Monday, June 19, 2017

Robert A. Taft: The Senator who saved capitalism

Senator Robert A. Taft was the son of former President William Howard Taft. He was elected to the Senate in the 1938 Republican landslide lead by Republican efforts to stop the expansion of FDR's New Deal. A bill he would later write is often credited as saving capitalism in the United States.

He was a conservative, and actually went as far to speak the truth about the New Deal, referring to it as, "Socialistic." He was the leader of the "Conservative Coalition" that controlled Congress from 1939 to the 1960s.

Most people may not realize this, but Thomas Dewey was a liberal republican. For lack of a better way of describing it, he was the republican version of John McCain in the 1940s and 50s. Taft ran against him for the republican nomination in 1948, although he lost. Taft ran again in 1952, but lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, to gain Taft's support, Eisenhower promised to curve back spending and to continue the fight against socialism.

After the death of FDR, he effectively became known as the arch nemesis of Harry S. Truman. It was often said that nothing made it through Congress without his stamp of approval, so this type of power would thwart much of Truman's domestic agenda. He ultimately worked to prevent Truman from advancing his liberal agenda, and that was a very good thing.

Among his best achievements was writing and getting passed through Congress what became known as the Taft-Hartley in 1947.

At the end of WWII, labor unions controlled about 25% of the work force. They had a lot of power. They promised not to strike during the war as not to disrupt the war effort. However, after the war they wanted higher wages.

But, President Truman, decided to continue on with FDR's price controls in an effort to ease the transition from a war time to a peace time economy. In August of 1945, in an effort to ease the transformation from a war time to a peace time economy, Truman decided to continue on with FDR's price controls.

This gained the ire of producers, who refused to sell products at artificially low prices. It gained the ire of labor unions, who wanted wage hikes. Since producers could not afford wage hikes, labor unions were unhappy. This lead to a series of strikes in the steel, coal, auto, and railroad industries. They involved over 800,000 workers, the largest in American history.

Consumers were opposed to the strikes. So to were Conservatives, who wanted to conserve capitalism in America. So, this is what inspired Taft to work with republican Representative Fred A. Hartley Jr. to work the Taft-Hartley Act through Congress. They succeeded.

But, Truman called it the "Slate Labor Act," just prior to vetoing the bill.

Fortunately, Congress succeeded at overriding Truman's veto.

This was a huge achievement for capitalism. The bill significantly limited the influence of labor unions in politics, and thereby conserved capitalism in the United States. Democrats to this day hate this Act, and have made various failed efforts to overturn it.

He was taciturn, and a relatively poor speaker. He was also an isolationists, and even opposed entry into WWII. He also opposed the draft and NATO. During his years as a Senator, he was often referred to as "Mr. Republican."

In 1953, he was selected as the Senate Majority leader. However, shortly afterwords he succumbed to cancer. He was honored in 1949 as one of the "most significant" Senators of all time.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Harry S. Truman: The Fair Deal, or the Liberal Deal

Initially, after becoming President, Truman followed the FDR domestic agenda. His goals were to lead the U.S. to victory in WWI, and then to lead the nation from a depression-time and war-time to a peace-time economy. He ultimately would set his own agenda by creating what would become "The New Deal." 

In order to get through the depression, and to win the war, FDR used his executive mite, and his New Deal Policies, to create a large central government. You had rations on what people could purchase, and you had the government ordering the transformation of factories to the production of goods and services to the production of war goods. 

So, the government had a scary amount of power over the American people. It was almost totalitarian-like, socialistic-like, fascist-like powers. Okay, it was not good. Truman's role was to transform America away from this type of a system and back to a system that put consumers back in power. He would transform America away from a government run economy to a consumer-run economy. 

