The 1960s were a tumultuous decade, and indeed it was a time that some allege that the “parties switched”. Ratings issued by interest groups of the period don’t bear that out. However, there were some definite changes that certain individuals in politics underwent in that turbulent time. A fascinating example is what happened with two people commonly regarded as conservative: Democrat George W. Andrews of Alabama and Republican William M. McCulloch of Ohio. Both had served since the 1940s, both were critics of the Truman Administration, and both received low Americans for Democratic Action scores during Truman’s second term. Although they certainly didn’t agree on all issues, the most obvious disagreement the two had was one of the question of civil rights. Andrews was a signatory of the Southern Manifesto and an advocate for shutting down public schools and making education private to stop desegregation while McCulloch was known as “Mr. Civil Rights” for his advocacy on the subject and had supported an NAACP lawsuit to desegregate restaurants in Ohio.
The first major conservative ratings organization, Americans for Constitutional Action, scored Andrews a 31% and McCulloch a 100% in their 1959 ACA-Index. In 1969, however, the situation was reversed: Andrews scored a 93% while McCulloch scored a 33%. Although I have contrasted Andrews’ lowest score and one of McCulloch’s three 100% scores vs. one of Andrews’ highest and McCulloch’s lowest for dramatic effect, a more comprehensive look is only somewhat less dramatic: when their votes from 1957, 1958, and 1959 are counted together, Andrews has a 37% and McCulloch a 95%. McCulloch’s scores after 1969 were 53%, 56%, and 63% and Andrews’ were 78% and 87%. A change had occurred, and not only one because of differing methods of scoring from ACA. McCulloch had voted against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and numerous expansions of government but now was more willing to embrace anti-poverty spending and was more flexible on expansions of government. Andrews had previously supported public housing measures and food stamps, but later voted against housing programs and food stamp spending. There appear to be two turning point years for the two men. Andrews’ is 1962, and McCulloch’s is 1968. The below chart represents their ACA-Index scores from 1957 to 1972. Andrews doesn’t have a 1972 score as he died at the end of 1971.
1962 was the year George Wallace ran his successful campaign for governor on a distinctly anti-Kennedy line and the year that longtime Alabama Senator Lister Hill almost lost reelection to a Republican activist who ran a hard anti-Kennedy line. Although there had been room in the past for support for national Democratic policies in Alabama, this room was shrinking, and the 1964 election proved it. Five of eight Alabama seats were won by Republicans, the first time any Republican had won a House seat in Alabama since 1898. Andrews was among the three remaining Democrats, and part of this can certainly be thanked to his significant shift rightward after the 1962 midterm. Remaining Democrats shifted more to the right, including Senators Hill and Sparkman.
For McCulloch, he had been tapped to be on the Kerner Commission in July 1967 to investigate urban riots of that summer. The committee had concluded that rioting was caused by lack of economic opportunities, generally blamed white society for the conditions causing the rioting including racism, and had recommended programs to remedy de facto segregation in the cities. Given the shift in his record, including his willingness to cast votes for housing and anti-poverty programs after the release of the report, being on the commission probably had a great impact on him.
Derbes, B.J. (2012, September 24). George Andrews. Encyclopedia of Alabama.
Idaho has long had a well-deserved reputation as a staunchly conservative Republican stronghold. It was 1964 when the people of the state last elected a Democrat (and did so only by two points) and 1974 when a Democrat was last elected to the Senate. However, the state’s early years were a bit different. Idaho was much more likely to elect Democrats and Populists given the currency issue, and conservative Republicans had trouble there for some time. A breakthrough for them was the election of Weldon B. Heyburn (1852-1912) to the Senate over future Senator William E. Borah in 1903. Senators at the time were elected by the State legislature, meaning that conservative Republicans had gained hold of the legislature. Heyburn was a staunch defender of what saw as the interests of his state: mining, timber, and development. He publicly opposed President Roosevelt’s conservation policies, going so far as to state that federal forests were “an expensive, useless burden to the public” (Kramer). Heyburn stressed state’s rights on conservation over federal, and was successful in requiring Congressional approval for the reserving of future forest lands. However, the foxy Roosevelt added 16 million more acres to be conserved before he signed that law to the great consternation of Heyburn, who threatened to cut off funding for conservation efforts (Kramer). He was also a foe generally of greater regulation of the economy and did not approve of interventions into child labor. However, Heyburn’s efforts were appreciated by some, including those who often didn’t agree with him. As former Senator Fred Dubois wrote in a February 16, 1909 letter to Harry Day of the Hercules Mining Company, “I do not know whether Heyburn appreciates the fact that you were more largely instrumental in his re-election than any one else. I know the word you sent and I also know the thin ice on which Heyburn was standing. You were extremely wise in foregoing your personal feelings against Heyburn. You and I both know his faults, but at the same time he has virtues. One of these is that he will be outspoken and fearless in protecting all the industries of Idaho, and you can talk to him very freely on matters of that kind” (University of Idaho). One of these virtues was his propensity for hard work, but this would later prove detrimental. Heyburn, however, has a significant contribution to American law: he introduced the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Heyburn not only disagreed politically with Roosevelt, but could also be highly personally disagreeable as well. He once declined to award a debate prize to a student with the rationale that “he does not seem to have learned enough to be a Republican” and on another occasion halted an orchestra mid-performance because he disapproved of the song they were playing (Kramer). Sources on Heyburn also generally don’t cover this aspect of his life, but his obituary noted that he was most known not for his opposition to Roosevelt’s conservation but for his “unyielding bitterness toward the south, and frequent denunciation of southern civil war leaders. He called the placing of Lee’s statue in the capital an insult to the nation, and in discussing this and many other incidents, engaged in acrimonious debate with southern senators” (The Spokesman-Review).
Heyburn was the largest man in the Senate, and this was among the factors that cost him his health. In March 1912, he collapsed in the Senate after delivering a speech on arbitration treaties. His doctors instructed him to rest, but he refused to do so, and his health continued to deteriorate. Heyburn died on October 17th, his last words being, “I have lived my life as best I could within the power of human limitation…I am worn out in the service of a great cause” (University of Idaho). Although his official cause of death was complications from heart and kidney disease, he had worked himself to death. Heyburn’s MC-Index score was an 84%. He is remembered in Idaho through Mount Heyburn, Heyburn State Park, and the town of Heyburn.
Kramer, B. (2010, August 22). Heyburn left thorny legacy on natural resources. The Spokesman-Review.
In the 1950s, San Antonio was a changing place. Although during the 1930s, its most notable representative was arch-liberal Maury Maverick, the 1938 midterms saw his ouster in favor of anti-communist and New Deal critic Paul J. Kilday. Kilday’s record as well as the region’s conservatism would hold until the Eisenhower years, then he and the region would shift in a liberal direction despite the region’s vote for Eisenhower in 1956. This can be attributed to the rise of more liberal Latino voters in San Antonio, and their chief figure would be Henry Barbosa Gonzalez (1916-2000).
As a San Antonio councilman from 1953 to 1956, Gonzalez oversaw the desegregation of public accommodations in the city. This wasn’t his first rodeo on civil rights; in 1945 he had resigned as chief probation officer of Bexar County after he was denied permission to appoint a black officer. In 1956, Gonzalez was elected to the State Senate, and mounted a 36-hour filibuster (a Texas Senate record) in 1957 against ten bills intended to work around segregation with future Congressman Abraham J. Kazen, which resulted in the defeat of eight of them. Kazen spoke for 14 hours, and Gonzalez did so for 22. This effort would make headlines, and it would set him up for his next position.
