September 26, 1936 - Article - Joe Robinson, The New Deal's Old Reliable, by Joseph Alsop Jr. and Turner Catledge
Since he was 23 years old, the honorable Joseph Taylor Robinson, senior senator from Arkansas, has warmed a seat in the gift of the voters. Today, at 64, he is Democratic leader of the Senate, the New Deal's congressional field marshal, and one of the most powerful men in a new Washington which the country's conservatives regard as the earthly annex of the kingdom of the Evil One.
Joe has neither the temperament nor the ability of a good quick-change artist, yet not so long ago, when he was his party's nominee for the vice presidency, he was supposed to supply the "conservative" counterbalance on a ticket headed by that dangerous "liberal," Al Smith. Not so long ago, Joe was even called an Old Guardsmen. Nowadays he is the vanguard of the New Deal parade, and marching valiantly in his wake are many other Southern statesmen who can remember when they, too, were called Old Guard.
Joe Robinson is the Old Reliable at the court of the New Deal. President Roosevelt possesses a power and disposes of an annual revenue of government which would make any rajah, gaekwar or nabob green with envy under his caste marks. But he needs an Old Relaible all the same. Should an erring congressional favorite require trampling to death, Joe tramples him, and when he is finished, thefavorite doesn't know whether he is a senator or a pancake. If a piece of legislation gets stuck in the clumsy machinery of Congress, Joe butts it through into law, and if the congressional populace shows signs of developing a mind of its own, Joe trumpets it into an appropriate submissiveness again.
He is content and as little needful of the goad as the rajah's elephant, for the hay of patronage and the little rum tot of awareness that the Democratic Party is in power keep him happy. Only one thing would make him happier: If his beneficent master should see fit to appoint him to the next vacancy in the Supreme Court.
Nowadays in Washington there is a little story told about Joe and his old friend Senator Carter Glass, of Virginia, whom the President rather sourly calls "the unreconstructed rebel." Senator Glass has not gone along with the New Deal, and the story is that Joe went privately to the Virginian, during the last session, for the express purpose of complimenting him on his independence. Joe declared many of the New Deal measures which he had crammed through Congress wounded his finer sensibilities, and explained dolefully that only party loyalty had kept him regular.
"I've admired you, Carter," he said, "and I want you to know it. But I've just had to go along. I've done it for the party, and I want you to know, Carter, that I've been through hell."
"Well," grunted the Virginian, "anyway, it's nice to know, Joe, that the road through hell is paved with postmasterships." (pg. 5)
The President's sharp eye for an Old Reliable has been richly rewarded, for under Joe's rule Congress gives the White House what it wants, and not much more or less. Approved legislation follows a simple and seldom troubled course. An idea is born to the New Dealers. Perhaps some state hasn't been doing so well lately. Give it back to the buffaloes then! The President accepts the suggestion with enthusiasm. He feels that both the buffaloes and the voters will be pleased. Joe is promptly informed of what is on the fire.
He arranges a White House conference, and on the evening appointed, he troops down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with selected members of the high command, the chairmen of the committees on buffalo affairs in the House and Senate, and anyone else in Congress that might be favorably interested. The bill is unveiled, and its beauties are explained by the President and the buffalo experts of the brain trust. After the conference, Joe issues a slightly grandiose statement on the bill to the newspapermen waiting on the White House steps. The, in a day or so, the bill is simultaneously introduced in both houses, and promptly referred to committee in each.
In the House, it is all over and the bill is passed before you can say "Joe Robinson." The House's ancient machinery of rules grinds legislation out with only the shortest of perfunctory pauses for the strange, windy oratory which flourishes there. In the Senate it takes a bit more doing. First of all, Joe and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Buffalo Affairs choose a subcommittee to consider the bill. A good, biddable nature, a strong party loyalty, or a warm sympathy with the scheme to give the state back to the buffaloes are the passports to service on the subcommittee. (pg. 66)
Comments: No doubt that when Joe Robinson met with FDR to get executive legislation to introduce in the Congress, Felix Frankfurter was there too most of the time. Both Joe Robinson and Felix Frankfurter were to be rewarded for their loyalty to FDR by getting appointments to the Supreme Court. Joe Robinson, however, wasn't able to experience the fulfillment of his dream of being a Supreme Court justice, even though FDR was going to appoint him to the bench. The following year, the great equalizer - death - prevented Joe from becoming a justice. But this gives you an idea of what kind of people FDR put on the Supreme Court - men who were already seasoned veterans at violating the Constitution.