Two Democratic Presidents, Two Approaches to a Pivotal Mid-term
In 1934 the unemployment rate in the United States was 21.7%, just two percent lower than it had been when Franklin Roosevelt entered the White House two years earlier. The Great Depression had its claws deep into the American economy, Roosevelt’s big business and conservative opponents were on the march and the president’s Congressional allies were bracing for the mid-term elections.
Yet, amid persistent charges in 1934 that FDR was taking the country toward socialism, fascism or dictatorship and trampling on the Constitution at every turn, Democrats won a stunning victory in that year’s mid-term elections increasing their numbers in both the House and the Senate. The Senate gains were particularly impressive with Democratic numbers going from 59 to 69 seats.
Historical parallels only go so far, admittedly, but there are some striking similarities between 1934 and 2010. But it is clear now that one thing is very different. The election outcome next Tuesday will be a near historic spanking of the party in power with Democrats almost certain to lose control of the House of Representatives and find their numbers sharply reduced in the Senate. Heading into the final weekend of the campaign, it is not impossible that the GOP will take the Senate, as well.
So, the obvious question: Why was Franklin Roosevelt able to pull off his 1934 political miracle – only the second time in history a party in power in the White House increased its numbers during a mid-term – with an economy still deeply in the ditch, and why will Barack Obama spend next Wednesday trying to explain what went wrong, while welcoming new House Speaker John Boehner to the White House?
I’ll offer a simple theory to a complex question – Obama, unlike FDR, has let his opponents define him and his policies and thereby he managed to lose control of the narrative arc of his presidency. It has been said that one can go from hero to zero just like that in politics and Obama has.
There will be plenty of “what ifs” and “what might have beens” after next week, but in the simple language of communication – and this applies to a school board election or a mid-term – if you are constantly playing defense, as Obama and Democrats have been, you almost always lose.
Folks on the right who will be celebrating next week will be quick to point out that the election signals a repudiation of Obama and Democratic policies and, to some degree, they’ll be correct, but there is a deeper issue for the president and Democrats. They haven’t mounted anything approaching an effective defense of what they have done and are trying to do. You can trace this failure – the wisdom of the policies notwithstanding – back to the summer of 2009 when Congressional town hall meetings were overrun by opponents of the health care legislation and, looking back, Obama and his supporters couldn’t begin to explain how the massive bill really helps most Americans. Instead they played defense, ceding the political narrative to the media’s fascination with the Tea Party, and, I would argue, have never developed a consistent message. They also went for months acting as though passing legislation in the hothouse environment of Washington, D.C. was a substitute for a coherent explanation of what they were trying to accomplish.
Contrast this failure, the months rolling by with no focused message and a fatally late start to engage, with FDR’s robust defense, packaged in terms of American ideals, that he began to mount early in 1934:
“A few timid people,” FDR said then, “who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it Fascism, sometimes Communism, sometimes Regimentation, sometimes Socialism. But in doing so, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and practical.
“I believe in practical explanations and practical policies. …that what we are doing today is a necessary fulfillment…of old and tested American ideals.”
Obama has been frantically on the stump the last few weeks, but Roosevelt was out on the hustings as early as August of 1934. In one speech he rejected the arguments of the Liberty League – an earlier day Tea Party – that contended that the New Deal was harming big business. “Sound economic improvement comes from the improved conditions of the whole population and not a small fraction thereof,” Roosevelt said.
In contrast to Barack Obama’s early start in his sprint for the White House and his determined, disciplined campaign, his PR skills have come up wanting over the last many months. He engaged his detractors too late and then ineffectively and only after he had lost any chance to stay on the offensive.
FDR’s great biographer, James MacGregor Burns, wrote of Roosevelt’s performance in 1934: “At a time when Americans wanted a man of action in the White House, he provided action or at least the appearance of action. At a time when they wanted confidence, he talked bravely, reassuringly about the future, whatever the mistakes, we were Looking Forward we were On Our Way, the title of two books he put out in 1933 and 1934. At a time when Americans wanted good cheer, he filled the White House with laughter.”
Burns said Roosevelt’s secret in 1934 was his “hold on the people,” a grasp that Obama had fleetingly, but has lost and will now struggle to retrieve.
During FDR’s pivotal second year in office, Burns has written, FDR “maintained his popularity through timely action, unfailing cheerfulness in public and private, and a masterly grasp of public opinion.”