In 1961, Congressman Kilday was appointed a judge by President Kennedy and resigned his post. The special election to succeed him was a high-profile event, with Vice President Johnson coming down to Texas to campaign for Gonzalez, and former President Eisenhower campaigning for Republican John W. Goode. Gonzalez would win the special election by over 10 points and would sail to reelection in future elections, being the first Mexican American member of Congress from Texas. As Burka and Smith (1976) wrote about him, “He is a folk hero to his constituents: he leads parades, attends festivals; in the right place, he is a legend in his own time”. Indeed, Gonzalez’s record on constituent service matched his folk hero reputation. As one high level Texas official familiar with Washington said, “If I had a problem with the federal government, I’d want to live in Henry B’s district” (Burka & Smith). His political power was unrivaled in San Antonio for the duration of his time in office. As one former reporter in his district said of him after his death, “Like everyone in San Antonio, I both feared and admired Henry B. After all, he was regarded as only slightly less powerful than God and just as easy to offend” (Russell, 2001).
At the Forefront of Civil Rights and the Great Society in Congress
After his election to Congress, Henry Gonzalez proved the most liberal Democrat in delegation until the election of Bob Eckhardt in 1966. He initially wanted to get on the House Armed Services Committee, but was assigned to Banking and Currency, where the chairman, fellow Texas Legend and populist Wright Patman, mentored him and prophetically advised, “Henry, you just stay on this committee and quit making a wave about Armed Services, and you’ll end up as chairman” (U.S. House of Representatives). In 1964, he helped pass the Housing Act of 1964 and successfully pushed for the end of the Bracero program, which employed migrant workers who often worked in dreadful conditions for lower than minimum wage. Gonzalez voted for every major civil rights law and in 1966 he was one of only two Texas representatives to vote against striking fair housing from the civil rights bill under consideration. He was to many conservatives a reviled figure because of his unapologetic and combative style. It didn’t help that of the four Republican presidents he served with, he supported the impeachment of three (Nixon, Reagan, and Bush). As was written in a 1976 Texas Monthly article, “…Gonzalez has a distinct mean streak; once you get on his enemies list you never get off – “and that”, explains one Washington observer, “includes anyone who’s ever had a cross word to say about him”” (Burka & Smith). During his second term, he punched Congressman Ed Foreman (R-Tex.) in the arm for calling him a “pinko” on the House floor and in 1986, he punched a man in a San Antonio restaurant for calling him a communist.
Contrary to those who thought of Gonzalez as a “pinko” or communist, he proved a strong backer of the Vietnam War effort, even as anti-war sentiment was ramping up in the 1970s. During that decade this elevated his scores with conservative groups and lowered his scores with liberal groups. His political route in the 1970s was a source of disappointment for many liberals who hoped for greater things from him. Although once an outsider in Texas politics, Gonzalez had become his own sort of establishment in San Antonio. Also, his advocacy for amendments that instructed U.S. representatives to financial institutions to vote against loans to countries that expropriated property of U.S. citizens and businesses without compensation demonstrated an opposition to communism.
Gonzalez and The House Committee on Assassinations
After the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, there was a lot of reevaluations of certain events, and among these were the Kennedy and King assassinations. The Church and Hart-Schweiker Committees had revealed CIA involvement in international assassinations, and many Americans wondered whether the organization could have been implicated in assassinations in the United States. Among them were Gonzalez, Thomas Downing of Virginia, and D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, who advocated for the creation of an investigative committee. The House Committee on Assassinations was established in 1976, with Downing being its first chair. However, he was retiring, so Gonzalez succeeded him in the 95th Congress.
The Committee would be a troubled one and an element of the investigation would give JFK assassination conspiracy theorists ammo with an audio recording that would later be decisively disproven. The House Committee on Assassinations will in itself be a future post, so I will not get in depth about it here beyond Gonzalez’s role in it. He was a constant critic of the Warren Commission and would have intense disagreements with head counsel Richard Sprague. This got so bad Gonzalez tried to fire him on February 10, 1977. However, he received no support for this from the other committee members, so he resigned on March 2nd. In a two-page resignation letter he despaired of the situation he found as chairman, writing “I found in the committee an administrative nightmare; I found a chief counsel who assumed the full powers of the committee itself (and by implication usurped the powers of the House itself); a chief counsel who was insubordinate and insulting, not to mention disloyal” and further called Sprague “an unscrupulous individual, an unconscionable scoundrel” (Burnham). Sprague himself would resign not long after as numerous representatives stated that they wouldn’t vote to continue the committee if he remained chief counsel. Given the support the chief counsel received from other committee members, the conflict between Gonzalez and Sprague appears to have been one of likely no more than personalities. On March 30th, the House voted to continue the committee, with Louis Stokes of Ohio as the new chairman. In 1979, Gonzalez pushed for further investigation into the murder of Judge John H. Wood, who he held was murdered by organized crime for his tough sentencing on drug cases. Ultimately, five individuals would be indicted for the crime, with actor Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles, being convicted of pulling the trigger on the orders of drug lord Jamiel Chagra.
The 1980s: Opposition to Reagan and Savings & Loan Bailout
Gonzalez was back to form as the liberal he had been in the 1960s and largely opposed to the era of deregulation. He warned of a coming collapse of the savings and loan industry. In 1983, Gonzalez supported impeaching President Reagan over the invasion of Grenada and again backed impeachment over Iran Contra. On banking issues, he had a reputation as a populist, and his role on the House Banking and Currency Committee was where he shined most. Gonzalez positioned himself as a fighter against predatory lenders and the Federal Reserve (he called for an audit before Ron and Rand Paul brought the proposal its modern publicity) and his constituents loved him for it. In 1989, as the new chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee, he held hearings on the Lincoln Savings and Loan and its owner Charles H. Keating Jr., who would be convicted of fraud and earned praise for his leave no stones unturned approach. A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution at the time, Robert E. Litan, characterized him thusly, “He doesn’t calculate the political consequences. When he smells something bad, he goes after it” (Kenworthy). His colleagues from both sides of the aisle viewed his role here positively: Republican Toby Roth of Wisconsin praised his handling, “Many members from his side of the aisle are trying to whitewash what happened. But he has the stick-to-it-iveness of an English bulldog. He’s a genuine old-fashioned public servant” (Kenworthy). Future Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), at the time a representative, was also impressed with Gonzalez. He said on the hearings, “When Henry thinks he’s right, there’s no standing in his way. It’s difficult to have hearings like this. It hurts peoples’ reputations. But when the sun sets, he will have done a national service” (Kenworthy). Gonzalez would go on to manage passage of the bill bailing out savings and loan institutions.
Critic of Bush
In 1991, Gonzalez voted against authorization for use of military force on Iraq for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and charged that U.S. agricultural loans made to Iraq during the Reagan Administration were used for the purchasing of weapons with the Reagan Administration’s knowledge. This charge was never proven, and Gonzalez proposed to impeach Bush for not seeking Congressional approval first. He would also call President Bush a “liar” on the floor of the House in 1992 before he was forced to change his language after Robert Walker (R-Penn.) objected as calling the president a “liar” is against House rules (Russell, 1992).
