Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard Taft, was the last prominent Republican who might be considered a classical liberal and conservative Republican. Another would not appear until Barry Goldwater in the mid-1960s, and no more to this day. For the 1952 presidential election, he was cast aside by the Republican Party to make way for Dwight Eisenhower, a career military man with no political ideals or experience.
Though a constant critic of Roosevelt’s assumption of powers not granted to the executive, it is difficult to understand how Taft could state that he was an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, who began in earnest the erosion of constitutional principles and whom FDR emulated.
America’s Slide Toward Totalism
“By the time Bob Taft was elected to Congress, the New Dealers’ admiration for the Soviet experiment had diminished markedly, yet there remained the possibility that the United States might slide, almost unwittingly, toward totalist politics.
The maintenance of ordered freedom being the root of Taft’s politics, he never ceased to warn the American public against the erosion of constitutional principles, and he never was deterred by ridicule.
“The trend of thought on forms of government throughout the entire world,” Taft insisted, “has been pushing all peoples consciously or unconsciously away from democracy to different forms of totalitarianism. In Europe, democratic ideals were crushed between the dynamic dogmas of Communism and Fascism.
In the United States, we often lose sight of the real nature of the principles on which freedom depends, in our desire to remake our world according to the popular method of the day – methods formulated for the most part by European socialists.”
The American people had perceived by 1938, he said, that this tendency was most perilous; but the coming of the war diverted public attention from such fundamental concerns. So in speech upon speech, during the Second World War, Taft prodded Americans into vigilance against the encroachment of collectivist ideas and measures at home. Some of the basic principles of American politics already had been damaged, he declared in 1941:
“We have seen during the past twelve years a steady increase in government regulation of business and of the individual, and we have seen, through courts which are hardly independent of the executive, a constant tendency to increase the powers of the federal government over the States, and the powers of the Executive over the individual.”
He saw his prediction[s] fulfilled:
“In our efforts to protect the freedom of this country against aggression from without, we are in a situation today where we must constantly be on guard against the suppression of freedom in the United States itself . . . Unfortunately the [Roosevelt] administration, more than any other in the history of the country, is utterly unscrupulous in its demand for more power . . .”
(The Political Principles of Robert Taft, Russell Kirk and James McClellan, Fleet Press Corporation, 1967, excerpts pp. 62-64)