In short, while the Great Depression still roared and two in five Americans were out of work, Roosevelt inspired confidence. “Businessmen, labor chiefs, bankers, newspaper editors, farm leaders left the White House cheered, impressed, relieved,” in Burns’ words.
Roosevelt succeeded in 1934 by giving a broad cross section of the American public a sure sense that he was one of them, looking out for them and fundamentally a champion of their cause. Such a feeling of public connection with the president helped overcome both FDR’s many detractors and the horrible economic circumstances – circumstance, like Obama, that he inherited – during the 1934 mid-term elections.
As much as this mid-term will be cast as a referendum on Barack Obama’s policies, it is also a sure sign that he has lost the confidence, the trust if you will, of a significant number of Americans. Once lost, those are qualities hard for any leader to re-establish and that helps explain why 2010 is going to be so very different than 1934.
Two Democratic Presidents, Two Approaches to a Pivotal Mid-term
Commercials You Might Remember
Unlike the famous – or infamous – Daisy ad from the 1964 Lyndon Johnson – Barry Goldwater campaign, most political commercials today are cut from a predictable pattern. In the typical ad the opponent is rotten, the other guy is a genius. It is the rare commercial that breaks the mold and breaks through.
Political junkies know the story of the famous ad man Tony Schwartz who filmed the adorable little girl pulling the petals off a daisy with her innocent image ultimately fading into a nuclear blast and a mushroom cloud. The ad aired only once during a CBS Monday night movie in September 1964, but is generally credited with helping ensure Johnson’s landslide victory. The ad is famous enough that it was mentioned in the first paragraph of Schwartz’s obit when he died in 2008.
In my searching around, I’ve found nothing on par with the Daisy ad, but have identified a handful of ads worth remembering this year; mostly positive and one just a great example of raw, effective political propaganda.
The campaign of California’s comeback gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Brown, has actually produced two of the better ads of the season. This side-by-side mash up of soundbites from unpopular current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current GOP contender Meg Whitman is not only well done, but very effective. But, it is Brown’s closing ad reminding Californians what he had done as governor that likely seals the deal.
Republican Marco Rubio appears to be coasting to a Senate victory in Florida. His closing ad asking for the vote is one of the best I have ever seen. It’s long – two minutes – but the length allows him, in a very compelling way, to tell a story – his story. In the best tradition of some of the great Reagan ads, it is inspiring, aspirational and positive. Keep an eye on this guy.
Tom Barrett is the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin and the current mayor of Milwaukee. The polls indicate he is not likely to win, but his campaign gets points for a skillful and compelling spot featuring his wife as she talks about her husband getting attacked while trying to help a grandmother ward off an assault. The whole thing could have been awkward, even tacky, but it isn’t and like the Rubio spot tells the viewer a good deal about the candidate.
My final spot of note – the Chinese Professor ad – has already become an Internet sensation. Writing in The Atlantic, James Fallows says this spot will be the one we remember in 10 years. Could be. It has all the elements – a story, Chinese students in 2030 considering the demise of the United States economy; just enough truth to get you thinking and until the very end there is no hint that this is about policy and politics.
As Fallows says, as truth the ad is really good propaganda since the spot “has the Chinese (professor) saying that America collapsed because, in the midst of a recession, it relied on (a) government stimulus spending, (b) big changes in its health care systems, and (c) public intervention in major industries — all of which of course, have been crucial parts of China’s (successful) anti-recession policy.” Still, it wouldn’t be good propaganda were it not effective.
You know the Chinese Professor ad is effective because it has already spawned a parody that turns the original message on its head.
So few of the thousands of political ads are good enough to be memorable, its worth pausing to celebrate the handful that are. It is also worth noting that the really good ads, like this small collection, tell a compelling story and avoid talking down to the viewer. There is an element in each ad that says, in a way, we trust you to vote intelligently. A nice thought.
Dick Morris Surfaces in Idaho
Am I the only one who remembers that Dick Morris, the sputtering, chubby “political analyst” that seems to be the all-purpose pundit on any Fox News shows, is the same Dick Morris that once helped engineer Bill Clinton’s political comeback and is now running demonstrably false TV ads against a Democrat in an Idaho congressional race?
