FDR’s Air Mail Fiasco

The other day I visited the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle and found out about this interesting story. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt received a mandate to change America through his landslide election, and one of the many ways he went about doing so was through a re-examination of the dispensing of air mail contracts under the Hoover Administration under Postmaster General Walter Brown. The dispensing of air mail contracts had met with protests from smaller airlines, many of whom had in truth sold their contracts already. Brown had looked at the financials of these companies and found that most were dependent on government help and unwilling to make major investments to enable them to grow. Thus, most routes and contracts were awarded to larger airlines with some smaller companies forced to merge to survive at a conference which became known as the “spoils conference” for its alleged corruption. The Roosevelt Administration provided an outlet for such complaints and one of his top legislative supporters, Senator Hugo Black of Alabama, was on the case. His special committee heard and agreed with charges of collusion and favoritism and in the course of the investigation held William P. MacCracken Jr., the former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics, in contempt of Congress, for which he was convicted (Lee).

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Postmaster General Walter Brown

On February 9, 1934, President Roosevelt canceled all air mail contracts effective February 19th despite the committee not proving illegality and in the meantime employed the Army Air Corps to deliver the mail. An unusually bad winter combined with a lack of training of these pilots in night flying resulted in 66 crashes or forced landings, with twelve crew members being killed over a period of less than three months. They also often had to work with less than adequate equipment, thus the Army Air Corps hadn’t in truth been given enough time. Famed World War I fighter ace and airline businessman Eddie Rickenbacker denounced the flights as “legalized murder”. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who was also an airline consultant, testified against the Roosevelt Administration’s approach before Congress. The weakened opposition Republicans also took their opportunity to chime in, with Roosevelt Administration foe Rep. Edith Rogers (R-Mass.) proclaiming, “The story of the air mail will be written in blood on the record of the Roosevelt Administration” (Correll, 64). Most of the blame by the Administration and leading Democrats was foisted upon Major General Benjamin Foulois, who had assured the second assistant postmaster general that the Air Corps could take over the job. Although most of the mail was delivered during this time, the higher incidence of crashes and pilot deaths caused a rush to return air mail to the private sector, and the resulting legislation, the Air Mail Act of 1934, mostly returned the routes and contracts to the arrangements worked out under Brown and unconstitutionally barred, without trial, executives and companies who participated in the conference from bidding on the new contracts. The companies got around it by simply renaming and placing bids. One executive who got banned without even benefiting from the conference was United Airlines’ Philip G. Johnson, who went on participate in the founding of Trans-Canada Airlines. Two major winners, on the other hand, of this law were American Airlines’ E.L. Cord, a major contributor to Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign, and Braniff Airlines, the founders who were politically active Texas Democrats (Van der Linden, 229-235). Neither had participated in the conference. Boeing’s founder, William Boeing, was embittered by the matter and opted for early retirement. Brown’s actions as well as the Air Mail Act of 1934 ultimately resulted in airlines carrying more passengers than mail, bringing about the modern airline industry.

In 1941, Brown and the airline executives involved in the “spoils conference” were exonerated of accusations of fraud and collusion in the awarding of air mail contracts by the U.S. Court of Claims. The outcome of this whole affair was the increased deaths of air mail crew, a reorganization that had changed little from what had happened during the Hoover Administration, and the unjust punishments of executives caught up in the populist fervor of the times.


1934 Airmail Scandal. Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

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Correll, J.T. (March 2008). The Air Mail Fiasco. AIR FORCE Magazine.

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Lee, D.D. (1991). Senator Black’s Investigation of the Air Mail 1933-34. The Historian 53: 423-42.

The Air Mail “Scandal”. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.



Van der Linden, F.R. (2002). Airlines and air mail: The post office and birth of the commercial aviation industry. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press.

They Also Served: The Senate Placeholders

There are some people in politics who do not have greater ambitions in the field when they enter the Senate.  These are the ones who were appointed or elected to hold the seat until the next election. These people did not try to run for a full term. A few are brought in simply by special election to finish what little of the term there is left and governors make such appointments for a few reasons. One may be to not grant anyone who wants the seat an incumbency advantage and another may be to ensure that their own senatorial ambitions are not hindered by a potentially popular rival. One might ask for the second one, why not just resign and have your successor to appoint yourself if you’re governor? This is because the track record is terrible for governors who effectively appoint themselves! Of the nine governors who took this route between 1933 and 1977, only one won the subsequent election, and this was Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler of Kentucky, who was already so popular that he had only narrowly lost a Senate primary narrowly to the highly popular Senate Majority Leader Alben W. Barkley. At an 11% success rate, governors who want to be senators are best off just running for the post in a proper election. Since if I listed all I’d go on all day, I’ll just list some of the more notable ones:

Joseph R. Grundy

A textile manufacturer and President of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, Grundy was appointed after the Senate refused to seat Congressman William S. Vare, whose 1928 election was accused of being won through voter fraud. Grundy was primarily a lobbyist and had no ambitions beyond serving a year, after which Secretary of Labor James J. Davis won the election for a full term in 1930.

Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo

LARRAZOLO, Octaviano Ambrosio

Larrazolo was a man of firsts: he was the first Mexican American to be elected a governor of any state, serving from 1919 to 1921, and he was the first Mexican American to be a senator. As governor, he had fought for civil rights for Latinos. In 1927, Senator Andrieus Jones of New Mexico had died, and Larrazolo ran for the post in November 1928, winning the election to serve the remainder of the term. However, he was at the tail end of his career and his health quickly declined. He cast almost no votes as he was only present in the Senate until December, when he returned to Albuquerque, but stayed in office until March. He died one year later.  

Andrew Jackson Houston

Andrew Jackson Houston 2.jpg

Houston was the last surviving son of the legendary Texas Founding Father Sam Houston and he was appointed in 1941 after the death of Morris Sheppard as a political maneuver by Governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, who wanted the seat. He was 86 years old and infirm, only actually participating in four days of Senate proceedings and a committee meeting. Senators were quite eager to meet him when he had arrived, as he was quite the link to history long past. Unfortunately, the journey to Washington had been too much on Houston, and he was subsequently was taken to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, where he died after only two months in office on June 26, 1941.

The Four Nebraskan Placeholders of the Early Fifties: Seaton, Bowring, Abel, and Reynolds

Nebraska during the early 50s was rocked with change. On November 29, 1951, Senate Minority Leader Kenneth Wherry died from contracting pneumonia after abdominal surgery. He was succeeded by Fred Seaton, a liberal Republican, who declined to run a full term. Seaton’s elected successor, Dwight Griswold, died on April 12, 1954 of a sudden and unexpected heart attack. Griswold was succeeded by Eva Bowring, who had been appointed until another election could be held to finish the term. This election was won by Hazel Abel, who had no intentions of going further than that with her only notable act being voting to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy. Abel would be succeeded by Carl Curtis, who would serve until 1979.

But wait, there’s more! Nebraska’s other senator, Hugh Butler, also died during the 83rd Congress on July 1, 1954. Samuel W. Reynolds, a coal businessman, was appointed a placeholder and served until Roman Hruska was elected to a full term and he would remain in the Senate until 1976.

Hall Stoner Lusk (D-Ore.)


In 1960, Senator Richard L. Neuberger died of a brain tumor. He was a Democrat, but Oregon’s governor, Mark Hatfield, was a Republican. Democrats feared that the popular Hatfield had senatorial ambitions and that if he sought a seat he would be unbeatable. The obvious choice for Neuberger’s successor would have been his wife Maurine, who was also a politician. However, Hatfield didn’t want to grant an incumbency advantage nor did he want to give the appearance that he was granting a partisan advantage, so instead of picking Neuberger’s widow or a Republican, he selected Democrat Hall Stoner Lusk, a justice of the Oregon Supreme Court who was by this time well into his seventies and thus had no further career ambitions. Lusk served from March 16th to November 8th, 1960, when Maurine Neuberger succeeded him, having won election to a full term. The Democrats, by the way, were right to fear Hatfield: he would succeed Neuberger after a single term and serve from 1967 to 1997.

