The 1946 election, as I have written before, was a smashing success for the GOP. One of the victories they pulled off was the election of Kenneth Keating (1900-1975) over George Rogers in New York’s 40th Congressional District by 21 points, winning the seat back for them. He was one of the more moderate Republicans in the Congress, while he mostly supported Republican economic and labor measures, he also favored rent control and was one of four House Republicans voting to sustain President Truman’s veto of the Social Security measure that exempted people on commission from Social Security. Although the 1948 election was tougher, Keating won by under three points and would win reelection by increasingly large margins in his Rochester-based district. Although he was an anti-communist, having voted for the Mundt-Nixon Bill and the McCarran Internal Security Act, he was not supportive of in-depth investigations into whether tax-exempt foundations were funding subversion, voting against both the Cox and Reece Committees. He was also staunchly supportive of civil rights and as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee he sponsored the Civil Rights Act of 1957 with Judiciary Committee chair Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.). Keating could certainly be thought of as one of the Republicans that President Eisenhower would think of as like him in being a “Modern Republican”, and successfully lobbied him to run for the Senate.
Senator Keating: Prescience and Turn to the Left
Although 1958 was overall a bad election year for Republicans, they had significant successes in New York with the elections of Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Keating to the Senate. He was an active senator and in 1960 he introduced the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, permitting the citizens of Washington D.C. to vote for president. Keating was a critic of the Kennedy Administration’s approach to Cuba and in July 1961 he asked his fellow senators, “How long will it be before the Soviet Union establishes military bases and missile launching sites in Cuba?” (Korman & Leban) In October 1962, based on CIA, Pentagon, and Cuban exile intelligence, Keating announced that Soviet missiles were present in Cuba. The Kennedy Administration initially denied it, but it was confirmed by U-2 spy planes (Korman & Leban). At first, his Senate record was rather moderate, a continuation of his House record. In 1959 and 1960 the conservative interest group Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA) gave him a 72 and a 45 respectively while the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) gave him a 42 and a 67 respectively. However, Keating moved increasingly to the voting behavior of his colleague, the staunch liberal Jacob Javits, and in 1963 and 1964 ACA gave him a 13 and a 6 (the same as Javits) while the ADA gave him an 88 and an 84. When Senator Goldwater won the nomination for president in 1964, Keating refused to back the ticket. Ultimately, although he ran ahead of the ticket in New York, his liberal stance and accusing his opponent of being a “carpetbagger” wasn’t enough to counter the name of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and he lost by 10 points. Keating’s MC-Index score was a 54%, with his House score being a 62% and his Senate score being a 38%.
This loss wasn’t the end of his career…far from it. He was in 1965 elected to the New York Court of Appeals, where he continued in his burgeoning liberalism in how he regarded adherence to precedent, opting not to do so if it no longer fit in the time. Keating stated his philosophy thusly, “[T[he common law of this State is not an anachronism, but is a living law which responds to the…reality of changed conditions. We therefore do not hesitate to purify our law of what has, with the passage of time, become a most anomalous exception to the…common law rule of due care” (Korman & Leban). A prime example of such reasoning was in his ruling in Liberty National Bank v. Buscaglia, he rejected that national banks should be exempt from state taxation and that the famous Supreme Court precedent McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) no longer bore relevance due to the difference in how national banks functioned. In 1968, Keating had unlike in 1964 supported the Republican Party nominee, Richard Nixon, and in April of the next year he resigned his seat as he would be 70 the next year and thus subject to forced retirement.
Representing American Interests Abroad
Nixon gave him a new role, tapping him to be Ambassador to India where he excelled but the Nixon Administration’s tacit support for Pakistan in the Bangladesh War in 1971 provided a challenge. India won the war and created the independent nation of Bangladesh, and the Nixon Administration cut foreign aid to them, making Keating’s job substantively more difficult and he regretted the policy. he resigned in August 1972 to help President Nixon with his reelection. In June 1973 he was again tapped by Nixon, this time to be Ambassador to Israel, where he did not get on as well, with the Israeli government being critical of his performance and alleging that he had misinformed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the influence of the Israeli public in his reports. On April 17, 1975, while back in the United States, Keating suffered a minor heart attack. Although he was reported afterwards to be in good condition and was expected to recover, he took a turn for the worse and suffered a fatal heart attack on May 5th.
Korman, E.R. & Leban, A.A. Kenneth Barnard Keating. Historical Society of the New York Courts.
Johnston, L. (1975, April 23). Notes on People. The New York Times.
Whitman, A. (1975, May 6). Keating Dies at 74; Envoy, Ex-Senator. The New York Times.