Contrary to conventional belief, George Santos is not the greatest fraud in American politics. Nor is it the Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is not Native American. Senator Richard “Stolen Valor” Blumenthal is not the culprit either.
It is not even President Joe Biden, whose history of fabrications is so extensive that Johnny Carson made a jest about it.
16 of the 27 “Republican” members of Congress who voted for the obscene $1.66 trillion omnibus spending measure last December are still “serving,” making them the greatest frauds in American politics.
In striking contrast to their example is the memory of Senator Robert A. Taft, who passed away on July 31, 1948, 70 years ago.
Taft’s fate appeared to be predetermined, as he was one of the few exceptional American statesmen whose grandeur was recognized contemporaneously. Taft was the son of the only individual to hold the offices of U.S. president and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He graduated from high school, college (Yale), and law school (Harvard) as the class valedictorian in each.
Taft scaled the legislative hierarchy, leaving no branch of government untouched by his family. In the Ohio legislature, he led efforts to modify the state’s antiquated tax code, opposed prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan, and rose to the position of lower house speaker before being elected to the state senate.
But it was as a United States senator that Taft became a legend.
Taft was immediately renowned for his intellect, parliamentary talent, and principled opposition to government intervention at home and abroad after his election in 1938.
Taft was impervious to interest groups and never violated a contract, particularly with his constituents. They consistently voted for him. Taft eschewed political deceit and steadfastly adhered to his principles, earning the respect of the global community.
Senate historian Allen Drury referred to Taft as one of the Senate’s “strongest and most capable men” and based the virtuous legislators in his 1959 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Advice and Consent” on Taft.
In 1950, liberal baseball owner Bill Veeck was urged to run against Taft after his team won the 1948 World Series. Veeck declined out of respect for the senator, praising him as “one guy who knew how to say no, a rare talent in politics.”
And John F. Kennedy, who briefly served with Taft on the Senate Labor Committee, included him as the final senator profiled in his 1956 Pulitzer Prize-winning history “Profiles in Courage”
Kennedy highlighted Taft’s principled opposition to the Nuremberg proceedings as an ex post facto act of vengeance by the victors. Taft’s position garnered no votes and may have cost him the 1948 Republican nomination for president, but such was Taft’s unwavering integrity. Likewise, his opposition to the internment of Japanese-Americans earned him little praise.
However, seven decades after his demise, Taft’s legacy is still significant.
Utilizing the few years of Republican control of the Senate during his presidency, Taft skillfully garnered such bipartisan support for his crowning legislative achievement that Congress overrode President Harry Truman’s veto. The Taft-Hartley Act remains the fundamental federal labor law today. A key provision enables states to adopt the “right to work” statutes that are in effect in the majority of states, including labor union strongholds such as West Virginia and Michigan until this year.
But nowhere has Taftian thought been more relevant than in post-Cold War American foreign policy, where it has been severely neglected.
Taft opposed American membership in the United Nations and NATO, and he advised against American involvement in land conflicts in Asia and Europe. If the justifications for Taft’s foreign policy positions were not apparent at the time, they are now.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was a purported admirer of Taft, going so far as to occupy Taft’s Capitol Hill offices and trade workstations with Sen. Al Franken on the Senate floor so he could have Taft’s desk. Unfortunately, no further similarities exist.
Not only did Portman vote for the omnibus bill on his way out the door, but voters were unable to keep track of his shifting stances. During his time in Congress, Portman supported a federal definition of marriage, then argued that marriage should be defined by the states, and then reaffirmed his support for a federal definition of marriage, albeit with a different definition.
It is fair to presume that there will be no monuments to Portman on Capitol Hill, similar to the monument and carillon honoring Taft.
A Senate committee deemed Taft one of the five finest senators in history shortly after his passing. Seventy years later, this evaluation still holds true.