Benjamin A. Smith (D-Mass.)

After John F. Kennedy was elected president, someone needed to hold the seat until another Kennedy could occupy it, and the newly elected president advised Governor Foster Furcolo to appoint Benjamin A. Smith, a family friend and his former roommate at Harvard, to the seat. Critics pointed out exactly what Smith was, and as expected, he served from December 1960 to November 1962, when Ted Kennedy ran for and won the seat.

Norris H. Cotton (R-N.H.)

Norris Cotton wouldn’t normally be on this list, having already had a long career in Washington from 1947 to 1974, but the Senate election that year was a squeaker between Republican Louis Wyman and Democrat John Durkin and an interim senator needed to be appointed while the results were recounted, so Cotton was, once again, in the Senate from August 8 to September 18, 1975, and was succeeded by the victor: Durkin.

Ted Kaufman (D-Del.)

Ted Kaufman was appointed to fill the vacancy left from Joe Biden’s resignation to serve as vice president on January 16, 2009. He became most known for his praise of federal employees in response to criticisms of them and in 2010, he opted not to run for a full term.

Paul G. Kirk (D-Mass.)

The 2009-10 session was a turbulent time for the Senate, with multiple senators resigning or dying. In this case, the Senate’s departure was Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who died of brain cancer. Kirk, a longtime player in national Democratic politics who had at one time chaired the Democratic National Committee and had been an aide to Kennedy, was appointed to hold the seat from September 24, 2009  to February 4, 2010, when he stepped down after the election of Scott Brown.

Carte Goodwin (D-W.V.)

Longtime Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) died on June 28, 2010, and a far younger man was appointed as placeholder. Goodwin was meant to hold the spot for the man who appointed him and who he had once run a campaign for, Joe Manchin, who wished to move up to senator.

Mo Cowan (D-Mass.)

In 2013, Massachusetts once again had a Senate vacancy to fill. Senator John F. Kerry was nominated Secretary of State by President Obama and resigned his seat. Cowan stated upon his appointment, “This is going to be a very short political career. I am not running for office. I’m not a candidate for public service at any time today or in the future” (Cassidy & Chabot). He served from February 1 to July 16, 2013.

Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)

Jon Kyl already had a 26-year career of accomplishment in Washington, but he was once again briefly called for service after the death of Senator John McCain, serving from September 5 to December 31, 2018.  During this time, he voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.


Cassidy, C. & Chabot, H. (2013, January 30). Gov names adviser Mo Cowan to interim Senate post. Boston Herald.

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Oliver, M. (2000, February 24). Maurine Neuberger; One of First Women in Senate. Los Angeles Times.

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Rudin, K. (2009, September 8). When Governors Appoint Themselves To The Senate. National Public Radio.

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S.I. Hayakawa – A Culture Warrior Goes to the Senate


In November 1968, San Francisco State University was in crisis. An active and aggressive campus left had resulted in a coalition of minority student groups, called the “Third World Liberation Front”, leading a strike and campus shutdown in protest of Eurocentric curriculum, a lack of discussion about oppression and identity, and a low percentage of minority students on campus. They made 15 “non-negotiable” demands to end the strike, including measures that gave outright and explicit preferences for blacks including a black studies department completely independent of university administration. Joining them on strike were Students for a Democratic Society and the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Exacerbating the strike was the firing of George Mason Murray, the Black Panther Minister of Education who was suspended from his teaching assistant position after he reportedly remarked to a group of Fresno State College university students, “We are slaves and the only way to become free is to kill all the slave masters” (San Francisco State University). Confrontations during this period between student activists and police were marked by violence. The university president, Dr. Robert Smith, the sixth one in eight years, resigned after Murray beat him up in his office and he proved unable to end the strike. His temporary replacement was semantics professor Samuel Ichyie (“S.I.”) Hayakawa (1906-1992), a small 62-year old man. However, this man proved to have much more grit and fire than his predecessors. He made national news when on December 2nd, wearing a tam-o’-shanter, he disrupted protestors screaming obscenities into a loudspeaker by climbing onto a sound truck and ripping the cords out of the loudspeaker. This act made him a hero of what would be called the “silent majority” nationwide and became popularly known as “Samurai Sam” (U.S. House). In response to the “non-negotiable” demands he refused to negotiate, at least for a few months. Disruptions of classrooms were met with police, and he was able to get classes opened for other students. He would also in response to protesting shout back with a bullhorn. Hayakawa viewed his actions as defending the many students of all races who came to San Francisco State who attended to be educated, rather than engage in radical activism. As he argued, “What my colleagues seem to be forgetting is [that] we also have an obligation to the 17,500 or more students – white, black, yellow and brown – who are not on strike and have every right to expect continuation of their education” (U.S. House).  He also condemned “the intellectually slovenly habit, now popular among whites as well as blacks, of denouncing as racist those who oppose or are critical of any Negro tactic or demand” (Hayward). From this point on, liberal academics broke with Hayakawa, which took him aback. As he wrote later on the subject, “When I kept the university open for the benefit of our students and faculty, I thought I was doing a liberal thing, I don’t know anything more liberal than to maintain education for all who want it” (U.S. House). He did eventually give some ground to the protestors such as establishing the first Ethnic Studies Department and agreeing to admit nearly all minority students for fall 1969, ending the strike that had lasted five months. His approach proved effective at countering disruption and permitting the continuation of education for those who were not protesting and he was officially elected university president with the approval of Governor Ronald Reagan.

Before he took on disruptive campus protestors, Hayakawa was positively viewed by liberals and negatively viewed by conservatives. He had butted heads with ultra-conservative California Superintendent of Schools Max Rafferty and was known to support civil rights as well as the housing co-op movement. Hayakawa had established his reputation as a linguist through writing Language in Action (1941) and Language in Thought and Action (1949), in which he held that language can be used to describe reality but also to conceal reality (U.S. House). In the 1940s he also wrote an effective takedown of racism, “When, to take another example, is a person a “Negro”? By the definition accepted in the United States, any person with even a small amount of “Negro blood” – that is, whose parents or ancestors were classified as “Negroes” is a “Negro.” Logically, it would be exactly as justifiable to say that any person with even a small amount of “white blood” is “white.” Why do they say one rather than the other? Because the former system of classification suits the convenience of those making the classification” (Torii, 31). In 1942, Hayakawa joined The Chicago Defender, a black-owned newspaper, for which he wrote articles frequently criticizing anti-black racism until 1947. In 1952, Hayakawa denounced the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) for endorsing the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act as an act of selfishness, since although it lifted racial prohibitions on Asian immigration and ultimately allowed him to become a citizen of the United States, it reinforced the discriminatory national origins quota system.

Hayakawa, as a New Deal liberal, believed that the way for civil rights to prevail was for gradual and consistent arguments that capitalized on reason and logic rather than disruptive and violent activism. Thus, people like Martin Luther King appealed to him, but as the sixties raged on and the Vietnam War escalated, radicals began seeking people more militant; some wanted to exit the road of non-violence. Starting in the late 1960s Hayakawa’s views grew more conservative and right after retiring from his post in 1973, he switched party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. In 1976, Senator John V. Tunney was seeking another term, but his liberal voting record was proving a weakness. Initially the leading contenders for the Republican nomination were establishment figures: moderate Congressman Alphonzo Bell, and former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Robert Finch. However, Hayakawa’s bid gained a lot of attention and he won over party conservatives, securing the nomination. He viewed his bid thusly, “I think the triumph of the New Left in the 1960s was really a blow against certain basic American values. One individual can do damn little about it, I suppose. This is some sort of moral gesture on my part. For after all, it seems to me the Senate is a platform from which you can preach” (U.S. House). During the campaign, Hayakawa appealed to a wide range of voters as a man of the people and through his glib responses, notably after he had been told that McDonald’s operated 100 restaurants in Japan: “What a terrible revenge for Pearl Harbor” (U.S. House). He also successfully lobbied for the pardon of Iva Toguri d’Aquino, known during World War II as radio broadcaster “Tokyo Rose”, who had been wrongfully convicted of treason. One of Ronald Reagan’s top advisors, Lyn Nofziger, stated in the leadup to the election, “There is no way for Hayakawa to win the election but he’s going to” (U.S. House). Indeed, he pulled off a victory by three points, running ahead of President Gerald Ford who won the state.

