Robert Taft: Count Him Conservative

By:  Jack Kenny
10/28/2011
       
Robert Taft: Count Him Conservative

If Robert Taft had been a baseball player instead of a United States Senator, he might have led the league in left-handed compliments. As it was, he was often “damned with faint praise” by people who, while paying tribute to the power of his intellect, quite often suggested both the man and the mind had come of age in the wrong century. The Ohio lawmaker would hear himself praised as one possessing “the best eighteenth-century mind in America” by people who obviously considered an 18th-century mind ill-suited to mid-20th-century politics. Others, frustrated by the Senator’s stubborn insistence on examining the facts of any controversy before deciding whether to go with or against the prevailing political winds, were fond of saying, “Taft has the best mind in the Senate — until he makes it up.”

Taft was no Lone Ranger. He believed very much in political parties and could be as highly partisan as a Republican as Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman were as Democrats. Yet he was not afraid to deviate from party orthodoxy or fly in the face of popular sentiment. He drew the wrath of the press and public for arguing against the post-World War II war crimes trials at Nuremberg. “Today, the government has become a busybody,” Taft said in a campaign speech in 1944, “determined to meddle with everybody else’s business, to regulate every detail of private enterprise and even in many cases to set in motion direct government competition with private enterprise.” But while Taft was declaring there was “hardly a field of activity into which the government has not intruded itself,” he was also advancing legislation to create a federal housing program and provide federal aid to education.

If Robert Taft had been a baseball player instead of a United States Senator, he might have led the league in left-handed compliments. As it was, he was often “damned with faint praise” by people who, while paying tribute to the power of his intellect, quite often suggested both the man and the mind had come of age in the wrong century. The Ohio lawmaker would hear himself praised as one possessing “the best eighteenth-century mind in America” by people who obviously considered an 18th-century mind ill-suited to mid-20th-century politics. Others, frustrated by the Senator’s stubborn insistence on examining the facts of any controversy before deciding whether to go with or against the prevailing political winds, were fond of saying, “Taft has the best mind in the Senate — until he makes it up.”

Taft was no Lone Ranger. He believed very much in political parties and could be as highly partisan as a Republican as Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman were as Democrats. Yet he was not afraid to deviate from party orthodoxy or fly in the face of popular sentiment. He drew the wrath of the press and public for arguing against the post-World War II war crimes trials at Nuremberg. “Today, the government has become a busybody,” Taft said in a campaign speech in 1944, “determined to meddle with everybody else’s business, to regulate every detail of private enterprise and even in many cases to set in motion direct government competition with private enterprise.” But while Taft was declaring there was “hardly a field of activity into which the government has not intruded itself,” he was also advancing legislation to create a federal housing program and provide federal aid to education.

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Photo: Robert Taft

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