The Supreme Court On Election Years: Revisited

Here we are again: another vacancy on the Supreme Court during an election year, this time due to the long-anticipated passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The last time a vacancy happened during an election year was, as we remember, in 2016 on the death of Antonin Scalia. Unfortunately for President Obama, the Democrats had lost the Senate in the 2014 midterms and as a consequence the majority Republicans wouldn’t allow a nominee who would shift the court anywhere left of where it was when Scalia was alive. When I wrote about the Supreme Court on July 4, 2018, I came up with some theoretical standards based upon historical precedent and logic, such as the “Biden-McConnell Rule” (its unusual to confirm justices on presidential election years) and the “Schumer Retort” (its unusual to confirm justices on midterm election years) as to whether not confirming justices on election years was normal . Truth be told, however, the logic that matters in this era of polarization is what party has the majority in the Senate and what party has the presidency. It wasn’t always this way of course…in 1968 a Democratic Senate blocked Justice Abe Fortas from ascending to the Chief Justice post as the Southern Democrats worked with Republicans to defeat it. In 1988, a Democratic Senate unanimously confirmed Anthony Kennedy…the last time this happened. While it is true that historically controversial nominees being confirmed in election years is unusual, as I noted in my July 4, 2018 post, the last time a controversial nominee was confirmed in an election year the president and the Senate were held by the same party…in that case it was 1916 and the nominee was Louis Brandeis. In 2020, Republicans have both the presidency and the Senate. They can and will confirm a justice, whatever the rhetoric is out there.

Historically Significant Presidency

I also wrote previously about how the Trump presidency could be historically significant on the Supreme Court, and if Amy Coney Barrett is nominated and confirmed, as I think will happen, this will prove correct! I wrote on my July 11, 2018 post that “If Trump wins another term, he will certainly be a transformational president for the Supreme Court, and it would be on the scale of FDR should he nominate and confirm replacements for Ginsburg and Breyer. The United States Supreme Court could potentially have at least a half-century of dominating conservative jurisprudence ahead of it, much like the Supreme Court had over a half-century of liberal jurisprudence. This thought is unbearable for today’s Democrats, and they will do all in their power to stop it”. Now, even if he doesn’t win another term, he will be one of the most significant presidents on judicial nominations.  

On “Court Packing”

Back in 2018, I remember liberal columnists writing rather unwisely about reintroducing “court packing” when the Democrats have unified government again, and I have a few things to say about that. First, it befuddles me why they think FDR’s worst political blunder is a good idea. Perhaps the party in 1937 wasn’t the nearly uniformly liberal one it is today and that’s the factor…perhaps they don’t think the arguments used against it in 1937 will be relevant today, or perhaps they just didn’t consider the separation of powers argument. Second, if done under a Biden Administration and a Democratic Senate, it will set a terrible precedent. There is no set number of justices on the Supreme Court laid out by the Constitution, so Congress most certainly has the power to increase the number of justices…and along with there being no set number there is also no cap on the number of justices that can be appointed. Should the Democrats do this, it will start what I will call “court packing wars”. Republicans may increase the number of justices when they get back to unified government. And I certainly don’t mean “if” as pessimistic conservatives seem to believe, I’m not convinced Democrats are competent enough to maintain a permanent national governing coalition as they hope, even with racial and ethnic alliances working in their favor. Political history is one of coalitions rising and falling…and for this there is no “end of history”.

Catholicism of Amy Coney Barrett: A Help for President’s Reelection?

If Trump does, as I think he will, nominating Amy Coney Barrett, the Democrats have ample chances to shoot themselves in the foot, especially if they make hay about her being Catholic, as they did during her nomination to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Perhaps this nomination will help Trump get a majority of Catholic voters for his reelection should there be support among their voters for Barrett and backlash to the Democrats for their conduct in opposition.

It’s not inconceivable that Barrett could be a help to Trump’s reelection: a justice’s religion has helped presidents in the past: Wilson got points with Jewish voters for nominating the first Jewish justice, Louis Brandeis. Jackson helped secure long-term loyalty of Catholic voters to the Democrats with his nomination of Roger B. Taney, the first Catholic chief justice (and justice) in the history of the Supreme Court.

Whatever happens in the next month, one thing’s for sure: it’s going to be nuts.

Pierre Rinfret’s “Blog”: A Historically Valuable Internet Curiosity

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Pierre Rinfret, GOP Candidate for Governor of New York in 1990, wrote a fascinating website that would be now known as a blog.

No, today’s not an individual profile day…at least not necessarily. I am revisiting an old curiosity that I have found useful and maybe you will too if you give it a look.

Pierre Andre Rinfret (1924-2006) is not a particularly known figure in politics as he was primarily an economist, although he ran for elective office once. He was an economic forecaster for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter and ran for Governor of New York as a Republican in 1990 in a disastrous run that included sabotage from supposed friends as well as some unforced errors on his part. Rinfret offers a rather unique take on history, especially given that he talks about a lot of the people he knew in high places, and a lot of his accounts don’t paint a pretty picture of them. He can best be described as “center right” in his views, with some emphasis on “center” as although he is pro-market he has a very negative view of the workings of Wall Street and credit. Rinfret is not out to please anyone in particular, but he tells it as he sees it and he did this throughout his career. This is perhaps why he was a successful economist but a failed politician.

He writes with his greatest disdain about communists and socialists and their friends in the journalistic profession but also has a lot of ammo he uses on figures of the right, including some rather famous names in conservative and libertarian circles. Some of his favorite individual targets are his fellow economists, including Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman. The former for him is a mediocre economist who as chairman of the Fed was in way over his head, and the latter is a phony who has simple answers for everything and makes stuff up to justify his arguments. Arthur Burns he thought of as one of the best business cycle analysts but also a bit of an asshole once he had some political pull. Also curious are some of the people he views favorably which would not be among people’s top guesses, including President Richard Nixon and Vice President Dan Quayle. Some of what Rinfret writes is rather prescient and some of it is very much with us today, especially what he wrote about China and his views on the media strike me as more true than when he was alive. Even back in the 1990s, he was writing about how bad and radical the New York Times was and his views of journalists are by and large negative, which is understandable given the constant bad press he received in his 1990 run.

For how hard millennials say they have it, Rinfret grew up during the Great Depression, and by his account his family never asked for any assistance even though there was assistance available. Are millennials having to grab free ketchup packets in restaurants and pour them into water for free tomato juice? Well that’s what Rinfret did just to get some more food. Then he had to fight in World War II, where he saw everything you could see from mankind. His recollections of powerful individuals are fascinating…few are very positive and many are negative. Rinfret provides the following disclaimer with his accounts:

“These are the backgrounds of prominent people I have known. The backgrounds may be incomplete or they may be wrong. I am working from memory and the backgrounds I give you are from my personal (not book) knowledge. This is their backgrounds as I knew them. I have not checked out the details and the backgrounds are incomplete but they do jell with my knowledge of them and my experiences with them.”


Bill Archer – Republican Congressman from Texas, 1971-2001, Chairman of Ways and Means Committee

A personal friend who he finds to be a man a tremendous integrity, expert on the tax code. States that he never sought power and never asked him for campaign contributions.

Dan Quayle – Vice President, 1989-93.

Rinfret considered him a good man without a mean streak and that the left was out to get him like they were Richard Nixon.

Martin Anderson – Economist for the Reagan Administration

Probably the only economist he praises all around.

John B. Connally – Texas Governor, Secretary of the Treasury, presidential candidate.

In Rinfret’s opinion, Connally was the most ideal candidate for president in 1980.

Orrin Hatch – Republican Senator from Utah, 1977-2019.

A good personal friend of his, he didn’t write a whole account on him.

Hubert Humphrey – Democratic Vice President and Senator

A genuinely good man who although a radical, Rinfret always enjoyed his encounters and debates with him.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan – Democratic Senator, New York, 1977-2001.

A man of honesty and integrity.

Eugene Tighe – General

Finds him a man of honesty and integrity.

Richard Nixon – President, 1969-74.

Considered him a maligned figure who was actually a decent president. Rinfret had been an early supporter of him and Nixon appreciated his honesty and forthrightness.

Ronald Reagan – President, 1981-89.

Although Rinfret had an argument with him about tax cuts and deficits, he came to appreciate his presidency for Reaganomics’ secret and true goal: the end of the USSR. Rinfret credits Reagan for being the only president to actually take the offensive on them rather than playing strictly defense. Even the Vietnam War was a defensive conflict as it was trying to hold off the spread of communism to South Vietnam.

Henry Kissinger – Secretary of State

Rinfret thought of him as a good and brilliant man. Appreciated that he went to bat for him when he ran for governor of New York.


Pat Buchanan – Speechwriter for Richard Nixon, presidential candidate.

Found him to be “emotional and subjective” who just believes in positions rather than gives evidence for them.

Chuck Colson – Communications Director for Nixon

Rinfret found him to be 100% ruthless…would do anything to win. Found him personally decent in spite of this, so perhaps only slightly negative.

Jimmy Carter – President, 1977-81.

Recounts a story of how he was sabotaged by someone on his own staff, who made him think the press was harder on him than it was. From other writings, Rinfret views his presidency as weak.

George Shultz – Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State

Rinfret found him vicious, mean-spirited, pompous, and a political hack.

Martin Luther King Jr. – Civil rights leader.

Rinfret’s one encounter with him was overhearing him strategizing with his associates on how to bring the most attention to himself.

Otto Eckstein – Economist

Headed Data Resources, Inc. which attempted to predict a recession through computer models but never did.

Gerald Ford – President, 1974-77.

Rinfret thought him a wimp and didn’t think too highly of him on intelligence to say the least.

