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tv   C-SPAN Cities Tour- U.S. Politicians  CSPAN  September 9, 2020 3:25pm-3:46pm EDT

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blunders in our lifetime. he has spent his entire career on the wrong side of history. >> our current president's failed in his most basic duty to the nation. he's failed to protect us. he's failed to protect america. and my fellow americans, that is unforgivable. >> the first presidential debate between president donald trump and former vice president joe biden is tuesday, september 29dth, at 9:00 p.m. eastern. watch live coverage on c-span. watch live streaming and on demand at or listen live on the free c-span radio app. the u.s. capitol has been home to the house and senate since 1800. but it is their home districts and states that send members to washington, d.c. over the next 90 minutes, a look at pivotal u.s. politicians as
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we travel the nation in search of their stories. coming up first, u.s. congressman and senator, former wisconsin governor and 1924 progressive party presidential candidate robert fighting bob . >> the call comes to all since. it is an unending struggle to make and keep government representative. >> founding fathers, probably the most important political figure in wisconsin history, and one of the most important in the 20th century of the united states. he was a reforming governor. he defined what progressivism is. he was one of the first to use
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the term progressive to self-identify. he was a urunited states senato who was recognized by his peers in the 1950s as one of the favor greatest senators in american history. he was an opponent of world war one. stood his ground, advocating for free speech. about all, bob follette was about the people. in the era after the civil war, america changed radically from a nation of small farmers and small producers and small manufacturers, and by the 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, we had concentrations of wealth. we had growing inequality. and we had concern about the influence of money in government. the united states senators were elected by legislators. there was huge sums of money going into those campaigns. there was corruption. you had a group of individuals
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who were looking for a way to change the status quo. and around 1900, the idea of progressivism coalesced. you had reformers, nationwide, looking at how you get into this problem, and what can we do about that. the progressives were especially interested in changing systems. they were concerned that the game was fixed. so that the big money folks, the corporations, the special interests, were going to be able to get their way. they weren't advocating any equality of result but they wanted everyone to be at the starting line, the same starting line. l a followlette went on to the united states house of representatives and a conventional congressman voting the party line but in the early 1890s, something happened to him that helped change him. 1891, he was called into the office of senator sawyer,
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republican u.s. senator, and sawyer was involved in a law case which was going to be tried by la follette's brother-in-law. sawyer offered la follette a retain for legal advice. here is $50. you'll get more when the case comes up right. and he said i'm being bribed here, and got up and walked out and his brother-in-law excused himself from the case and the story started making rounds and la follette alienated himself from the rest of the republican party establishment. according to his own story, that's when the insight hit him, this is what politics right now is about. it's about money. about those who can afford to buy justice. about those who can afford to buy offices. and he believed that the system needed to be reformed.
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so he spent the later part of the 1890s giving speeches all over wisconsin. if you wanted a speaker for your club, or your group, bob lafollette did the speech. he went to county fairs. he went to every kind of event that you could imagine. and built a reputation for himself. by 1900, he was ready to run for governor. advocating on behalf of the people. he had two issues. one, the direct primary. no more selecting candidates at conventions. two, stop the interests. specifically the railroads. >> wisconsin farmers were dependent on railroads setting prices. and they believed those prices were being fixed through collusion, as the major railroads agreed on those
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prices. railroads gave out free passes to legislators. a free pass was like getting a free rental car, because this is the way you got around, via railroad. so if you gave a free pass to every member of the legislature, it would look kindly on you, for getting free transportation from you. so la follette ran on. that and through the connections he made, throughout the state and speaking, through the data he gathered about who would likely support him, he won that nomination. la follette was opposed by the conservative republicans in the legislature, didn't get the legislation that he wanted, tried again in 1902, was elected governor, he was still being blocked by the stallwart republicans. in 1904, he went on the campaign trail against members of his own
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party. he started reading roll calls at these meetings. who voted against regulating the railroads? who voted against the direct primary? in 1904, it was the tremendous victory for bob la follette, he not only won re-election, he won enough of the progressive supporters in the legislature. the other thing he was successful in doing is he believed in referendum, recall, and initiative. and he was able to get the legislature to agree that a primary bill would be passed, but only if it was passed by a referendum? well la follette when he campaigned, he distributed literature, on one side of it supporting bob la follette and the other side a reminder to
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vote yes on the referendum so he would use his campaign machinery to campaign for both the cause and the man. at the time bob la follette was governor, the united states senators were still being elected by the state legislature. one of the progressive reforms that progressives all over the country advocated was the direct election of senators. 1905, a senate position opened up in wisconsin. and bob la follette announced that he was going to run for senator, but he was not going to resign his position as governor until his reforms were passed. so he was successfully elected senator, stayed in wisconsin, for the first nine, ten months of his term, and not until the legislature adjourned, after passing his program, that he assumed his seat in washington, d.c., in 1906.
