Ogden R. Reid: Anti-communism And Civil Liberties

March 26th, 2010 at 9:44 am | 6 Comments |

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This week, we are also reposting a classic series from the FF archives: Geoffrey Kabaservice’s “Secret History of the Republican Party.”


Moderate Republicanism diminished as a national political force when its principal media organ, the New York Herald Tribune newspaper, folded in 1966.  While the Herald Tribune is remembered as a “newspaperman’s newspaper,” with sparkling contributions from writers like Red Smith, Jimmy Breslin, and Tom Wolfe, it also served as the house organ of Eastern moderate Republicanism; its lineage extended to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and the foundation of the GOP.

Ogden “Brownie” Reid, before his election to Congress in 1962, was the president of the Herald Tribune, which in different inceptions had been in his family’s possession for nearly ninety years, and heir to an even longer Republican tradition.  It was a matter of national significance, then, when Reid switched parties in 1972, and raised questions about moderate Republicanism and its future.

Reid joined the family paper in 1950, after completing college and paratrooper service in World War II.  The Herald Tribune at that time was still a close rival of the New York Times, and its politics were congenial to the city’s business and professional elites.  It was internationalist, strongly supportive of the United Nations, anti-imperialist and anti-Communist.  In its pronouncements on domestic policy, it was pro-business, a defender of civil rights and civil liberties, censorious of corruption and complacency in New York City’s Democratically-controlled government, and bitterly critical of labor unions.

After a shaky start at the Herald Tribune in the early 1950s, when Reid wrote a crudely anti-Communist column spiced with unverifiable inside dope direct from J. Edgar Hoover, he moved to Paris for two years to head up the paper’s European edition and then returned to New York as president and editor in 1955.  While Reid received mixed reviews for his performance, the paper’s circulation and advertising revenues continued to decline.  The Reid family was forced to sell the Herald Tribune to Republican multimillionaire John Hay Whitney, a deal brokered in part by President Dwight Eisenhower, who was a daily reader of the paper.  Ike appointed Reid the U.S. ambassador to Israel, an appropriate assignment given the Zionist leanings of the Herald Tribune and Reid’s WASPy philo-Semitism.  Reid returned to the U.S. in 1961 to chair the New York State Commission for Human Rights on behalf of governor Nelson Rockefeller (whose 1958 campaign the Herald Tribune had championed), then was elected to Congress from a district representing most of Westchester County.

Reid began office as a Herald Tribune-style Republican, slamming Kennedy for weakness against Communism and listlessness in support of civil rights.  (Reid’s civil rights concerns had a Republican spin, as he worried that repression of Southern blacks would make emerging African nations likelier to turn Red and criticized the Democrats for protecting racist labor unions.)  He approved the education and health components of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, but not its public works spending on marginal enterprises: “Federal subsidies do not create new markets,” he insisted.  He decried Johnson’s inflationary policies and demanded a return to pay-as-you-go financing and balanced budgets.

But the events of the ‘60s began to move Reid and other moderate Republicans leftward.  The Herald Tribune, reacting against the GOP’s nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964, refused to endorse a Republican for the first time in its history.  Reid formally supported the ticket but made plain his anger at the party platform’s abandonment of civil rights and its refusal to condemn extremism or assure civilian control over nuclear weapons.  A visit to Vietnam shook his previously resolute defense of the American war effort there, as he realized that Johnson had not leveled with the American people about the scale of U.S. military involvement required or the weakness of the South Vietnamese government.  From 1966 on, he faced primary challenges from the Conservative Party of New York, an organization created to defeat Nelson Rockefeller and all of his allies.

By the early 1970s, Reid was in more or less open rebellion against Richard Nixon, offended by what he perceived as the administration’s authoritarian ways and the efforts of Vice President Spiro Agnew to drive away whatever youth and minority support might have gone to the GOP with his pursuit of “positive polarization.”  Reid believed that his evolving position was within the legitimate Republican tradition, and often quoted Lincoln’s 1862 message to Congress: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. … As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”  But Nixon’s perceived disrespect for Congress, Agnew’s attacks on the media, and the Southern Strategy finally led Reid and several other moderate-to-liberal Republicans to leave the party in 1972.  As Reid put it, “Just as in World War II, there came a time when some of us simply couldn’t eat another can of Spam.”