Lee Iacocca – President of Ford Motor Company

Iacocca was foulmouthed and a scummy, lying businessman according to Rinfret.

George Bush – President, 1989-93.

Gave Rinfret a lukewarm endorsement for governor, and lukewarm endorsements are worse than not endorsing at all. Thought of him as a “wimp” as was the common accusation at the time as he wouldn’t admit the Cold War was over, as Reagan did in 1989. Thought him ruled by his personal animosities.

Arthur Burns – Chairman of the Federal Reserve

Arrogant, often rude, looked down on any economist not in academia. Was the best business cycle analyst.

Herbert Stein – Economist

Rinfret finds Stein, father of Ben Stein, to be petty and mean, also lied about not being aware of Rinfret’s contributions to Nixon’s economic team.

Maurice Stans – Finance Director for Nixon Campaign

Rinfret relates a story in which a group of businessmen deliver checks for $100,000 in contributions with the expectation they would be appointed ambassador, with Stans telling them he could make no promises except that they would have a friend in the White House. Stans confided to Rinfret that none of them had a chance at an ambassadorship after they left.

Alexander Haig – Commander in Chief of NATO, Secretary of State under Reagan.

Not a strong man, get along, go along, never took a strong stance on anything. Always ducked out whenever there was trouble.

Paul McCracken – Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Terrible bore, only worse speaker according to him was Alan Greenspan, a go along get along type. Nixon said “MEDGO” about Paul McCracken whenever he spoke, meaning “My Eyes Doth Glaze Over”. Also mean spirited and vicious as he lied that he was unaware of any of Rinfret’s contributions to Nixon’s economic team.

Alice Rivlin – Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve

Ripped into Rinfret at a debate, and when he returned the favor she burst into tears.

Allen Dulles – CIA Director.

Consistently overestimated the strength of the Soviet Union and did so deliberately to get more money for the CIA.

Herbert London – Conservative candidate for Governor of New York.

Vindictive and destructive, helped destroy his bid for governor. His downfall was when he lost the state Comptroller race in 1994.

Alan Greenspan – Chairman of the Federal Reserve

Rinfret denounces him on no uncertain terms, found him to be a political hack, unimaginative, boring, and a mediocre economist. Blames him for the stock market crash in 1987 on his high increases in the interest rate.

Roy Goodman – New York State Senator

Recruited Rinfret to run for governor and sabotaged him when it became clear that Rinfret would not defer to his authority. When asked by the press where he got Rinfret’s name, he responded, “I found it on my Rolodex”. Rinfret and Goodman had known each other and spoken with each other for ten years, with the former contributing to his campaigns!

Jack Kemp – Congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Very negative opinion of him given Kemp was a loud critic of his campaign and blasted him at every opportunity. Thought very little of Kemp’s intellect as well.

Lyndon Baines Johnson – President, 1963-69.

Rinfret found Johnson to be a repulsive human being who was lied to by his staff about the Vietnam War because he wouldn’t accept the truth when told to him. As he writes about him, “Most of the advisors around President Johnson told him what he wanted to hear and he could not stand the truth anyway. He would not, refused, to listen to anyone who pleaded the case for getting out of Vietnam.

I sat in on occasion with some of the advisors and I was always amazed to discover that he was lied to and mislead by his advisors. If you told him that we could not win the war without a total dedication to war (as we did) he would call you names!

Too bad because he did a great many wonderful things including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A pitiful man who meant well but forgot that he was not God and that democracy does not support those who go full tilt against the wishes of the American people.”

John F. Kennedy

Rinfret worked in the Kennedy Administration and he found that a book exposing the Kennedy Administration rang true for him. Among them were that Kennedy’s brother, RFK, basically ran the administration and was appointed to prevent investigations into how Kennedy won the election.

H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman – Nixon’s Aides

Nixon’s hatchet men, Rinfret remembers them as vile and incredibly arrogant despite their general lack of knowledge. Viewed them as ultra-conservative. They were mad that they were unable to control Rinfret’s access to President Nixon.

John Dean – Attorney in Nixon Administration, whistleblower.

Gave Rinfret the creeps…had an instinctively bad reaction to him to the point he couldn’t shake his hand.

Mario Cuomo – Democratic Governor of New York

The man Rinfret attempted to defeat in the 1990 gubernatorial race. Regarded him as nothing more than a political hack.

Milton Friedman – Economist

Rinfret thinks of Friedman as a phony who lies in debates to make his arguments. He recounts a story in which Friedman did well in a debate against him because he cited some facts that Rinfret was unfamiliar with, and upon investigation he found that Friedman had pulled them out of thin air. In a subsequent debate he mopped the floor with him as he had the facts.

Robert Vesco – Criminal financier

By Rinfret’s account, he threatened the board he served on, Investors Overseas Service, Ltd. with criminal indictments as part of his plot to take over the company.

You will also find some astonishing and fascinating insights on Rinfret’s page, including:

 “All Presidential campaigns are nothing but a mountain of lies and more lies. The Americans always elect the most efficient and proficient liar.”

“Each and every Presidential hopeful that did get elected in my 80 years played the exact same game and strategy; postulate fear and get elected as the savior incarnate!”

 “No Presidential staff gets enough sleep, enough rest, enough time off, enough exercise, enough perspective, enough objective discussion, enough vacation, enough freedom, enough sleep or enough proper food.

Incest is a major problem. After awhile they almost only talk to themselves and they become completely out of touch with the country and its changing moods.

Key players in power for too long run out of new ideas. Their thinking and their willingness to think becomes stale, stagnant and stereotyped.

Old problems get old solutions and the more the old solutions are rejected the more heels are dug in. Fatigue, extreme fatigue, is the Achilles heel of every administration.”

On How George Romney Rendered Himself Unelectable:

Rinfret on Liars:

“The most difficult to understand is the perpetual liar. One of my brothers, who was as brilliant as they come and was a genius according to the IQ tests, was a perpetual liar. I used to tell him that all the time. He lied about unimportant things just as much as he lied about important things. You could not believe anything at all of what he said. If he said that he called you x times in a day (after you had not talked to him in months) you knew he never made a single call at all. He lied about everything and nothing he ever said was credible unless you had been a direct witness to what he was talking about. He lied about the littlest details and the huge ones as well. He lied about everything and nothing at all was ever believable. I got to the point in life where talking to him was, for me, an adventure because it got to be fun to figure out the next set of lies and stories he would make up!”

“The most dangerous liar (they are, of course, all dangerous) is the one that lies only about major or important facts. This is the kind of person that lies about his education, his studies, his degrees, his background, his family, his prior jobs, his war (or military) experiences, facts of all kinds, if he is in an argument and whatever suits him at the moment.”

“The political liar is legend. Political liars do not care one iota, one bit, one scintilla about the truth or the actual facts. They argue strictly on the basis of their emotions and their concept of what is “right” and what is “justice.” We have all met them. They are the worst kind and it is hopeless to argue or debate them because they “know” and they lie and make up facts to suit whatever argument. The worst are of course, the media who lie and cheat to the ultimate and they have zero conscience and less responsibility. All they care about is winning no matter how they win. It is NOT how the game is played which to them is idealistic nonsense. All they care about is WINNING, no matter how, including lying and cheating to the extreme. Lying and cheating are pretty much the same thing, aren’t they?”

“The social engineering liar is among the most dangerous because they want to change the social order according to their vision of what it should be. Most of these social engineers I have met over 5 decades know zilch about the way our country operates, know zilch about American industry, know zilch when it comes to American history and what made this country but boy, oh boy, do they know what they want to change! Even if they have to lie, to cheat they are going to get their way, one way or another!

They lie about anything and everything and the worst of all is that they are self righteous about their lying. When they can’t win a social argument with facts they resort to emotionalism (another form of lying). And when the emotionalism doesn’t work they lie to high heaven in whatever mode suits them; just as long as they win their argument!”

The most incredible of all is the Community Lie. This is where a mass of people agree silently and without any overt or noticeable agreement that they are going to lie en masse! This also comes under the title of “lying to oneself”.

We have all experienced community lies. The Germans community lies were and are too numerous to catalog but the best known is that no one but no one knew anything about the death camps!

When I was a student in France in 1949 to 1951 there was one community lie that I found hard to believe. Now you have to understand that I did combat in France and spoke to and observed the French during that combat experience and later from 1944 to 1945. The great community lie then and now in France is that only a few collaborated with the Germans! Baloney, the whole country collaborated with the Germans and they had no other choice. I am not sure that I would have done any different but they did collaborate! But the entire country denies, to this day, total collaboration.

On Communists and Their Intellectual Collaborators:

“These naive suckers in the United States turned against their very own country, sold it down the river to a dictatorship of the most horrible kind on the basis a bunch of words about which they had no verification and no knowledge.

Why? Who knows: lack of faith in America, no respect for democracy, outrage, visions of power, personal recognition and gain, superiority complex, stupidity, naiveté, anger, revenge, ignorance, day dreams, nightmares, delusions, insanity, sacrifice, etc. We will never know why or how they turned against their own country but they did! They would have sold us out to the Soviet Union and did indeed try to sell us out. May they burn in hell”.

“This country has enormous flaws. Every country in this mad world has more flaws than we do and I do mean every country in the world and there are no exceptions. We have had horrible days and horrible years. We have suffered and will always suffer. Mankind is mad and anybody who thinks that it is possible to create a Utopia with human beings involved knows nothing about the history of mankind.

Utopia is the delusion of madmen and the instrument of dictators. The last Utopia was in the bible as the Garden of Eden. It doesn’t exist in this world and will not exist in my lifetime. All we can ever do is to hope we improve the conditions under which we live.”