In 1994, the Democrats lost Congress and Gonzalez lost his post. In 1997, his health declined after a dental infection spread to a heart valve and spent half of the term recovering. Reading the writing on the wall, he reluctantly retired and was succeeded by his son, Charlie, in the 1998 midterms. His son would serve until 2013. Gonzalez’s lifetime MC-Index score is an 11%. To this day in Texas “Taco Day” is celebrated on May 3rd, Gonzalez’s birthday, to celebrate his achievements.
Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.
President Joe Biden is a fascinating one for me, in that he is a bit of a historical relic himself. This could be interpreted as an insult since he is the oldest president in history, but it is also true that he arrived in the Senate in a very different time when the parties were far more ideologically diverse. Despite in his years in the Senate on numerous abortion issues being in the minority of his party, he has now rallied to the defense of Roe v. Wade. In 1973, Biden characterized himself as “about as liberal as your grandmother” on the issue of abortion and the following year he said, “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body” (Viser). As president, however, he has struck a different tune. In response to the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion striking down Roe v. Wade, President Biden stated, “The idea that we’re going to make a judgment that is going to say that no one can make the judgment to choose to abort a child, based on a decision by the Supreme Court, I think, goes way overboard” (Viser). Biden today directly contradicts Biden from 48 years ago, and this I think is him trying to stay within the center, not of the American political spectrum, rather that of his own party. After all, it would be a very weird situation to have a president of a party at odds with almost every other elected official in said party. While President Trump went against most of his party in his opposition to sanctions on Russia, he also went against the entirety of the Democratic Party. If Biden were to stick to his guns so to speak on the Hyde Amendment and his old views on Roe, he would be siding with most Republicans against nearly all Democrats. But, what is the truth of Biden’s record on abortion? The truth is a bit muddy but Biden’s record as senator has certain consistencies, which will be revealed.
I have consulted both Americans for Democratic Action and American Conservative Union archives for this vote selection, which is from 1975 to 2008.
Allow Social Security Funds for Abortions Senator Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) motion to table the Bartlett (R-Okla.) Amendment, barring Medicaid funds to pay for abortions. Passed 54-36: D 38-16; R 16-18, 4/10/75. Biden – Nay
Rejecting the Hyde Amendment Senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) motion to insist on language deleting the Hyde (R-Ill.) Amendment, prohibiting the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions. Passed 53-35: D 36-19; R 17-14; C 0-1; I 0-1, 8/25/76. Biden – Nay
Adopting the Hyde Amendment Senator Warren Magnuson (D-Wash.) motion to agree to the House prohibition on abortion, which has since been known as the Hyde Amendment. Passed 47-21: D 28-13; R 18-8; I 1-0, 9/17/76. – Biden – No vote.
Prohibit Taxpayer Funds for Abortions Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) amendment, prohibiting funds for abortions except when the mother’s life is in danger. This would exclude rape and incest. Defeated 33-65: D 16-43; R 16-22, 6/29/77. Biden – Yea
Stricter Language on Abortion Restrictions Senator Richard Schweiker (R-Penn.) motion to recede and concur with the House language on abortions funded through Medicaid, only permitting them to save the mother’s life, rather than the Senate language which also made exceptions for rape, incest, and if two doctors determined that continuing the pregnancy would result in physical damage to the mother. Rejected 33-51: D 13-38; R 20-15, 9/24/79. Biden – No vote.
Stronger Abortion Prohibition Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) motion to table amendment deleting House-passed language prohibiting Medicaid funding of abortions except as necessary to save the mother’s life. Passed 52-43: R 33-20; D 19-22, 5/21/81. Biden – Yea
Table Restriction of Use of Federal Funds for Abortions Senator S.I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.) motion to table the Helms (R-N.C.) amendment, restricting federal funds for abortions. Passed 47-46: R 19-33; D 27-13, 9/15/82. – Biden – Nay
Adoption of the Hatch (R-Utah)-Eagleton (D-Mo.) Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, holding that “A right to abortion is not secured by the Constitution”. Defeated 50-49: R 34-20; D 15-30, 6/28/83. Biden – Nay
Blocking Federal Abortion Funding Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) motion to table the Weicker (R-Conn.) amendment, allowing federal abortion funding, permitting abortion funding in cases of rape or incest. Tabled 54-44: R 39-15; D 15-29, 10/3/84. Biden – Yea
Table Senate Commendation of President Reagan’s Condemnation of Abortion Motion to table the Helms (R-N.C.) amendment expressing the sense of Congress that President Reagan be commended for his condemnation of abortion at home and abroad. Defeated 43-52: R 19-35; D 24-17, 8/8/84. Biden – Nay
Permit D.C. Funds for Abortions Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) motion to table the amendment prohibiting the use of federal D.C. funds to pay for abortions, except to save the life of the mother. Passed 54-41: R 19-34; D 35-7, 11/7/85. Biden – Yea
Weaken Restrictions on Funds for Abortion for D.C. Amendment weakening restrictions on the use of funds going to the payment of abortions except to save the mother’s life. Adopted 48-42: R 17-33; D 31-9, 9/16/86. Biden – Yea
Permit D.C. Funds for Abortions Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) motion to table the Nickles (R-Okla.) amendment, prohibiting federal or D.C. funds for abortions unless the mother’s life were in danger. Passed 60-39: D 42-9; R 18-30, 9/30/87. Biden – Yea
Prohibit D.C. Funds for Abortions Senator Don Nickles (R-Okla.) motion to table the Bradley (D-N.J.) motion to disagree with the House amendment that no funds in the District of Columbia be used for funding abortions unless the mother’s life was in danger. Passed 45-44: D 13-33; R 32-11, 9/30/88. Biden – No Vote.