Reid was reelected as a Democrat in the 1972 elections (overcoming a furious challenge from a Rockefeller-financed Republican) but declined to seek office in 1974, and never won office to any other posts in several attempts.  In a 1998 interview, Reid sounded more sorrowful than angry about the changes that had led him and the party of his forebears to part ways: “In my own view, the Republican Party needs to latch onto the center and the future.  It can’t be exclusionary.”


Originally posted on February 3, 2009

Recent Posts by Geoffrey Kabaservice



6 Comments so far ↓

  • jjv

    The question is would the Republican Party be stronger with Ogden Reid? It seems “moderate” Republicanism of the type he espoused is unable to resist the left. Its class base is more repelled by other (lower class) conservatives than it is by the machinations of Democrats. You will note the Herald Tribune failed when NY was still a newspaper town. Also, Nixon and Agnew won the youth vote just a Reid says they were driving it away. It is also interesting he left the Party in 1972 when it had the most broad based support it would ever enjoy on the Presidential level. McGovernism was acceptable to this staunch anti-communist? Something is going on here not revealed by this piece. It is interesting to note that “Brownie” Reid lost all electoral attractiveness as a Democrat. I don’t think old money, Brownie Reid of Yale is really what we need to swell the ranks of a forward looking Republican Party. That said, I love these historical vignettes of yours.

  • Trad

    Thanks for shedding light on another forgotten piece of history, proving again just how big the Republican tent used to be. And that Reid/Lincoln quotation is perfect. If only American conservatives knew their own tradition…

  • ESB

    JJV – I see your class argument, but Old Money, Bush of Yale (43, not 41, who probably shed a tear for the Herald Tribune), tried to build an enduring Republican majority in opposition to most of what Ogden Reid stood for. We know how that worked out. Elitism isn’t what it was in the glory days of the Tribune. For two decades, our presidents have had Yale or Harvard pedigrees — the Bushes from old-boy old money, Clinton and Obama from the post-WASP “meritocracy” (a problematic subject on which Mr. Kabaservice has also written quite well). It’s not a coincidence that the two Democrats, Obama in particular, achieved a broad base of support. Their ideas appealed to people who might have been put off by their Ivy League credentials, and heretical as it is to say, the intellectually driven and diverse Ivy League milieu they experienced may have given them some good ideas. If we must keep picking presidents from highbrow institutions, I’ll take Harvard Law and its attentiveness to the Constitution over Harvard Business School and its attentiveness to the moneyed class(es). Ogden Reid would have been as horrified as was the 2008 American electorate at the enormous, intrusive, and literally and ideologically bankrupt government that George W. Bush, of *the* Bushes, bequeathed the American people. I’d certainly prefer a modern Reid’s “moderate” pen to, say, Rush Limbaugh’s immoderate mouth.

  • sinz54

    One lesson I take away from this, is that a party that is perceived as anti-civil rights may win a few elections, but in the end that stance is going to drive away the minorities and the young for a long time to come. This year, the GOP lost the Hispanic vote over the immigration issue, in which many on the Right confused legal issues with culture war issues. In particular, Mark Krikorian of the National Review and columnist/blogger Michelle Malkin poisoned the debate, by implying that foreign Hispanics just aren’t culturally fit to come to America. And arguments from their supporters that large numbers of Hispanic citizens “will be able to outvote the white folks” and hence allegedly destroy the nation, are nativist and racist. The GOP doesn’t have to abandon its support of enforcing the law, including immigration laws. But it has to make it clear that Hispanics, as long as they come to America legally and become citizens, are totally welcome in America, and in the highest ranks of the GOP.

  • Mark Rosenthal

    Are there any moderate republicans out there? I thought they were all extinct.

  • Go Dog Go!

    “In my own view, the Republican Party needs to latch onto the center and the future. It can’t be exclusionary.”

    Such words have never been more true.

    Reject the Beck/Limbaugh/Evangelical exclusionism and welcome the centrists back. You will welcome political success shortly thereafter.