Author’s note: Amen!

His views of people in the media:

“The most important problem the United States faces is the dishonest, malevolent media.” – Expressed on January 4, 2006.

“Smart-assed know it all but as brilliant as they come. Extreme right winger. Simplistic solutions for complex problems. Pro-business and anti-government. Always nice and polite to me.” – On William F. Buckley Jr.

“As dumb as they come. Narcissistic. Egomaniac. Flaming radical and left winger. Managed to hide it for years but always favored left-wing radicalism. Retired wealthy to sailing his enormous yacht.” – On Walter Cronkite.

“A nasty secret life. Extreme right winger. Pro-business and Wall street. Dishonest and liar. Underhanded and deceptive, not to be trusted or believed. Intentionally misled and deceived me when I ran for governor.” – On Larry Kudlow.

“Radical left wing supporter, was an aide to Lyndon Baines Johnson. Always biased, anti-free enterprise, always pro-government control and domination. Always complaining about the inadequacies of the American system and country. Never but never willing to listen to anything pro the United States. Seeks to bring down the current political system of the United States. Always interviews his own kind.” – On Bill Moyers.

“Quite rude and arrogant. Generally impolite. Doing you a favor to let you on his wonderful show (ask him). Another know it all.” – On Larry King.

“The media at all levels and of all kinds has been usurped by those who basically detest this society and who want to change it materially. They carry the flag and the banner of revolution.

They lie to us, they mislead us, they exaggerate the flaws and they take us for gullible fools. They manipulate the news so that they can manipulate us.”

“It is never but never BLATANTLY said but the implication is clear:



“The free enterprise system had totally and completely failed. One of the reasons it failed was that major corporations and wall street were lying through their teeth about the performance of the private sector. Then, as now, major wall street firms were reporting fake earnings, were taking kick backs and were screwing investors for their own gain.” – On the Great Depression.

He doesn’t spare the Republican Party on the Great Depression:

“My memory of the political maneuvering of the two parties (Democrats and Republicans) is very simple: The Democrats were trying to solve the problems of America and the Republicans didn’t want to do a damn thing!

The attitude of the Republicans (both the Congress and the Party) and the businesses which survived the debacle of 1929 were identical. They didn’t say this but you could sure sense it! Their attitude towards you was written on their face and carried as a banner on their sleeves.


If you were unemployed you were held in contempt! The attitude was almost


The Republican party and the Republican congressmen were against every effort to correct the deficiencies of the economy, efforts to stop the blood flow and against any effort to alleviate the economic pain and suffering.

Views on China: Prophetic

Rinfret published this on April 4, 2006, less than three months before his death:

“China is a military and economic threat.

At the moment the deficit with China on trade is about $225 billion.

The market price of their currency is manipulated by them and is artificially low.

Ultimately China may go to war against us.

There are two Chinese reasons for taking on the United States; their claim for Taiwan, their manpower.

Short of atomic weapons they could defeat us.

We, in our innate stupidity, are providing them with the money they will use to defeat us.

As Stalin said “When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use“.”

On Hillary Clinton (January 29, 2006):



What he wrote on April 2, 2006:

The Federal deficit is just as horrible except we can afford it (now).

France continues to have riots. Germany has lost all leadership. The Brits are beginning to have both political and economic problems. The Japanese have made progress out of their recession-prone economy.

The Chinese are screwing the entire world.

George Bush was stupid when he joined the WTO.

That proves the idiots are in power (what else is new?).

Equity markets have entered the self-destruct arena.

We are now at our economic ceiling which is why the Fed keeps on raising interest rates (they are going higher).

The currency trading platforms on the Internet are rip offs! Much more later on!

About a year ago I wrote an article that there was no housing bubble and housing was not about to burst.

 It is now a year later and the speculation has intensified. Housing has not burst but it sure is worrisome

I am therefore changing my position. The housing situation is dangerous. If you are in the housing game one way or another I suggest that you read the following. This is a super source for the housing situation; a zillion references and sites.

The world is sick, sick, and the worst is yet to come.”

For more:

I think everyone can say that not everyone agrees with him but at least everyone agrees with him on a few things. I’m sure, for instance, that left-wingers will love his takedowns of Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan and other figures of the right. I’m also sure that right-wingers will love his perspectives on communism and socialism. Rinfret liked neither party but had a preference for the GOP as he thought the Democrats had become the radical party by the time of his death…he sure thought so of Senators Kennedy and Kerry! I admit I don’t feel great about his depiction of the GOP in the 1930s as I would consider myself very anti-New Deal, and I think there may be things he misses out on there, but perhaps he is correct in that the GOP (at least the conservatives among them) had no other answers but to say no to what FDR proposed. After all, he had to live through the Great Depression and I didn’t, which, no, we haven’t experienced the equivalent of in our lifetimes despite the Great Recession and COVID now.

Richard B. Russell: LBJ’s Senate Mentor

TDGH - November 8
Richard B. Russell

Senator Richard B. Russell (1897-1971) of Georgia was a powerhouse and there were reasons for this. First, he was studious and hardworking, he knew the rules up and down. Second, he was trustworthy and honorable by his colleagues. This meant that presidents could confide in him things they wouldn’t other senators, especially on the subject of his specialty, national defense. His father, Richard Russell Sr., had told him and his brothers that while not all men can be successful, all can be honorable. Russell Jr. sought to be both.

Russell had a meteoric rise in 1920s Georgia politics, becoming Speaker of the House by the age of 30 and was briefly the youngest governor of the 20th century, serving from 1931 to 1933. He pushed more funding for education and highway improvement while economizing state government, consolidating departments and balancing the budget. In 1932, Senator William J. Harris died and Russell saw this as his opportunity to advance to the Senate, and he won the special election for the seat the following year. He supported the New Deal as good for Georgia. especially its agricultural programs, which he contributed to and helped pass. However, Russell was never strongly progressive and he grew more conservative as the years went by, particularly on labor issues as did many Southern politicians. In 1936, he won renomination against Governor Eugene Talmadge, who ran on an anti-New Deal platform. In the leadup to World War II, Russell was a staunch supporter of FDR’s foreign policy and after the war was similarly supportive of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. However, he viewed the two measures as necessary to counteract the Soviet Union and was not a fan of any foreign aid or measures that he didn’t see as being of direct benefit to the United States. Russell, for instance, voted against Truman’s Point IV Program, which provided economic aid to poor nations, rather than nations recovering from war damages. In 1946, Russell authored and sponsored the School Lunch Act, which provided federal aid to the states for providing school lunches. The bill was both intended to provide proper nutrition for the nation’s children and to benefit farmers.

Russell and LBJ: A Father-Son Partnership

In 1949, the hyper-ambitious Lyndon B. Johnson graduated from the House to the Senate, the former institution he once compared to “chicken shit” as opposed to the Senate as “chicken salad” (Autry). And the Senate was where Johnson really could shine, and an important step in this process was endearing himself to Richard Russell, who he came to believe was the most powerful senator, as indeed he was. Russell was a lifelong bachelor even though he had dated women throughout his life. He also never had a son and Johnson filled this void within Russell as a senator. Russell mentored him on the ways of the Senate and Johnson was such a good student that in only four years he was the leader of the Senate Democrats as Russell chose to forego the position to maintain his independence. Johnson proved to be one of the most effective Senate party leaders in history.

Russell and the MacArthur Firing

Russell was not always on the same page as President Truman, but he refused to bolt the Democratic Party ticket for the Dixiecrats, which helped maintain his power and good relations with the president. One of the ways he supported Truman was siding with him in his firing of General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination. He chaired joint hearings on the matter with different sides providing testimony and realized he needed to balance the interests of national security with this testimony and the public need to know. Thus, the testimony itself was behind closed doors but the committee released transcripts in 30-minute intervals to the press that excluded any sensitive military information, which had the effect of preventing leaks. The report released by the committee is to this day heralded as an example of how to properly handle a potential constitutional crisis, with the committee concluding that the firing was within the president’s powers while acknowledging the shock it had sent through the nation.

Russell and Civil Rights

When it comes to civil rights, Richard Russell was the single most effective senator in delaying civil rights legislation through his mastery of the Senate rules and his employment of the filibuster. It is entirely possible that without him civil rights legislation would have been adopted as early as 1948. He was not a racial demagogue, never condoned violence against blacks, and didn’t race-bait in his campaigns, but he was also a racist who believed in the Jim Crow system and that blacks were, at least for the time being, inferior. It follows that Russell never voted for civil rights legislation in his whole career. Among other issues, this was a significant area of difference between Russell and his prodigal son, Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1950, he tried to undermine Truman’s desegregation efforts of the military, which was defeated. His reputation on civil rights prevented him from winning the Democratic nomination in 1952, instead they picked Adlai Stevenson, Governor of Illinois. They did pick another Deep South Democrat for VP, however, John J. Sparkman of Alabama, who was a strong supporter of Truman and the Fair Deal.

In 1956, Russell coauthored the Southern Manifesto, expressing opposition to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and desegregation. Although he agreed to not coordinate a filibuster on the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 in exchange for them being watered down bills, he led the South in the fight against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with Southern senators pushing over one hundred roll call votes on amendments to weaken the bill. Once cloture was reached to end debate on the bill, Russell’s forces were defeated. However, he publicly called for compliance with the law and spoke against resistance and violence. However, he continued to oppose civil rights legislation and that year he boycotted the 1964 Democratic National Convention along with many other Southern senators. That year, his state of Georgia would for the first time in its history vote for the Republican in a presidential election…after being one of the strongest states for Kennedy in 1960.