Defeat Prohibition on Funding for China’s Forced Abortion and Sterilization Program Senator Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) motion to disagree with a House amendment barring any funding for the UN Population Fund if the funds financed communist China’s forced abortion and sterilization program. Passed 52-44: D 38-12; R 13-32, 11/15/89. Biden – Nay
Prohibit Funding for NGOs That Perform Abortions Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) amendment, excluding private, non-profit organizations that perform abortions from receiving taxpayer funds. Rejected 34-58: D 4-44; R 30-13, 9/25/90. Biden – Nay
Prohibit Funding for NGOs Performing Abortions for Minors Without Parental Notification Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) amendment, prohibiting publicly funded organizations from performing abortions for minors without parental notification. Adopted 52-47: D 13-41; R 39-5, 7/16/91. Biden – Nay
“Gag Rule” Repeal Veto Override Passage, over President Bush’s veto, of the bill allowing publicly funded family planning clinics to advocate abortion as an option. Veto overridden 73-26: D 51-3; R 21-23, 10/1/92. Biden – Yea
Hyde Amendment Repeal Amendment repealing the Hyde Amendment. Rejected 40-59: D 32-20; R 7-39, 9/28/93. Biden – Nay
Ban Peaceful Obstruction and Violent Intimidation Outside Abortion Clinics Passage of the bill making peaceful obstruction as well as violent intimidation outside of abortion clinics a federal crime subject to civil penalties. Passed 69-30: D 50-3; R 18-27, 5/12/94. Biden – Yea
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed. Passed 54-44: R 45-7; D 9-36, 12/7/95. Biden – Yea
Block Funds for Forced Abortions in China Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) amendment, blocking funds for the UN Population Fund unless the president certifies that the UNFPA has terminated all activities in China or that no coercive abortions continue to happen because of Chinese government policies. Rejected 43-57: R 40-13; D 3-43, 9/21/95. Biden – Yea
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act over President Clinton’s veto, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed. Veto sustained 58-40: R 46-4; D 12-35, 9/26/96. Biden – Yea
Repeal Hyde Amendment Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) amendment, repealing the Hyde Amendment. Rejected 39-61: R 4-50; D 34-11, 6/25/97. Biden – Nay
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed. Passed 64-36: R 51-3; D 13-32, 5/20/97. Biden – Yea
Allow Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) amendment, repealing the prohibition on privately funded abortions at U.S. military hospitals and medical facilities for service members and their dependents. Rejected 44-49: R 5-46; D 38-3, 6/25/98. Biden – Yea
End Debate on Prohibition of Non-Parents Transporting Minors Across State Lines for Abortions Motion to end debate on the bill criminalizing anyone other than a parent transporting minors across state lines to obtain an abortion. Rejected 54-45: R 52-2; D 2-42, 9/22/98. Biden – Nay
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act over President Clinton’s veto, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed. Veto sustained 64-36: R 51-3; D 13-32, 10/10/98. Biden – Yea
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Passage of the bill banning “partial birth” abortions, providing for fines and up to two years of imprisonment for doctors performing them, with an exception of if it was necessary to save the mother’s life, which existed in all prior versions. Passed 63-34: R 49-2; D 14-31, 10/21/99. Biden – Yea
Retain Prohibition on Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) motion to table the Murray (D-Wash.) amendment, repealing the law barring overseas U.S. military hospitals and medical facilities from performing privately funded abortions for U.S. service members and their dependents. Passed 51-49: R 49-5; D 2-43, 5/26/99. Biden – Nay
Retain Prohibition on Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities Table amendment permitting abortions in military hospitals. Passed 50-49: R 48-5; D 2-43, 6/20/00. Biden – Nay
Permit Funds for Distribution of “Morning After” Pill on Public School Grounds Table amendment preventing use of federal funds to distribute the “morning after” pill on public school grounds. Defeated 41-54: R 5-48; D 35-6, 6/30/00. Biden – Nay
Permit Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) amendment, granting military women and dependents of military personnel stationed overseas access to abortion services. Adopted 52-40, 6/21/02. Biden – Yea
Senate Resolution Endorsing Roe v. Wade Adoption of Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) resolution by the Senate affirming that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided. Adopted 52-46: R 9-41; D 42-5; I 1-0, 3/12/03. Biden – No vote.
Retain Mexico City Policy Amendment tabling the repeal of the Mexico City Policy, prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds by international organizations that promote or perform abortions. Defeated 43-53: R 42-9; D 1-43; I 0-1, 7/9/03. Biden – Nay
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Adoption of the conference report of the bill banning “partial birth” abortion, only allowing the procedure if necessary to save a woman’s life, with doctors performing the procedure being fined and sentenced up to two years imprisonment. Adopted 64-34: R 47-3; D 17-30; I 0-1, 10/21/03. Biden – Yea
Unborn Victims of Violence Act Passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, making it a criminal offense to injure or kill a fetus while committing a violent crime on the level of crime to the woman. Passed 61-38, 3/25/04. Biden – Nay
Repeal Mexico City Policy Amendment repealing the Mexico City Policy, prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds by international organizations that promote or perform abortions. Adopted 52-46: R 8-46; D 43-0; I 1-0, 4/5/05. Biden – Yea
Prohibit Circumvention of State Parental Notification and Consent Laws Passage of the bill making it a federal crime to take a minor across state lines to perform an abortion to circumvent parental notification and consent laws. Passed 65-34: R 51-4; D 14-29; I 0-1, 7/25/06. Biden – Nay
Repeal Mexico City Policy Amendment repealing the Mexico City Policy, prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds by international organizations that promote or perform abortions. Passed 53-41: R 7-40; D 46-1, 9/6/07. Biden – Yea
No Funding for Organizations Backing Coercive Abortions and Sterilizations Amendment prohibiting taxpayer funding for any organization or program backing coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. Adopted 48-45: R 44-3; D 4-41, 9/6/08. Biden – No vote.
Unborn Eligibility for SCHIP Amendment including the unborn for Eligibility in SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). Rejected 46-52: R 44-4; D 2-47, 3/14/08. Biden – Nay
Increase Funding for Parental Notification Laws on Abortion Amendment increasing funding for enforcement for laws requiring parents to be notified in cases of minors seeking abortions, while cutting spending elsewhere. Rejected 49-49: R 44-4; D 5-44, 3/13/08. Biden – Nay
Biden’s record indicates that from 1975 to 1982, he was entirely on the “pro-life” side, even voting to prohibit Medicaid funding for abortions without an exception for rape and incest in 1977, against the views of majorities in both Senate parties. However, in 1983, he voted against the Hatch-Eagleton Amendment, and from that point his record became significantly more favorable to legal and readily accessible abortion. He voted against any efforts at blocking funding for abortions in D.C., any efforts to prevent abortions in military hospitals and medical facilities, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, as well as efforts to prevent minors from getting abortions without parental knowledge. As a senator, Biden continued to favor the Hyde Amendment and voted for the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Overall, of these 43 key votes over 33 years, he voted 17 times for the “pro-life” position and 21 times for the “pro-choice” position, with five occasions in which he didn’t vote. His record was, I’d argue, leaning to “pro-choice” in the 1990s, although I can see his votes against abortion restrictions in D.C. as being justified as defending the autonomy of D.C. I have to wonder if he just stuck to the whole Hyde Amendment because he had done so in the past. I believe, however, that Biden still is against “partial birth” abortion being legal.
ADA Voting Records. Americans for Democratic Action.
On June 15, 1898, Congress passed, after some resistance from Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed (R-Me.), the Newlands Resolution by a vote of 209-91, which annexed Hawaii. As of April 23, 1900, Hawaii was a territory under this law, but it would have a long road for statehood. Despite having a long history of support for admittance as a state from the Republican Party given the party’s dominance of the territory until 1954, a combination of Southern Democrats and some breakaway conservative Republicans, most notably John Pillion of New York, were opponents. Southern Democrats knew that a state that had a majority of racial minorities would have two senators who would vote for civil rights. However, Democrats were making headway in the territory, Indeed, this is what happened. The first senators elected were Republican Hiram Fong (1906-2004), who had served in the Hawaii House from 1938 to 1954 and been Speaker from 1948 to 1954 and Democrat Oren Long (1889-1965), who had been a popular governor from 1951 to 1953. After winning close victories, the two men took office on August 21, 1959, with Fong prevailing on the coin toss as to who would be the senior senator.
