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Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft Hardcover – 1972
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The book focuses on the life and political career of Robert A Taft (1889-1953) of Ohio, one of the most powerful - and unluckiest - men ever to sit in the US Senate. In the late 1950's a Senate committee named Taft as one of the five greatest Senators in history.
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Taft found himself again defeated in 1948 when Dewey took the presidential race and ultimately lost to Truman. At the end of the race Dewey's power in the party was sapped and Taft became the clear candidate for the next leg of the race. Taft himself became boiled down in trying to restrain but not divide the party over McCarthy's trials. When 1952 rolled around Taft polled well against Eisenhower but at the end was unable to overtake the general's popularity. While a VP slot was considered Eisenhower wanted someone younger and Taft came in as majority leader in the Senate. Using his influence there he was able to deliver several bills for Eisenhower and try to uphold his unpopular Taft-Hartley act.
This biography does an excellent job of explaining these events and putting them into the context of political history at the time. Robert Taft was one of the more powerful republicans of his day and did an excellent job of upholding party unity in the face of splintering opinions. For those looking for a different perspective on the World War II and early cold War era this cannot be beat. Patterson is in the top of his field and this book delivers as his always do. I highly recommend it for those interested in modern American history.
James T. Patterson approached the Taft family in 1968 and became the first biographer to receive full access to the late Senator's archives. This 1972 biography thus enjoys preeminence among the several works about the Ohio Senator. Patterson's intent was a readable biography; he admits in his preface that the sheer amount of documentation [1400 boxes] and the closeness in time to the subject's life [then less than twenty years] made a definitive treatment impossible. All the same, Patterson does not shy away from a treatment of Taft's character and motivations, his place in the American political spectrum, or the painful details of his various presidential campaigns.
The fact that no major treatment of Taft's life has appeared in the three decades since this work is an indicator of several things. First, Patterson did in fact achieve a reasonably thorough presentation of the Taft persona. And secondly, Taft's predictability and innate conservatism as portrayed by Patterson have led historians to suspect that there would be few surprises in those 1400 cartons. Patterson is kind to his subject and admires him to a point, but he is compelled to present him as essentially colorless, efficient, predictable, self-assured, opinionated, and inflexible. These are wonderful qualities for a tax lawyer or a Midwestern state legislator, and indeed Taft was both of these over his career. It is fair to say that as Taft's ambition grew, his personality became more of a liability. Patterson does not run from this hard truth.
Taft inherited much of his personal philosophy from his father, but the mentor who seems to have energized him toward public service was Herbert Hoover. Young Bob Taft served under Hoover during the latter's extraordinary tenure as emergency relief coordinator in Europe at the close of World War I. His tutelage under Hoover impressed Taft in several ways: he returned home convinced of the importance of American agriculture, the potency of effective business management, and the necessity of disengaging from European politics. He was thus a poster boy for Ohio political life, and Republican bosses such as Cincinnati's Rudolph Hynicka did not object to this suburban Brahmin making his way to Columbus and the state legislature. Ohio-already in the throes of depression in the 1920's--featured bitter political battles between big city and agricultural interests over matters of modernization, public relief, taxation and debt reduction. Taft survived not on charisma but on competence. He literally wore down opponents with floods of statistics until they cried uncle.
As a politician seeking higher office, Taft had few "laughers" along the way, particularly in his U.S. Senate campaigns. Only his 1950 election was won comfortably. Part of the difficulty was the deep electoral split between city and country in Ohio. Another problem was Franklin Roosevelt who, as Patterson observed, caused nearly all Republicans to run on a platform of "the TVA is a wonderful thing and we'll see that it never happens again." Taft himself was an energetic albeit wooden campaigner who, like Dewey, probably lost votes on the stump with an awkwardness that was more offensive than loveable. Patterson himself was mystified at the mediocrity of the men who managed Taft's campaigns. While Eisenhower enjoyed the counsels of Herbert Brownell and Sherman Adams, Taft entrusted campaign responsibility to political hacks with whom he felt comfortable. In the final analysis, Taft depended primarily upon his own judgment in the planning of election strategy, and as often as not he was wrong. Nor did he appear to learn much from successive primary failures.
As a U.S. Senator Taft established himself as the opposition leader against New Deal philosophy. While his Senate record is impressive-he was co-sponsor of the controversial Taft-Hartley labor legislation, for example-he never quite understood that the anti-Roosevelt vote, as passionate as it was, would not translate into enough party delegate strength to carry a nomination. His opposition within the party was pragmatic as much as doctrinal. Willkie, Dewey, and Eisenhower were nominated, in the final analysis, because they were more attractive candidates. For the consummate party loyalist Taft, this pragmatism was hard to swallow. He blamed East Coast Republicans [read Dewey], internationalists, and the newspapers for promulgating the idea that he was unelectable. The nomination of Eisenhower in particular enraged him and his followers, though even Patterson admits that Taft would probably have failed as a national candidate.
Patterson does not shortchange Taft's personal life, though even here one senses a bit of impoverishment. Taft was neither religious nor philanthropic. He was happily married to Martha Bowers until a stroke dramatically altered her personality, leaving her cantankerous and enfeebled. Interestingly, Taft invited the divorcee Darrah Wunder, a veteran party worker, into his home, ostensibly to care for his wife. Mrs. Wunder soon replaced Martha as Taft's only real political confidante and she created for him an oasis of comfort and support during his last crushing defeat at the 1952 Republican Presidential Convention. Always an isolationist at heart, Taft distrusted President Eisenhower's foreign policy as Senate Majority Leader. Perhaps mercifully, Taft's 1953 death to cancer saved him from eventual exile to the fringes of his beloved party.