As a senator, Hayakawa proved to be…interesting. Although a conservative on economic and defense issues and on numerous cultural issues, indeed his MC-Index score is an 84%, he was not a rigid ideologue in the mold of Jesse Helms. He, for instance, opposed amendments limiting abortion and despite campaigning against the Panama Canal Treaty in 1976 and holding that “We should keep it. We stole it fair and square”, he voted for it on March 16, 1978 as a way to improve U.S.-Latin American relations (U.S. House). However, the culture issue he really pushed was assimilation, and this was one position that he had held in both the liberal and conservative phases of his life, that it was best for immigrants and minorities to assimilate into the existing culture. Hayakawa was thus one of eight senators to vote against extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 1982 and did so because he opposed bilingual ballot requirements that had been added in 1975. The previous year he had introduced an amendment to the Constitution to make English the official language of the United States. Hayakawa wished to “prevent a growing split among ethnic groups based on their native languages. With each trying to become more powerful than the other, the function of language could change from a means of communication to a tool of cultural assertion” (U.S. House). This is far from an implausible scenario: in his country of birth, Canada, this is exactly what has happened with Quebec and the French language. Hayakawa, incidentally, had earned his Master’s in English at McGill University in Montreal. He also opposed reparations for Japanese American internment and went as far as to say that internment was a necessary and good sacrifice for the war effort and that it had accelerated the integration of Japanese Americans into greater American society (U.S. House). In other words, according to Hayakawa, the American government had ultimately done Japanese Americans a favor. As a Canadian citizen in Chicago during World War II, he was not subject to internment and during the 1940s he had condemned them as “concentration camps” (Densho Encyclopedia). On economics, Hayakawa voted for the Reagan tax and budget program and was a strong supporter of a subminimum wage for teenagers as a way to boost their employment opportunities. However, by 1982 his star had fallen considerably and many Republicans wanted to move on from him. His staff was known to be often ineffective and he was not necessarily the best personality fit in the Senate. The press often had field days with him given that on multiple occasions he was caught sleeping during major votes and even during his orientation, which he explained as him being easily bored. Hayakawa initially wanted to run for reelection, but chose to retire after it was clear he would have an uphill battle to even be renominated. He was succeeded by San Diego’s popular Mayor Pete Wilson, one of the last of California’s successful statewide Republican politicians. In 1983, Hayakawa formed U.S. English, an organization that pushed for “English only” policies in the name of national unity and died nine years later. 

For conservatives, S.I. Hayakawa represented a counterrevolutionary reassertion of cherished American values and an example of how racial minorities can succeed in America while for liberals he was someone who when push came to shove sided with the white power structure and might be an example of why political firsts are overrated, a subject I will write on in the future. Hayakawa himself would probably wish to be remembered as an individualist, a patriot, an iconoclast, a foe of the identity politics of the New Left, and an unhyphenated American.


Hayakawa, Samuel Ichiye. United States House of Representatives.

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Hayward, S. Where is Sam Hayakawa When We Need Him? Powerline.

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S.I. Hayakawa. Densho Encyclopedia.

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The San Francisco State College Strike Collection. San Francisco State University.

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Torii, Y. S.I. Hayakawa and the African American Community in Chicago, 1939-1955. Setsunan University Academic Repository.

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The Voting Rights Act That Wasn’t: The Ford-McCulloch Bill

Presidents will talk about having a mandate if they win, regardless of how much they win by. Trump claimed a mandate after 2016 despite only winning the electoral vote and Biden has claimed a mandate for numerous Democratic policies despite otherwise mixed results for the Democrats, with them being reduced to the slimmest of majorities in the House and only having a majority in the Senate because Vice President Harris can break tie votes. However, in 1965 President Johnson could certainly claim a mandate.

In 1964, Johnson lived up to the previously sarcastic nickname “Landslide Lyndon” for his fraud-ridden 1948 Senate primary win by winning all but six states. This plus his Great Society Congress resulted in numerous expansions of the federal government including his civil rights program. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had a voting rights section, Title I, but it was weak. Johnson sought a bill he acknowledged was tough on the South and the way the bill was drafted it applied to only seven Southern states, Texas not being among them until 1975. Johnson, although a progressive, continued to look out for certain interests of his home state as president. Republicans had their own idea, however, of a voting rights law to pass.

I have written about William McCulloch of Ohio before as an underlooked champion of civil rights, and he had a proposal for voting rights that got the support of Minority Leader Gerald Ford. This plan differed from the Johnson Administration’s bill in two ways. First, the law applied nationwide. Second, it was not automatically triggered. 25 complaints of pattern and practice of voting discrimination to the attorney general from a county or parish would trigger the appointment of a federal registrar to confirm the complaints. Once this happened, the county or parish was covered with federal registrars registering blacks. This was a good faith effort to balance out 10th and 15th Amendment concerns, but when it became clear that numerous prominent segregationists including Howard Smith of Virginia and Joe Waggonner of Louisiana voiced their preference for this measure (they would vote in the substitute but still vote against it) it was doomed. Although the substitute’s appeal for civil rights proponents had been enhanced by the addition of Robert McClory’s (R-Ill.) amendment banning state and local poll taxes, the motion by Harold Collier (R-Ill.) to substitute the Ford-McCulloch proposal failed 171-248, with 21 Republicans breaking ranks to vote against it.

Had it been adopted, the Ford-McCulloch bill would have been an “innocent till proven guilty” standard rather than vice-versa with automatic triggering. Although I have little doubt under Ford-McCulloch that offending areas would have still been covered, “guilty till proven innocent” is a tougher approach and more in tune with the national mood than notions about universal treatment of states, especially after the brutal police response to the civil rights march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. McCulloch incidentally was a key opponent of a similar change to the Voting Rights Act sought by the Nixon Administration four years later, but Minority Leader Ford backed it as the primary sponsor.

“Civil Rights”. Donald Rumsfeld Library.

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Click to access 1965-07-09%20HR%206400%20Voting%20Rights%20Act.pdf

McCulloch, W.M. (1965, July 6). Statement of William M. McCulloch (R. Ohio) in General Debate on Voting Rights Legislation. U.S. House of Representatives.

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A Case of Cancel Culture From 100 Years Ago


How do we go about defining “cancel culture”? Who can be called a victim of “cancel culture”? I shall give this a shot, as one of my professors in graduate school stressed the importance of defining your terms when making your case, and I agree. Cancel culture has, believe it or not, something of a good aim. It aims to knock people who have engaged in some egregious wrongdoing off a position of power. This could be political office, celebrity status, a prominent position in the business world, or someone prominent in their respective field. In its best form, you might think of it as accountability culture, but when it goes wrong, and it all too often does, you can think of it as cancel culture.