Russell and National Defense

Russell’s foremost specialty was national defense and he wanted the United States to have a military force so great that no one would dare challenge it. Peace through strength was his thinking and this fueled his general dislike for any foreign aid that didn’t directly work in US interests. Russell worked to get military installations built, especially in his own state. He was greatly trusted by the presidents he served under and often provided advice. In 1954, Russell warned against backing the French in Vietnam and would privately advise on Vietnam to “go in and win – or get out” (Vogt). However, he also felt committed to being sure that US troops had the best resources they could if this was the direction the president chose. Russell was a strong believer in the power of the presidency and thought that both the non-interventionist right and the dovish left would weaken America should they call the shots.

Russell and the Sixties

Russell’s cooperation was significantly less with the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations than it had been with Roosevelt and Truman, as he was growing more and more conservative. His MCI score during the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations ranged from 20 to 68%, while after it ranged from 53 to 90%, with his life score being a 54%. Despite Georgia being one of Kennedy’s best states in the 1960 election, Russell opposed the New Frontier programs. After the Kennedy assassination, LBJ pretty much forced him to serve on the Warren Commission despite him not wanting to as he didn’t want to work under Chief Justice Earl Warren. Johnson just announced his appointment to the press, making it politically impossible for Russell to refuse him. Russell would have preferred to work with the more conservative Justice John Marshall Harlan II, and stated to Johnson “I think you did wrong getting Warren and I know damned well you did wrong in getting me. But we’ll both do the best we can” (American RadioWorks). Ultimately, the committee had to compromise with him to get a unanimous report: he was skeptical of the “single bullet theory”. He voted against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (War on Poverty) but did Johnson a solid in 1965 by voting for Medicare. He also would regularly speak with Johnson and advise him over the phone.

End of Friendship with Johnson and Decline

Although the civil rights debate may have put strain on their bond, it didn’t end it. What ended it was Russell’s decision to join the Republicans in opposition to LBJ’s nomination of his man on the Supreme Court, Abe Fortas, to the chief justice post in 1968. Russell’s announcement of opposition brought other Southern senators with him and sunk the nomination. Fortas would resign in 1969 over scandalous conflicts of interest. As the 1960s were progressing, Russell’s influence was weakening although he maintained his strength on matters of national defense until his death. Part of this was the civil rights shift but also his declining health…he was a longtime smoker and was suffering from emphysema, which killed him in 1971.

Washington’s major political figures attended his funeral, including his Georgia colleagues and Senator Hubert Humphrey. President Richard Nixon didn’t attend the funeral but traveled to Atlanta to place a wreath on the casket. He publicly stated, “A quarter of a century ago, when I first came to the Congress of the United States, Richard Russell of Georgia was already a name that inspired a universal admiration and respect, from legislative adversaries and allies alike. He possessed in unprecedented abundance a rare blend of courage, character, vision, and ability that moved him indisputably into the ranks of those giants who have served in the United States Senate” (O’Shea).

His Senate colleagues subsequently voted to name an office building after him out of respect for his legislative abilities, which has recently attracted controversy given Russell’s unapologetic commitment to Jim Crow. Although the focus of modern day politics is increasingly “woke” and Russell’s views are regarded as way backwards now, he was a product of his time and far from the worst of the bunch. He managed to be honorable in defeat, and certainly was one of the most effective senators of the 20th century. Despite his effectiveness and good reputation in his time, his name may be struck from the Senate office building, as society’s views on historical figures who were racist and demographic makeup are changing. For the former, its their racism that is above all else emphasized. Perhaps some of these changes were inevitable given demographic shifts and the naming of the Senate buildings was to represent the most respected people in each of what were effectively three parties: Northern Democrats, Southern Democrats, and Republicans. Northern Democrats have Phil Hart of Michigan who was known for squeaky clean ethics, Southern Democrats have Richard Russell of Georgia, and Republicans have Everett Dirksen of Illinois. However, Southern Democrats no longer are really their own force so the naming for “balance” may be irrelevant today as the conservative and liberal wings have thoroughly captured the Republican and Democratic parties. Russell represents a faction that truly doesn’t exist anymore, thus for the issue of race or not, his name may be taken off for another celebrated senator.


Autry, C. (2012, October 26). Top profanity in POTUS history. NBC12.

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Constitutional Crisis Averted. U.S. Senate.

Lyndon B. Johnson: The Sudden President. American RadioWorks.

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O’Shea, B. (2018, August 28). Who is the Russell Senate Building named for? Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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Vogt, S.B. (2005, June 24). Richard B. Russell Jr. (1897-1971). New Georgia Encyclopedia.

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The Legend of Congressman Jimmy Burke

James A. Burke.jpg

In 1958, longtime Republican Congressman of Massachusetts’ 13th district, Richard Wigglesworth, decided to call it quits after thirty years in office. The district was getting more and more Democratic and his share of the vote had since 1950 been declining with each election year. Elected to succeed him in a competitive race was Democrat James A. “Jimmy” Burke (1910-1983), the first to represent the district since the days of Woodrow Wilson. Burke was a liberal Democrat (MCI score: 10%) who was highly attentive to what his constituents wanted…and after reading this post you might say a bit overly so. Although he shared the last name of the great conservative Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, he was rather far from him ideologically, including on how to serve in office. Edmund Burke famously stated on representation, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion” (Burke).  Jimmy Burke of Boston, on the other hand, said that all you’ve got to know to be in Congress is “Social Security and shoes” (Barone). His district was home to a number of shoe-making factories, thus he could be consistently relied upon as a voice for tariffs on shoes and as a member of the Ways and Means Committee he specialized in Social Security. He also had a rather non-Burkean approach to governance. Former Representative Bill Archer (R-Texas) recounted Burke’s secret to success:

“…there was a delightful Democrat from Boston named Jimmy Burke who never voted for any tax increase and never voted against any spending increase and he would say, “My people like spending.  They don’t like taxes.”  And he got away with that.  I mean, he was just amazing.  And he went up to a Republican on the committee, I’d been on the committee for six months and he said, “Jerry, you know, Bill Archer’s been a real good addition to our committee.  He works hard.  He attends all the meetings.  He does his research right and he articulates well, but he’s got one real problem.”  And the Republican said, “Well, Jim, what is that?”  And he said, “Archer thinks this is all on the level.”” (Smith)

When someone asked why Burke why he voted this way and pointed out that this would lead the government to bankruptcy, he responded, “Why shouldn’t I?” (Matthews) Indeed, why shouldn’t he have given his strategy politically worked: his winning percentage of the vote against his Republican challengers increased each election year until 1968, when Republicans stopped fielding a challenger to him. Republicans also hadn’t bothered to field a challenger against him in 1964. His next election challenger would be an Independent in 1976. Burke retired in 1979, having served twenty years in Congress.

Burke’s approach doesn’t add up fiscally, it sounds ridiculous, and I’m not sure I know of an individual member of Congress who does just what Burke did or at least admits to it today, but as it turns out the joke’s on the taxpayers. The collective actions of Congress as of late add up to this…our deficit and debt are soaring and although there is the emergency COVID stimulus to account for, we were still raising spending and not raising taxes (on net, actually cutting them) before COVID hit us. No individual member of Congress may be Jimmy Burke, but the collective impact of Congress’s actions are downright Burkean, and I’m not talking about the philosopher.


Barone, M. (2010, January 25). Voters Spurn the ‘Boob Bait’ of the Educated Class. RealClearPolitics.

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Burke, E. (1774, November 3). Speech to the Electors of Bristol. The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. 6 vols. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854–56.

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Matthews, C. ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ for Friday, April 5th, 2013. NBC News.

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Smith, R.N. (2009, April 27). Interview with Bill Archer. The Gerald R. Ford Foundation.

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Wayne Morse: Oregon’s La Follette

In 1924, a maverick politician who I’ve written about before, Robert La Follette, Wisconsin’s venerated Republican senator, ran for president on the Progressive Party platform. Among his neighbors were his friends, the Morse family, and he mentored their son, Wayne, on politics. Wayne Morse (1900-1974) would always view La Follette as a political hero and would aim to further his principles throughout his career. He pursued a career in law and this ultimately led him to academia and in 1929 he became a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law. Only two years later he was the dean, the youngest for any accredited law school by the American Bar Association. As dean, he would be frequently sought by labor unions to mediate disputes and some would accept no one else to help them.

Morse’s time as dean helped build his reputation and in 1944 he ran for the Republican nomination to the Senate. He was challenging Senator Rufus Holman, a former Klansman who had angered the Jewish population for his extremely restrictive stances on immigration, and this was for his time in which immigration was already heavily restricted. He was also a conspiracy theorist which caused frequent embarrassment for the GOP. Holman alleged that Morse was a “stalking horse” for the Democrats who badly needed to improve registration in the state of Oregon and claimed there was a conspiracy by Henry J. Kaiser and the Portland shipyards to support Morse (Drukman, 1997, 136). Holman’s latter view was unproven, but he would prove to be sort of correct on the former. Although Morse had criticized Roosevelt and the New Deal on the campaign trail, once elected to the Senate, his voting quickly established him as the most progressive Republican in the chamber (MCI score: 14%). His voting record was 100% for labor unions and during the 80th Congress he was one of the few Republicans to oppose tax cuts. In one way, Morse at least partially changed his tune from the views of La Follette…he voted for the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. La Follette had been an irreconcilable on the League of Nations and established himself as a non-interventionist, while Morse was willing to vote for measures he regarded as helping secure peace.