Oh yea, and there was that business with the call girl that caused him to have to resign from Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and the unpaid tax bills that ABC News has reported on.
Just for the benefit of the historical record, Morris was on consecutive covers of Time magazine in 1996. Once for being the brilliant Rasputin who captured Clinton’s ear and created the so called triangulation strategy that allowed the President to claw back from the disastrous 1994 mid-term election. The second time – the headline was Skunk at the Family Picnic – was the story about a prostitute who allegedly listened in to Morris’ phone calls to Clinton. Morris resigned and one would have thought, maybe, that was the end of that story.
It is a testament to the short attention span of American politics that a fellow like Dick Morris has any credibility at all, let alone a national TV platform and a political action committee that claims to have raised more than $3.5 million to support GOP House takeover efforts. (Morris says he thinks a 100 seat pick up is possible.)
By the way, no picture of Bill Clinton on the Morris website, but Ronald Reagan is featured prominently. Morris never worked for Reagan, but you get the idea.
The trajectory of Morris’ weird career – in addition to Clinton, he worked for Jesse Helms, Ed Koch, Trent Lott and a bunch of foreign candidates – proves a powerful point: if you are audacious enough, not bothered by any notion of consistency (or perhaps loyalty), can’t spell the word shame and are willing to soldier on in this media age you can survive almost anything. Americans love to give a second chance. Just ask Eliot Spitzer.
Who would have thought a year ago that the disgraced former New York governor, forced to resign thanks to his own prostitution scandal, would be back. But, he is back and on CNN in a prime time cable show.
Stay tuned. There is hope for Mark Sanford, his poll numbers are up, now that he’s off the hiking trail. Tom Delay got his shot on “Dancing with the Stars” while waiting for his corruption trial to begin. That former New York Democratic Congressman Eric Massa who resigned after members of his staff went public about his sexual advances, it is only a matter of time.
We could go on and on and on proving F. Scott Fitzgerald, no stranger to scandal himself, wrong. The author of The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise famously said there are “no second acts in American lives,” but Fitzgerald, who died in 1940, obviously didn’t know about modern communications in the cable and Internet age.
The Dick Morris’ and Eliot Spitzer’s of this world get a second act simply because they are outrageous, shameless and literally live for the limelight. That doesn’t mean we need – or should – pay any attention to anything they say.
The better question is why anyone would send Morris their money or turn their dial to Spitzer. Maybe it has to do with suckers being born with some frequency.
The Second Oldest Profession
Mark Alonzo Hanna was a Cleveland industrialist and U.S. Senator from Ohio at the turn of the 20th Century and, more importantly perhaps, he was William McKinley’s campaign manager in both of McKinley’s successful presidential elections. Hanna was also, in many respects, the father of the modern political campaign. He mastered the art of political fundraising, hitting up his friends in big business, and he built a national political organization that carried his friend McKinley to two big wins over William Jennings Bryan.
To the extent that Hanna is remembered today by anyone other than a political history junkie it may be for his most famous quote.
“There are two things that are important in politics,” Hanna said. “The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
Raising money for political campaigns – and, yes, I plead guilty to having done it – may be the second oldest profession and in the election of 2010 it may have become almost as unseemly as the oldest profession.
Generally speaking, over the last 50 years or more, political parties have declined in importance in American politics and individual candidate fundraising and the shaking of the money tree by so called “independent expenditure” groups has been on the rise. Campaigns have gotten more expensive with most members of Congress and the Senate spending hours a week on nothing more important than raising cash for, as they say, “the next cycle.”
The media reports on this race for money often at the expense of what the candidates have done or pledged to do. Money – lots and lots of money – is firmly at the center of the American political system. Nothing new about that. It has been that way since Mark Hanna’s day, but there is something new and fundamentally different happening wit all the money in this cycle. Huge amounts of money aimed to influence political races is being secretly raised and spent in vast and unaccountable ways.
President Obama, suggesting that some of the cash originates with foreign sources, has called the new developments “a threat to our democracy.”
It is difficult to track all this cash, but one recent estimate puts the total haul at more than a quarter billion – with a B – dollars in independent expenditures this year, or roughly four times as much as was spent in the last mid-term in 2006. More than $3.5 million was spent by outside groups on one day last week in the fiercely contested Colorado Senate race.