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that began a 20-year period of service in the united states senate. bob la follette was trying to repeat on a national level some of his successes in wisconsin. la follette's methods of politics had to change, because he was dealing with persuading a majority of 96 senators to support his positions. and la follette was a master tactician. just like on the state level, he was able to gather data on who would support him, who he would need to make contact. he was a master of rules in the senate. so bob la follette used the fill buster to stop legislation that he felt was harmful. he was recognized in the u.s. senate as a leader of a small group of progressives there, whose votes were needed by the
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majority to pass legislation. la follette was a republican, as were most progressives in the u.s. senate, and that group of 12 or 14 votes that he controlled, and allowed them to negotiate, in terms of bob la follette spreading progressive ideas nationally, he used two techniques. one, he started a magazine called la follette's magazine, great at promoting the cause, great at promoting the la follette's name, that magazine still exists today, it's called the progressive. but secondly, bob loved to speak in public. if you wanted a speaker, bob la follette would go anywhere in the nation to speak. he did this partly because he was not an independently wealthy man. he needed the income through speaking but he would go to cha ta qua, around the country, and
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various events to spread the word, and he started getting progressive candidates in the democratic party. woodrow wilson getting elected governor of new jersey in 1910 as a progressive. teddy roosevelt nationally was viewed as a progressive with the kind of trust-busting he was interested in doing, fighting against monopolies, child labor, reformers around the nation who were concerned about the use of children in factories, and eliminated those. bob la follette opposed war. he voted for woodrow wilson in 1916, bob la follette was a republican but he voted for wilson because he believed in wilson's pledge to keep the united states out of the war. in april of 1917, woodrow wilson asked congress to declare war on germany. bob la follette was only of six
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united states senators to oppose that war. he was concerned that only munitions makers, profiteers would benefit from that, that the people would suffer through the loss of loved ones in the military, he was concerned that the government was not telling the people the full cost of the war. his principle concern was the suppression of civil liberties. in 1917, congress passed a bill called the espionage act. that bill didn't have anything to do with espionage. it wasn't about spying. it was about suppressing opposition to the war. newspapers could be shut down. and were shut down, as a result of that. people were jailed for their criticism of the war. and bab la follette believed
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that the bill of rights was not repealed because the united states was at war. and an event, on september 20th, 1917, was a critical turning point for la follette, he had a speech in saint paul, minnesota, and at that meeting, he was critical of the war effort. he said we have grievances against germany. but those grievances are not sufficient to go to war. the associated press reported him as saying we have no grievances against germany. that news story created a national uproar. in wisconsin, 90% of the faculty of the university of wisconsin signed a round robin petition opposing la follette. theres were calls and an investigation in the united states to expel bob la follette
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from the state. there were threats on his life. la follette's point was i didn't say this. but the war hysteria that was on, that explanation didn't carry much weight because he did oppose the war. it wasn't until may of 1918 that the associated press apologized for their error. it wasn't until 1919 that the united states senate cleared his name and said there are no grounds for expelling la follette. and la follette's fame, and the respect that he has, comes from his stance for civil liberties when he was one of the few people in the country speaking out on behalf of the right of the people to exercise their free speech rights under the constitution. bob la follette i think was interested in being president from the very beginning. 1908, bob la follette & in the
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united states senate only two years and throws his hat in the ring, teddy roefld's term is coming to an end. everybody expects william howard taft is going to get the nomination. bob thinks he would be a good candidate and a successful candidate to be voted candidate of the republican senate. 1912 is the year that la follette thought would be his year. he sounded out teddy roosevelt. teddy said i'm not going to be running. bob la follette was going to be the leader of the progress ives. challenging william howard taft fr for the republican nomination. after anti-taft forces start developing in some strength, roosevelt changes his mind, throws his hat in the ring, la follette is outraged at this, he
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is not going to support roosevelt at the convention and takes his fight to the convention, and william howard taft gets the nomination, teddy roosevelt runs as an independent on a progressive ticket. he did finally raun for president on his own progressive ticket in 1924. . la follette looked at the two parties, davis and democrats coolidge, and the republicans and said both of these are conservative parties, neither of them are running on progressive reform issues. and he created a third party that ran with burton wheeler, a democrat, as his vice president, and la follette for president. it was poorly funded. it had about $250,000 to spend
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nationally. that was compared to about $4 million that the republicans had. and about $2 million the democrats had. la follette relied on his own speech making ability. >> each one should consider it his patriotic duty to build at least into the life of the country -- >> amazingly, he got about 17% of the vote nationally in that election. that was the, at the time, the second best run of a third party, only teddy roosevelt's bull nose progressive party exceeded that, ross perot in 1992, matched and slightly exceeded la follette's effort. he carried only wisconsin but he came in sekz in about ten other states and that was la
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follette's last hurrah running for president in 1924. the la follette has kind of imagine nick wisconsin. the two sons went ahead and created that third political party, the progressive party, in wisconsin, and then attempted to take that party nationally in 1938. carrying on the issues that old bob brought before, which were important in the context of the 1930s. so you saw things like unemployment compensation. you saw many of the ideas that you found in the new deal, emerged out of wisconsin. franklin roosevelt delivered patronage in wisconsin through the wisconsin progressives rather than the wnz democratic party and the -- the wisconsin democratic party and that idea continued right down through bronson la follette, a third
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generation, descend and from bob as attorney general. and many of the ideas that bob la follette fought for are still open issues. la follette called for the direct election of presidents, as opposed to using the electoral college. he wanted to see the elimination of the influence of money in campaigns. he wanted popular review of judicial decisions. being able to overturn supreme court decisions. and he wanted referenda on calling war that the united states would not be able to go to war except in a defensive fashion without a popular referendum. some of those ideas are still being debated today. >> it shall not corrupt, but
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shall obey the government that guards and protects its rights. neither path to citizenship is -- >> men must be aggressive if government is to be saved from those who are aggressive for what is wrong. >> la follette's time in congress coincides with charles curtis of kansas, senate majority leader in 1924 to 1929 and from 1929 to 1933, he served as the 31st vice president, and broke ground as the first in that position to be of native american descent. we're going to leave this program and take you live to the white house, where president trump is going to speak about judicial nominations. >> the nomination, of a supreme court justice is the most important decision


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