In 1950, Morse won reelection not only because it was a good Republican year…he had become very popular statewide, winning 3 of 4 votes. That year he was one of six other Republican senators who signed onto Margaret Chase Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience”, which simultaneously criticized the Truman Administration, the House Committee on Un-American Activities tactics, and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s (without naming him) tactics. That year he voted for the McCarran Internal Security Act, one of his infrequent breaks from progressivism on domestic issues. In 1952, Morse initially embraced the nomination of Dwight Eisenhower but was so deeply disappointed by the choice of Richard Nixon as his running mate as well as the understanding between Eisenhower and conservative Senator Robert A. Taft that the latter would take the reins on domestic policy, which was reflected in the party’s platform, that he left the Republican Party and endorsed Democrat Adlai Stevenson instead. He served in the 83rd Congress as an Independent, even taking his own folding chair in as he had been stripped of committee assignments and seniority for his defection. For this session, however, he voted with the Republicans on organization as he regarded the election of a Republican Congress as the will of the people. In 1953, Morse broke a solo filibuster record against the Tidelands Bill, speaking for 22 hours and 26 minutes against giving coastal states title over the natural resources of offshore resources (read: oil) rather than the federal government. The record had previously been held by none other than Robert La Follette, who filibustered for 18 hours and 23 minutes in 1908 against the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, which established the National Monetary Commission. Morse’s record would hold until Strom Thurmond filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. To this day, Morse holds the distinction of having the third longest solo filibuster in the history of the U.S. Senate and this, along with his independence, helped him become known by his supporters as “The Tiger of the Senate”. In 1954 he voted for the censure of Joseph McCarthy.

In 1955 he switched to the Democratic Party after Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson offered him a restoration of his seniority and his choice of a committee seat. That year, he was joined in the Senate by a former student of his, liberal Democrat Richard Neuberger. Despite their many ideological agreements, they didn’t get along as their history at the University of Oregon School of Law didn’t end well. Morse had and continued to serve as the stern father figure to Neuberger, who was resentful of his attitude. By 1957, they were not speaking to each other, rather daily writing angry letters delivered by couriers. The feud only ended with Neuberger’s death from a stroke brought on by terminal cancer in 1960. While many Oregon Republicans minded his switch to the Democratic Party, it wasn’t enough to deny him reelection in 1956 as many voters still liked him. Although now a liberal Democrat, Morse maintained a somewhat independent voting record. He was the only senator from above the Mason-Dixon line to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but his critique differed from the Southern senators: he thought the bill too weak. Indeed, he had voted against amendments that weakened the bill. This wasn’t the first time he had opposed a civil rights measure on grounds that it was too weak: he, along with Homer Ferguson (R-Mich.), had voted against an appropriation for the Fair Employment Practices Committee as they thought it insufficient. His mentor, Robert La Follette, took a similar attitude towards the Federal Reserve Act, voting against it as he thought it too favorable to bankers despite much of the opposition to the act being from bankers. Morse proved a strong supporter of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. He also became increasingly critical of foreign aid and would often vote to cut funding…a reflection of the man he admired, La Follette.

In 1960, Morse, one of the chamber’s staunchest supporters of organized labor, was suspicious of John F. Kennedy for compromising on the subject, namely with his sponsoring of the Kennedy-Ives Labor Reform Bill, and decided to run for the Democratic nomination for president on a platform of liberalism. He stated of Kennedy,

“When the Eisenhower Administration took office one of its first objectives was to riddle the tax code with favors for big business and it did so with the help of the Senator from Massachusetts. We need a candidate who will reverse the big money and big business domination of government. We need a courageous candidate who will stand up and fight the necessary political battle for the welfare of the average American. Kennedy has never been willing to do that” (New York Times).

Morse, however, struggled in the primary against the popular and charismatic Kennedy and the Kennedy campaign spread rumors that he wasn’t a serious candidate, which dogged him throughout the campaign. He would respond, “I am a dead serious candidate”, but ultimately, he didn’t even win the primary in his home state (Smith). Despite fears that he would lose reelection in 1962 against popular Governor Mark Hatfield as a result of this loss, Hatfield decided not to run and Morse secured reelection. Also, despite differences that were hyped up in the primary campaign, he proved a staunch supporter of the Kennedy Administration, voting for the New Frontier programs. Morse would give similar support to the Great Society.

Morse’s Most Famous Vote: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson sought Congress’s approval for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing conventional military force in Vietnam without a declaration of war. Congress, convinced of the story the Johnson Administration had told them about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, voted for the resolution. The only opposition in the Senate came from Ernest Gruening (D-Alaska) and Wayne Morse. Morse believed that the resolution was a mistake and that the senators voting for it would regret it and indeed they did. Johnson privately complained about Morse’s vote against and derided him as “mentally unstable” and “untrustworthy” (Langguth). His vote against this again has precedent with his mentor, La Follette, who was one of six senators to vote against American involvement in World War I.

The Downfall of Morse

The issue of the Vietnam War consumed Morse and he was speaking across the country on the subject and praising student activists. The FBI even investigated Morse over his active opposition. In 1966, he fatefully endorsed the man he had feared would supplant him, Mark Hatfield, in his bid for the Senate over Democrat Robert B. Duncan, as the latter was a war hawk while the former was a dove. Governor Hatfield won the race and many Democratic activists were furious. They gave Senator Morse little backing in his bid for reelection in 1968 and he came within three points of defeat in the Democratic nomination to Duncan. He would be even less fortunate in the election, in which Republican Bob Packwood, who campaigned against Morse on the grounds that he was too focused on Vietnam, prevailed by under a point in a tremendous upset. His narrow victory was attributed to him besting Morse in the October debate, as Packwood’s debate answers were focused and crisp while he seemed tired and a little bit unfocused.

Morse didn’t take defeat lying down: he continued to be politically active and in 1972 he attempted a comeback, running against the man he had previously endorsed, Mark Hatfield. However, Morse had had good reason to fear the prospect of Hatfield running against him back in 1962 as he defeated his challenge by over twelve points. In 1974, he sought a rematch with Packwood and opted not to debate as it hurt him the last time around. It was a rough year for Republicans and Morse, a harsh critic of President Nixon, had a good chance of being elected. Although his spirit was vigorous, the same could not be said about his health. Morse maintained a busy campaign schedule, but on July 21st, he was hospitalized with a urinary tract infection that resulted in a diagnosis of kidney failure. He did not believe in artificially sustaining his life and thus refused dialysis. Morse died the next day at 73.   


I admit, were I in office in 1964 and given the intelligence that was made available at the time, I would have voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution with almost the whole of Congress. Morse, however, saw something that all but one other senator did not, and I often respect people standing independently, even when disagreeing with me. Senators pretty much acknowledged his judgment was correct, mostly symbolically, in their overwhelming vote to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution during the Nixon Administration. Morse did what he could to follow in the footsteps of La Follette and he did in both his independence and his progressivism. In Morse, Oregon had their La Follette.  


Drukman, M. Wayne Morse (1900-1974). The Oregon Encyclopedia.

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Drukman, M. (1997). Wayne Morse: A political biography. Portland, OR: Oregon Historical Society Press.

Langguth, A.J. (2000). Our Vietnam the war 1954-1975. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

’Liberalism’ Issue Pressed By Morse. (1960, May 14). The New York Times.

McColgan, J. (2007, June 13). Commentary: Film profiles ‘The Last Angry Man’. Wallowa County Chieftain.

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Smith, R. (1960, May 12). Campaign Zeroing On Oregon. The Oregonian.

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Wayne Morse Sets Filibuster Record. U.S. Senate.

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When Do Politicians Surrender Their Opinion to Voter Will?

Most politicians exist between the Burkean legislator and “hold finger up to the wind” politics, so it must be asked, when do politicians decide to surrender opinion to the voters?

I give a few cases:

H.R. Gross

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Republican H.R. Gross of Iowa developed his conservatism throughout the 1950s and may have been the most fiscally conservative individual to have served in Congress, usually maintained helping agriculture as an exception to his staunch conservatism. He opposed Ezra Taft Benson’s efforts at market reforms in agriculture in the 1950s…a callback to his formerly more rural populist viewpoints and a reflection of the rural interests of his district. Otherwise the Iowan was the dread of every Congressional big spender and every pork barrel politician. There wasn’t a single Great Society program that met with his approval, and he didn’t go along and get along with Nixon either.

J. William Fulbright

I recently covered the Faustian bargain Fulbright struck to stay in power, which you can read here:

Harry S. Truman

As a senator, Harry S. Truman voted for civil rights, but it was not out of his personal beliefs and his Southern colleagues understood this. Indeed, they had hoped when he took office in 1945 that they would have a president sympathetic to their perspective on the matter. Missouri hadn’t gone down the path of denying the vote to blacks and thus they were a factor in the state’s politics, even back then. Truman’s family had sided with the Confederacy during the War of the Rebellion and his mother hated Abraham Lincoln to the point she wouldn’t sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. Truman’s views on blacks and other minorities were, for much of his life, quite unfavorable. However, he needed the black vote to win in Missouri, and did so through his superficial support of civil rights. This only became genuine after he became president and learned of stories of black veterans being beaten and shot for trying to vote in the South, and went on to issue the executive order desegregating the military and was the first Democratic president to embrace a civil rights platform.

Edith Nourse Rogers

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Massachusetts Republican Edith Nourse Rogers served in Congress from 1925 to 1960, and the transition in her record is rather astonishing. In her first term, she was a Coolidge Republican, with her MC-Index score being an 87%. In the Congress of the First 100 Days legislation, she scored a 100%. Yet, in Eisenhower’s second term, her scores for the 85th and 86th Congresses respectively were 32% and 30%. This bears true for her Americans for Democratic Action scores as well: in 1949 she scored a 0% and in her last year, 1960, she scored an 89%. This does not seem to be an aberration in the character of who the district wanted elected: her successors, F. Bradford Morse and Paul Cronin identified with the liberal wing of the GOP, after which the district fell into, and has since stayed in, Democratic hands with the victory of Paul Tsongas in 1974. Additionally, Rogers opposed public housing when Truman was president, but she voted to sustain public housing when Eisenhower was president. Likewise, she backed a conservative substitute for a minimum wage increase in 1949 but opposed a conservative substitute for it in 1960. Rogers voted against the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 and repeatedly voted against expanding its authority…until 1959 when she was among  a mere handful of Republicans backing legislation increasing its bond powers. Such a change seems to be based on an increasingly liberal shift in her Lowell based district.