A victim of cancel culture is someone who as a result of a public campaign against them loses a position, gets ostracized, and/or loses some sort of opportunity or distinction in reaction to either false accusations or the response is disproportionate to the offense in question. Under this meaning of a victim, obviously Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein would not fall into this category (and I hope no one thinks they should) for they committed sex crimes. They would be the proper recipients of accountability culture. The most controversial part of this definition is without doubt what constitutes “disproportionate”. With this we enter the field of the subjective as opposed to the former, which is objective. Additionally, a victim of cancel culture need not hold a position all that prominent, their case just needs to become known on social media. An example that comes to mind is that of Justine Sacco, who posted a stupid and insensitive joke to Twitter in 2013 as she was boarding a flight to South Africa: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” (Dimitrova, Rahmanzadeh, & Lipman) Upon arriving she found herself subject to a public shaming campaign that resulted in her losing her job because of this momentary lapse in judgment even though she hadn’t been a public figure before. Although Sacco should have been careful about what she posted online, I think this was an overreaction. The cancel culture we see today is a recent phenomenon based partly on #Metoo revelations as well as on the left-wing shout out culture on college campuses which aims to correct thinking and speech those on the political left believe is wrong by calling out and shaming the offenders. However, the case I’ll be talking about today happened 100 years ago and although it lacks the left-wing shout out culture element it does involve an early sort of manifestation of #Metoo. The victim was the highest paid comedic actor of his heyday, and his case fits quite well into my definition of what constitutes “cancel culture”. He was the late and great Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Arbuckle was a major comedic star in his day and helped the rise of other comedy greats such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. In 1920, he signed a contract with Paramount Pictures for the equivalent of $181,000 a year in 2020 dollars. On September 5, 1921, Arbuckle and some friends had rented three rooms at the St. Francis Hotel for a party and had invited some women to join them. One of them was aspiring actress Virginia Rappe who was accompanied by Bambina Maude Delmont. Rappe became ill during the party in the room shared by Arbuckle and his friend Fred Fishback and died four days later. Her cause of death was determined to be peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Although the coroner had found no evidence of rape, Delmont accused Arbuckle of raping Rappe. Rappe had a history of urinary tract infections that alcohol exacerbated, and Delmont had a history as a madam, blackmailer, and extortionist. Despite Delmont’s history, politically ambitious San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady leaped on the case. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who you may remember as one of the prime practitioners of the yellow journalism that egged on the Spanish-American War, sensationalized and exaggerated the story in his San Francisco Examiner. The stories about Arbuckle portrayed him as a monstrous predator and that his weight from forcing himself on her caused her ruptured bladder. This morphed into that he used a coke or champagne bottle, which was never alleged in court. Studios effectively issued a gag order on actors who would want to speak on his behalf, but this didn’t stop Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin from issuing public statements expressing their belief in Arbuckle’s innocence. Indeed, Arbuckle was known as rather shy around women and a gentle man. 

Arbuckle was initially arrested for murder but charged with manslaughter. He was tried thrice, with the first two being mistrials due to jury deadlock, the first splitting 10-2 not guilty and the second splitting 10-2 guilty. Despite the original accusations coming from Delmont and her touring the country to publicize on it, the prosecution never called her up as a witness. On the third trial, the defense aggressively cross-examined the witnesses and were able to poke many holes in the case against Arbuckle. An acquittal is technically a ruling that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict, not necessarily a ruling of innocence, but the jury in his case was sure to clarify that he was innocent and wrote a letter of apology to him, in which the introductory line was: “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him” (Encyclopedia Britannica). He was, however, convicted of a single violation of the Volstead Act as alcohol was consumed at the party and fined. There is a way that he may have contributed to her death, albeit accidentally. It was known that Arbuckle was very ticklish and that tickling his ribs would cause his knee to jerk upwards. Whether it was known to Rappe or not is questionable, but supposedly she tickled him, resulting in him accidentally kneeing the actress in the stomach. Indeed, Rappe had been quoted as saying while ill, “What did he do to me? He [Arbuckle] did this to me” (Noe). This may have been in reference to the accidental kneeing, or possibly to the ice he applied to her to try and relieve her symptoms.

Despite being legally acquitted with the jury issuing such an unusual statement, the public campaign against Arbuckle continued. Paramount Studios’ Adolph Zukor got him blacklisted and his films were banned by chief censor Will H. Hays on April 18, 1922. An ongoing narrative, which certainly had some truth, was that Hollywood was morally degenerate and promoted moral degeneracy. Unfortunately, Arbuckle was wrongfully seen as a prime example by the moral crusaders of the 1920s. He was too big a fish to let go for them and Zukor’s decision was not based on truth, fact, or justice. His decision was to sacrifice him to protect the rest of the industry from these activists, which is what businesses do when faced with modern cases of cancel culture as they fear the power of the mob. In an added wrinkle, the whole situation with Rappe and Delmont may have been a scheme by Zukor to knock Arbuckle down for demanding more money for contracts. Author Andy Edmonds argued that Arbuckle was set up by him as he insisted on bringing the women to the party, albeit not for the purpose of Rappe’s death, rather a sexual frameup (Noe). Indeed, Rappe’s companion, Delmont was described by Edmonds as “a professional correspondent: a woman hired to provide compromising pictures to use in divorce cases or for more unscrupulous purposes such as blackmail” (Noe). Prints of Arbuckle’s films were destroyed, and some films may even now be lost because of this reaction. Although Hays lifted the ban on December 20, 1922, Arbuckle for years worked part-time as a director and under a pseudonym, William B. Goodrich, while being financially assisted by Buster Keaton. His star had fallen, at least for the time being. In 1932, he signed a contract with Warner Brothers for comedic short subjects with sound, and he was one of the silent actors who transitioned well to the talking era. Arbuckle was also scheduled for a full-length feature film. Sadly, this was not to be as he died of a heart attack in 1933 at the age of 46.


Dimitrova, K., Rahmanzadeh, S., & Lipman, J. (2013, December 22). Justine Sacco, Fired After Tweet on AIDS in Africa, Issues Apology. ABC News.

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Hull, M. (2019, January 24). The many trials of Fatty Arbuckle. The Bar Association of San Francisco.

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King, G. (2011, November 8). The Skinny on the Fatty Arbuckle Trial. Smithsonian Magazine.



Noe, D. (2008, September 17). Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe. Crime Library.

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Roscoe Arbuckle. Encyclopedia Britannica.

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The Republican Challengers of Richard Nixon

Since the Watergate hearings in 1973, it has been known that President Richard Nixon had an “enemies list” which consisted of twenty people of the political left. On it were also three radical left members of Congress: Ron Dellums of California, John Conyers of Michigan, and Allard Lowenstein of New York. However, this list expanded even further into a master list, including the entire Congressional Black Caucus and numerous mostly Democratic politicians. The Republicans who made this list were Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Rep. Pete McCloskey of California, and former Senator Charles Goodell of New York. However, this story is about McCloskey and another guy who didn’t make the lists, John Ashbrook.

By 1972, Nixon had pursued a third way between the liberal and conservative wings of the Republican Party, and there was dissatisfaction on both fronts. Pete McCloskey (1927- ), who represented San Mateo in Congress and had defeated none other than Shirley Temple Black in the GOP primary to win his seat, was to Nixon’s left on both social and economic issues and had an ongoing feud with California Governor Ronald Reagan. However, his reason for running was Nixon’s policies on the Vietnam War, an issue in which he was outspoken. As McCloskey stated, “I would not have challenged the President, had it not been for the gradual realization that his plan to end the war in Vietnam actually involved a drive to win the war, that his true belief was reflected in an off-the-cuff comment: ‘I’m not going to be the first President to lose a war’” (Johns, 4). He had in 1968 initially backed Nelson Rockefeller for the nomination, but turned to Nixon after he realized that Ronald Reagan was more likely to prevail than his ideal. From 1968 to 1971, his Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA) score averaged a 36%.

Pete McCloskey - Wikipedia
Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.)

McCloskey had no chance at beating Nixon in the Republican primary: he was too liberal to win a presidential nomination but he knew that and it wasn’t the point for him. The point for him was to push Nixon to end the war in Vietnam. You might say he was the Republican version of George McGovern, albeit less left-wing.

