Senate Majority Leader Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) dies of cancer at the age of 63. Branded by critics as an “isolationist,” Taft was a consistent critic of America’s Cold War policies.
Taft, known as “Mr. Republican” because of his ferocious partisanship, was a true conservative in every sense of the word. First elected to the Senate in 1938, Taft lashed out at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs as being too expensive and wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars. During World War II, he warned against the tremendous growth of presidential power, which he claimed threatened the people’s liberties and freedom. This same kind of criticism also brought Taft into conflict with the American government’s Cold War policies after World War II. He attacked President Harry S. Truman’s policy of containment of the Soviet Union, arguing that the United States was provoking Russia into a war. He vigorously opposed the Marshall Plan, designed to give billions of dollars in aid to Western Europe, as far too costly. He also voted against U.S. participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) because he believed it impinged on the nation’s freedom of action. Overall, Taft feared that Truman and the U.S. government were using the Cold War to take on powers they were never intended to have. For this reason, he also opposed Truman’s call for a peacetime draft in 1948. Taft’s harsh criticisms sometimes brought him into conflict even with members of his own party. After winning the presidential election in 1952, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower publicly attacked what he called Taft’s “isolationism” and “fortress America” mentality.
In the years following his death, however, Taft’s views gained new credibility. The immense costs of the Cold War and the brutal and inconclusive Vietnam War seemed to bear out many of Taft’s criticisms of America’s Cold War policies. During the 1960s, a number of scholars noted the similarities between Taft’s opposition to the draft and American military intervention overseas and the objections raised by the anti-Vietnam War movement.