John Sharp Williams

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Alcoholism is a malady that has afflicted many a politician, and politicians who were voting on Prohibition were no exception. While alcoholic Senators Frank Brandegee (R-Conn.) and Charles Culberson (D-Tex.) were staunch foes of Prohibition, John Sharp Williams (D-Miss.) was a different story. Although he privately opposed Prohibition and was an alcoholic who had given up on trying to quit the bottle, he voted for Prohibition because the voters of Mississippi supported it. In this sense, he was supporting democracy in the most literal sense. He wasn’t alone among alcoholics who voted for Prohibition: Key Pittman of Nevada, whose drinking would eventually kill him, did so as well.

Charles Goodell

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I have discussed the father of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before, but it is hard to imagine that Congressman Goodell’s shift from establishment upstate New York Republican to staunchly left-wing anti-war Senator Goodell had no basis in the voter population. The purpose of his shift was to win another term on both the Liberal and Republican tickets, which his liberal Republican colleague, Jacob Javits, had pulled off. Although he did secure the Liberal ticket, he had overdone it and came in third. Another third party candidate, Conservative James L. Buckley, won the election. Goodell never held elected office again.

Michigan’s Republicans

The Republican Party stands for, theoretically, market economics but Michiganders, be they Democrats or Republicans, must back the auto industry. Thus, when the vote came on the auto bailout in 2008, every Michigan politician voted for it, no matter how conservative they claimed to be. Today Libertarian Justin Amash is one Michigan politician who would have the balls to vote against an auto bailout, but his time in Washington is short. I don’t think Amash has ever voted in a manner that didn’t reflect a principle of some sort.

The question must thus be asked, what constitutes genuine change in politics? An overnight flip certainly doesn’t strike me or probably anyone else as genuine, but a gradual change overtime is what makes genuine change. The perfect example here is Republican John B. Anderson of Illinois, whose change in beliefs from conservative to liberal overtime didn’t appear to reflect anything than pure conviction as his district was still Republican when he left office and it remains Republican today.

The Wizard of Ooze: Everett Dirksen of Illinois

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1932 was a tough year for the Republicans. Hoover only won six states in his bid for reelection, the GOP took massive losses in the House, and lost the Senate. This, however, was the start of the career of one of the GOP’s most prominent politicians of the 20th century. Everett Dirksen (1896-1969) of Illinois had toppled the Republican incumbent in the primary and went on to win the election. Although initially more conciliatory than many other Republicans to the New Deal as he voted for the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act, his opposition grew with time, especially after the 1938 midterms, and had always stood as a staunch foe of the notion that government should run any sort of industry. Dirksen explained his support of some of these measures thusly, “Those days of 1932 and 1933 were troublous and beset with difficulty. Insofar as conviction permitted, one was expected to adjourn all partisanship and participate in the common enterprise of lifting the Nation from its despondency” (Dirksen). He also in retrospect concluded that, “the New Deal was long on reform, much longer on relief, yet very short on actual recovery and restoration of normal conditions” and was disturbed by the level of power being vested in the presidency and its potential for erosion of freedom, asking “Will the American system of living, which rests upon the morals of individualism, become the victim of a pious collectivism and will freedom be just a word or a way of life?” (Dirksen) As an Illinois Republican, it practically goes without saying he was a non-interventionist before World War II…and he was one of the more effective ones given his study of the rules of the House. Dirksen stood, with the support of the Chicago Tribune fully behind him, against the repeal of the Neutrality Acts, against the peacetime draft, and against Lend-Lease. Although he voted for enacting wartime price controls, he was one of the leaders of the pushback against it, particularly with his pushing for amendments requiring that people enacting price controls have five years experience in the field they were imposing such controls and to permit judicial review of price control edicts. Dirksen was so known that Union for Democratic Action, the left-wing predecessor to Americans for Democratic Action, identified him as one of the foremost conservative legislative obstructionists.

Postwar Dirksen

Everett Dirksen took a primarily right course on domestic policy but voted for the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan (although he would regret the latter). In 1948, he chose to retire from the House as he was facing an eye problem so serious that doctors recommended it be removed. Dirksen refused to do so, opting for treatment and rest. After 10 months of this he was able to recover most of the vision in his eye, and opted to jump back into politics.

The 1946 election was mistaken by many Republicans to have been a referendum on New Deal liberalism, when it was largely a reaction to postwar adjustment issues, especially meat shortages caused by price controls. However, the 1950 election was the ideological election conservatives had wanted the 1946 election to be. Although Republicans didn’t win back either chamber, the victories were very ideologically clear, and the case study for this was certainly Dirksen’s race against Democratic Majority Leader Scott Lucas. Lucas stood firmly with Truman and with his domestic policies while Dirksen was a staunch critic and called the Marshall Plan “Operation Rathole”. He also got some help on the campaign trail from Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose influence, although often cited for this election, is perhaps overstated. Lucas counterattacked by having his staff produce a report, titled “The Diary of a Chameleon”, which found that Dirksen had “changed his position on military preparedness 31 times, on isolationism 62 times, and on farm policy 70 times” (Dirksen). However, Dirksen was a smooth political operator and instead of denying the charge, he embraced and defended his record. Dirksen ultimately toppled the Majority Leader for reelection, a repudiation of Truman and the Fair Deal by Illinois voters.

As a senator, Dirksen would develop a reputation as politically savvy, a flamboyant figure who loved the spotlight, and for delivering over-the-top oration, which gained him the nickname “The Wizard of Ooze”. In 1952, he backed Senator Robert Taft (R-Ohio) for president, and criticized Eisenhower supporters at the Republican National Convention. Specifically, he pointed his finger at Thomas E. Dewey and warned him to not lead the GOP down the road of defeat again through his support of Eisenhower. However, this time the moderates did win the election as Eisenhower was a formidable candidate. Dirksen was initially hesitant to aid in the moderation of Eisenhower and often butted heads with him in foreign policy, but events would develop that made Dirksen a valuable player in Washington politics. Robert Taft died in 1953, and his successor, William F. Knowland of California, proved a weak leader and regularly was outmaneuvered by his Democratic counterpart, Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. Additionally, Dirksen’s friend and ally Joseph McCarthy was censured in 1954 resulting in the loss of his influence, and Illinois’ leading journalistic voice of conservatism, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, died in 1955. This opened the door to Dirksen becoming more accommodating to the Eisenhower Administration, which needed him as a point man in the Senate. Dirksen’s support of the Eisenhower Administration on foreign policy grew and his Taft-style conservatism softened.

Dirksen strongly backed the Eisenhower Administration’s civil rights proposals and regularly sided with the president’s vetoes, and was a logical choice for official leadership. In 1959, he ran for Minority Leader to replace the outgoing William F. Knowland of California and defeated the significantly more liberal John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky for the post in a close race. Dirksen would prove a far more effective leader than his predecessor and used his skill of wheeling and dealing along with mastery of the Senate rules to his advantage.

Dirksen As Leader

In 1961, Dirksen and House Minority Leader Halleck had a regular press conference on Meet the Press officially titled the “Republican Congressional Leadership Statement” in which they would criticize and respond to the Kennedy Administration’s initiatives. This was compared to a vaudeville act by political commentators given the contrast between Dirksen’s folksy manner and Halleck’s rough and easily angered persona and was universally called the “Ev and Charlie Show”. Although Halleck, true to his nature, was peeved at being made a joke, Dirksen loved it and urged reporters to compare them to other “great duos” in America, including “corned beef and cabbage” and “ham and eggs” (U.S. Senate). When Halleck lost the House leadership contest in 1964, it became the “Ev and Jerry Show”, but Gerald Ford wasn’t easily angered, thus the comedic value of the program declined.

As Senate Minority Leader, Dirksen commanded an unusual amount of power given his party’s decided minority status during his entire time as leader. He was a uniting figure in the party who was often able to appeal to the conservative and liberal wings. Dirksen’s man with the liberals was Minority Whip Thomas Kuchel of California and his man on the right was ultra-conservative Roman Hruska of Nebraska. He was also often able to win over Southern Democrats, many of whom agreed with him more than JFK and LBJ, thus keeping the Conservative Coalition a formidable force and often requiring Democratic presidents to negotiate with him. However, Dirksen was not necessarily an obstructionist…he could also be accommodating to the Democratic administrations of the 1960s. In 1963, for instance, Dirksen was crucial in winning over many Republicans in support of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. He was on genuinely friendly terms with President Lyndon B. Johnson…both men shared a love for the political process…and bourbon after work. This relationship played a major role in producing the major civil rights legislation of the era. Dirksen was sure that the 1964 act wasn’t too hard on business to win over the votes of some reluctant conservatives yet aimed to make the measure strong enough so that it would command a consensus level of support. Unlike Johnson, who was a relatively new civil rights supporter, Dirksen had supported civil rights legislation such as anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills since the 1930s. 73% of the Senate ultimately voted for the act, including all but six Republicans. He would again be of great assistance in the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and Dirksen would get all but two Senate Republicans to vote for it.

