• U.S.

THE CONGRESS: The Age of Taft

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The day began at seven. Senator Robert Alphonso Taft got up and faced the day. At breakfast he ate one egg, as usual. Then he picked up his large briefcase, climbed into his car and drove through Georgetown, over Rock Creek, through the nasty, wet snow to his office in the Senate building.

First things came first: he dictated letters. Then he was ready for the callers. That morning they were: a committee from a dental association, the president of a college, the representatives of a radio station, a delegation from an Ohio rural electrification cooperative and a newspaper man to talk about foreign policy. At noon, a luncheon. At 2 p.m., a meeting of the Senate Republican policy committee. At 4 p.m., he was available again to visitors. By now he looked a little austere. But his looks belied him. “Bob is not austere,” his wife once explained. “He’s just departmentalized.”

At 7 p.m. he packed his briefcase again. In went: the draft of an article he had promised to write for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a report on RFC consolidation, a report by the monetary committee of the International Chamber of Commerce, an article on the Niirnberg trials, the Economic Report of the President. In a corner of his office he noticed one of the brooms which Ohio’s Congressman George Bender, for a gag, had distributed to his G.O.P. colleagues when the new-broom Republican Congress had convened. Senator Taft, recalling the nasty morning, took it along. His car would be covered with snow.

Hat on dead center, coattails flapping, briefcase in one hand, broom in the other, he marched down the corridor, heading for home, with the firm tread of a man who has thought of everything.

The Boss. It had been, altogether, a triumphant new year for Bob Taft. He had shouldered his way into the key senatorial jobs he wanted: chairman of the policy (steering) committee; chairman of the Labor and Public Welfare Committee; and senior member of the

Finance Committee under Colorado’s Eugene Millikin, his able right hand. No other Senator had so many major jobs. No other Senator had his capacity for work, either, or his efficiency.

Not all G.O.P. Senators had happily acquiesced in his leadership. Some of them had fought him, some had even resented the praise he had received. One boiling colleague heated up an old wheeze: “I don’t mind one man calling the signals, taking the ball, throwing the forward pass, running around and catching it, making the touchdown and then marking up the score. But I’m goddamed if I like it when he rushes over after that and leads the cheers.”

Nevertheless, last week Bob Taft could view with satisfaction the job he had done. With Michigan’s Arthur Vandenberg, he was in command of all the legislation likely to come out of the first six months of the 80th Senate. It would be Vandenberg on foreign affairs; Taft on domestic matters.

And the dominant figure, most of the time, will be Taft—working overtime in his quiet office, slouching in his seat on the Senate floor, jumping to his feet to argue in his flat voice, grinning like a Cheshire cat even when he is wrathful, disgorging facts, facts and more facts from his fat briefcase.

Taft of Ohio is the biggest political figure in Washington, boss of probably the most efficiently organized G.O.P. Senate the nation has ever seen. It had disposed of Mississippi’s Theodore G. Bilbo in the opening days (TIME, Jan. 13). Before the 80th opened, all Senate committee assignments had been made—largely by Taft.

The Program. That done, Taft was now concerned with the order of his legislative program. It did have order, which in itself was unique in a U.S. Senate. Taft’s policy committee had laid out a careful agenda.

First: clear away “the rubble of the war and the New Deal”—which meant straightening out finances, putting government on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Second: Labor.

Other legislation would follow in this order: reduction of Government expenses and income tax; then important odds & ends like limiting the President to two terms and knocking off the poll tax; and last, unification of the services.

Last week three labor measures were formally announced. One, a revision of the Case bill vetoed by the President * Bob, Mother, Helen, Father, Charles. last year, would set up a mediation board, make 60-day “cooling-off” periods mandatory, outlaw secondary boycotts and jurisdictional strikes.

Two other measures, on which Taft has not formally committed himself, were drafted by Minnesota’s Joe Ball. One would outlaw the closed shop. The other would outlaw industry-wide bargaining. A fourth, which Ball was working on, would revise the Wagner Act. Ball was a stalking horse. The strategy was to write one bill, which Taft’s Labor Committee would try to report out by March i.

The Objectives. Taft has two main objectives. He means to restore Congress’ prestige and authority. He means to get himself elected President of the U.S. in 1948. The suggestion that there are 50 other candidates for the Republican nomination sitting with him in the Senate does not discourage him. He does not advertise his ambition, but neither does he deny it. By every sign he considers himself the best man for the job.