On the other end of the GOP ideological spectrum was John Ashbrook (1928-1982) of Ohio. Ashbrook had been in Congress since 1961 and he had established himself as the most conservative member of that delegation to Congress and stood out in being the only one from Ohio to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he would join the rest for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His ACA score from 1961 to 1971 averaged a whopping 98%. Ashbrook opposed Nixon’s adoption of price controls, his support for the Family Assistance Plan, and continually running budget deficits. His bid received the support of National Review, indeed William F. Buckley Jr. and other conservative intellectuals had announced a suspension of support for Nixon after his going to China and casting Taiwan to the wayside. Ashbrook’s slogan was “No Left Turns”. Writing from the left on Ashbrook’s candidacy, E.J. Dionne (1972) stated, “Ashbrook has made the elections–and more specifically the Republican primaries–a lot more important. He has chosen the path of revolt against an electoral process without choices and against certain manifestations of state power. For all these things, one must respect him”.

John M. Ashbrook - Wikipedia
John M. Ashbrook (R-Ohio)

Ashbrook’s bid was at heart quixotic, as although his campaign got the support of some conservative intellectuals and activists, it failed to secure the backing of conservative bigwigs such as Senators Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and John Tower of Texas. Indeed, his goal wasn’t to win, as Daniel Bring (2019) writes, “He knew he could not beat Nixon, but he could make the paranoid president fearful and inspire him to return to the views that had put him in office”. However, it is fondly remembered among those conservatives who couldn’t abide Nixon’s significant turns away from conservative orthodoxy and helps to fuel the myth that Nixon was a liberal.

The Aftermath

Ashbrook and McCloskey both failed to defeat Nixon in the primary, but they strangely enough both succeeded in their aims, although their primary challenges probably didn’t do much to push Nixon. Nixon was more conservative in his second term than his first and on January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, bringing an end of the American role in the Vietnam War.  

On July 30, 1974, Ashbrook called for Nixon’s impeachment, citing “the President’s improper use of the Internal Revenue Service, his improper use of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the [Watergate] coverup”, as well as the “plumbers unit” Nixon created to stop security leaks (Hunter). This was six days before the release of the “smoking gun” tapes. However, according to the Washington-Star News, McCloskey had Ashbrook beat on this, reporting on June 9th, 1974, that McCloskey supported impeachment. Both men won their reelection bids that year.

The Remainder of Ashbrook’s Career

Ashbrook’s political career was, as Michael Barone in the 1982 Almanac of American Politics put it, “almost a catalogue of lost causes” and that his record constituted “a continual triumph of idealism over practicality, of principle over effectiveness” (Blair). A lot of these lost causes were for conservatism in a Democratic Congress but one astounding example of his promotion of lost causes regarded the reputation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ashbrook, who had been a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in its heyday, had always despised King as a left-wing radical who he accused of having surreptitiously promoted and provoked violence through pushing crises, stood out especially in later years for his refusal to vote for any official positive recognition of him. On October 4, 1967, he had in his extension of remarks in the Congressional Record, titled “Rev. Martin Luther King: Man of Peace or Apostle of Violence?”, stated that “King is a national figure, this cannot be denied. He is one of the only men who can go from jail cell to a conference with the President of the United States. His name is known; his cause is said to be civil rights. For one reason or another, however, very little is known about the real Martin Luther King. I believe that if his true character were known, he would not be able to command a corporal’s guard to follow him” (Ashbrook). In 1979, he was one of only eleven representatives to vote against authorizing a bust or statue of King, joining John Birch Society members John Rousselot of California and Larry McDonald of Georgia, the former chair of the now defunct House Internal Security Committee Richard Ichord of Missouri, and Ron Paul of Texas. Ashbrook was also one of the leading voices against the adoption of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, and in 1981 argued against a memorial to King, stating that because of controversy surrounding his life, no such memorial should be put up until secret files on him are released in 2027 (The New York Times).

The Remainder of McCloskey’s Career

McCloskey continued as a liberal Republican but strangely enough softened a bit on his old foe in the California Republican Party, Ronald Reagan. Although he had initially favored John B. Anderson of Illinois for the nomination, on September 26, 1980, The Washington Post reported that he endorsed Reagan. McCloskey explained his decision thusly, “I just ended 10 years of hostility. The governor said 10 years ago that I ought to represent only the San Andreas earthquake fault and I said he should raise his tax-free cattle there. But I think four more years of Jimmy Carter would be a disaster…because I think the consistency of a Reagan foreign policy would be far less dangerous than the inconsistency of Carter foreign policy.  I’ve seen Carter change his position on the neutron bomb, Pakistan, on nuclear power, the export of nuclear material [and] on the Israeli question, and these zigzags on foreign policy, in my judgment, are much more dangerous to preserving world peace than the consistency of Reagan” (Cannon). Indeed, during Reagan’s first two years in office, McCloskey voted more to the right than he had ever done. In 1981, ACA gave him a score of 61%. It is of great irony that he gave his old foe Reagan more support than he had ever given Nixon, despite the former being considerably to the right of the latter.

The End of Both Congressional Careers

Both Ashbrook’s and McCloskey’s time as elected officials would end with the 97th Congress. Both men had ambitions for the U.S. Senate, as both ran in their respective primaries in 1982. However, Ashbrook died unexpectedly of massive internal hemorrhaging on April 24, 1982 while on the campaign trail. He was 53 years old. McCloskey on the other hand lost his bid for the nomination to San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, coming in second. He did attempt a political comeback in 2006 at the age of 79 in running in the primary against Congressman Richard Pombo, a champion of property rights and an arch-nemesis of environmental groups who was facing controversy for his connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Not long after losing the primary, McCloskey announced that was changing party registration to Democrat. Unlike Ashbrook, he is still alive and kicking at 93 and on December 14, 2020, he was one of the California electors for the Biden-Harris ticket.


Ashbrook, J.M. (1967, October 4). Extension of Remarks: “Rev. Martin Luther King: Man of Peace or Apostle of Violence?”. Congressional Record, 113(158).

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Blair, W.G. (1982, April 25). Rep. John M. Ashbrook of Ohio Dies At Age of 53. The New York Times.

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Bring, D. (2019, September 27). When Conservatives Tried To Throw Out Richard Nixon. The American Conservative.

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Cannon, L. (1980, September 26). McCloskey Buries the Hatchet by Endorsing Reagan. The Washington Post.

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Certificate of Vote For President and Vice President of the United States of America 2020. Executive Department State of California.

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Dionne, E.J. (1972, February 28). Ashbrook Shrugged. The Harvard Crimson.

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Flander, J. (2018, November 10). Nixon Couldn’t Stop Pete McCloskey, Republican Who’s For Impeachment. The Washington Star-News.

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Hunter, M. (1974, July 31). 2 G.O.P. Conservatives Appeal for Impeachment. The New York Times.

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Johns, A.L. (2021). Breaking the Eleventh Commandment: Pete McCloskey’s Campaign against the Vietnam War. California History, 98(1), pp. 3-27.

Memorial To Dr. King Debated. (1981, September 15). The New York Times.

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To Agree To H. Con. Res. 80, Authorizing a Bust or Statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Be Placed in the Capitol. (Motion Passed). Govtrack.

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The Blurred Lines Between Conservatism and Liberalism

As you might know, not all issues of controversy can easily or accurately be placed on the conservative/liberal divide. This can be a matter of opinion of course, but there are instances I am aware of in which a liberal and a conservative interest group agreed on a certain issue. I have found a total of seven times in which Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and its conservative counterpart agreed on a vote, which I shall outline here.