Hiram Fong had had a long history in Hawaii politics and was there for the GOP’s dominance and was one of the numerous Republicans who lost reelection in 1954, the year the state switched party preference. He was originally born into poverty as Yau Leong Fong, but as an adult he excelled in the field of law and changed his first name to “Hiram”. According to Fong himself, he changed his name to “Hiram” because he liked the name, but others have speculated it was out of admiration for Hiram Bingham I, a missionary from New England who came to Hawaii (Nakaso). Despite Fong’s prior loss, he was still a popular enough figure to be elected to the Senate. He was a unique figure in the state: he was of Chinese descent in a state of people of primarily Japanese descent and was the first of Asian descent to be elected to the Senate. As a state legislator, he led the moderate faction of the GOP and his support of a Wagner Act for the state was critical to its passage in 1945, winning him a lot of support from organized labor. Fong continued to be a centrist figure in the GOP as a senator, being strongly supportive of foreign aid and supported several key Great Society programs, including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and Medicare in 1965, the latter which he had voted against thrice previously. Fong was a staunch anti-communist who opposed grain sales to communist nations through the Export-Import Bank and described communism as “the wrong concept of man and the universe” (U.S. House of Representatives). In 1964, he was the first person of Asian descent to receive votes for president from a major party, winning the votes of Hawaii and Alaska’s delegations to the Republican National Convention. Despite that year being a difficult one for Republicans, Fong won reelection and outpaced Barry Goldwater by a whopping 32%. Goldwater’s paltry 21% of the vote contrasted tremendously with the last presidential election, in which Nixon lost the state by only 115 votes. Fong’s survivability can be attributed to his continued close ties with organized labor in Hawaii, but he drew the line at repealing the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act during the Great Society Congress. He gave his backing to both the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, dismantling once and for all the national origins quota system, as well as its attached McGregor Amendment, which placed for the first time a cap on immigration from the Western Hemisphere. Fong strongly supported the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and also often voted against busing in the 1970s. On the lighter side of matters, he was also a subject of a joke told by Senator William B. Spong (D-Va.) about a theoretical piece of legislation on protecting Hong Kong songwriter copyrights proposed by him, Senator Fong, and Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, which would be called the “Long-Fong-Spong Hong-Kong-Song Bill” (Hunter).
A Scandal in Senator Fong’s Office
In 1971, the Justice Department indicted Senator Fong’s longtime legislative assistant, Robert Carson, for allegedly attempting to bribe Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst to intervene in a grand jury investigation (U.S. House of Representatives). Fong stood by his longtime aide, but he was convicted. The senator himself was not implicated, but it was nonetheless some unwelcome tumult in his career.
Fong, Nixon, and Beyond
President Richard Nixon looked with admiration on Fong for his achievements, and said in a 1960 speech, “…remember, all of you, the American dream is not just a dream, it does come true – Hiram Fong’s life proves it, and my life and Pat’s life proves it, too” (Nixon). The two were personal friends and Fong was more supportive of conservative positions while Nixon was president than he had been in the past. His support for Nixon’s approach to the Vietnam War, including the bombing of Cambodia, lost him votes in his 1970 reelection bid, but he survived. In 1976, Fong would have had to face popular Congressman Spark Matsunaga if he was to run for reelection and since his last election was tough, he opted not to run again. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 52%, reflecting his overall centrism. To this day, Fong is the only Republican to have represented Hawaii in the Senate, and one of only three Republicans to have ever represented the state in either House of Congress. He lived a long life, being physically healthy and working up until his nineties, and he was reportedly mentally sharp until his death from kidney failure.
Oren Long was not that notable for his role in the Senate, to be honest. By the time of his election to the Senate, he was 70 years old and didn’t intend to run for reelection. Long had been notable as governor as a staunch advocate for statehood and is notably one of only two non-Asian senators in the state’s history. He was also staunchly liberal in his less than four years in office with his support of JFK’s New Frontier programs, scoring a 5% on the MC-Index. Long’s successor would be the far more notable Dan Inouye, the state’s first representative, who won with over 69% of the vote in the 1962 election and would serve until his death in 2012. Long himself died two years after leaving office of an attack of asthmatic bronchitis.
On July 7, 1958, a decades long effort finally succeeded when President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the admission of Alaska as the 49th state. On January 3, 1959, the state Statehood had for some time been a bit of a political football, with Democrats tending to favor the state’s admission while Republicans and Southern Democrats tended to oppose it. Efforts to combine Alaska with Hawaii statehood had been tried before and flopped in the Senate. The Republicans who opposed it believed it would be a welfare state (it kinda is) and believed, as did Democrats, that the state would produce two Democratic senators. Southern Democrats figured that Alaska’s admission would mean two more votes in the Senate for civil rights. They also knew who would get elected…the Alaska’s two leading proponents of statehood: Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett (1904-1968) and Ernest Gruening (1887-1974). These two men would be liberals, but they would also be independent-minded and have several significant accomplishments.
Bob Bartlett was appointed secretary of the Alaska Territory in 1939, and would from 1945 until statehood be its delegate, where he was the most active person in the territory advocating for statehood. Upon Alaska’s statehood, he and his colleague Gruening had a problem: who was to be the senior senator and who was to face reelection first? Gruening proposed to resolve the matter with a coinflip. Neither one of them got along so a discussion probably wouldn’t have accomplished much. The first toss was on who had to run for reelection first, and Bartlett lost that one, thus having to run first. However, Bartlett won the second for seniority. For the rest of his life, Bartlett would nickname Gruening “Junior” for losing the second coinflip.
Bartlett and his colleague Gruening had an active rivalry despite being much more similar than different politically. He explained his dislike for his colleague thusly, “How can you approach logically a man who distorts facts, always, to suit his own fancy and his own needs and desires? It is impossible” (Reamer). True to Bartlett’s words, Gruening, outliving him, would in his 1973 autobiography Many Battles reframe the story. He claimed that he had “offered to concede” but Bartlett insisted on the coin toss without Bartlett around to contradict the narrative (Reamer).
Bartlett, although not a particularly vocal figure, was one of the most active senators in getting legislation passed, perhaps the most in American history. One of his laws, the Bartlett Act, required handicap access in all federally-funded buildings. Even as a delegate, he authored the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act, which provided for the funding of mental institutions in the Alaska Territory. This legislation caused much controversy for its initial allowance for people from the lower 48 states to be transferred to asylums in Alaska, making people fear that this bill would essentially establish a Siberian gulag for Americans. In response to these fears, Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) proposed an amended version in which the law only would serve to commit people in Alaska, and that is the version that passed unanimously. Bartlett was truly a workhorse rather than a showhorse. He was also more go-along, get-along as a senator than Gruening, who had been disliked by FDR and later by LBJ. Bartlett was a strong supporter of the Great Society and civil rights legislation.
By the late 1960s, his health was in serious decline due to a lifetime of heavy smoking and was suffering from heart disease. On December 11, 1968, Bartlett died at the Cleveland Clinic Hospital after heart surgery. His MC-Index score was a 13%. Republican Ted Stevens won the special election to succeed him and he would serve until 2009.
Ernest Gruening (1887-1974) was already an old man by the time he was elected to the Senate and had a long career in politics in the Alaska territory, serving as its governor from 1939 to 1953. He had been a trailblazer on civil rights, signing into law the Equal Rights Act of 1945, an anti-discrimination statute. In 1955, Gruening delivered a notable speech titled, “Let Us End American Colonialism!”, comparing Alaska to a colony and argued that statehood was due for Alaska, quoting Dwight Eisenhower declaring back in 1950, “Quick admission of Alaska and Hawaii to statehood will show the world that America practices what it preaches” (Gruening). Although a liberal, Gruening would prove a major pain for the Democratic leadership because of his siding with Wayne Morse (D-Ore.) in his newfound opposition to foreign aid as an ineffective way to fight communism. He also voted against ratifying the Consular Treaty in 1967, which had been signed by the Johnson Administration in 1964, joining senators who feared that the Soviets would have better opportunities to spy on the United States. He also sided with him in his vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which earned him the enmity of LBJ.