The fact that some people laugh out loud at the thought of President Robert Taft is due, to a large degree, to Bob Taft himself. Heretofore, the nation has had only dim and somewhat prejudiced glimpses of him. In the days before Pearl Harbor he was an unpopular isolationist. He has certain rough edges, a twangy voice, and is impatient of nonsense. He is.no orator. Generally he is regarded as a cold fish, a reactionary, an enemy of Henry Wallace’s Common Man.

Actually he is an amiable, approachable man with a dry, friendly wit, who likes to talk and mix whiskey with his soda. He is not a cold fish; nor is he filled with feverish excitement. His temperature is normal. He is a self-disciplined man who is very sure of himself.

He is by all odds the best-informed man in the Senate. His easy digestion of facts sometimes annoys colleagues whose mental digestion is not so good.

The Businessman. Taft’s staff work is a model for other Senators. His suite of offices in the Senate building runs with the hushed power of a dynamo. In his own high-ceilinged chamber, surrounded by pictures of his father, the President, son Bob bores away at his reports, listens to his callers (sometimes, as he listens, paring his nails with a pair of shears) and dictates his orders and his dry, logical thoughts.

From 600 to 700 letters are in his mail every day. He answers the most important. His secretary, Jack Martin, ex-assistant public prosecutor of Cincinnati, answers some 50 a day. The rest are answered by form letters which frankly state, “I hope you will excuse the use of this form letter.”

He has seven stenographers, a research man, a legal clerk and (on his personal payroll) a publicity man—Bill McAdams, onetime sports editor of the Philadelphia Record. McAdams has taken upon himself the task of “humanizing” Taft. Last week, on a trip to Manhattan to make a speech, Taft turned up at Toots Shor’s, hangout of gossip columnists, radio men, ball players and boxers. New York columns dutifully reported his presence.

Actually Taft is an easily recognizable American. At 57 he is the father of four sons (all of whom served in the war) and grandfather of four girls and two boys. Four-year-old Maria and 15-months-old William Howard Taft III were visiting him this week (see cut). He is a low-church Episcopalian and one of the respectable heirs of the respectable age of the first William Howard Taft—an age of confidence and optimism about the future.

The Heritage. He was born in a Victorian house in 1889, in Cincinnati, where his amiable father pushed him around in a baby carriage. His grandfather, Alphonso, the pioneer who had transplanted the Taft family from Vermont, had been Secretary of War under Grant, Attorney General of the U.S., Minister to Austria and to Russia.

Young Bob grew up in a day of anxious ferment. His father mourned: “The day of the demagogue, the liar and the silly is on.” It was the day of Havelock Ellis, impressionist painting, Debussy, Eugene Debs, William Jennings Bryan and Freud. But it was doubtful if any of this ferment touched son Bob. He became a young and slightly obnoxious whiz at chess, spent a lot of time across the street at Engine Co. No. 10, and loved his oatmeal. He went to Uncle Horace’s Taft School, then to Yale and Harvard Law School. At the White House, where his father was giving the nation an innocent, cautious administration, Bob met bouncing Martha Bowers, daughter of his father’s Solicitor General. He married her and returned to Cincinnati—there, in his father’s solemn words, “to work out his life.”

Prosperity came easily in Cincinnati to young Lawyer Taft. He reorganized the abysmal financial set-up of the Cincinnati Street Railway, largely owned by Uncle Charles. Poor eyesight kept him out of World War I; instead he served on Hoover’s Food Administration, returned home to form a law partnership with his younger brother Charles.

Charles threw himself into a reform movement which overturned the city’s ancient and corrupt political machine. Robert, after a gentleman’s administration of Cincinnati had been established, aligned himself with the regular G.O.P. He and Martha remodeled a rambling house on Indian Hill. He promoted the Cincinnati Symphony, founded by his mother, and planned and raised the funds to turn Uncle Charles’ mansion into a museum housing Rembrandts, Van Dycks and other paintings of a more settled pre-impressionist age.

