Count Him Conservative: Robert Taft, Who Earned the Nickname "Mr. Republican," Saw Firsthand the Conniving, Corruption, and Inefficiencies in the Management of Government Interests

By Kenny, Jack | The New American, November 7, 2011 | Go to article overview

Count Him Conservative: Robert Taft, Who Earned the Nickname "Mr. Republican," Saw Firsthand the Conniving, Corruption, and Inefficiencies in the Management of Government Interests


Kenny, Jack, The New American


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."

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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.

"Education is socialistic anyhow, and has been for a hundred and fifty years," he explained to William S. White, a reporter and later the author of a biography of the Senator, called The Taft Story, Children, through no fault of their own, suffered the effects of inadequate housing and underfunded schools, said Taft, who, departing from his usual strict construction of constitutional powers, believed the federal government had a role to play in relieving those hardships. Many of his longtime supporters were not pleased, and White, in his book, related tales of old gentlemen "grumbling in their clubs" that "Taft is becoming a damn Socialist."

He would have made a strange socialist, this son of a one-term Republican President who lost his bid for reelection when the party's "progressive" wing found William Howard Taft unacceptably hidebound. They followed former President Theodore Roosevelt into the new Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party, and in that fateful year of 1912, Roosevelt led the most successful third-party insurgency in American political history, finishing second to Democrat Woodrow Wilson and leaving the incumbent President a distant and embarrassing third, winning but two states and a woeful eight electoral votes. Small wonder then, that Taft's first-born son, who tried three times to win the presidency himself, put such a high premium on party loyally and cohesion, "Much more effective results can be accomplished through the party channels than by independent action," he observed as a young man just entering the world of politics. His father's experience no doubt influenced as well his own preference for conservative or "regular"' Republicans and a discomfort with and distrust of those with a more "progressive" agenda.

Learning and Looking

Robert Alphonso Taft was born in Cincinnati in 1889, the first child of William Howard and Helen Taft, At an early age, he was seen developing traits that would mark his life and career: industry, ambition, independence of mind, and exceptional ability to concentrate on the task at hand. His early adolescence was spent at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, a private academy founded and still run at the time by his uncle Horace. …

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