In 1971, Congress voted to bail out Lockheed Martin, an important defense contractor, but what was going on at the same time was the Vietnam War. One could thus view bailing out Lockheed Martin as a move for sustaining the war effort or voting against as limiting the Vietnam War. ADA included this vote in their 1971 ratings and regarded a vote against as the “liberal” position. However, Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA), which was supposed to act as their counterpart, regarded a vote against as the “conservative” position. What you have here are multiple considerations: whether the government should bail out a business and the context of the Vietnam War. The next instance of such a crossover occurred during the Carter Administration. Namely, with the Energy Mobilization Board.

Although Jimmy Carter is in retrospect thought of as positive by environmentalists especially  compared to his successor, his record on the environment was a subject of contention in his time. He pushed multiple policies that environmentalists regarded poorly, and one of these was the Energy Mobilization Board. This body would have the power to override state and local environmental laws in the name of fast-tracking projects to increase energy output. In 1979, the American Conservative Union (ACU) included a vote against the board as the “conservative” position. In 1980, both ADA and ACA counted the proposal of ultraconservative Rep. Samuel Devine (R-Ohio) to kill the bill favorably. This proposal received the vote of all but nine Republicans yet got many votes of top liberals, making this a strange inclusion for both organization’s rating systems. From the liberal perspective it makes sense as the 1980 election wasn’t looking good for Carter and they were not keen on having Ronald Reagan potentially decide what state and local environmental laws can be overridden. Conservatives had come around to the idea that this proposal violated proper federalism, exerting too much federal power over states, even if such a power were used against strong environmental laws.

In 1981, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was once again up for a vote. This proposal had the support of President Ronald Reagan, but there were again multiple issues surrounding this one. The idea had originally been proposed during the Roosevelt Administration, but the political dynamics surrounding it at that time were conservatives opposed to the New Deal vs. pro-New Deal liberals. However, the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s had its impact on the Democratic Party, and many liberals found cause to oppose this project on those grounds. Conservatives, especially from the South, found they could make exceptions on this issue. However, some conservatives maintained a traditional anti-New Deal opposition, such as Orange County’s William Dannemeyer. Ultimately, the proposal did pass despite the disapproval of both the ADA and ACA. ACA had also included this vote in their 1980 ratings. The ACU rendered no opinion on the matter.

During both Bush Administrations, ACU and ADA shared opinions on three issues. The first budget resolution during the budget impasse of the first Bush Administration was voted on in the House on October 5th, 1990, being opposed by both organizations as insufficient and indeed their opinions held sway, with the measure losing 179-254. The conservatives ultimately lost with the final product that was signed into law by George Bush, which included the infamous repudiation of his “read my lips: no new taxes” line.  

For the second Bush Administration, both the ADA and ACU opposed the Bush Administration’s Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. ADA opposed the “health savings account” provision and the ACU held that despite the health savings account provision, that because of cost it “on balance it could not be justified on conservative principles” (ACU). They went as far as to double-count the vote! Ultimately, only twenty-five Republicans went against and only sixteen Democrats went for. In 2006, the ADA and ACU again agreed, this time on a campaign finance bill. This was the “Shays-Meehan” proposal, which would have closed the “soft money” loophole in the 2002 McCain-Feingold bill, applying the same rules to so-called “527 groups”, tax-exempt organizations that don’t explicitly advocate for the election of parties or candidates, as political parties and political action committees. Both organizations considered a vote against to be the correct action.

Americans for Democratic Action interestingly made the consideration on ideological crossover when they didn’t include the Wall Street bailout in their 2008 ratings, but the American Conservative Union did include the Wall Street bailout, regarding a vote against as the conservative position, and I happen to agree with that assessment. The practice of including the same position didn’t die with the second Bush Administration: in 2014 they struck again in both agreeing that the 2014 Farm Bill should be opposed. ACU opposed because while it ended direct subsidies to farmers, it increased crop insurance subsidies and ADA opposed because it cut $8 billion from SNAP (Food Stamp Nutrition Program).

As a guy who is trying to make a ratings system as true to ideological reality as possible, this potential crossover is something I must bear in mind, and the best way I can do this is with my “Committee of Twenty” method (should probably be called “Committee of Forty” now), in which the sixteen most extreme legislators on each polar end in the House and the four most extreme legislators on each polar end in the Senate have their votes examined. Who is most extreme under this standard is determined by DW-Nominate scores. If a majority on one side agrees on a position and the majority on the other side agrees on the opposite on a vote, it is eligible for inclusion. If both extremes agree on an issue, it is excluded. Likewise, if a seemingly conservative or liberal vote lacks the majority of either extreme to vote in that way, it is also excluded. The twenty part kicks in if both the House and the Senate vote on the same issue. Thus, it is entirely possible that an issue that lost the extremist vote in the House could win all the votes of the Senate extremists and thus carry a bare majority for inclusion. I found this the case with the vote on disapproving President Reagan’s sale of AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) to Saudi Arabia in 1981, in which the sixteen most conservative representatives split but the four most conservative senators sided with the Reagan Administration, thus making the issue barely eligible for inclusion.


1971 ADA Voting Record. Americans for Democratic Action.

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2014 Congressional Voting Record. Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA’s 1980 Voting Record. Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA’s 1981 Voting Record. Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA Congressional Voting Record 2003. Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA Congressional Voting Records 2006. Americans for Democratic Action.

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ADA Today – 1990 ADA Voting Record. Americans for Democratic Action.

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H. Con Res. 310 – Budget Resolution. The American Conservative Union.

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HR 1 – Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. The American Conservative Union.

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HR 513 – Campaign Finance Restrictions. The American Conservative Union.


HR 2642 – Farm Bill. The American Conservative Union.

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MC-Index, 92nd Congress (1971-72)

Fifty years ago Richard Nixon was the president and both legislative bodies were controlled by Democrats. However, fifty years makes quite a difference and the MC-Index for this session exposes just how diverse the parties were ideologically.

Speaker of the House Carl Albert of Oklahoma | US House of Representatives:  History, Art & Archives
Carl Albert (D-Okla.), Speaker of the House, 1971-77.

The Republicans

The highest scoring Senate Republicans were Barry Goldwater and Paul Fannin of Arizona as well as Karl Mundt of South Dakota, who got 100%. The lowest scoring Senate Republican was Clifford Case of New Jersey, who scored a mere 8% this session. President Richard Nixon scores a 72%, five points above the average Republican score of 67%, while Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania scores a 52%. In the House, the average is a 76%. The ones who scored 100% are

H. Allen Smith, California

Phil Crane, Illinois

Charlotte Reid, Illinois

Earl Landgrebe, Indiana

David W. Dennis, Indiana

Durward G. Hall, Missouri

Samuel Devine, Ohio

George Goodling, Pennsylvania

LaMar Baker, Tennessee

Bill Archer, Texas

William Scott, Virginia  

The lowest scoring was Ogden R. Reid of New York, who scores a mere 6%. It is no surprise he switched to the Democrats in 1972. President Richard Nixon scores a 76%. House Minority Leader Gerald Ford scores a 78%, slightly above the average.

The Democrats

The highest scoring Democrat for this session was John C. Stennis of Mississippi, who scored an 87%. The lowest scoring Democrats were Harold Hughes of Iowa, Edmund Muskie of Maine, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Phil Hart of Michigan, Walter Mondale of Minnesota, Harrison Williams of New Jersey, Fred Harris of Oklahoma, and George McGovern of South Dakota who all scored a 0%. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana scores a 20%. The Democrats who scored a 0% in the House were

Morris Udall, Arizona

Ron Dellums, California

Don Edwards, California

Gus Hawkins, California

Patsy Mink, Hawaii

Abner Mikva, Illinois

John Culver, Iowa

Parren J. Mitchell, Maryland

Charles Diggs, Michigan

Donald Fraser, Minnesota

Robert Bergland, Minnesota

Shirley Chisholm, New York

Bertram Podell, New York

Herman Badillo, New York

John G. Dow, New York

Louis Stokes, Ohio

William J. Green, Pennsylvania

Bob Eckhardt, Texas

Bob Kastenmeier, Wisconsin

The highest scoring Democrat is James A. Haley of Florida with a 98%, and Democrats average 33%. Speaker of the House Carl Albert of Oklahoma, who voted an unusually high number of times this session scored a 24%.

