Where is MR. REPUBLICAN when we need him?

“I remember the day he died,” I told my students recently, speaking of Robert A. Taft.

It’s too late, of course to listen to Robert A. Taft, Republican Senator from Ohio, 1939-1953. And some would argue that his anti-union, anti-big government, anti-New Deal politics are not appropriate for today (although the Tea-Baggers and Mitch McConnell would say they are).

Imacon Color ScannerBut I wish he had been around to give George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld a piece of his mind in 2002, and I wish Barak Obama would read a few of his speeches now.

No one has ever suggested before that a single nation should range over the world, like a knight-errant, protecting democracy and ideals of good faith, and tilting, like Don Quixote, against the windmills of Fascism [read “terrorism”](1).

Senator Taft had good reason to be wary of this Knight-Errant. Even his understanding of the world sounds eerily modern.

But now it is suggested that the whole world is different. It is said that distances are so short we cannot possibly avoid being involved in a general war. I don’t believe it. I think if we are sufficiently determined not be become involved, we can stay out. We learned our lesson in 1917. We learned that modern war defeats its own purposes. A war to preserve democracy resulted in the destruction of more democracies that it preserved (2).

And he had a clear understanding of the effects of war on democracy.

Not only that, a war whether to preserve democracy or otherwise would almost certainly destroy democracy in the United States. We have moved far towards totalitarian government already. The additional powers sought by the President in case of war, the nationalization of all industry and all capital and all labor, already propose in bill before the Congress, would create a socialist dictatorship which it would be impossible to dissolve when the war ended (3).

I think Mr. Republican, as Taft was known, would have been equally distressed to discover the “[move] far towards totalitarian government [that has] already” taken place today; that is, the move toward a government that is but a shadow government beholden to the incredible domination of every aspect of all of our lives by corporations responsible to no one but the power of making money. We live in a totalitarian state controlled not by politicians, but by the ridiculously anti-human abstraction global capitalism. Mr. Republican would be aghast at the non-democratic state into which we have allowed ourselves to fall in order to “preserve democracy.”
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(1), (2), (3) Taft, Robert A. “Let Us Stay Out Of War.” Vital Speeches of the Day 5.8 (1939): 254.

Who remembers Senator Taft?

The Las Vegas I knew

The Baptist Las Vegas I knew

After my posting here two days ago about George Frederick Handel and Stuart Hamblen, my sister remarked, “You remember too much.”

That’s a fine way to speak to your brother! Someone else reminded me yesterday that I saw Jersey Boys (the musical) last year. I vaguely remember seeing it, but I can’t remember the plot. The songs include “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You.” Those I remember. But not from the show. I remember too much?

But I remember July 31, 1953.

I seem to be surrounded by people who remember details of stuff of which I barely remember the broadest outlines. Movies, plays, novels, operas, paintings in museums. I’m intimidated when someone I love quotes a line from a movie he saw twenty-five years ago.  And my sister says I remember too much!!

Las Vegas, Nevada, July 31, 1953.

Of course, there are good reasons for my memory lapses. I didn’t have that good a memory to begin with. And my psychiatrist says depression (and taking meds to fight it) generates memory loss. Seizures (and taking meds to fight them) cause memory loss. I once asked my neurologist if anyone had done a long-term study of the effects of Carbamezapine, and his reply was, “You’re it” (32 years). So I shouldn’t beat myself up over memory loss.

July 31, 1953. Our family was vacationing in Las Vegas. No, not at a casino. The pastor of the First Baptist Church there and my dad traded preaching duties for a couple of Sundays, and both families got a little bit of vacation – we lived in each other’s parsonages, so we could afford the trip. We got the much better end of that deal! Las Vegas v. Scottsbluff?

My students are in the nascent stages of the semester’s research project.  They will invent (inventio, the first step in Aristotle’s process of rhetoric) their topics from an array of speeches about events leading to Pearl Harbor and FDR’s “date that shall live in infamy” speech.  No papers on the Sino-Japanese War or the conspiracy theories  in regard to FDR’s foreknowledge of and failure to prevent Pearl Harbor. Only the speeches.

Robert A. Taft (September 8, 1889 – July 31, 1953)

Robert A. Taft
(September 8, 1889 – July 31, 1953)

I was giving them historical background today.  One of the speeches is an “isolationist” speech, a speech against American involvement in war across either the Atlantic or the Pacific. The speech is by Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, leader of the Senate Republicans in the days leading up to World War II. A student asked a question about Taft, and as I answered, out it slipped. “I remember the day he died.”

Omigod! It’s true. I do remember. Standing in the living room of the Baptist parsonage in Las Vegas. The news report of Taft’s death had come over the radio. And I asked my dad, “Does that mean if he had been elected President, the President would be dead?”

My parents had wanted Taft to be The Republican nominee in the 1952 election instead of Eisenhower. Of course, Eisenhower was preferable to Adlai Stevenson, but they had wanted Taft.

With sixty years of hindsight, my question seems pretty silly. Obviously, if he were President and he died, the President would be dead.

But it’s not quite that simple. An eight-year-old boy aware somehow for the first time (perhaps) of both death and presidential politics—together, in the same moment.

Of course I remember July 31, 1953. I can’t remember the name of the actress who played Reno Sweeney in the production of Anything Goes we saw last night. Fantastic!—her every song (literally) a show stopper. But I remember the day Senator Robert A. Taft died.

Post script:

About memory. A student from last semester stopped me on campus last week to thank me for the research work last semester. He had been to Hawaii during semester break, and he wanted me to know how much seeing Pearl Harbor meant to him—how much more it meant to him than to his friends. I guess memory gets played forward sometimes.
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