Morse and Gruening would be among the leading critics of the Vietnam War. He would write in his autobiography, Many Battles (1973), “I detailed my objections to the resolution on the second day of the debate, and again on the third. But the resolution was adopted by eighty-eight yeas to two nays, that of Senator Morse and mine… What none of the senators and representatives knew, however, was that they had been misled about the Tonkin Gulf incident. The facts would not be fully revealed until four years later when, on February 20, 1968, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reopened an investigation into what actually had or had not happened in the Tonkin Gulf. But even before these subsequent disclosures, Senator Fulbright publicly and repeatedly expressed regret for his sponsorship and support of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. He said he had been deceived. The Congress had been bamboozled into giving the President the unlimited power he sought to wage war in Southeast Asia. Had the Congress not been misinformed by the executive branch, the resolution would never have been adopted” (Simkin). Like Bartlett, Gruening was supportive of the Great Society, but he was known foremost for his Vietnam War opposition.
Despite his advanced age of 81, Gruening felt up to another term. The Democratic Party establishment supported him for another term, but Democratic primary voters disagreed and picked Mike Gravel. Gruening’s MC-Index score was 15%. Gruening tried for an independent write-in campaign for another term, but write-in campaigns are not often successful and his started only three weeks before the election. In retirement, he successfully completed his autobiography, Many Battles (1973). Gruening died on June 26, 1974, the same year as Wayne Morse, the other senator who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
Gruening, E. (1955, November 9). “Let Us End American Colonialism!” Keynote Address to Alaska Constitutional Convention.
The year is 1902 and the United States is exiting the “Gilded Age” and entering the “Progressive Era”. Although Nebraska is a historically Republican state, its most well-known politician is a Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, who ran on a left populist platform both in 1896 and in 1900 for president. Although George Norris (1861-1944), just elected to Congress from the state, is not at this time receptive to Bryan and his ideals, he will be more and more so as time goes on and will become one of the most accomplished progressives in American history.
Contending With Cannon
Norris could be thought of as a fairly regular if independent-minded Republican at the start. Although initially elected with the support of railroad companies as a conservative, he would come to support regulation of railroad rates proposed by President Roosevelt and after his first term his voting record would grow increasingly progressive.
Norris would become increasingly unhappy with Speaker Joe Cannon (R-Ill.) Cannon was too conservative and autocratic in his iron-fisted rule of the House. So powerful he was that he was both Speaker and chairman of the Rules Committee, meaning that he got to set the terms of debate for legislation in the House. Cannon and his top two lieutenants were called “the most powerful triumvirate known to parliamentary history” (House of Representatives). Cannon regarded the young Norris as “nominally a Republican”, an early way of calling him a RINO. However, he wasn’t alone in his opposition to Cannon and the numbers of dissatisfied Republicans were growing. This all came to a head on St. Patrick’s Day 1910. Many of Cannon’s supporters were at home in their districts attending the day’s events when Norris motioned to bar the Speaker from sitting on the Rules Committee and expanding the committee’s membership. He won this battle against Cannon and in 1912, he supported Theodore Roosevelt over President Taft in the presidential election, supporting his moderate progressivism. Like numerous other progressives of his day, Norris saw political issues in the frame of black and white, right and wrong. In 1912, he won election to the Senate.
Support and Opposition to Wilson
Norris was one of the Republicans more open to Wilson’s progressive measures, including voting for the Federal Reserve Act and anti-trust legislation. However, he would, as most Republicans did, vote against the Underwood Tariff in 1913, which reduced tariffs and enacted an income tax. Norris by contrast would butt heads with Wilson repeatedly on foreign affairs.
George W. Norris was one of only six senators to vote against American involvement in World War I and also defended civil liberties during wartime. He voted against both the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Norris would also stand as one of the “irreconcilables”, a group of around fifteen senators who would not agree to the Versailles Treaty under any circumstances. Their view prevailed in the Senate at the time and no treaty was ratified.
Amending the Constitution
George W. Norris supported multiple efforts to amend the Constitution. Successful efforts he supported included women’s suffrage, direct election of senators, Prohibition, repeal of Prohibition, and the income tax. Norris defended his stand on Prohibition in 1930, stating, “I speak as one who believes in…prohibition…For more than forty years, both as a public official and as a private citizen[,] I have favored prohibition in all the contests and battles which have taken place on that subject during that time… [The wets] believe it is a wrongful intrusion upon their personal rights. I do not agree with these men…It seems to me they should be broad enough and fair enough, even if they feel we are giving up some of our personal rights and personal privileges, to see that this greatest evil of all mankind is driven from the homes of the American people” (Folsom, 72). He also supported unsuccessful efforts at ending the Electoral College and an amendment banning child labor. He also has to his name the 20th Amendment, which he authored and sponsored, that abolished the “lame duck” session of Congress, in which legislators had four months to legislate after an election.
Norris and The Three Republican Presidents
The 1920s were not a good time for Norris politically. He was often critical of key policies of these presidents, including on taxes and tariffs. Norris supported aid for farmers in the form of the McNary-Haugen Act, which was opposed by both Coolidge and Hoover. He also supported veterans bonuses, opposed by the Republican presidents for cutting into their income tax reduction agenda. Norris opposed a proposal to have Henry Ford purchase Wilson Dam from the government for $5 million to generate power for the Muscle Shoals area. He and other progressives put up enough of a fight against it for Ford to withdraw the offer. Norris would be vilified by some in the South and would receive death threats over his opposition. However, his plan was for the government to not only power the Wilson Dam but build other dams to generate power. This one was opposed by conservative Republicans who regarded it as socialist. However, such an act of socialism would be embraced by the people of Muscle Shoals as well as the government in the following decade.
In 1928, Norris did not endorse his party’s nominee, Herbert Hoover, instead backing Democrat Al Smith. In retaliation, Republican regulars tried to sabotage his renomination bid in 1930 by attempting to place a grocer named George W. Norris on the ballot to split the vote. However, Norris’s position in Nebraska was solid at the time and he prevailed.
The Golden Years: Norris and the New Deal, 1933-1939
The first six years of the Roosevelt Administration would arguably be the time in which the direction of the nation best fit with Norris’s views. Norris had endorsed Roosevelt for president, and Roosevelt took special care to court progressive Republicans like him. This contributed to the idea that Roosevelt was in essence a continuation of the greatness of his fifth cousin, Theodore. Norris would support most New Deal legislation and sponsor the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. He had gone from a figure condemned in the region for his blocking of Henry Ford’s purchase bid to one of the most celebrated. To this day one of the dams built by the TVA is named the Norris Dam. Roosevelt would call him “the very perfect gentle knight of American progressive ideals” (U.S. Senate). In 1934, he campaigned for the state of Nebraska to have a unicameral and non-partisan legislature, which passed. To this day, Nebraska is the only state to have such a legislature. However, Norris maintained a degree of independence and in 1935 voted against the United States joining the World Court. Although President Roosevelt supported this proposal, he didn’t push hard for it and it ultimately died. In 1936, Norris decided to run for reelection as an Independent rather than a Republican, as he was already solidly tied with the Roosevelt Administration, Republicans weren’t going to get back their majority any time soon, and he was also officially endorsed by the Nebraska Democratic Party, which chose to ignore their own candidate, former Congressman Terry Carpenter. He won his three-way race by six points. Although numerous sources I’ve found have claimed that Norris opposed FDR’s court packing plan, he was one of 20 votes against shelving the measure on July 22, 1937.