So, he decided he needed to sway from the New Deal agenda Or, actually, to build upon the new deal. He decided he had a mandate, and decided to be aggressive with his new agenda. He therefore, in January, 1949, during his State of the Union Speech,  presented 21 points to Congress. It would become known as the Fair Deal.  It essentially involved 21 points, including:
  • An Expansion of Social Security. Passed in 1950. 
  • Full Employment Program. It passed as the Employment Act of 1946, but it failed to gain any traction and was a failed program. 
  • Permanent Fair Employment Practices Act.  He failed. 
  • Public Housing and Slum Clearance. Passed in 1949. 
  • New Public Works Programs.  He failed. 
  • A Higher Minimum Wage.   Passed through Congress. 
  • Extension of the Fair Employment Practices Committee. A wartime committee that worked to prevent against discrimination of African Americans in government and military. He failed to extend it. 
  • National Health Insurance System. He failed. 
  • Liberal immigration policies. He failed
  • Repeal of Taft-Hartley. He failed. 
  • Brannon Plan. Meant to help provide income support for family farmers. Failed. 
As you can see, the Fair Deal was pretty much a failure. Truman didn't have the mandate he thought he did.
This was mainly due to pressure from conservative democrats in the south (who would 35 years later become Reagan democrats), and republicans in the north, did not want any more liberalism. They did not want any more power to be given to the government. They had had enough. 

This is similar to what happened in the election of 1920, where Americans had simply had enough of rules and laws and taxes They wanted smaller government, less government, less regulations, and a simpler approach to government. They wanted more power to the people. They wanted a return of liberties. They wanted a return to a capitalistic economic system.

In 1949, they economy took a step back, and unemployment rose while inflation rose as well. This made people think the post war economic boom had ended. Truman set high post-war taxes, which remained around 90%. This was in an effort to balance the federal budget. This, as economics 101 teaches, does not bode well for a good economy.

He did, however, attempt to limit spending, with any surplus going to pay off the national debt. After several months of worsening economic numbers to begin the year, he gave up on his efforts to balance the budges and allowed for some tax cuts to go through.

This set the stage for Eisenhower to become President in 1952. Although, that was two years away. In the meantime, Truman got the United States involved in another war. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Harry S. Truman: Squeaking past Dewey

The Chicago Tribune was a notoriously republican newspaper.
It's writers had previously referred to Truman as a "nincapoop.
Printers had been on strike protesting the Taft-Hartley Act.
And a new printing method made it so the paper had to
go to print seven hours before publication.
A combination of these factors lead to the error,
of which Truman touted during a train ride
back to Washington on November 3, 1948. 
After WWII was finally over, Truman had the goal of transforming the U.S. economy from a wartime economy to a post wartime economy. He also had to work with different factions of his own party to keep together the democratic dynasty that FDR had built. This would prove very difficult for Truman.

Republicans in the north and Southern Democrats would post problems for the liberal President. However, labor and unions, two factions that traditionally sided with democrats, gave Truman even more trouble than republicans and conservatives.

The war was expensive, so Truman wanted to cut back on military spending as soon as possible. Of course, a problem here was that the country had just gotten over a depression (or so the media would have us believe. Conservative historians speculate that the depression never really ended until the post-war boom. Based on the evidence I've seen, this is what I tend to believe). So, there was hesitation regarding anything that might impact the economy.

There was no consensus what to do with the American economy. Further complicating matters was thatTruman would have to deal with conservative democrats in the south and republicans in the north.

After the war, there was a housing shortage, labor conflicts, and inflation. Inflation in one month had hit a whopping 6 percent.

Truman's efforts to convert from a war-time to peace-time system were also slow, and resulted in many of the products consumers yearned to start purchasing again, things they had sacrificed during war-time, were slow to get on the shelves. Some products, such as meat, were so costly in 1946 (inflation) that they weren't even worth buying. So, this earned the ire of consumers.

So, this made consumers unhappy, and it also made labor and unions unhappy. This lead to price controls. Complicating matters is that labor wanted wage increases.

In August of 1945, Truman said he decided he would continue price controls. But, labor still sought wage increases. This prompted a series of strikes to occur in the steel, coal, auto, and railroad industries. These strikes involved over 800,000 workers, the largest in American history. Truman's stark efforts to end these strikes earned the ire of unions and the labor industry. I will get to this in a moment.

