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Old 05-17-2010, 08:36 PM
 
Location: Earth
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Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, a member of the Taft political dynasty that included his father, President and SCOTUS Justice William Howard Taft, was one of the most controversial, divisive, and maligned politicians of his time.

He was the leader of what was called the "Old Right" of the Republican Party - bitterly opposed to the New Deal, social programs, and unions, non-interventionist or isolationist in foreign policy, and stereotyped as "know-nothings" by many. Taft himself was extremely uncharismatic and unlikeable and accused of being a relic of the era of Harding, Coolidge, or for that matter his own father. Democrats, including my own family, DESPISED the man that some called "Mr. Conservative" or "Mr. Republican" for writing the Taft-Hartley Act, which restricted the activities of unions. The Democratic Party for years advocated its repeal in campaigns, but never got around to repealing it when in control of Congress. (However, the recent Citizens United v. FEC case struck down the part of Taft-Hartley limiting political activity by unions.) He was also despised not only by Democrats but by many Republicans for his isolationism before World War II and his advocacy of a negotiated peace with Japan in 1944-45, followed by his opposition to the Marshall Plan and NATO.

Yet while his positions on WW2 got him labeled as "unpatriotic" or a "Nazi sympathizer", they seemed to come out of a sincere hatred of war rather than out of any sympathies for Hitler. This was true of many of the prewar isolationists - they despised Nazi Germany but were well aware of the horrors of World War I and didn't want them to be repeated, and were merely guilty of "fighting the last war". In the case of World War II they were very, very wrong, but they weren't necessarily all fascists or Nazis (although some were). Taft would also oppose the internment of Japanese-Americans - I remember reading something about how he was able to limit the internment to the 3 West Coast states and Arizona rather than interning Japanese-Americans nationwide, as King's government in Canada interned Japanese-Canadians nationwide not just in BC - and would go on to oppose the Korean War, a stance that caused the Truman Administration and writers for the New Republic and the Nation to claim he had Communist sympathies. He sponsored legislation that would have defunded the US military expenditures relating to the Korean War, which would have forced the US to pull out.


Other than Taft and the Taftites, the only other opponents of US involvement in Korea from the get-go were leftists like Norman Thomas, Henry Wallace, and Marxists of various persuasions. Likewise, Thomas also shared Taft and the Taft wing of the GOP's opposition to Japanese-American internment (which was almost universally popular in the Western states, and not only supported by both major parties but even by the Communist Party USA!), and Wallace shared the Old Right's opposition to the Marshall Plan.

The Cold War produced a new breed of right wingers in the GOP, men like Joseph McCarthy and Bill Knowland, who were more rabidly focused on defeating communism at any cost, and Taft and the Taft faction were seen as stuck in the past in the early '50s. After Eisenhower became president and Taft - by that time Senate Majority Leader - died in 1953, the Taftites declined in influence and importance, and by 1960 were down to a handful of Congressmen. Conservative Republicans looked to men like Knowland and Barry Goldwater as leaders, and the "Old Right" vanished from American politics. Why did the Taft faction decline so rapidly?

In the Eisenhower thread here, Noetsi mentioned Ron Paul (who has cited Taft as one of his idols) and libertarians in general as heirs to the Taftites ; she also cited the Tea Party movement as heirs to the "Old Right", although they don't seem to be anywhere near as antiwar. Former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield - who had libertarian tendencies - described himself as a "Taft Republican". Are there any other heirs to this vanished tradition in American politics?
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Old 05-17-2010, 11:05 PM
 
Location: Orange County, CA
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Quote:
Originally Posted by majoun View Post
In the Eisenhower thread here, Noetsi mentioned Ron Paul (who has cited Taft as one of his idols) and libertarians in general as heirs to the Taftites ; she also cited the Tea Party movement as heirs to the "Old Right", although they don't seem to be anywhere near as antiwar. Former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield - who had libertarian tendencies - described himself as a "Taft Republican". Are there any other heirs to this vanished tradition in American politics?
Most surely. But first, Bob Taft might fit better into the libertarian mold rather than Old Right. Today, the old right members are often described as paleoconservatives. There is a definite split on the right between them and the neocons, whom they regard as liberal Republicans. The paleocons trace their ideology back as far as Edmund Burke, and tend to be traditionalists and strong Constitutionalists. They also tend to be rather isolationalist, and do not favor a policy of foreign intervention as the neocons do. Besides Ron Paul, perhaps one of the best known paleocons is Patrick Buchanan. The American Conservative magazine is a leading publication of the school of thought. Many Tea Party members would definitely fit into the paleocon slot, but not all of them. Traditional conservatism is most definitely alive and well in the nation, and is on the move, as recent events have indicated.
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Old 05-18-2010, 01:30 AM
 
Location: Earth
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Originally Posted by BlackShoe View Post
Most surely. But first, Bob Taft might fit better into the libertarian mold rather than Old Right.
Not only in his non-interventionism, but also in his opposition to the KKK and Prohibition when he was a member of the Ohio State Legislature prior to being elected to the Senate?