As Politico reported yesterday, secrecy, as in who is giving the money (and why) to influence the outcome of mid-term elections, is at the very heart of what has happened in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 5 to 4 ruling in the Citizen’s United case.
A group founded by, among others, former Bush Administration political guru Karl Rove, has received much of the attention surrounding the new secret money. That group, American Crossroads, started out saying it would disclose the source of its contributions, but when the money was slow to flow the direction changed and transparency ended. As Politico said, the group was against anonymous contributions before it was for them and when donors realized they didn’t need to disclose, the cash started flowing.
The Politico report goes on: “The success Crossroads has had in attracting anonymous donors highlights a broader trend on the right in which political activity has increasingly shifted to non-profit corporations that can conceal donors’ identities. Republican finance insiders…say it is easier to get major GOP donors to contribute when there’s no risk of having their identities disclosed and being subjected to either additional appeals for money from other groups, or to criticism from President Barack Obama and other Democrats.”
For his part, Rove, a student of history who knows all about Mark Hanna, has invoked the “they do it, too” defense. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Rove contended recently that some of Obama’s chief operatives have done the same kind of secret fundraising and spending in the past.
“Robert Gibbs (the White House press secretary), worked in 2004 for a group that ran ads and didn’t disclose its donors until after the primaries,” Rove contends. “(Obama’s) White House political director, Patrick Gaspard, came from the Service Employees International Union, which doesn’t disclose its campaign contributors and admitted earlier this week that it might be spending money from foreign nationals on this year’s elections. Are these two also a ‘threat to our democracy,’ to use the president’s words.”
Even granting Rove his larger point that everyone is guilty of this profligate subterfuge, the scope and scale of the secretly funded campaigning this year has been unlike anything in the past, recent or distant. As Eliza Newlin Carney points out at the National Journal, what is really different this year is the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s ruling that equated corporate and labor money with free speech.
“In fact,” Carlin writes, “plenty of secret campaign spending went on even before Citizens United, in the form of ‘issue’ advocacy that amounted to thinly-veiled campaign ads. The difference now is that politically active nonprofits, which are largely exempt from disclosure rules, may openly back or oppose candidates when they use previously-banned corporate and union cash. The ruling also emboldened big donors, particularly Republicans.”
Three things are certain from these new developments: Democrats will find a way to catch up and their efforts will be just as distasteful to the concept of full disclosure as what Rove and his crew are doing now; scandal is sure to follow, and with it a further decline in public confidence in, ironically, both politics and business.
Those with short memories may have forgotten that Watergate, the little “third rate burglary” that brought down a president, had its origins in questionable campaign funds secretly applied in the interest of doing anything in order to win. Montana Sen. Max Baucus has already called for an IRS investigation of the new campaign finance reality. Stay tuned for the scandal.
Even more seriously, our already broken political system will be in for another shock, as E.J. Dionne noted recently in the Washington Post.
Dionne asks us to, “Imagine an election in a Third World nation where a small number of millionaires and billionaires spent massive sums to push the outcome in their preferred direction. Wouldn’t many people here condescendingly tut-tut such a country’s ‘poorly developed’ sense of democracy and the inadequacy of its political system?”
It may not matter to many Americans, but this new level of non-transparency in our politics will look to many in the rest of the world a little like an election process in a Banana Republic or some less than perfect western democracy like, say, Italy, where Silvio Berluscini regularly manipulates the media empire he owns and controls in order to own and control an election.
This “new” system has a definite stench about it. In a perfect world, elections would be won, not bought. Even in an imperfect world we should know who is doing the buying.
Jesse Unruh, the one-time California State Treasurer and Assembly Speaker, may have been a latter day Mark Hanna. Jesse certainly understood the central role of money in politics. Unruh’s famous quote – “Money is the mother’s milk of politics” – has been a smiling justification for a lot of excess when it comes to money and politics. But even Unruh made that quip in a simpler time and in a time when full disclosure of the sources of political money had become widely accepted.
Without some much greater level of transparency, this political milk will sour and with it public confidence in our entire political culture. The smarter folks in both parties need to fix this – quickly.
Illusions of Omnipotence
There is a remarkably telling scene 350 pages into Bob Woodward’s detailed and depressing new book about Barack Obama’s decision last year to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The story tells us all we need to know about the triple bank shot strategy we are following in Afghanistan and how likely it is to fail.
