Fighting Bob LaFollette

Aug 14, 2017

Sorry about the technical faults recently. My computer has suddenly been taken over by commercial jerks that insert unwanted advertising with my blog. I don’t know how cure this virus yet, but I am doing my best to get rid of the pesky ads and other stuff that shouldn’t be there. (As before please ignore the twice underlined ads.)

In that process I appreciate all the more the old fashioned virtues of real books. I did read, slowly, a real book over the last few weeks—a biography of Fighting Bob LaFollette, The Righteous Reformer, by Nancy Unger. LaFollette is still revered by progressives in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Her book has a glowing plug on the back cover from Howard Zinn, the radical Boston College historian, writer, and progressive hero and guru.

I learned a few facts I had not known before. Fighting bob was indeed very righteous as was his wife, Belle Case. As with other righteous people neither Bob nor his wife, Belle Case, had much use for humor or any other frivolous activity. Bob himself was also very long-winded. A typical campaign or political speech lasted 3 to 6 hours (shades of Fidel Castro! Bob once talked on the Senate floor for 19 consecutive hours to support his propoaed laws on labor and anti-trust legislation. Rumor has it 11 hours into his speech some Senators tried to end it by giving him a poisoned glass of milk!). Whatever, both Fighting Bob and Belle Case were dead serious in their hatred of big corporations as well as any and all profits from business.

They also had chronic personal money troubles and both suffered from overwork and poor health, especially Fighting Bob. In the early years of the 20th century LaFollette was elected Governor of Wisconsin for three consecutive terms, twice as a US Senator. He ran for president against Cal Coolidge in 1924. In all that time Bob worked long hours for progressive causes but was forced by ill heath to spend a great deal of that time in bed from depression and overwork.

His son, Robert Lafollette Jr., also a senator from Wisconsin, was very close to his father in political views and personal life. Bob Jr. was also plagued by depression, overwork, and ended up committing suicide He did have a lonely childhood (his parents were often busy with political tasks. Bob Jr. and his siblings suffered). Losing a primary election to, of all people, Joe McCarthy, may well have been the last straw.

One other fact sticks in my mind after reading this biography—the UW Faculty has changed dramatically! When Fighting Bob was running for President in 1924 he was still stung by his unpopular stand on WW1. Senator LaFollette bitterly, and in the end hopelessly, opposed the US participation in that war. (Even I, not a progressive but aided by hindsight, agree with this Progressive Republica—WW1 was futile and unwise.)

The surprise was that the UW Faculty at the time went further and voted 421 to 2 to censure LaFollette as well, claiming that he was “unwise and shamefully dishonest…[in] his failure to actively and earnestly support the government in the prosecution of the present war.” I don’t really know for sure how similar faculty votes today would turn out on LBJ and the Vietnam War (or on support for Donald Trump’s. I suspect it would be quite different.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President and sole employee of Hawkhill

P. S. For any who want to know more details on my life-long journey through the idea swamp from devout Catholic to left-liberal clergy to conservative libertarian, I suggest you buy, curl up on the couch, and read any of my recent books (they are all cheap)—Twilight or Dawn? A Traveler’s Guide to Free-Market Liberal Democracy, East Gilman Street, or Bill’s Blogs. Or view some of my ideas on science and society, streamed free on YouTube.

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