Civil Rights: A Mixed Legacy
Although Norris was known as one of the most liberal people in the Republican Party, he time and again opposed anti-lynching legislation, like his colleague William Borah of Idaho. He feared that such a bill passing would result in a second War of the Rebellion (Barnes, 6). However, towards the end of his career he supported the first legislative proposal to ban the tax in 1942. Norris’s view of how the South dealt with black people was that they did well under the circumstances. And although it is true Southern whites could have done much, much worse, a system of second-class citizenship and informal social terror is hardly what I would call doing well.
A Changing Nebraska and the End
By 1940, Nebraska was one of the least friendly states for FDR and progressivism as a whole. Norris had become thoroughly identified with the Roosevelt Administration, even changing his longstanding non-interventonism in 1937. This was in response to seeing the famous “Bloody Saturday” photograph of a burned Chinese baby crying in the aftermath of a Japanese bombing of a train station. Norris voted for the end of the arms embargo under the Neutrality Acts in 1939 and for Lend-Lease in 1941. However, he couldn’t bring himself to vote for the peacetime draft. Norris was getting up there in age and he was increasingly out of step with the trends. An exception to this was Norris’s new willingness to accept some restrictions on the power of organized labor, but he was the foremost figure in the state identified with the Roosevelt Administration, and unpopular the Administration was. Although he wanted another term in 1942 after being persuaded to run again by some of his loyal supporters, the Democrats decided to pick their own candidate, splitting the liberal vote and dooming his reelection effort. Norris lost to a former acolyte of his, Kenneth Wherry, who had moved to the right. He stated in defeat, “I have done my best to repudiate wrong and evil in government affairs” (Greenbaum, 7). Norris’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 31%. On August 29, 1944, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving him partially paralyzed and died on September 2nd. Norris had, however, completed his autobiography, Fighting Liberal, which was posthumously published.
Official Recognition Denied!
In the 1950s, a committee of senators took it upon themselves to name the greatest senators in American history. The list they came up with reflected regional and ideological inclinations and prides: Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, Robert Taft of Ohio, John Calhoun of South Carolina, and Robert La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin were in the top five. However, one figure who historians repeatedly named was Norris. The trouble? The senators from Nebraska at the time were Carl Curtis and Roman Hruska. Both men were hardcore conservatives and had been foes of Norris when he was a senator. They hinted they would cause a long debate in the Senate regarding the top five if Norris were to be considered. Many historians regardless think of him as one of the greats.
Barnes, H.W. (1969). Voices of Protest: W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Smith College.
The Disney Corporation has as of late been playing a game of duality with the American public: woke in the United States, and accepting of anything from nations whose policies are far more racist and anti-gay than even some of the views of the most regressive people of the United States, such as China and Saudi Arabia. They cemented this further when on April 6th, Disney hired as head of global communications Kristina Schake, a Democratic Party operative and LGBT rights activist. They have also attracted the ire of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida for their embrace of the misleading “Don’t Say Gay” campaign against a bill that prohibits the teaching of gender identity to children K-3 as well as their new policy of “gender neutrality” at Disney parks, with him signing a bill into law placing Disney’s self-governing status under review, meaning that unless the Florida legislature acts to renew it, its self-governing status will expire in June 2023. A take on the recent controversies surrounding Disney I read recently asserted that Walt Disney himself would be canceled by the Disney Corporation except for the fact that the name is so iconic. Indeed, there have been accusations against Disney of bigotry, including anti-black racism and anti-Semitism. The purpose of today’s post will be to ascertain truth and myth surrounding Walter Elias Disney’s (1901-1966) politics as well as to address claims of prejudice against him from various sources, including from actress Meryl Streep and his own grandniece, Abigail Disney. Neither Streep nor Abigail Disney, however, knew Walt very well. Streep was 17 and never met Disney and Abigail was only 6 when he died. In other words, neither speaks from personal experience being around Disney, simply what they have read, and what they have read are the words or people writing based on the words of people who participated in the 1941 Disney Animators’ Strike, namely union organizer Herbert Sorrell and animator Art Babbitt.
A Look at Walt Disney
“I am not Walt Disney. I do a lot of things Walt Disney would not do. Walt Disney does not smoke. I smoke. Walt Disney does not drink. I drink” (Calia). This revealing quote from Walt Disney illustrates the difference between his public wholesome image and his actual self. It is indeed irresistible to look behind the curtain at the man behind the Disney Corporation and his image. Author Marc Eliot’s 1994 critical and heavily criticized biography, Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince, is a prime example of such an effort to look behind the curtain.
Politics: Both a Democrat and Republican
Walt Disney’s father, Elias, would actually have appealed to many people who work in the political field of the Disney Company today as he was a socialist. He was an imposing and stern figure and would take the earnings his children made at work for “safekeeping”, the rationale being they didn’t know the value of money yet. Disney himself was influenced by his father and was a Democrat for his young adult life. However, he seems to have been the old-fashioned sort of progressive, opposing bigness in all things. Although he supported FDR for a first and second term, he would overtime become disillusioned with Roosevelt and the New Deal. By 1940, he regarded himself as a supporter of Wendell Willkie. He would never again back a Democrat for president Disney befriended and supported the campaigns of several prominent Republicans, including Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. The Disney Company made a cartoon (“I Like Ike”) to promote Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign and in 1960 he backed Nixon’s bid for the presidency. In 1964, Disney was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. LBJ knew of Disney’s politics and support of Barry Goldwater, and to his chagrin he showed up wearing a Goldwater button on his jacket. That year Disney urged actor George Murphy to run for the Senate and gave him financial support. Murphy won in an otherwise difficult election for Republicans. In his last political effort, Disney backed Ronald Reagan’s successful 1966 campaign for governor.
Walt Disney died in 1966, but if he were alive today, his politics indicate that he probably would be a critic of the direction of his company, like Colonel Harland Sanders was of Kentucky Fried Chicken in his later years. The difference was Disney would disapprove of his company’s culture politics while Sanders disapproved of the quality deficiency of KFC’s product.
Claims of Anti-Semitism
Despite popular belief, the claim that Walt Disney was an anti-Semite is based on flimsy evidence. The basis for this as well as the claim of his racism stems primarily from the 1941 Animators Strike, which is the starting source for many criticisms about Disney. As his biographer Neal Gabler (2009) writes, “Disney came by those enemies honestly when his animators staged a strike in 1941 complaining of paternalism and low wages and Walt responded by hustling the supposed union ringleaders off the lot and firing other union members to quash their organizing. Even after the four-month-long strike was settled — under duress by the federal government — the wounds did not heal. Disney would feel betrayed for the rest of his life by what he saw as ungrateful employees. The aggrieved employees got their own measure of revenge by portraying Walt thereafter in the least flattering light. Most of what we hear about Disney as a racist or anti-Semite was circulated by animators who had struck in 1941”. The primary figures in this strike were labor organizer Herbert Sorrell and animator Art Babbitt, and both men would accuse Walt Disney of anti-Semitism. Babbitt alleged that Disney attended meetings of the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi group run by the hapless Fritz Kuhn, but he was the only person to have made such a claim. He was also alleged to have fired an employee because he was Jewish despite employing numerous Jews in his company. Another piece of “evidence” cited for his anti-Semitism was Disney’s involvement with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. He was vice president of this group and it was explicitly anti-communist and anti-fascist and had a reputation for being very conservative. The organization itself was not anti-Semitic, but some of its members are believed to have been so privately. This would have made it similar to the John Birch Society, which although it officially disavows anti-Semitism, some of its members, including one of its founders (Revilo P. Oliver), was without doubt anti-Semitic. One thing I’d like to note is that anti-communism can often get tarred as anti-Semitism as there were some outspoken figures who were anti-Communist and conflated it with Judaism. The most notable example was of course the Nazis, who regarded Judaism and Communism as a tautology. The United States also had some homegrown people who also thought Judaism and Communism to be interlinked, such as retired Generals George Van Horn Moseley and Pedro del Valle. As a consequence, some Jews came to view anti-Communist politics as a smokescreen for anti-Semitic politics and anti-Semitism became a frequent charge against anti-communists, when it applied and when it didn’t. This perspective is behind the view that Disney was an anti-Semite. Walt Disney would later testify as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities his belief that communists were behind the animators strike.