Dirksen largely opposed the Great Society, including its “War on Poverty” legislation, rent supplements, and its high domestic spending. However, he backed the Social Security amendments that included Medicare and Medicaid (which he had previously voted against) and supported the Appalachian Regional Development Act. He also took the lead, as I have written about before, in trying to pass constitutional amendments on school prayer and legislative reapportionment, both staunchly opposed by liberals but had most Republicans in support. Dirksen also was able to kill an effort backed by the Johnson Administration to repeal the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act. Dirksen was initially opposed to fair housing legislation and in 1966 he played a leading role in killing such legislation. However, in 1968 he worked out a compromise measure with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Senator Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) that passed in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Dirksen was a hawk on the Vietnam War and wanted a stronger war effort than Johnson was employing, and offered counsel and support to the president in these times. In 1968, President Johnson, in one of his daily calls with the Senate Minority Leader, accused Nixon’s operatives of treason, and Dirksen agrees:

President Johnson: I want to talk to you as a friend, and very confidentially, because I think that we’re skirting on dangerous ground. I thought I ought to give you the facts, and you ought to pass them on if you choose. If you don’t, why, then I will a little later.

Dirksen: Yeah.


President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] Both Thieu and Ky stressed on us the importance of a minimum delay [between a bombing pause and the opening of peace negotiations]. Then we got some of our friends involved, some of it your old China [Lobby] crowd.
Here’s the latest information we’ve got: the agent says that they’ve just talked to the boss [Nixon] in New Mexico, and that he says that you must hold out, that . . . Just hold on until after the election.

Now, we know what Thieu is saying to ‘em out there. We’re pretty well informed on both ends.


President Johnson: Now, I’m reading their hand, Everett. I don’t want to get this in the campaign.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: And they oughtn’t to be doing this. This is treason.

Dirksen: I know.

President Johnson: I don’t know whether it’s [Melvin] Laird; I don’t know who it is that is putting it out, but here is the UPI [item number] 48 that came in tonight.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I’m calling you only after talking to [Dean] Rusk and [Clark] Clifford and all of ‘em, who thought that somebody ought to be notified as to what’s happening.


President Johnson: Now, I can identify ‘em, because I know who’s doing this. I don’t want to identify it. I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: I don’t want to do that.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: But if they’re going to put this kind of stuff out, they ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to, and I know what they’re saying.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Well, now, what do you think we ought to do about it?

Dirksen: Well, I better get in touch with him, I think, and tell him about it.

President Johnson: I think you better tell him that his people are saying to these folks that they oughtn’t to go through with this meeting [in Paris]. Now, if they don’t go through with the meeting, it’s not going to be me that’s hurt. I think it’s doing to be whoever’s elected.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: It may be—my guess—him.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I think they’re making a very serious mistake, and I don’t want to say this.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And you’re the only one I’m going to say it to.

Dirksen: Yeah.


President Johnson: Now, Everett, I know what happens there. You see what I mean?

Dirksen: I do.

President Johnson: And I’m looking at his hole card.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Now, I don’t want to get in a fight with him there. I think Nixon’s going to be elected.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I think we ought to have peace, and I’m going to work with him.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: I’ve worked with you.

Dirksen: That’s right.
President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] But I don’t want these sons of bitches like Laird giving out announcements like this, that Johnson gave them the wrong impression. I gave them the right impression, except I gave it to him decently, when I said that you ought to keep the Mrs. Chennaults and all the rest of ‘em from running around here. Now, you see, I know what Thieu says to his people out there.

Dirksen: Yeah. I haven’t seen Laird.

President Johnson: Well, I don’t know who it is that’s with Nixon. It may be Laird. It may be [Bryce] Harlow. It may be [John] Mitchell. I don’t know who it is.

I know this: that they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.

Dirksen: That’s a mistake!

President Johnson: And it’s a damn bad mistake.

Dirksen: Oh, it is.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] And I don’t want to say you, and you’re the only man that I have enough confidence in to tell ‘em. But you better tell ‘em they better quit playing with it. You just tell ‘em that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it. ” (Johnson)

Dirksen’s Decline and Death

Everett Dirksen had for his adult life been a heavy smoker and drinker, and by the 1960s this was catching up to him and it was apparent to those around him. A reporter once commented that, “His face looks like he slept in it” (Kenworthy). He also developed emphysema and on one occasion coughed so hard he cracked a vertebrae. Dirksen was not long for the world by the time Nixon was inaugurated and his influence declined as Nixon didn’t feel the need to negotiate with him to get things done. He developed lung cancer and died after an operation on September 7, 1969, aged 73. Senator Margaret Chase Smith left a marigold on his coffin…it was what he thought should be the national flower. Today he has a Senate office building named in his honor.

Dirksen was by and large a good representative of the GOP of his time: moderately conservative (MCI: 78%) and often but not always, negotiating with the Democratic majority. He represented a different time in America, one in which the parties were closer to each other ideologically and had divergent wings. Dirksen seemed to just fit where his party was at the time and the mood of the times. The days of friendly negotiation on legislation over bourbon after hours has been dead for some time now, but that’s how postwar politics rolled. Perhaps a Dirksen could be elected today but he would probably be too conservative for Illinois and possibly not conservative enough to be in Republican leadership, but given his flexibility and his ability to wheel and deal, who knows?


Dirksen in Brief. (2018). The Dirksen Congressional Center.

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Hill, R. (2016, November 13). Senator Howard Baker: Part IV. Knoxville Focus.

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Senator Howard Baker, Part Six

Johnson, R. Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal. History News Network.

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Kenworthy, E.W. (1969, September 8). Dirksen Dead in Capital at 73. The New York Times.

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Mendenhall, S. Everett Dirksen and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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“The Ev and Charlie Show”. U.S. Senate.

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1920: The Year Women Got The Vote? Not Entirely, And Entirely Not in Two States

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and women across the nation were granted suffrage…right? Theoretically, yes, but as historians and your woke friends will tell you, this isn’t the full story just as the 15th Amendment wasn’t the full story for black male voters. They will say this primarily because most black women, like black men, couldn’t vote in the South due to Jim Crow practices until the 1960s. This is true, but what is not so well known, however, is that there were two states that managed to block all women from voting in the 1920 election. Even more surprising, this was 100% constitutional.

Many states in 1920 had a preexisting requirement that all voters be registered for six months before they could vote. Most states that had this rule waived it for 1920 given the ratification of the 19th Amendment, but Georgia and Mississippi, states with vehemently anti-suffragist political leadership, refused to do so. No elected officials from Mississippi voted for the 19th Amendment and in Georgia only Sen. William Harris and Rep. William Upshaw voted for. Since no women would be registered in these states for six months, none could vote. The constitutionality lies in the fact that the original laws were not passed in response to women gaining suffrage.

Women in Georgia and Mississippi would have to wait until the 1922 elections to vote for senators and Mississippi’s women wouldn’t vote on who the next governor would be until 1923. As I have written before, the blowback from this, at least in Georgia, was to the extent that the state’s anti-suffrage governor, Thomas Hardwick, appointed the first female senator, but only for 24 hours as a purely symbolic gesture. This didn’t save him from losing renomination in 1922. Georgia did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1970 and Mississippi did not follow suit until 1984.

To Boldly Lie: Ernest G. Liebold, The Devil on Henry Ford’s Shoulder

Liebold is the man behind the two women.

In reviewing my post on Henry Ford, there’s something I realize that I didn’t touch on sufficiently, and that was the influence that Ernest G. Liebold, his secretary, exercised on him. Although Ford was undoubtedly anti-Semitic without Liebold’s help, he did push him repeatedly in this direction. Journalist E.G. Pipp, who had been the editor of The Dearborn Independent before his resignation in 1920 over the anti-Semitic content being published, stated “the door to Ford’s mind was always open to anything Liebold wanted to shove in it, and during that time Mr. Ford developed a dislike for the Jews, a dislike which appeared to become stronger and more bitter as time went on… In one way and another, the feeling oozed into his system until it became a part of his living self” (Pipp). Another employee of Ford’s at the paper, Fred Black, concurred with this assessment. He stated, “If I were to put the number one blame on anyone, I would put it on Liebold” (Lewis, 138). After all, it was Liebold who had purchased The Dearborn Independent on Ford’s behalf. It was Liebold who acquired The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery alleging a Jewish conspiracy to promote war and famine, for publication in that paper. And it was Liebold who hired the man who brought them to the United States!

A Detective Agency…For Henry Ford

Ernest G. Liebold was recognized for his organizational abilities as a young man by Ford’s Vice President, James Couzens, and because he was willing to do things for Ford that other leading employees were not, he was made his personal secretary. As part of his duties, he headed up investigations on behalf of Ford.

Liebold set up a detective agency that worked exclusively for Henry Ford, and hired a lot of…characters. One of the most notorious in the agency was Boris Brasol, who had immigrated from Russia to the United States in 1916 and had been a member of the Black Hundreds, a Russian nationalist group which was xenophobic and especially anti-Semitic. When a member of this group, he participated in the prosecution of the Beilis blood libel case, in which a Jewish factory superintendent was falsely accused of ritual murder. He was acquitted to Brasol’s disappointment. Brasol bragged at having written books “which have done the Jews more injury than would have been done to them in ten pogroms” (Logsdon). He intended for his writings to inspire pogroms, boasting that “There are going to be the biggest pogroms and massacres here and elsewhere, I will write and I will precipitate them” (Logsdon). Brasol brought the Protocols to the United States and presented them to intelligence officer Major Harris Ayres Houghton, M.D., and had his secretary, Natalie de Bogory, translate them into English. Brasol and Houghton distributed the work around, with Houghton himself publishing it in its English translation. It was Brasol who had given Liebold a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Liebold spearheaded the publication of the Protocols in The Dearborn Independent on Ford’s behalf and was the most strenuous in pushing for anti-Semitic articles. He conducted the “research” for these stories as well as The International Jew. As a result of Ford Dealerships not only selling Model Ts but also selling subscriptions to The Dearborn Independent, the newspaper went far and wide across the nation and at its peak it only had 50,000 less subscribers than the leading newspaper in the country at the time, New York Daily News. Thus, hundreds of thousands of people were sent The Protocols of the Elders of Zion when it was published in The Dearborn Independent along with The International Jew between 1920 and 1922.

