Paul Findley: Ideological Changeling and Israel Critic

In 1960, a number of significant freshmen from the Republican side of the aisle were elected to Congress: Bob Dole of Kansas, John Anderson of Illinois, Charles Mathias of Maryland, John Ashbrook of Ohio, William Scranton of Pennsylvania, and Robert Stafford of Vermont. Of these, Mathias, Scranton, and Stafford represented the moderate to liberal wing of the party while Dole, Anderson, and Ashbrook were of the conservative wing. Anderson would shift to the former camp by the Nixon Administration. One of the most interesting ones, however, was Paul Findley (1921-2019) of Illinois.


In his first four years of Congress, Findley was almost indistinguishable from the most conservative of Republicans. In 1962, he managed to put a major dent in the Kennedy program when he successfully killed the administration’s feed grain proposal, which was recommitted by ten votes. In 1963, Findley pushed against the Kennedy Administration giving food for peace funds to Yugoslavia while it was providing food aid to North Vietnam. He opposed the space program on cost grounds, voted against the Peace Corps, and voted against Medicare. Findley even voted against educational television, which got the vote of the notorious penny-pincher H.R. Gross of Iowa. As he noted in 2013 about his record back then, “I believe I voted against everything. My voting record the first two years in the House showed…Well, one of the professors at Illinois College, Joe Patterson Smith, said to his friends that I was a Neanderthal, and I was. I was; there’s no doubt about it” (DePue, 81). Findley’s Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA) score for 1961-1962 was a 100%, the same as John Birch Society members John Rousselot and Edgar Hiestand of California and exceeding that of Orange County’s resident arch-conservative James B. Utt, who scored a 96%. His first vote in which he diverged from conservatism by ACA was his vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Race never seemed to be an issue for Findley, as he noted, “I shared a desk with a black girl in first grade. It didn’t strike me as strange that we had blacks. I accepted them” (DePue, 13). In 1965, he appointed Frank Mitchell, the first black House page, with the cooperation of Minority Leader Gerald Ford and Minority Whip Leslie Arends.


Findley’s support for civil rights extended to fair housing legislation and by the 1970s he was opposing many proposals to curb busing. Although his conservatism persisted throughout the Johnson Administration, his record took a turn for the moderate during the Nixon Administration and there it stayed. Findley backed Nixon’s proposal for guaranteed minimum income for working families and at times he was critical of the Nixon Administration’s approach on Vietnam. In 1973, he was the central author of the War Powers Resolution, which was an attempt by Congress to reassert power over the use of the military. Findley also proved to be pro-choice and regularly voted against abortion restrictions. His position on the minimum wage also underwent a change as he backed a minimum wage increase over President Nixon’s veto in 1973 while he had opposed significant minimum wage increases in 1961 and 1966. Although by the 1970s he was a moderate, he still did push some conservative proposals, such as work requirements for food stamps and limiting Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration coverage. Findley met Yasser Arafat on a trip to Damascus, Syria as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1978 and he walked away so impressed by what he thought was his commitment to peace in the region that he became a critic of Israel on the Israel-Palestine conflict. His criticisms grew with time, including calling for stopping aid to Israel. Findley even called himself “Arafat’s best friend in Congress” (Schnazer).


He was not particularly gung-ho about President Ronald Reagan and he was one of the last Republican representatives to be persuaded to vote for the Reagan tax cuts. Findley’s MC-Index score in the 97th Congress was a 42%, a stark contrast to his first term score of 100%. In 1982, he faced a strong challenger in Democrat Dick Durbin, who hit him on his support for the Palestinian side of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, stating “He is totally out of step on the issue. What President Reagan recognizes–what everybody but Paul Findley recognizes–is that the PLO is a force for instability in that region, not a liberation group” (Bohlen). Findley indeed thought differently. He stated before a class of college students that year, “Arafat is, I think, a very practical man who can adjust to reality if it is the only way to get a Palestinian homeland under way” (Bohlen). Redistricting wasn’t helpful for him nor was the recession, and he lost reelection by less than a point. Durbin today serves as Senate Majority Whip. Findley subsequently wrote They Dare to Speak Out (1985), in which he critiqued what he saw as the excessive influence of Israel on U.S. foreign policy and blamed Israel’s lobby for his 1982 defeat. A second edition was published in 1989 and a third in 2003. Much of Findley’s post-Congressional political activities centered on criticism of Israel. In 2002, he came out against the Iraq War and attributed 9/11 to the US’s continued support of Israel in the Israel-Palestine conflict, stating “Nine-eleven would not have occurred if the U.S. government had refused to help Israel humiliate and destroy Palestinian society” (Schnazer). Findley also attributed the invasion of Iraq to Israel’s influence. He died on August 9, 2019 at the age of 98. Findley’s overall MC-Index score was a 69%, with his average score for his first four terms being a 93% and for his subsequent terms the average was a 56%. Former Representative John Napier (R-S.C.) said of him, “We did not always agree. But he was a thoughtful person, and I admired his independence. When we disagreed, we did so agreeably, never in a disagreeable way. That, I believe, is the hallmark of statesmanship. He was a wonderful congressman who represented his constituency in an honorable manner” (Gizzi).


References

Bohlen, C. (1982, October 31). The 1982 Elections: The Illinois 20th District Race. The Washington Post.

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THE 1982 ELECTIONS: THE ILLINOIS 20TH DISTRICT RACE – The Washington Post

DePue, M. (2013, January 15). Interview with Paul Findley. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Retrieved from

Click to access Findley_Pau_4FNL.pdf

Gizzi, J. (2019, August 16). Remembering Ex-GOP Rep. Paul Findley, Friend of Arafat. Newsmax.

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Remembering Ex-GOP Rep. Paul Findley, Friend of Arafat | Newsmax.com

Schnazer, J. (2019, September). The Congressman Who Hated Israel. Commentary Magazine.

Retrieved from

The Congressman Who Hated Israel

Seelye, K.Q. (2019, August 14). Paul Findley, Congressman Behind War Powers Act, Dies at 98. The New York Times.

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