Newstalgia Reference Room - Sen. Robert M. LaFollette Jr. addressing a Labor conference in 1937 on the proposed changes in the Supreme Court from FDR. For a Progressive Republican, he was a very big New Deal supporter.
March 4, 2011

Sen. Robert M. LaFollette Jr. of Wisconsin - hard to imagine now - but a Progressive Republican.

With the news surfacing (or rumors depending on your news source) of defections among the ranks of Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate, I'm reminded that Wisconsin, not only having the dubious distinction of giving America Joe McCarthy, also gave us a Progressive Republican by the name of Robert M. LaFollette Jr. - son of that other notable Wisconsin Senator, Robert M. "Fighting Bob" LaFollette Sr., who established the Wisconsin Progressive Party during the first years of the 20th Century.

LaFollette Jr. , though not the firebrand his father was, nonetheless was a staunch supporter of President Roosevelt. Although he was a man of many contradictions, he more often than not aligned himself with New Deal legislation. When the subject of revising the Supreme Court came up, LaFollette was a huge supporter, as is evidenced by this address given at a Labor conference in 1937.

Robert M. LaFollette Jr.: “Stalling of our government on dead-center, by judicial fiat in recent years is not a defect in the Constitution, it is a defect in the Supreme Court. We do not need to amend the Constitution, free the processes of the democratic principle in this country. We simply need to amend a majority of the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the Constitution. In its exercise of the judicial veto it has taken onto itself powers which it was never intended to have by the founders of our Constitutional government. If Congress continues to yield to this false doctrine it will betray the people into the hands of a judicial oligarchy, governing for property rather than humanity."

It's almost inconceivable that such a member of Republican Party would be around and kicking today. He would no doubt be ostracized and tossed out of the party. Particularly saying things like this:

LaFollette: “The question is simply whether a handful of judges ought to be allowed to exceed their lawful authority by paying more attention to their personal, economic and social beliefs than to the Constitution itself. The issue is between special vested interests, dodging behind an economic theory of days gone by on the one hand, and the will of the people to govern themselves on the other. When a judge sets himself squarely athwart the peoples path to progress, it is time for the true defenders of Democracy to take action.”

So it came as no small surprise that LaFollette lost his re-election bid to a certain Junior Senator from the same party - Joseph McCarthy, whom the Republicans in Wisconsin threw all their support behind. And it probably also makes sense that, given his disillusionment and his radical ideas, even then, he would wind up committing suicide in 1953.

But still, they did exist and even up until recently there was that Moderate Wing of the Republican Party. Perhaps this new wrinkle in the ongoing story of Wisconsin gives a glimmer of hope that some sanity still lurks around.

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