Despite these developments, there were clear divisions between liberal and conservative within the Democratic Party and most Texas Democratic politicians were not prepared to embrace conservative Republican stances until the Nixon Administration. Texas Democrats, for instance, did not care for ultra-conservative Republican Congressman Bruce Alger of Dallas, who was the state’s tea partier of the 1950s and 1960s. Now Texas has many politicians who resemble Alger and get elected. As with many political changes, Texas’s was gradual. After all, the ultimate politician from Texas at one time was Lyndon B. Johnson, whose Great Society is despised by conservatives. There has been a lot of speculation about Texas going back to blue, and I’m not entirely sure this will happen despite some Republican pessimism I’ve heard. It is true that more and more Latinos are voting in the state, however it is also true that more conservatives are moving to the state. Indeed, Ted Cruz’s 2018 reelection bid was saved by conservatives moving into the state from bluer pastures. Whether the 2018 midterms were an aberration or reflective of a longer trend we’ll have to wait and see. John Cornyn isn’t taking any chances on this proposition and is vigilant about his run for reelection in 2020, so it is clear that Republicans are taking this concern quite seriously.

Jeff Flake: Arizona’s Other Maverick

See the source image

Over a year ago, I wrote about the record of the late John McCain and I have felt as of late that I ought to do the same for Jeff Flake, who was in Washington for eighteen years, the final six as senator. Yes, I know Jeff Flake is alive and will here and there speak and write on certain matters, but he is now out of the Senate and I don’t think it likely he will return given his popularity issues so I feel I can say that as a politician, he is history! Thus, he is an appropriate subject here.

Flake in his own sense was a maverick politician in that he was not afraid to take lonely stances or to butt heads with the powerful. However, Flake didn’t tend to be a maverick in a way that made him “liberal”, rather in a way that made him libertarian or to the right of his party. Notably, he was one of only three representatives to vote against the highly popular financial reform, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, which received a unanimous vote in the Senate. Yet, many Republicans have been of the mind that Jeff Flake is a RINO (Republican in Name Only) despite his 93% lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union and his DW-Nominate score of 0.855 (thus only being less conservative in the Senate than Rand Paul and Mike Lee). There are a few reasons for this:

1. Flake came off as rather weak to the base when it came to the Supreme Court nominations of Merrick Garland and Brett Kavanaugh. Namely, he wanted to give Garland a hearing which Majority Leader McConnell did not and in the case of Kavanaugh he successfully pushed for a delay through an FBI investigation of the charges pushed by Blasey Ford and Democrats. Flake voted for Kavanaugh anyway, but this served to annoy conservatives.
2. Immigration. Immigration has been one of the issues that he has differed from the base on and this proved of central importance in the 2016 Republican primary.
3. Flake’s completely undisguised dislike for Donald Trump and his refusal to get on board the Trump enthusiasm train. This resulted in his pushing a bill to protect Robert Mueller from getting fired and proceeding towards the end of 2018 to embark on a lonely and unsuccessful crusade within his party to vote against judicial nominees until a vote could be held on his almost certainly unconstitutional proposal.
4. He has been contradictory in his language and votes on gun control. Flake gave lip service to certain measures but his voting record told a different story. Although the conservatives got the wheat while the liberals got the chaff, it is still a subject of annoyance.
5. Senator Flake was not as conservative as Representative Flake if ACU scores are accurate. His overall ACU score in the House was 97%, while it was 85% in the Senate.

Overall, Senator Flake didn’t court popularity with the right with his words and certainly didn’t court the left with his votes. Indeed, he was never terribly popular as a senator, as he only won his 2012 election by three points, and by a plurality. Flake’s ACU scores in 2017 and 2018 were 92% and 95% respectively, yet a lot of the base thought him something of a “snake in the grass” for his public criticism of President Trump. I confess, I don’t agree with every position Flake took and I was annoyed with his waffling on Kavanaugh to the point I called him the “ethics creep* of the Republican Party” but I respected his record and was sad to see him go. Flake was a true fiscal conservative who repeatedly voted to clamp down on spending and truth be told I have a soft spot for people who are independent-minded. However, another truth be told is that a politician needs a constituency and he just didn’t have one anymore.

*: Ethics creep is a problem in the physical and social sciences in which ethics policy goes too far and discourages useful research.