It's interesting that many conservatives were opposed to Prohibition. Gov. Albert Ritchie of Maryland, a conservative Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for President in 1924 and 1932, was vigorously opposed to Prohibition as well as a supporter of the gold standard. Ritchie sounds like he had proto-libertarian overtones as well on these issues, prefiguring Ron Paul many years later.

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Today, the old right members are often described as paleoconservatives.
Why did their power decline in such a short period after the death of their leader? As stated, the Taftites by 1960 were down to only a few members in the House, and the only Taftite to remain in Congress into the '70s was Harold Gross. (Not counting Hatfield and Paul)


Quote:
There is a definite split on the right between them and the neocons, whom they regard as liberal Republicans. The paleocons trace their ideology back as far as Edmund Burke
It would be difficult to be a Burkean anywhere outside Great Britain considering that Burke's political philosophy was very specific to the UK. Most people would say that Winston Churchill was the last real Burkean, although the Tories do regard him as their intellectual founding father, and David Cameron quotes Burke a great deal (more than Major ever did, and probably more than Thatcher. Can't speak re: Ted Heath)

I wonder how they apply Burke's philosophy in an American context?

Burke was an advocate of free trade, and the paleocons such as Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, etc. seem to be rather protectionist. They also seem to focus a great deal on the immigration issue. I have little idea of what Taft's views on immigration were like, other than his opposition to Japanese-American internment. However, that may have been because of his Constitutionalism.

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and tend to be traditionalists and strong Constitutionalists. They also tend to be rather isolationalist, and do not favor a policy of foreign intervention as the neocons do.
Agreed.

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Besides Ron Paul, perhaps one of the best known paleocons is Patrick Buchanan. The American Conservative magazine is a leading publication of the school of thought. Many Tea Party members would definitely fit into the paleocon slot, but not all of them. Traditional conservatism is most definitely alive and well in the nation, and is on the move, as recent events have indicated.
The Tea Party members - other than the libertarian Paul types - seem to be more comfortable with interventionism than Taft and the Taft wing of the GOP was. They also seem to be less willing to form coalitions with the left on specific issues. I read an article about Cindy Sheehan in which the author said that she would be booed if she spoke at a Tea Party despite having an equally negative view of Obama as the Tea Party members and despite advocating abolishing the IRS and the Federal Reserve, merely because she's Cindy Sheehan.
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Old 05-18-2010, 11:54 AM
 
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Using the term old and new in politics is always dangerous, since what is old and new changes over time. I think most of Taft's views - including his opposition to the New Deal and the Second World War- were tied to his opposition to an active government. The same could be said of prohibition and internment, which after all were govenrment programs. He objected to nearly all uses of federal power.

That perspective disapeared in America as the Depression, Second World War, and the Cold War convinced most Americans that government action was neccessary and undercut the respect for what Taft believed primarily in - the business community. This was later reinforced by issues like civil rights, medicare, and the environment. The low point of the Taft philosophy was in the sixties and seventies. The return to conservative politics under Reagan did not mean the restoration of the Taft model, Reagan was willing to use the state actively as were later republican presidents.

Libertarianism is probably the closest modern American movement to Taft, the views of Ron Paul and Taft are very similar (including their views of government and business). The Tea Party is very similar on domestic issues generally. But for example it supports regulation of the financial sector, immigration controls, and the active use of US power abroad. While Burkian philosophy may not be perfectly transferable to the US context; its modern meaning is applicable. Which is to have no dramatic change from the existing status quo, only gradual change is acceptable. In this sense no modern American movement is burkian, libertarians for example prefer radical, quick changes.
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Old 05-19-2010, 01:23 AM
 
Location: Earth
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Originally Posted by noetsi View Post
Using the term old and new in politics is always dangerous, since what is old and new changes over time. I think most of Taft's views - including his opposition to the New Deal and the Second World War- were tied to his opposition to an active government. The same could be said of prohibition and internment, which after all were govenrment programs. He objected to nearly all uses of federal power.
I'd agree.

Quote:
That perspective disapeared in America as the Depression, Second World War, and the Cold War convinced most Americans that government action was neccessary and undercut the respect for what Taft believed primarily in - the business community.
Makes sense. And the attitude of the business community also changed to an extent.

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This was later reinforced by issues like civil rights, medicare, and the environment. The low point of the Taft philosophy was in the sixties and seventies.
Although the libertarian movement would wind up springing out of opposition to the Vietnam War....

Quote:
The return to conservative politics under Reagan did not mean the restoration of the Taft model, Reagan was willing to use the state actively as were later republican presidents.

Libertarianism is probably the closest modern American movement to Taft, the views of Ron Paul and Taft are very similar (including their views of government and business).
Agreed.