Add to this that consumers were opposed to the strikes, producers were unhappy with price controls, and producers were unwilling to sell their products at artificially low prices. Farmers, for instance, refused to sell grain for several months in 1945-46 until they were able to get paid better for their product. This was despite the fact that consumers really needed the grain that was being withheld.

To end the railroad strikes, Truman took them over. Despite this, two railroad unions went on strike anyway. This shut down the entire railroad industry. Consumers were really upset by this. Over 175,000 passengers stood without transportation.

What did Truman do? He wrote a letter to Congress calling for them to call on veterans to form a lynch mob to destroy union leaders.

Um, not good.

Even his own staff was stunned by this and tried to tone it down. But the damage was done.

To make matters worse, democrats in the Congress actually wrote a bill in response to this. However, and thankfully, it was killed in the Senate by Truman's arch nemesis (a man I plan on studying and writing about in the  near future) Robert Taft.

The striking did subside quite a bit, although some continued until the end of his presidency. Truman's popularity plummeted from 82% to 52%, and the democrats lost Control of Congress during the 1946 mid-term elections.  (Here we have the first time election of republican Congressmen Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon).

Before the election, his popularity had plummeted to a pitiful 32%. There were actually calls from one fellow democrat (William Fulbright) for him to resign. These calls, of course, were rejected by Truman.

Okay, so not only did he have southern democrats and republicans opposed to him, he also had traditional democratic factions such as labor and unions opposed to him. 

So, for this and other reasons, it was expected that Truman would lose the election of 1948. Republicans thought he would lose, and so too did Democrats. Nearly every poll had New York Governor Thomas Dewey defeating the incumbent President.

In fact, it was this belief that lead to the Chicago Tribune accidentally publishing the famous headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman." (see photo)

However, on election night, it was learned that Truman won 28 of 48 states, and won 303 out of 531 electoral votes.

How did he win? Well, according to what I have read, he kind of used the above failures to his advantage. As noted, during the mid-term elections, Republicans took control of Congress. In his State of the Union address in January of 1947, he said a resolution needed to happen regarding labor unrest and strikes. He offered no solutions, and left that to Congress.

Congress passed the Taft-Hartley bill, which limited union intervention in politics and thereby limited their power. Truman vetoed it, and Congress overrode this veto. (This bill was good, by the way. By his veto, along with some of the stupid, socialistic things mentioned above, Truman moves down our ranking of great presidents. Sorry, but sometimes when you read history you learn the truth about people not taught in schools). People should not have to join unions, especially when they support politics that the people do not support).

They also approved "right to work laws" which made it so labor workers did not have to sign up for unions. This made labor and unions mad at republicans.

There was still inflation in 1947 and 8, although not as much as in 1946. Truman called for a return to price controls and rationing, knowing Congress would disapprove of this. They did reject the idea. However, they did pass a price control and rationing bill, although it was vetoed by the president because he believed it was not enough.

So, once again, even though Truman was guilty of causing the problem, republicans in Congress were to blame.  To make matters worse, of the republican bill regarding price controls and rationing, Truman's arch opponent, Senator Robert Taft, said, Americans should "eat less mean, and eat less extravagantly."

In a speech, Truman purposefully misquoted him, saying, "Eat less." So, in this way (which is typical of liberals to misinterpret and misquote for their own political gains) Truman managed to make Taft look like the guilty party here, when it was him. Truman made it look like inflation was the fault of Taft and republicans.

He rejected republican tax cut bill (it was a good bill). He rejected republicans tariff bill to raise tariffs on wool (it as also a bad bill). Truman said the tariff bill was "isolationist."

So, with republicans taking some of the blame for the problems in the nation -- well, it still didn't look good for Truman's prospects in 1948.

He was still the underdog going into election day. Republicans and Democrats alike thought he would lose. John Dewey was even, at one point, declared the winner.

However, Dewey was a very liberal republican, and Truman used the Power of the Pulpit to go on a last minute jaunt across the country. He took a train tour across the country. It was called a "Whistle Stop tour."
and came out a winner. His victory is still used to this day as inspiration for underdogs. 

References and further reading: