New Frontier

21 Significant Speakers Of The House In American History

With the election of Paul Ryan as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives this week, it makes one focus on  the 54 House Speakers in American history, and recognition of the fact that twenty one of them were quite significant figures in the American past.

Probably the most prominent of all was one of the earliest Speakers, Henry Clay of Kentucky, who became Speaker as a freshman in 1811, and served three different times as House Speaker, from 1811-1814, 1815-1820, and 1823-1825. a total of more than six and a half years, as Congress did not meet back then for many months in any years, but sixth longest serving.  Clay is considered the most famous Congressional figure in American history in both houses of Congress, and was an unsuccessful Presidential nominee three times, in 1824, 1832, and 1844.  He was a giant figure in American political history and American politics.

John Bell was Speaker in 1834-1835, and was also a Presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union party in the Presidential Election of 1860, trying to prevent the Civil War by running as an alternative to the three other candidates that year—Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and John C. Breckinridge.  He won three states and 39 electoral votes, carrying Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the Electoral College.

James K. Polk became the only Speaker so far to become President of the United States, in the Presidential Election of 1844, after having served as House Speaker from 1835-1839.  He is considered the most successful one term President, deciding due to ill health to refuse to run f0r reelection in 1848, but gaining the whole American Southwest in war with Mexico, and arranging the peaceful acquisition of the Pacific Northwest by treaty with Great Britain.  His retirement from the Presidency was the shortest in American history, only 105 days.

Robert M. T. Hunter was the youngest Speaker of the House at the age of 30, serving from 1839-1841, and later as Confederate Secretary of State in 1861-1862 during the Civil War.

Howell Cobb served as Speaker from 1849-1851, being 34 when elected, and served as one of the founders of the Confederate States of America in 1861.

Schuyler Colfax served as Speaker from 1863-1869, and as Vice President in the first term of President Ulysses S. Grant from 1869-1873, being the first of two Speakers to serve in the Vice Presidency, the other being John Nance Garner under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

James G. Blaine served as Speaker from 1869-1875, 10th longest serving with a little over five years, and later was the Republican nominee for President in the Presidential Election of 1884.  He also served as Secretary of State under James A. Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison, and was present at the site of the Garfield assassination in 1881.

Thomas B. Reed served as Speaker from 1889-1891 and 1895-1899, and was nicknamed “Czar Reed”, because he wielded great power in the Speakership, which added to the stature and influence of the Speakers after him.

Joseph Cannon served as House Speaker from 1903-1911, added the most power to the Speakership, more than Reed, but then saw a “revolution” of progressive Republicans led by George Norris of Nebraska, which stripped him and future Speakers of the absolute power that Reed and Cannon had waged, and was pushed out of the Speakership when the opposition Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 1910.  He was eighth longest serving Speaker, nearly six years, and had a House office building named after him despite his fall from power in 1910.

His successor, Champ Clark, served as House Speaker from 1911-1919, fifth longest serving at seven  years, and nearly won the 1912 Democratic Presidential nomination, but lost to Woodrow Wilson.

Nicholas Longworth served as Speaker from 1925-1931, punished progressive Republicans and restored much of the power of the Speaker under Joseph Cannon, and was married to Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice.  Later, a House office building would be named after him.

John Nance Garner served 15 months as House Speaker from 1931-1933, and then became Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and served two terms in that office. He became famous for his statement that the Vice Presidency was not worth  “a bucket of warm piss!”  He opposed much of the New Deal, and tried to win the nomination against his boss when FDR sought a third term in 1940.  On his 95th birthday, President John F. Kennedy wished him “Happy Birthday” just hours before his assassination on November 22, 1963. Garner died at age 98 in 1967, the longest lived Vice President or President, and just 15 days before his 99th birthday!

Sam Rayburn was the most prominent, and longest serving Speaker of the House in American history, serving a total of 17 years in three rounds as Speaker, from 1941=1947, 1949-1953, and from 1955 to near the end of 1961, when he died in office.  A House Office Building is named after him, and only he and Henry Clay served three separate terms as Speaker.  He was one of the most prominent members in the entire history of the House of Representatives, engendering great respect and admiration, and served under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

John W. McCormack was the third longest serving House Speaker, a total of nine years from 1962-1971, and served as House Majority Leader all of the years that Sam Rayburn was Speaker.  He presided over the New Frontier and Great Society legislative package under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Carl Albert served as Speaker from 1971-1977, seventh longest serving in the office, and a heartbeat away when Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President in 1973, until Gerald Ford was confirmed as Vice President under the 25th Amendment in 1973, and again when Ford became President in 1974 until Nelson Rockefeller was confirmed as Vice President at the end of that year.

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was the second longest serving House Speaker, a total of ten years from 1977-1987, serving under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  He served the longest consecutive years as Speaker, and was an unabashed liberal, but negotiated a Social Security compromise agreement with Ronald Reagan in 1983, which became the mark of bipartisanship.

Thomas Foley served six years as Speaker from 1989-1995, and became the first Speaker since 1862 to be defeated for his House seat in 1994, retiring him from the House of Representatives, but he served as Ambassador to Japan for President Bill Clinton from 1997-2001.  He was ninth longest serving Speaker.

Newt Gingrich served as Speaker for four years from 1995-1999, having been the leader of the “Republican Revolution”, where the GOP took back control of the House of Representatives after 40 years in “the wilderness”.  Highly controversial and combative, Gingrich led the fight against President Bill Clinton, and moved for his impeachment in 1998, but then was forced out by an internal rebellion in his own party at the end of 1998.  He sought the Presidency in 2012, but fell short of the nomination, and remains an outspoken active commentator on politics.

Dennis Hastert became the longest serving Republican Speaker in American history, serving eight years from 1999-2007, fourth longest serving, seen as non controversial after Gingrich, and being Speaker under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  He became involved in a sex and financial scandal dating back to before he was in Congress, and faces prison time as this article is being written, having pleaded guilty.

Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker, serving four years from 2007-2011, and remains Minority Leader today, and her two Congresses under George W. Bush and Barack Obama accomplished more legislation, particularly under Obama, than any Congress since the 1960s.

John Boehner served almost five years as Speaker from 2011 until this past week, facing highly contentious opponents in his own party, the Tea Party Movement, now known as the Freedom or Liberty Caucus, a group of about 40 Republicans, who made his life miserable, and finally, he resigned, and has handed over authority to Paul Ryan, who was Vice Presidential running mate of Mitt Romney in the Presidential Election of 2012, and had been Chair of the House Budget Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, before becoming Speaker this week.

 

July 30, 1965 To July 30, 2015: 50 Years Of Medicare!

Today is the 50the Anniversary of Medicare, finally brought about by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

An idea originally proposed by Theodore Roosevelt in his Progressive (Bull Moose) Party campaign of 1912; further conceptualized by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid 1930s, but thought to be moving too rapidly for Congress, when there was the fight over Social Security in 1935; and promoted by Harry Truman in his promotion of his Fair Deal, it was signed into law with former President Truman sitting next to Johnson at the Truman Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri.

Johnson accomplished what John F. Kennedy wanted to fulfill in his New Frontier agenda, but was unable to do because of the opposition of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, but Johnson convinced Mills to move ahead, as part of LBJ’s great “wheeler dealer” abilities to promote his Great Society.

Medicare was a “God send” to millions of senior citizens, who no longer had to go into poverty as a result of medical and health issues, and it made the last years of the elderly a lot less stressful and worrisome.

Of course, the issue of cost overruns and corruption has arisen, and with people living longer, there is a long term problem in Medicare, but careful administration and some tax increases will manage to keep Medicare afloat for the long run, although present House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate in 2012), wants to phase it out over time.

Many Republicans want this, but Democrats will fight tooth and nail to insure the continuation and financial stability of the greatest social program since Social Security, an essential part of the “safety net”, and part of the social justice agenda of liberals and progressives since the time of Theodore Roosevelt!

The Republican Party Battle Has Gone On For A Century!

When the Republican Party was founded in 1854, it was an activist liberal oriented party, against the expansion of slavery as an official doctrine, and with many of its founders and followers also being against slavery itself, wishing to abolish it.

Under Abraham Lincoln and Radical Republicans, the Republican Party advocated freedom, citizenship and voting for African Americans, while at the same time promoting the growth of industrial capitalism.

But in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the party lost its bearings, becoming a corrupt party, beholden to the top one percent of the nation. There was a need to reform the party, and Theodore Roosevelt came along at the turn of the century, and revolutionized the Presidency and promoted progressivism, and activist government, including labor rights, consumer rights, environmentalism, and the promotion of political reforms to bring direct democracy.

But after he left office, the party lost its bearings again and went into the darkness of the conservative 1920s, as Woodrow Wilson took on much of the progressive reform program, and set the Democratic Party on the road to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and a whole slew of domestic progressive and liberal reforms.

The Republican Party, by following the Gilded Age mentality again in the 1920s, helped to cause the greatest economic downturn in American history, and the Great Depression under Herbert Hoover put them in the wilderness, although revived by the moderate progressivism of war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

But then, they were again in the minority, and although Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford promoted some substantial reforms in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the midst of the New Frontier-Great Society mentality. scandal emerged under Nixon, and the Vietnam War sapped the party, and they turned once again to conservatism and Ronald Reagan, who had a better persona than conservative Barry Goldwater, who had been soundly defeated by LBJ in 1964. Reagan appealed to the top one percent, and promoted fear of the white working class toward minorities, and the GOP dominated the next generation and more, with the Jimmy Carter respite very brief, and Bill Clinton being mildly progressive, not really the tradition of FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ. But that meant that the Republican Party was backing away from the traditions of Lincoln, TR, and even Ike! The middle class and the working were victims, without realizing it until very recently.

Here they are today in the era of the most progressive Democratic President since LBJ, and the Republican Party is what it was in the Gilded Age and 1920s and since the 1980s, a party that backs away from domestic reform, from compassion, from concern about the environment, from concern about working people, from concern about women and ethnic minorities and the vast majority of Americans. Instead, they are the party of the one percent, as they were in the Gilded Age and 1920s, and the attempt to move the party to the center, and return to the Lincoln–TR–Ike tradition is engaged in what seems clearly a losing battle!

That means that the Republican Party, 160 years old this year, is likely in its death throes, a party which has gone awry, a really tragic set of circumstances!

Lyndon B. Johnson Forty Years After His Death: Mixed Legacy

Forty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson died at the age of 64, two days after the second inauguration of President Richard Nixon, an event he did not attend due to poor health.

Johnson had only been out of the Presidency for four years and two days, and one has to wonder had he run in 1968 and won, whether he would have died in office from the stresses and burdens of the job, and particularly the ongoing war in Vietnam.

Vietnam will always be the ultimate “Achilles Heel” of the Johnson Presidency, with the President hating foreign policy and just wishing for the Vietnam mess to go away, but his fateful decision to commit a half million troops to the war doomed the unity he had experienced in his landslide victory in 1964 over Senator Barry Goldwater, the greatest popular vote victory percentage in American history!

Johnson did so much good in expanding the vision of the New Deal of FDR, the Fair Deal of Harry Truman, and the New Frontier of JFK, and accomplished everything they pursued, and failed to accomplish in their Presidencies. And just yesterday, President Barack Obama evoked the image of the Great Society, and the goals that he outlined to expand that Great Society a half century later, after a long time in the political “wilderness”.

Without Johnson as President, we would not have had the following, in many cases, EVER up to now:

Medicare
Medicaid
Immigration Reform
Federal Aid to Education
Civil Rights Act
Voting Rights Act
War on Poverty—Office of Economic Opportunity, Job Corps, Project Head Start, Model Cities, and other programs
Environmental Legislation
Consumer Legislation
National Public Radio
Public Broadcasting System
National Endowment For The Arts
National Endowment For The Humanities
Gemini and Apollo Space Programs
Cabinet Agencies–Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Transportation
First African American appointments to the Cabinet–Robert Weaver–and the Supreme Court–Thurgood Marshall

Can anyone imagine NOT having most, if not all, of these programs and agencies?

Some might have been accomplished over time under other Presidents, but it is hard to conceive that much of it would have occurred with the rise over time of the conservative movement to power under Ronald Reagan, and Reagan’s impact on the next thirty years of American government until now.

As always is true of any President, Lyndon B. Johnson will remain highly controversial, but it is worth remembering his positive legacy on this, the 40th anniversary of his death, while not overlooking the damaging effect of his foreign policy actions, particularly in Vietnam.

90th Birthday Of George McGovern: A Case For National Celebration For A Great Statesman!

Today is the 90th birthday of former Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern, and should be a reason for national celebration.

A truly great statesman, the former South Dakota Senator had a distinguished career of national service, including his efforts as a pilot in World War II, and is a true inspiration to many Americans for his principles, his values, his ethics, his commitment to public service, and his great decency and compassion for others.

At a time when we have a political party which has no compassion or concern for the average citizen, George McGovern stands out for his courage in opposing the war in Vietnam, and being a major advocate of the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson!

McGovern has continued to be active, writing and speaking on issues that matter to him, supportive of President Barack Obama, and continuing to advocate the liberal and progressive tradition, of which he is such an exceptional advocate all of his life.

When this author wrote recently about the concept of a “Liberal-Progressive” Mount Rushmore as a thought, he included McGovern, along with Robert La Follette, Sr., George Norris, and Hubert Humphrey, as the rightful faces which should be on such a monument.

Let all good people salute George McGovern on his 90th birthday, and wish him many more years of health, happiness, and contributions to the liberal-progressive cause!

99th Anniversary Of Richard Nixon’s Birth: Anything To Celebrate? YES!

Today, 99 years ago, Richard Nixon was born in California, and went on to become the most complex, most controversial, most divisive President we have ever had.

There is so much that is negative about Richard Nixon, and more is coming out from the Nixon Library itself, with the Watergate exhibits, and the constant revelations from the Watergate tapes, and the research being done by scholars in political science and history, and by veteran White House journalists, including a recent book in October on his judicial appointments (Kevin J. McMahon) and a scathing attack on his ethics and policy making (Don Fulsom), due out at the end of this month.

So Nixon will never be able to rest easily in the afterlife, so to speak, but since it is his birthday, can we find anything decent to say about his time in office, in the midst of the mountain of evidence of negativism?

Richard Nixon continued to expand on the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson, even while claiming to cut back on the economic and social programs of both Democratic Presidents. After all, he signed into law many initiatives that are now opposed by Republicans who would like nothing better than to repeal what he signed into law.

Nixon accomplished the following in domestic policy:

The Environmental Protection Agency
The Consumer Product Safety Commission
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Affirmative Action for Women and Minorities
Appointed Associate Justice Harry Blackmun
Supported the Equal Rights Amendment for Women
Initiated Wage and Price Controls in a time of inflation

He also had the following successes in foreign policy:

Negotiated Detente with the Soviet Union
Began Economic and Diplomatic Ties with China
Supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War

This list of ten accomplishments in no way makes up for the many negatives of the Nixon Presidency, and the damage he did long term to the institution itself.

This post is NOT an attempt to whitewash the Nixon record of horrible abuse of power, just a recognition that the 37th President did have a positive impact in ways worth remembering, a year before the Centennial of his birth, which will NOT be celebrated quite the same as Ronald Reagan’s centennial in 2011, or the future centennial of John F. Kennedy in 2017, or the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln in 2009!

Rush Limbaugh And The Ultimate Right Wing Agenda: Reverse The Social And Economic Progress Since World War II!

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is on a roll with the Debt Ceiling Crisis and the Stock Market Crisis of the past few weeks, and he has declared war on all social and economic progress for the past 65 years, since World War II! Other right wing radio talk show hosts also promote what he does!

Actually, showing his total ignorance, Limbaugh probably means the past 80 years, since the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s!

By declaring, in any case, that it is time to reverse the past 65 years, that means the following:

1. The Harry Truman improvements on the New Deal programs of FDR.
2. Reversal of Truman’s executive order to enforce racial integration in the military.
3. Reversal of racial integration as ordered by the Supreme Court and enforced by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson.
4. Reversal of Eisenhower’s acceptance of the New Deal and institutionalizing it.
5. Wiping out of the programs of the New Frontier of JFK and the Great Society of LBJ–including Medicare, Medicaid, Federal Aid to Education, Consumer Protection Laws, Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, programs to fight poverty, Environmental laws, National Public Radio, Public
Broadcasting, and other programs.
6.Ending of Richard Nixon’s domestic reforms–including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Products Safety Commission, Affirmative Action programs, and others.
7.Ending of programs to aid the disabled and handicapped, begun under George H W Bush.
8. Other reforms passed under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and now Barack Obama.

This is totally insane, and the progressive movement MUST fight tooth and nail to prevent such total destruction of everything which has made America a better nation, a more tolerant nation, a more compassionate nation!

We cannot afford to go back to the 1920s, and there is no way that this agenda of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk can be allowed to triumph!