Although Liebold had Ford’s trust, he didn’t have the full trust of the U.S. government. During World War I, he had been investigated by the War Department as a suspected German spy after an informant’s tip that he was caught showing the blueprints of the aircraft engine Liberty L-12, manufactured by the Ford Company for the U.S. Army, to a reporter from New Yorker Staats-Zeitung (Wallace, 25-26). He had also coordinated Ford’s abortive peace ship campaign in 1915. Although the War Department investigation turned up nothing conclusive about Liebold, whether he spied for the Germans or not during World War I remains a subject of dispute among historians who have studied Ford. Ultimately, Liebold’s influence began to decline in the late 1920s following the closure of The Dearborn Independent, but he remained with Ford as his secretary until his dismissal in 1944.

Liebold ultimately served to encourage Ford’s political habits and tendencies, and did so for the worst. He was arguably the driving engine behind the anti-Semitism of The Dearborn Independent, which spread vicious lies about Jews and he certainly pushed Ford more and more in this direction.

P.S.: There’s a bit of an amusing photo of Liebold with Albert Einstein, with the former not looking terribly pleased being photographed next to a Jew.


Anti-Semitism: The “Protocols” Come to America. Jewish Virtual Library.

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Lewis, D.L. (1976). The public image of Henry Ford: an American folk hero and his company. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Logsdon, J.R. Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism: Henry Ford and His War on Jews. The Hanover Historical Review.

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Pipp, E.G. (1921, March 5). What started Mr. Ford against the Jews. Pipp’s Weekly.

Wallace, M. (2003). The American axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the rise of the Third Reich. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

When Presidents and Vice Presidents Don’t Get Along

Last week, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate. For those who remember, Harris raked Biden over the coals on racial issues in the primary debates, specifically his opposition to the practice of busing as a means of desegregation. When it comes to politics, its hard to know who gets along and who doesn’t based on public words and actions alone…we tend to find this out later through historical accounts. I don’t know if Biden and Harris get along personally behind the scenes, but if public appearances before the nomination tell the story, it wouldn’t seem to be the case. If the ticket is elected in November and my thoughts on this matter are correct, it also wouldn’t be the first time that presidents and their vice presidents haven’t gotten along. There are three particularly notable cases I present here.

Case 1: Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

At the end of his time in office, Andrew Jackson had two famous regrets: that he didn’t shoot Henry Clay and that he didn’t hang Calhoun. What caused the level of enmity between Jackson and Calhoun to be so high were on matters both personal and political, and it begins with the Petticoat Affair.

Matters Get Personal: The Petticoat Affair

Andrew Jackson was always quite sensitive about rhetorical attacks on women and felt that his own wife’s death was brought on by the stress of learning of such attacks by people from the Adams campaign, namely that they were in a bigamous marriage and that Jackson had “stolen” Rachel from her husband. Thus, when gossip and accusations surrounded Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife, Peggy, that he had stolen her from her now late husband and that this had resulted in his suicide (which was false, he had died of pneumonia abroad), Jackson was furious. Peggy had formerly worked in a tavern and was more outspoken and flirtatious in her talk than society women of the time were expected to be, and had only married Eaton nine months after her husband’s passing, shorter than was commonly expected for mourning. Jackson was friends with the couple and had encouraged Eaton to marry her, and now the wives of other cabinet officers, led by Second Lady Floride Calhoun, were ostracizing the Eatons and not inviting them to social events. Even Jackson’s surrogate First Lady sided with Calhoun, which resulted in her being replaced by his daughter-in-law in serving the function of the First Lady. Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, who played it smart by siding with the Eatons, did Jackson a favor by resigning first to give him a pretext for reorganizing his cabinet, and he thus asked for the resignations of all cabinet members opposed to the Eatons. The entire cabinet save for Postmaster General William T. Barry resigned. Matters were made even worse between Jackson and Calhoun when it was revealed that as Secretary of War Calhoun had supported censuring Jackson for his invasion of Florida in 1818. Calhoun asked Eaton to bring up to Jackson the subject of publishing the correspondence between him and Jackson to clear the air on the matter. Eaton didn’t act, and Calhoun, under the belief that he had Jackson’s approval to publish the correspondence between him and Jackson during the Seminole War, did so in the Telegraph, which added fuel to the fire of Jackson’s fury.

Eaton was appointed Governor of the Florida Territory and then later as Minister to Spain while Van Buren was rejected for Ambassador to Britain by the tie-breaking vote of Calhoun, but this ultimately resulted instead in Van Buren replacing Calhoun after his resignation on December 28, 1832.

Matters Get Political: The Nullification Crisis

Jackson would not have expressed his regret for not hanging Calhoun over the Petticoat Affair, but it was the threat of secession that got him threatening executions. Jackson was the last president to have fought in any capacity in the Revolutionary War and given how hard he had fought and what he had suffered he would not tolerate talk of secession.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson signed into law a bill largely written by John Quincy Adams, now a Congressman, to moderately reduce tariffs from the 1828 Tariff of Abominations that he had signed into law as president. Southern states were still displeased with the state of tariffs rates, and none more so than South Carolina, which was suffering economic hardship at the time. South Carolina thus nullified both the Tariff of Abominations and the 1832 tariff. Calhoun, who was from the state, sided with it. Jackson resorted to signing a force bill into law that allowed him to use the navy to enforce the tariff. As a senator, Calhoun opposed it. When talk of secession reached his ears, he threatened to hang anyone who tried it. Ultimately, Jackson agreed to sign a compromise tariff proposed by the grand master of compromises, Henry Clay, the following year that resulted in South Carolina rescinding its nullification of the tariff while nullifying the force bill as a symbolic gesture.

Calhoun would, after resigning the Vice Presidency, use his influence to push a radical view of state’s rights in defense of slavery, which led to the War of the Rebellion that he predicted shortly before his death in 1850.

Case 2: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Nance Garner

FDR, Kansas Gov. Harry Woodring, and John Nance Garner

Franklin D. Roosevelt had a grand total of three vice presidents, and although he and John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner got along fine in his first term in office and he was critical for the enactment of the First 100 Days legislation, the relationship began to turn for the worse when Roosevelt and Garner started having some significant disagreements. Garner had throughout his Congressional career been more or less a progressive, but he had his limits, and FDR began crossing those with his second New Deal.

The relationship between Roosevelt and Garner broke down when they disagreed on approaches to labor strikes and the court-packing plan. Garner was no longer in the progressive camp and his influence helped similar developments among other Southern Democrats. He even helped the opponents of the court-packing plan during the debates. In 1940, both men seemed to agree that they would be parting ways, and Garner challenged FDR for reelection in the Democratic primary, but his bid got little steam. He remarked on the vice presidency that it “isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss”, which the press reported at the time as “warm spit” according to former Texas Congressman O.C. Fisher in his 1978 biography of Garner (Holley). Garner was ultimately replaced with reliable New Dealer Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace and never returned to Washington. He was, however, frequently consulted as an elder statesman at his residence in Uvalde, Texas, and John F. Kennedy even gave him a call on his 95th birthday…November 22nd, 1963. “Cactus Jack” died in 1967.

Case 3: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson

This is the most recent case of the president and vice president famously not getting along, and it was more due to personality than politics. Kennedy and Johnson in many ways were ideologically on the same page, and the Great Society itself was a continuation and expansion of the New Frontier. John F. Kennedy’s friends and associates were Ivy League school people from New England, while Johnson stuck out like a sore thumb as a rural Southerner who could be quite crass and crude. Johnson thought of Kennedy as a political lightweight who hadn’t done much as a senator and knew that Kennedy was a sicker man than he appeared to the public. Robert Caro states that Johnson said of Kennedy, “Did you ever see his ankles? They’re only this big around, and he’s sickly, yellow, yellow, not a man’s man” (Putnam).

Kennedy didn’t care for Johnson either, although unlike his brother and other members of his cabinet, he didn’t show it. He felt he had to pick him in 1960 to win the state of Texas, a political calculation which seems justified given that the Kennedy-Johnson ticket won by only two points in the state. Some of Johnson’s most miserable years in politics were as vice president, as he no longer, even though his title was President of the Senate, carried authority there as senators by and large wanted his successor, Mike Mansfield of Montana, to maintain his own authority as Majority Leader. His worst enemy in the president’s cabinet was Attorney General Bobby Kennedy…the two men despised each other from the moment they met. In 1963 Kennedy allegedly decided to dump Johnson in 1964 and instead pick either Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina or Senator George Smathers of Florida, the latter who was a moderate and his best friend in the Senate. Kennedy’s justification would be the scandal surrounding his right-hand man, Bobby Baker, who eventually went to prison for his corruption. Of course, history tells a different story.


Andrew Jackson – Key Events. Miller Center.

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Holley, J. (2014, July 26). “Cactus Jack” Garner was as prickly as his nickname. Houston Chronicle.

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Putnam, T. (2012, May 16). Interview of Robert Caro: LBJ: From Senate Majority Leader to President, 1958-1964. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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Remini, R.V. (1981). Andrew Jackson and the course of American Freedom, 1822-1832. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.