Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Even with the election getting closer, the death of George McGovern and others this week has me thinking more about history than about the present, so: what conservatives in history (in particular, the second half of the twentieth century) do you think are underappreciated or underrated? Especially interested in politicians, but of course it's open to whatever you think.


  1. I'm not a conservative, but I hope you don't mind me throwing some names into the mix as I think that's a great question. Since you are building this off a senator, I'll put forward the names of 2 senators - Jim Eastland and Bill Armstrong. Actually, Don Nickles might fit here too.

  2. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who died in 1953 and hence served for a short period in the second half of the twentieth century. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was his major domestic policy achievement, as Rep. Hartley of New Jersey, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, passed a harsh labor bill through the House that likely would not have survived the expected veto of President Truman. Taft then watered the bill down sufficiently in the Senate to obtain the support of 68 Senators to override Truman's veto by a vote of 68 to 25, getting 48 of 51 Republicans and 22 of 46 Democrats in the Senate to vote for the override. The Taft-Hartley Act has now survived all attempts to repeal it for 65 years, and has set the terms and conditions of labor-management relations since 1947. It largely stopped the growth of labor unions; they never organized a significantly larger share of the civilian labor force than they had in 1947, while unionization had been growing rapidly before that date. When Taft-Hartley was enacted in 1947, the share of the labor that was unionized had reached 26%; today it has fallen to 13% overall, and to only 7% of the private sector labor force. So America's flexible labor market of today owes much to the work of Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who served from his election in 1938 to his untimely death from cancer in 1953, just seven months after he became Majority Leader of the Senate.

  3. I’d actually say George McGovern, who’s classical liberalism eventually brought him closer to the GOP’s libertarian wing than the liberal wing of today’s Democratic party. McGovern was always liberal in the classical sense -- he was primarily interested in advancing personal freedom. Of course, war is the most extreme manifestation of government power over the individual, and so it’s no coincidence that he will be most remembered for opposing an unnecessary war.

    After McGovern left politics, he came to believe that some of his former economic ideas were actually contrary to his core commitment to personal liberty. So he changed them. Principle, guided by honesty and intelligence -- whether you agree or disagree with his politics, you have to admire that.

    1. Couves, I couldn't have said it better myself. McGovern didn't just oppose the war, he also argued for big cuts to the military-industrial complex; cuts that were surely rational but nevertheless make us giggle (just before our hand-wringing over the deficit).

      Throw in McGovern's unconventional road to the '72 convention, and the last great "non-machine" politician may have just passed. He paid the price, both in '72 and in history. Sometimes, when the poli sci pros are deeply analyzing the machinations of The Machine, its like so much rubbing of the feet of the Emperor Palpatine: probably good for business, a bit unsavory to think about.

      Also, McGovern was that rarest of politicians who, in his personal life, evoked not a shred of schadenfreude but was a bona fide role model.

      One other: now that he's gone, the era of 'war hero/principled war opponent' may be largely going with him. Since most of us are insulated from the cost of war, the lack of war opponents may make it hard, going forward, to appreciate the sentiment in Pink Floyd's When the Tigers Broke Free. "And the generals gave thanks/as the other ranks/held back the enemy tanks/for awhile".

      RIP, George McGovern.

  4. David Lawrence, founder of US News & World Report


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