Although ratings for this session of Congress won’t be out until after 2022, I can promise you on average the Democrats will not score a 33% and I don’t think Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi at any point have had their MC-Index score in the twenties. Mitch McConnell I can tell you has never scored as low as a 52% and for Kevin McCarthy, well he may have scored a 78% or below in a session or two. Although Republicans were still the more conservative party, the Democrats had some genuine staunch conservatives on their team, like Republicans had some real liberals on theirs. For better or worse, the project to create two ideologically responsible parties has indeed succeeded.

The files for House and Senate, respectively:

Texas Legends #9: William R. Poage

After serving in the Texas State House from 1925 to 1929 and the Texas State Senate from 1931 to 1937, William Robert (Bob) Poage (1899-1987) had an ideal background for Congress. In 1934, he challenged incumbent Oliver Cross for the Democratic nomination but lost. In 1936, Cross opted to retire and Poage succeeded him easily. He represented Waco and specialized in farming issues as a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and was at the time a supporter of the New Deal, especially when it came to the subject. Poage’s accomplishments included helping establish the Rural Electrification Administration, sponsoring the Rural Telephone Act of 1949, and drafting the Poage-Aiken Act of 1965 for the establishment of water and wastewater systems in rural areas (Duggan). However, early on he was wary of the growing power of organized labor and he would regularly vote with the conservatives on this question. Indeed, Poage was never a 100% liberal and would fluctuate in his record. Early in his time in office, Poage developed Ménière’s disease, which would cause him terrible headaches and eventually rendered him deaf in one ear.

Poage and Civil Rights

As a member of Congress, Poage voted mostly as you would expect on the subject given the time and region he served in. Most curiously, he voted for the final, weakened version of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but voted against the other civil rights era legislation, even the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968, which provided penalties for racial discrimination in the selection of federal juries, and had the strongest level of support of any significant such measure.  As did most Texas representatives, he did not sign the Southern Manifesto. In 1964, Poage was approached about supporting President Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, and in response, he said, “Oh, I see! You’re talking’ about the niggers!” (Lemann, 156) Despite such a response, he voted for its flagship legislation, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Indeed, Poage seemed to give significant support to LBJ on some matters, including voting against the Republican substitute to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, despite voting against the bill on passage. In 1971, he was one of twenty-four representatives to vote against the Equal Rights Amendment.

Not long after his retirement, he would on March 15, 1979, be interviewed, and one subject discussed was on the substantive presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Waco in the 1920s. Poage stated that, “I hadn’t gotten very close…I don’t know why, because I think I was more or less sympathetic with their efforts in those days. I look back now and I think they went much too far of course, much too far” (Waco History).

Chairman Poage

In 1966, Agriculture Committee Chairman Hal Cooley (D-N.C.) lost reelection to Republican Jim Gardner, thus Poage through the seniority system succeeded him in the next Congress. He had a mixed record on food stamps: although he voted to establish food stamp programs, he also often backed cuts and this, combined with his staunch support for generous agricultural subsidies that in some cases had made farmers millionaires, would be sources of conflict between him and Northern liberals. Poage indeed aided the growth of agribusiness. Ultimately, compromises were made on food stamps as well as subsidies. During his time as chairman, he was involved in the drafting of the 1972 Rural Development Act.

Poage apparently shouting into the microphone, as he was wont to do.

Given that Poage’s record shifted significantly to the right after the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, it must be pondered how much of his flexibility during that administration was for the sake of giving support to a fellow Texan in the White House, even if a liberal. Sometimes he was also the butt of jokes and humor. Colleagues referred to him in his presence as “The Bureau of Useless Information” for his knowledge of the intricacies and trivialities of agriculture and agricultural policy at home and abroad (Burka & Smith). He also had a penchant for shouting whenever he was speaking on a microphone. According to former Representative Paul Findley of Illinois (2011), “Democrat Graham Purcell told me, “Poage is the only man I ever knew who got infuriated at the sound of his own voice.” Another committee Democrat, Dawson Mathis of Georgia, made a humorous introduction of Poage to a luncheon audience, “Some people say they would rather listen to Bob Poage talk than eat. I understand what they mean now that I have listened to Bob eat lunch”” (90).

The Final Years

The 1974 midterms produced many new liberal Democrat members, the freshmen and women of this class known colloquially as the “Watergate babies”. The liberals sought to use these new numbers to their advantage. During the new Congress they managed to through quick procedural maneuvering end the House Committee on Un-American Activities for good (called the House Internal Security Committee by that time) and they wanted to make it clear that the old system of seniority was, like the HCUA, history. They did so by reviewing the committee chairs, and of them the following members came most to their attention: Wright Patman of Texas, Edward Hebert of Louisiana, and Bob Poage. Arkansas’ Wilbur Mills was also successfully pressured to resign after the Fanne Fox sex scandal. Although Poage was renominated for the post, he lost the caucus vote 141-144. At first, he was angry in his defeat, attributing to it his refusal to “go as far in my concessions to socialism as a majority of this House does” (Lawrence, 111). However, he was quick to cool down and gracefully accepted defeat, pledging his support and assistance as vice chairman for the new chairman, Tom Foley of Washington. It didn’t hurt that Foley had voted to renominate Poage. For his dignity and grace in defeat, Foley granted him some unusual privileges as former chairman, including being allowed to exceed time for questions.

File:William R. Poage 1977 congressional photo.jpg
William R. Poage, 1977 Congressional photo.

After he was deposed as chairman, Poage’s record shifted to ultra-conservatism and he even scored a 100% by the conservative interest group Americans for Constitutional Action in 1976. Ten years ago by contrast, he had scored a 58%. That year, Texas Monthly profiled him in its article, “The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’”, rating the members of the Texas delegation to Congress and its authors wrote of him, “Asked to name the toughest vote of his career—the hardest decision he’d had to make—Bob Poage let his mind wander back to issues long forgotten, then replied: “It was probably the first vote I ever cast—to grant aid to the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. I went along with Maury Maverick on that one. But I don’t think I’d do it today; that turned out to be a com­munist-financed organization.”

If you knew nothing else about Bob Poage, that statement would tell you all ‘but one of the most important things to know about him. It would tell you that he was in Congress before most Americans were born (next to George Mahon, he has been there longer than any other current member). It would tell you that he came as a New Deal liberal and became, in the course of twenty consecutive terms, a staunch conserva­tive” (Burka & Smith). Indeed, he was a man perceived as out of date by the Watergate babies and they made him even more so by voting him out. Poage was also a critic of transparency in committee proceedings, complaining “We’ve got that ‘sunshine rule’; we’ve got to have all our meetings open to the public. You can’t get things done that way. Legislation is compromise, and you can’t get compromise in the public arena. You just sit there and wrangle” (Burka & Smith).

Given that there was little point to him hanging around as a backbencher beyond a final 1976 reelection victory, he opted to retire in 1978 but not before helping draft an agriculture bill that year. Poage’s successor, Marvin Leath, lauded him as the “Father of rural electrification and soil conservation” (Duggan). He used his retirement to write books on local Texas history as well as his autobiography, My First 85 Years (1985). On January 3, 1987, Poage died on the operating table while undergoing a coronary bypass.


Baylor Students and Klan Membership. Waco History.

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Burka, P. and Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.

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Duggan, L.W. Poage, William Robert (1899-1987). Texas State Historical Association.

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Findley, P. (2011). Speaking out: A Congressman’s lifelong fight against bigotry, famine, and war. Chicago, IL: Lawrence Hill Books.

Lawrence, J.A. (2018). The class of ’74: Congress after Watergate and the roots of partisanship. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lemann, N. (1991). The promised land: The great black migration and how it changed America. (1st ed.). New York, NY: A.A. Knopf.