In May of this year, as Woodward tells it, months after the President’s national security team had coalesced around the current Afghanistan strategy, Obama was briefed in the White House Situation Room about the political and military status of the geographic center of the American effort – the Afghan city of Kandahar.
The then-American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, “presented a map of Kandahar and its suburbs that attempted to lay out the tribal dynamics,” Woodward writes. “It was a crazy quilt of overlapping colors that resembled a piece of modern art.”
Woodward recounts in Obama’s Wars, his new bestseller, that the details of the 20 tribes represented at the heart of the Taliban insurgency “would almost require a Ph.D. in Afghan culture for an American to comprehend.” During that same briefing, McChrystal also presented to the President slides identifying more than three dozen political power brokers in Kandahar. The general was attempting to show who in the Taliban hierarchy was jockeying for influence and authority. The slides and photos illustrated a hugely complex set of rivalries, loyalties, crime, corruption, family relationships and ambitions.
After studying the slides for some time, Obama said, “This reminds me of Chicago politics…you’re asking me to understand the interrelationships and interconnections between ward bosses and district chiefs and the tribes of Chicago like the tribes of Kandahar. And I’ve got to tell you, I’ve lived in Chicago for a long time, and I don’t understand that.”
McChrystal, Woodward writes, quipped amid much laughter,”If we are going to do Chicago, we’re going to need more troops.” A funny line, but chilling in what it says about the reality of impacting a place and people with which we have such a limited understanding. If understanding Chicago politics is tough, Kandahar must be next to impossible.
With the nation and the media completely preoccupied with the looming mid-term elections, it’s worth noting that a full on review of U.S. and NATO progress in Afghanistan is scheduled, as part of Obama’s strategy, for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. One suspects the review will not bring much holiday cheer.
While American and NATO officials have recently reported the deaths of hundreds of Taliban leaders, the Associated Press also reports that many Taliban attacks continue, including the killing of the deputy mayor of Kandahar and numerous police officials. And, while the Taliban may be in the process of being “degraded,” that’s the word Obama settled on to explain the current objective regarding the insurgents, it may be just as true that the Taliban, still able to move with relative ease back and forth across the Pakistani frontier, is merely standing down in anticipation of regrouping and refitting during the Afghan winter.
Meanwhile, a critical pillar of Obama’s strategy – improvement in the operations and honesty of the Afghan government – remains in serious doubt. As Woodward’s almost day-by-day account of the development of the Afghan strategy points out, getting the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai to behave and perform better is absolutely essential to the goals of disrupting the Taliban, quickly turning the fight over to the Afghans and drawing down American troops. As further proof of how difficult it is going to be to create a stable, unifying government in Afghanistan, the recent flurry of coverage suggesting that secret reconciliation talks between Karzai’s government and the Taliban have been held has been forcefully denied by Taliban leaders.
Reading Woodward’s book is a bit like watching a well known old motion picture, one you have seen so many times that you can mouth the lines right along with the actors. There is an unmistakable feeling that we’ve seen this movie before and the ending never changes.
In his recent Washington Post review of Obama’s Wars, Neil Sheehan, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of one of the definitive books on the American experience in Vietnam, notes that Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan – pressed by his national security advisers – is based on a large dollop of hope and a 21st Century updating of Richard Nixon’s last ditch strategy of “Vietnamization.” But hope is an attitude, not a strategy, and turning that earlier war over to an incompetent government that couldn’t command broad support didn’t work.
“The Taliban obviously cannot defeat the U.S. Army in set-piece battles,” Sheehan writes, “but it does not have to do that to win a war. It can bleed us of men and treasure, year after year, until the American people have had enough.” The old movie plays on.
In a brilliant synthesis of the last 100 years of American foreign policy, presidential historian Robert Dallek recently described what he called “the tyranny of metaphor” – three enduring illusions that have shaped every president’s reaction to world events since Woodrow Wilson.
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Dallek says one of the enduring myths of our foreign policy is “the surefire effectiveness of military strength in containing opponents.” Dallek, one of the historians Obama has consulted since moving into the White House, says the President has a nuanced and realistic view of what military power can accomplish and Woodward makes it clear that Obama has pressed his military advisers hard and constantly to justify their recommendations with regard to troop numbers and strategy. Nonetheless, when his exhaustive Afghanistan review was finished a year ago, Obama essentially accepted a “split the difference” option between what Gen. David Petraeus wanted for Afghanistan and what much more skeptical advisers were urging on the President.