Because he had become something of a tax expert and the city’s finances were in critical shape, the G.O.P. elected him to the state legislature, where he was able to win Cincinnati some financial aid. In 1938, though the party had picked another candidate, he ran for the Senate of the U.S. His wife lent him her hand. Breathlessly, she rushed around the state, bouncing into the wrong meetings, but confronting every situation with rumpled and exuberant aplomb. “Once they told me I could only talk on Abraham Lincoln. But when I got through you couldn’t tell where Lincoln left off and Bob Taft began.” Bob was elected and went to Washington.

Sociable Brother Charlie went one way, clung to his Republicanism but served in the New Deal, interested himself in philanthropies and social programs, recently became president of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America

(TIME, Dec. 16). Bob took a more orthodox political road.

In 1940, prematurely, Bob made his first bid for President. Martha watched her husband lose to Wendell Willkie. She remarked sadly to Pennsylvania Boss Joe Pew, “They say this is the first unbossed convention in the party’s history; I hope it’s the last.”

The 1948 convention will not be unbossed if Bob Taft can help it. He is a wiser man today. But he will not run unless he is pretty sure he can win.

The Philosopher. As the 80th Congress begins its critical two years, one thing is certain: the popular estimation of Robert Alphonso Taft is in for a change. In the days of Democratic power, his objections were termed obstruction. His political philosophy was termed reaction. But in other lights than the New Deal’s he is a man of unexpected hues.

He has great political courage; he is no respecter of sacred cows. In the middle of the campaign last fall, he attacked the legal and moral Tightness of the Nurnberg trials—to the deep embarrassment of his party. A speech which he delivered at the Yale Engineering Club last spring was characteristic of him. In that brief address he attacked:

¶ The Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters and the Federated Women’s Clubs for being “utterly intolerant of any point of view which criticizes the policies endorsed by their national officers.”

¶ Communism, the N.Y. Council of C.I.O., the first NLRB, OPA, socialized medicine, universal military training, ¶ The Fair Employment Practice Commission. (“Racial discrimination is a serious problem . . . but force is not the answer.”)

¶ The World State. (“If we lose our

national freedom how could we retain

our individual freedom?”)

He calls himself a “conservative liberal,” which means, he says thoughtfully, that “I believe in the greatest good for the greatest number.” One of his more conservative Republican colleagues cracked: “We actually have a hard time keeping him out of the lap of guys like Claude Pepper.” And John Bricker was heard to remark last summer: “I hear the Socialists have gotten to Taft.” These hyperboles indicate, at least, that if Taft wears the party harness, he goes his own gait.

In his philosophy there is a Wonderful Valley which is very much like the Wonderful Valley of the New Deal. There the people are clothed, fed, sheltered and educated. But where some philosophers advocate jumping off the cliff (as Taft sees it) and trusting to wax-fastened wings to float them down into the valley, Taft would use the paths. He wants the American people to reach the Wonderful Valley with their bones intact.

On his futures list for the 80th Congress are these propositions: ¶Legislation which will eliminate economic crises, but without socialistic controls which “deaden free enterprise.” ¶ A housing bill. He is co-author with Democrats Wagner and Ellender of a bill to provide $88 million in Federal funds for 500,000 units of low-rent public housing.

¶ An aid-to-education program. He is co-author with New Dealing Senator Lister Hill and Elbert Thomas of a bill to guarantee at least a $4O-per-annum expenditure per child in every state. (Some states now put out as little as $7.) ¶A voluntary health-insurance bill. He is dead set against compulsory insurance, which he considers socialized medicine.

His obvious interest in all the people, his careful preparation for every battle and his willingness to stick his neck out have finally won him the respect of some of his old enemies. Wrote the New RePublic’s Washington columnist, T.R.B.: “Tactless, humorless and almost incapable of dissimulation, Taft is, to our mind, also diligent and courageous. His willingness to assume responsibility is poles away from those former G.O.P. New Deal critics who were merely willing to attack.”

There is a story told of a party at the fashionable Sulgrave Club in Washington, which the well-to-do, unfashionable Tafts attended. Taft always drives his own car. He had driven it that night. As the Tafts were getting ready to go, the doorman hopefully shouted: “Senator Taft’s car.” The Senator laughed. “It’s a good car,” he said, “but it won’t come when it’s called.” Neither will the Republican Party, as Taft well knows. If he wants it to go his way, he will have to drive it.

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