Lyons, R.D. (1975, January 23). House Democrats Oust 3 Chairman, But Retain Hays. The New York Times.

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The Unconventional Presidential Candidate

Republicans have had two terms of Democratic rule and it looks like they may have a chance to come back to the White House. The midterms were encouraging and the GOP has hopes that they have finally turned a corner. The Republicans are more unified than ever in opposition to the president’s programs and they are looking among their own for the next president and they have some good choices. However, a new Republican candidate makes waves. He was not too long ago a Democrat and is an accomplished businessman who has clashed with the current president on numerous aspects of policy. He has never held public office before. Insiders wonder how he is doing so well and the GOP establishment wants to stop him. Many suspect he isn’t really a conservative. Groups form specially to advocate for him. You might think I’m talking about Donald Trump, but I’m talking about Wendell Willkie.

Wendell Willkie cph.3a38684.jpg

Wendell Willkie (1892-1944) was a longtime Democrat, having been born into a Democratic family that had fled from Prussia after supporting the efforts at democratic revolution in 1848. He was a strong defender of Woodrow Wilson and his “New Freedom” programs, supported the League of Nations, and was also motivated by a deep-seated opposition to imperialism, which was motivated by his witnessing in the Caribbean a manager striking a rebellious worker in the shoulder with a machete (Mallon). In 1924, Willkie participated in the Democratic National Convention and pushed against the KKK as well as for support of the League of Nations. His rise to prominence began with working as an attorney for Harvey Firestone’s tire company and then later as corporate counsel for Commonwealth & Southern, a utility holding company. By 1933 he was its president, and that year he had another success: his candidate he supported for the presidency, FDR, had been sworn into office after a blowout of an election. A challenge immediately faced the business as Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, which made the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority a competitor with C&S. Additionally, a key part of FDR’s Second New Deal was the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, which effectively destroyed holding companies through its death sentence clause. The “death sentence” clause, as explained by author Jeremiah D. Lambert (2015), “required that the utility industry must within five years voluntarily terminate utility holding companies that had no useful function and authorizing the SEC thereafter to dissolve every holding company lacking an economic reason for its existence” (48). Willkie tried to combat this development as well, but was unsuccessful. Indeed, his cause on public utilities was fatally harmed when an infamous act of astroturfing was uncovered by Senator Hugo Black (D-Ala.): utilities executives had hired PR firms to orchestrate a letter writing campaign against the “Death Sentence Clause” in which most of the names signed were forged, being grabbed out of a telephone book. Willkie’s reputation survived as he was not involved in the fraud. In 1936, for the first time in the longtime Democratic activist’s life, he voted for the Republican candidate. Willkie’s battle with the TVA came to an end on January 30, 1939 when the Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee Power Co. v. TVA that the TVA’s competition with private industry was constitutional. Willkie thus sold Commonwealth & Southern’s properties in the Tennessee Valley area to the TVA. That year, he switched affiliation to the Republican Party.

He presented the contrast between the government-oriented Roosevelt and business. His attitude towards the government’s attitude was summed up in his quote, “For several years now, we have been listening to a bedtime story, telling us that the men who hold office in Washington are, by their very positions, endowed with a special virtue” (Shlaes). In 1939, Willkie switched to the Republican Party. The following year he pursued the Republican nomination for president but didn’t participate in state primaries. The three people who actively participated in them were Thomas E. Dewey, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan. However, Willkie’s strategy was a sound one for his time: his strategy was to be a dark horse candidate at the Republican National Convention. Indeed, Republicans were quite divided between the three candidates who participated in the primaries. Thomas Dewey was an early leader in polling, but Willkie and Senator Robert Taft kept rising in the polls and Willkie clubs formed to support him. He prevailed on the final ballot, and his campaign focused on limiting the New Deal and making remaining programs more cost effective. Willkie emphasized the individual over the collective and stood for free enterprise. His stance on foreign policy in truth differed little from that of FDR, in fact he was the only interventionist in the primary. but non-interventionists back him as preferable. Many of the party faithful were not so thrilled, including fellow Hoosier and former Senate Majority Leader James E. Watson, who said to Willkie’s face, “I don’t mind the church converting a whore, but I don’t like her to lead the choir the first night!” (Bernstein, 716)

On recommendation by House Minority Leader Joe Martin (R-Mass.), Willkie selected Senate Minority Leader Charles McNary of Oregon as his running mate. McNary had backed some significant portions of the New Deal that Willkie had fought, including the Tennessee Valley Authority. He was also a non-interventionist, but a moderate one. The coalition that was backing the Willkie-McNary ticket was indeed quite varied as it consisted of various sorts of detractors of FDR like those who opposed primarily based on foreign policy and those opposed primarily based on domestic, but as Thomas Mallon (2018) notes, “And yet one can’t judge this amalgamation to be any less stable than the New Deal coalition of union labor, religious minorities, African-Americans, and Southern segregationists that had twice delivered the White House to Roosevelt.” However, the coalition behind Willkie-McNary just wasn’t enough. Many in the American public were swayed by the argument that in a time of great international crisis with World War II raging in Europe, it was best to maintain a stable course with an already experienced leader in Roosevelt. On November 5, 1940, the ticket won ten states and 45% of the vote, but this was a significant step up from 1936 when the Landon-Knox ticket won two states and 36.5% of the vote.

Not long after losing the election, Willkie testified in favor of Lend-Lease. This put him on the outs with many Republicans. Indeed, Lend-Lease is an outright repudiation of the concept of neutrality and only 15% of voting House Republicans voted for it, while 37% of voting Senate Republicans voted for it. During World War II Willkie helped the Roosevelt Administration promote a new postwar global order and traveled around the globe as FDR’s personal representative. That year he was mulling a run for Governor of New York, and to this Thomas E. Dewey said upon hearing he was visiting the USSR, “I hear he is going to Russia before the Republican [state] convention, so he will be where he belongs and I hope he stays there until Christmas” (Neal, 217-230) . Although Willkie ran for the nomination in 1944, he lost the Republican primary badly to Thomas E. Dewey, as he had not put sufficient focus on helping the GOP between his defeat and the 1944 primary. The Republicans were also in truth too uncomfortable with his level of internationalism and also generally thought him too liberal. Indeed, his 1943 book One World alarmed the bulk of Republicans concerned with sovereignty. Willkie went as far as to call for a one world government to keep the peace, and also stated, “freedom means the orderly but scheduled abolition of the colonial system” (Mallon). Willkie was also an outspoken critic of the Jim Crow system and the general societal treatment of blacks and also pledged to appoint a black man to his cabinet or to the Supreme Court, developments which would not occur until the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. Fatally to his chances in the primary, he also pledged to raise taxes. However, time was short for Willkie and his bad health habits were catching up to him. As his grandson Wendell L. Willkie II (2018) notes, “Willkie was a cardiologist’s worst case: He smoked three packs of Camels daily, clearly enjoyed his scotch, ate more than he should, and never exercised”. He suffered the first of several heart attacks at the end of the summer of 1944, with the final one occurring on October 8th, thus not getting to see the postwar world he had helped create. 


Bernstein, I. (1969). The turbulent years: A history of the American worker, 1933-1941. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.

Lambert, J.D. (2015). The power brokers: The struggle to shape and control the electric power industry. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Mallon, T. (2018, September 10). Can the G.O.P. Ever Reclaim Wendell Willkie’s Legacy? The New Yorker.

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Neal, S. (1984). Dark horse: A biography of Wendell Willkie. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Republican Party Platform of 1940. The American Presidency Project.

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Shales, A. (2009, May 25). The Man Who Talked Back. Forbes.

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Willkie, W.L. (2018, October 6). My Grandfather Was a Republican Nominee Who Put Country First. The Atlantic.

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