When Conservatives Go Liberal, And Vice-Versa

Major ideological change is quite rare among our legislators today, but it can happen based on genuine changes of heart or as a strategy to survive a changing constituency. Such cases are a source of great fascination for me. After all, who expects that they would change so greatly in their lives? Some of these legislators were even highly significant figures in their party. A few cases, with the percent scores being their MC-Index scores for the session of Congress:

Charles E. Goodell, R-N.Y., 1959-68, 1968-71.

86th – 85%

87th – 74%

88th – 81%

89th – 83%

90th – 67%

91st – 5%

As a legislator in the House, Goodell played an influential role in the power dynamics of the Republican Party, assisting Gerald Ford in defeating Charles Halleck for the post of Minority Leader in 1965. So what’s with the major drop off in Goodell’s score? He is the perfect example of the “strategy” change. From the 86th to 90th congresses, he represented an upstate district of New York with a strong Republican voting history. Thus, it behooved him to vote as a fairly mainstream Republican. However, in 1968 he was appointed to the Senate, and in his time in the Senate he proved an ultra-liberal, his intent being to win the Liberal Party nomination. Ultimately, his strategy was unsuccessful as he lost the 1970 Senate election, coming in third.

Joseph W. Martin Jr., R-Mass., 1925-67.

69th – 87%

70th – 93%

71st – 87%

72nd – 76%

73rd – 97%

74th – 88%

75th – 85%

76th – 94%

77th – 88%

78th – 88%

79th – 92%

81st – 91%

82nd – 89%

84th – 65%

85th – 65%

86th – 69%

87th – 62%

88th – 25%

89th – 56%

This man led the House Republican Party for twenty years and was twice Speaker of the House…and yet we see a strange evolution (or devolution, depending on how you see things) in his score. He goes from being a Coolidge Republican from the Coolidge to Truman years to being a Rockefeller Republican in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson years. Perhaps Martin was moving with his fellow Bay Staters as they increasingly moved in a Democratic direction. Indeed, in 1958 he was ousted as Minority Leader because Republicans thought him too friendly to the opposition, even though Martin claimed such friendliness gave the Republicans perks not normally accorded to the minority party. He also appears to have undergone a bit of a genuine shift in this direction as well.

Paul J. Kilday, D-Tex., 1939-61.

76th – 59%

77th – 59%

78th – 76%

79th – 73%

80th – 56%

81st – 77%

82nd – 81%

83rd – 47%

84th – 30%

85th – 26%

86th – 23%

87th – 8%

Here is a rather unusual example of change to the left as it comes from a Southern Democrat. Kilday represented San Antonio in Congress and he got his start in 1938 by defeating the maverick liberal Maury Maverick in the Democratic primary. However, as Latino voting power grew in his district during the 1950s, he responded by shifting his record away from the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. His successor in Congress was Henry B. Gonzalez, a staunchly liberal Democrat.

Paul Findley, R-Ill., 1961-83.

87th – 100%

88th – 97%

89th – 88%

90th – 85%

91st – 68%

92nd – 62%

93rd – 49%

94th – 60%

95th – 57%

96th – 65%

97th – 42%

In Paul Findley we have a perfect example of someone who went to change Washington and found themselves changed by it. He was initially a Goldwater conservative and his record nearly indistinguishable from the staunchest rightists of Congress. However, after the election of Richard Nixon he took a distinctly different path, proving to be one of the GOP’s more moderate members.

Let’s look at things from the other side…

Richard B. Russell, D-Ga., 1933-71

72rd – 25%

73th – 20%

74th – 33%

75th – 38%

76th – 37%

77th – 36%

78th – 47%

79th – 34%

80st – 34%

81nd – 68%

82nd – 37%

83rd – 53%

84th – 67%

85th – 63%

86th – 76%

87th – 78%

88th – 77%

89th – 76%

90th – 90%

91st – 90%

What we see in the case of Richard B. Russell is a long-run trend from moderately supportive of the New Deal and the Democratic program to a staunch foe of liberalism. In the case of Russell, the motivation behind this ideological change has a fair deal to do with civil rights as well as the increasingly urban (as opposed to rural) emphasis on the use of the federal government for aid. Russell, a rural Georgian, was much more sympathetic to rural than urban concerns, and by the late 1960s the focus was on urban issues as well as issues that focused on black people.

Ellison DuRant Smith, D-S.C., 1909-44.

61st – 0%

62st – 0%

63nd – 0%

64rd – 7%

65th – 20%

66th – 0%

67th – 13%

68th – 7%

69th – 20%

70th – 21%

71th – 0%

72st – 29%

73nd – 12%

74rd – 37%

75th – 36%

76th – 63%

77th – 68%

78th – 86%

“Cotton Ed” Smith reflects a tremendous and dramatic change in views of those from the Deep South. Smith started his career as a progressive and into the 1920s was regarded as such. He supported assistance to veterans, cotton, help for farmers, and higher income taxes. However, the New Deal really tried him, not only for its new innovations in the expansion of the federal government but also the previously unheard of outreach to black voters. When FDR made certain dissents of his focal points in his attitude towards him and chose to try to oust him, Smith became a decided foe of the Roosevelt Administration, which is reflected in his last three sessions of Congress when he votes conservative at least 63% of the time.

Roy O. Woodruff, P-Mich., 1913-15, R-Mich., 1921-53.

63rd – 20%

67th – 38%

68th – 33%

69th – 50%

70th – 75%

71st – 80%

72nd – 44%

73rd – 54%

74th – 81%

75th – 97%

76th – 97%

77th – 93%

78th – 100%

79th – 97%

80th – 100%

81st – 90%

82nd – 90%

Here I present a Republican example of someone who moved from left to right. Woodruff begins his career as a Teddy Roosevelt progressive, but he moves a bit to the right in the 1920s and by FDR’s second term, he is indistinguishable from the right of the Republican Party. He spent the rest of his career as a non-interventionist rightist. The New Deal simply proved too much for his prior notions of progressivism.

John E. Rankin, D-Miss., 1921-53.

67th – 4%

68th – 24%

69th – 13%

70th – 20%

71st – 13%

72nd – 33%

73rd – 23%

74th – 17%

75th – 33%

76th – 43%

77th – 59%

78th – 74%

79th – 87%

80th – 59%

81st – 89%

82nd – 76%

John E. Rankin began his career during the Harding Administration and his transformation is nothing short of stunning. While certainly a progressive figure in the 1920s and initially enthusiastic about the New Deal, he started taking issue with the New Deal during FDR’s second term with the Fair Labor Standards Act and then really started turning against the administration during Roosevelt’s third term. Rankin was also of the thought that the Democratic Party was a “white man’s party” and resented overtures to blacks and Jews and ranted against both groups.



Before Rand Paul, There Was Eugene Siler

Image result for Eugene Siler

Today Kentucky has for politicians who oppose American military involvement abroad in Senator Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie. Their positions have gotten more of a hearing as of late with the Trump Administration and its intellectual father, Steve Bannon, opposing the notion of “endless wars”. Many years ago, however, there was a lone Kentucky politician who held such a view, and this was the bible-thumping Republican Eugene Siler (1900-1987).

Elected to Congress in 1954 after serving as a judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals, Siler was a staunch social conservative and a fiscal watchdog. He was a very religious man and as a judge frequently quoted scripture. Siler called for Bible study in schools and was dismayed over Supreme Court decisions opposing school prayer. He put his social views into his work as well as he would decline divorce cases and would not represent alcoholics. Siler opposed alcohol and sponsored legislation to ban liquor and beer advertising in all interstate media. His religious conscience also extended to war and he was highly averse to using military force.

Siler’s fiscal conservatism came in his calls for reducing federal spending and his uncompromising opposition to foreign aid. On matters of social welfare, he repeatedly opposed public housing as well as strong minimum wage legislation. He also opposed Congressional junkets and other things he regarded as a waste of taxpayer money. On civil rights, Siler’s record was mixed. He opposed the Eisenhower Administration’s civil rights bill in 1956 only to support the legislation the next year. In 1960, he supported a stronger civil rights bill than was eventually adopted but he opposed cutting federal funding to segregated schools. He also voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as did all but one of Kentucky’s representatives. However, Siler made some exceptions to his conservatism. He backed several federal anti-poverty measures, including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Siler also supported flood control legislation, which benefited his district. His greatest distinction, however, is that of being the only member of the House of Representatives to register opposition to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

He did not run for reelection in 1964 but the Vietnam War would occupy his focus and he sought a return to politics with a 1968 run in the Republican primary for the Senate on the platform of getting the troops home by Christmas. His bid failed and Siler practiced law until his death in 1987.

Siler was what we would call a “compassionate conservative” and by no means was a purist on questions of the federal government. He would fit in with the religious right of today on social questions but his aversion to war as well as his endorsement of some major social legislation would set him apart. Were it not for President Trump’s personal peccadilloes of the past, Siler would probably find himself favorable to him.