One can’t help but think that while it is encouraging that Obama has displayed, to invoke the old phrase, a minimum high regard for the omnipotence of our brave and overworked military, he has also embraced a path in Afghanistan based more on hope than reason; more on what we’d like to happen than what history tells us is likely to happen.
Near the end of the Woodward book, Obama is quoted as telling his generals, “Be careful we don’t start something for which we don’t have resources to enable completion.” He then adds, “keep thinking about how we’ll know if we are succeeding and when we’ll know.”
Woodward’s book brilliantly captures the division over Afghanistan that exists among civilian and military advisers to the President, not to mention the competing views inside the military, even while Obama attempts to find a plausible path that might address the enormously difficult, perhaps impossible, task of working our will on corrupt governments whose fundamental objectives are rarely in sync with our own.
It is gratifying to see Obama and his advisers struggling mightily to get their arms around this ten year war, but at the same time tragic to see yet another administration tossed on the rocks of American illusions of omnipotence.
Come Christmas, the expected outcomes of the Congressional mid-terms and the election’s impact on the next two years of Obama’s presidency may be among the least of the Commander in Chief’s problems. Lyndon Johnson came to regard Vietnam as the “bitch of a war” that wrecked his presidency. Afghanistan, on top of a broken economy and a fractured political system at home, is really threatening to become the same for Obama.
Reed Smoot – Utah
The Third in a Series…
If Reed Smoot, the Utah Republican who represented the Beehive State in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, is remembered much today it is for his role in passing what is now widely regarded as the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff.
The tariff legislation, passed in 1930, put in place historically high import duties in the interest of protecting American farmers. Many historians now say that Smoot-Hawley contributed to prolonging the Great Depression.
Smoot was chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee in 1930 and generally supported protectionist measures. He never really admitted that the tariff that has carried his name into history might have been a contributor to prolonging the world-wide economic collapse.
Beyond tariff legislation, Smoot is a senator worth remembering for at least two other significant reasons. He sponsored the legislation in the Senate that created the National Park Service and he championed legislation to create two of the great National Parks – Zion and Bryce. He also suffered through one of the most protracted and nasty episodes in Senate history when his first election to the Senate was contested on the basis of his religion.
Smoot came to the Senate in 1903, elected by the Utah Legislature, not long after being named to one of the most senior positions in the leadership of the LDS Church. Smoot was an apostle of the Mormon Church and, as a result, some of his fellow Senators – Idaho’s Fred DuBois one of the most prominent – held him responsible for the fact that polygamy was still practiced by many of the faithful, including some church leaders. Even though the church had formally repudiated plural marriage in 1890, the practice was still widespread in the early years of the 20th Century and, while clearly not a practitioner himself, Smoot was, in some eyes, guilty by association with his church.
Unbelievably, the celebrated Smoot hearings went on for four years with the investigating committee eventually voting in favor of expelling the Utah Senator. Cooler heads prevailed when Smoot’s fate was finally considered by the full Senate and his opponents failed to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to expel him.
In her excellent 2004 book, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle, historian Kathleen Flake examines the issues that Smoot confronted during his long Senate ordeal and concludes, persuasively I think, that “a broad coalition of American Protestant churches,” acting through their leaders, sought to expel Smoot from the Senate for his religious views. The professed concerns about polygamy provided a convenient pretext. Flake also argues that the ordeal actually served to strengthen the LDS Church in the United States and in Europe.
One of Smoot’s defenders was Sen. Boies Penrose, a Republican of Pennsylvania, who made fun of several of his Senate colleagues that he suspected of being less than straight arrows in observing their own marriage vows.
Penrose, in defending Smoot, said, “As for me, I would rather have seated beside me in this chamber a polygamist who doesn’t polyg than a monogamist who doesn’t monag.”
Smoot lost his Senate seat to Democrat Elbert Thomas in the Roosevelt landslide of 1932. He returned to Salt Lake City where he continued as a top leader of the LDS Church. He was third in line for the presidency of the church when he died in 1941. Utah historian Milton R. Merrill has written the definitive biography of the church leader and politician, appropriately entitled Reed Smoot – Apostle in Politics.
Reed Smoot of Utah was another United States Senator worth remembering.