As congressional approval continues to plummet towards historical lows, it now seems commonplace for pundits and commentators to a lack of “statesmanship” in contemporary party politics, waxing lyrical about the lost virtues of politicians from generations past. I’ve often wondered how fair it is to romanticize that past; does that not marginalize the significance of congressional fights over contentious issues like Civil Rights, Communism, or Vietnam?
I hope to at least probe along these lines in studying the life and career of Ogden “Brownie” Reid, who served as a Republican congressman during the 1960s and early 1970s, only to switch parties in his last term of service. Reid’s unconventional responses to his generation’s most divisive political problems initially drew my interest. Take Reid’s position on civil rights: he began his political career by attacking Kennedy for two flaws he argued were closely linked: weakness in the face of Communism and lukewarm support of Civil Rights. Reid rationalized his support for Civil Rights through the lens of anticommunism; poor treatment of African Americans at home could push African nations abroad toward the Soviet sphere of influence. Reid was also part of a group of moderate Republicans to leave the Republican party in 1972, in part protesting Nixon’s treatment of Congress and his Southern Strategy.
Reid donated his life’s papers to Yale’s archives. I hope to take full advantage of this rich, yet largely unexamined, collection of primary source materials.