Allegations of Anti-Black Racism
Walt Disney, unsurprisingly, was also accused of anti-black racism. This is due to stereotypes displayed in Disney cartoons, but this was the norm in cartooning and in other Hollywood productions of the time. In live-action films. The big one people look at, of course, is 1946’s Song of the South which has been criticized as being a film demeaning to blacks. However, according to biographer Neal Gabler (2009), “Walt anticipated these criticisms and actually went to great lengths to make the film as racially sensitive as he could. He hired a Jewish left-wing screenwriter, Maurice Rapf, to do a draft of the script because, as he told Rapf, “You’re against Uncle Tomism and you’re a radical.” Before signing Baskett, he approached the black actor, singer and leftist activist Paul Robeson to play Remus and asked him to review the script. And he sent the script to a number of black notables for comment, including the actress Hattie McDaniel; the secretary of the NAACP, Walter White; and, via his friend producer Walter Wanger, Howard University scholar Alvin Locke. Walt even did something that he had done on no previous film: He invited White to the studio to work on revisions with him. White begged off, saying he was too busy. In short, Walt did everything he could plausibly do to get input from the black community”. The worst that can be said about Disney was that he was no better than anybody else in the industry on this subject in his time, and arguably he was better. Disney may not have been quite on the mark with the film, but he sought input and tried to do right.
Calia, M. (2015, September 10). Walt Disney: The Imperfect Man Behind the Perfect Persona. The Wall Street Journal.
On October 21, 1917, Senator Paul Husting of Wisconsin is duck hunting with his brother. Spotting one, he tells his brother Gustave to fire. However, Husting rises in his rowboat and his brother accidentally shoots him in the back. He slips into a coma and dies later that day. Husting, a Democrat, had been one of the most pro-Wilson senators, and his death is politically consequential. His elected successor in the special election the next year is Republican Representative Irvine Lenroot (1869-1949), and in the next Congress Republicans hold a 49-47 majority. Had Husting lived, the Democrats would have had a majority through the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Thomas Marshall.
Lenroot got his start in Wisconsin state politics as a strong ally of Governor Robert La Follette in the Assembly. From 1903 to 1906 he was the Assembly’s speaker and was key in getting La Follette’s reforms through, including a primary election law and a railway tax. In 1906, Lenroot and La Follette backed each other’s bids for higher office. La Follette won his Senate bid, but Lenroot lost the Republican primary for governor. In 1908, with the support of La Follette, he defeated Congressman John J. Jenkins for renomination to the House. Jenkins was a conservative supporter of Speaker Joe Cannon and had been backed by President Roosevelt. In the House, he would often vote against legislation supported by President Taft including the Aldrich-Payne Tariff and he backed the 1910 revolt against Speaker Joe Cannon. In 1912, Lenroot sided with Theodore Roosevelt in the Republican split and tried to get an alliance between La Follette and Roosevelt, but neither man liked each other. Roosevelt thought La Follette too progressive and La Follette saw Roosevelt as compromising too much to business interests. Although the two patched up their relations, this was the beginning of a political separation between La Follette and Lenroot. He was also growing more conservative during the Wilson years and the split between the two was complete in 1917 when La Follette voted against American entry into World War I while Lenroot voted for. Among Republicans from the Wisconsin delegation, he was joined only by Representative David Classon in support of war. To get the Republican nomination for the Senate, Lenroot had defeated La Follette-backed James Thompson on a platform of patriotism. This was bitter for La Follette, who was accused of being “pro-German” and was even subject to a campaign to get him expelled from the Senate.
La Follette was not pleased with his former lieutenant as a senator, thinking of him as having compromsied too much, like he thought Roosevelt. In 1920, as Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio won the nomination for president, party bosses selected Lenroot as their choice for vice president. Harding was a staunch conservative while he was a moderate, including on the Versailles Treaty, being one of the mild reservationists. They supported the Versailles Treaty with only modest alterations and such figures would be the precursors of the post-World War II internationalists in the GOP. This would have been a solid ticket balance, but there was a popular cry at the Republican National Convention for Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts to get the nod as he had been popular for his calling in troops to stop a Boston police strike in 1919. Coolidge won 674 delegate votes to Lenroot’s 146. Lenroot remained in the Senate, and both Republicans on the presidential ticket were conservatives. Had the delegates gone along with party bosses, Irvine Lenroot would have been our 30th president. He would be considerably more supportive of Republican presidents Harding and Coolidge than he was of Taft, voting for the Mellon tax cuts. However, he retained his general opposition to high tariffs. In his final term in Congress, Lenroot’s MC-Index score reached an 82%, and many Republicans in the state were not pleased with his conservative turn. In 1926, they picked Governor John J. Blaine, a Republican of the La Follette mold. Lenroot’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 58%, indicating a moderate record. He was subsequently nominated by President Hoover to the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals. Confirmed by the Senate, he served until his retirement in 1944.
Husting is Killed By Brother In Hunt. (1917, October 22). The New York Times.
The 93rd Congress constitutes President Nixon’s second term, and he is considerably more conservative. His ACA-Index scores stand for 1973 and 1974 as 100% and 89% respectively in the Senate, while his House scores for 1973 and 1974 are 80% and 60% respectively. Nixon opposed the minimum wage, postcard voter registration, and campaign finance legislation and unlike in the first term, he does not compromise on busing. He also supported the reinstatement of the death penalty and opposed price controls on oil. Nixon’s left turns include his support for continuing price controls, his opposition to restricting exports to communist countries, and support for foreign aid. Some Republican senators reach all-time lows on conservatism, including Senators Charles Mathias (R-Md.), Clifford Case (R-N.J.), and Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) scoring 0% in 1974. Mathias and Case would only vote for the conservative position a single time by ACA standards in 1973. Very few elected officials get a 0% or a 100% in both sessions of Congress. Only Representatives Sam Steiger (R-Ariz.) and Delwin Clawson (R-Calif.) as well as Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) were always right by ACA standards in the 93rd Congress. For people who did all wrong by ACA’s standards, the number is also quite low. Hugh Carey (D-N.Y.), Jonathan Bingham (D-N.Y.), William J. Green Jr. (D-Penn.), and William Moorhead (D-Penn.) are the four in the House. Senators Ed Muskie (D-Me.), Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), and Harrison Williams (D-N.J.) are the three senators who did no right by ACA in the 93rd Congress.