Quote:
While Burkian philosophy may not be perfectly transferable to the US context; its modern meaning is applicable.
Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like Canadian conservatism, prior to the rise of Reform and subsequently Stephen "Mini-Bush" Harper, was more influenced by Burke than American conservatism. The "new" Canadian Tory party is much closer to the GOP than the old Canadian Tory party (even under Mulroney, the Reagan/Thatcher of Canada) which disintegrated in the mid '90s.

Quote:
Which is to have no dramatic change from the existing status quo, only gradual change is acceptable. In this sense no modern American movement is burkian
And in that sense Thatcher was not a Burkean either as she put through pretty radical changes in Britain.

This reminds me of Irving Kristol's book "Neoconservatism" in which he berated Taft as a "thuggish caveman", dismissed Burkeanism as lacking revolutionary zeal, and claimed he found British Tories uninteresting when he lived in London in the 1950s because of their attachment to Burkean ideas of gradual change and social stability, so he was more drawn to Labour. More proof of how different neoconservatism is from traditional conservatism and could be described as the dark side of the nanny state. This explains a great deal of how American conservatism since Reagan, as neocon influence expanded, increasingly took on an activist tone that did not exist in the 1940s.

Quote:
libertarians for example prefer radical, quick changes.
It would be extremely difficult to get the entire libertarian platform to be implemented in the US. .

Last edited by majoun; 05-19-2010 at 01:53 AM..
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Old 05-19-2010, 09:50 PM
 
Location: Everywhere and Nowhere
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Charles Lindbergh shared many of Taft's beliefs and was a founder of the "America First" movement. Many of these folks, including Lindbergh opposed our becoming involved in World War II, until we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.
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Old 05-21-2010, 06:47 PM
 
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Although the libertarian movement would wind up springing out of opposition to the Vietnam War....
Did it come about due to that or the Keynsian economic policies and government programs of LB? I always assume those were the key driver of libertarian philosophy.

I don't know anything at all about Canadian politics. I agree Thatcher was anything but Burkian in nature.
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Old 05-22-2010, 02:36 AM
 
Location: Earth
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Originally Posted by noetsi View Post
Did it come about due to that or the Keynsian economic policies and government programs of LB? I always assume those were the key driver of libertarian philosophy.
All those played a role. LBJ symbolized the "warfare-welfare state" that libertarians detest. Big government when it came to social programs, economic policies, and aggressive Cold War militarism and war.

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I don't know anything at all about Canadian politics.
Canadian politics usually isn't that interesting to non-Canadians except when Quebec attempts to secede. Canada doesn't even have political sex scandals like America or Britain. And Canada hasn't produced too many charismatic political leaders (other than Trudeau of course - guess Canada had one extremely charismatic PM to make up for all the rather boring ones before an since?)

Quote:
I agree Thatcher was anything but Burkian in nature.
She pursued some policies that marked very radical changes and didn't adhere to Burke's views of society as organic, change being gradual and the role of government in balancing out different groups that make up society.
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Old 05-22-2010, 10:59 AM
 
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The Cold War produced a new breed of right wingers in the GOP, men like Joseph McCarthy and Bill Knowland, who were more rabidly focused on defeating communism at any cost, and Taft and the Taft faction were seen as stuck in the past in the early '50s. After Eisenhower became president and Taft - by that time Senate Majority Leader - died in 1953, the Taftites declined in influence and importance, and by 1960 were down to a handful of Congressmen. Conservative Republicans looked to men like Knowland and Barry Goldwater as leaders, and the "Old Right" vanished from American politics. Why did the Taft faction decline so rapidly?

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Bob Taft's faction declined because the 1940's and 1950's represented the absolute low point of laisse faire or conservative economic theory. Through massive government spending our country emerged as the preeminent nation of the world following World War II. During World War II, we had done everything a true/blue conservative would have railed against. We enacted wage and price controls, we engaged in HUGE deficit spending, and we accepted the notion of government involvement in the economy.

Laisse faire and conservative economic policies is essentially what Taft was about. His ideas were simply unmarketable in that climate and most republicans were smart enough to figure that out. The focus of the GOP became issues that were far more palatable to the average American: Fear of Communism; maintaining a strong national defense; and guarding our country against both internal and external threats. Tom Dewey and some other leaders in the GOP saw that Taft's ideas would be a political failure. Many of them believed what Taft did, but thought the best way for the GOP was to win election on the theme of "defending America" and than to slowly try to nudge the country back towards conservatism in the economic sphere.

Taft was simply in the wrong time epoch. Today, he might be a very popular politician.


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Are there any other heirs to this vanished tradition in American politics?

Alot of republican senators in the Rocky Mountain states have a similar political philosophy. Not sure how many of them see the comparability to Bob Taft.
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Old 05-22-2010, 04:22 PM
 
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The New Deal, the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War all convinced the "Greatest Generation" that government was an effective and neccessary method of addressing problems. There was a very negative view of business particularly in the sixties and early seventies, the high point of liberalism in the US.

Modern conservatism is a response to the expansion of the state, but it takes many forms. Reagan for example signficantly expanded spending, libertarians essentially want to get rid of the federal state.
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