TBT: Senator Vandenberg's Bipartisan Foreign Policy
By Alyssa Berg
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is remembered by many as America’s guiding force through some of our nation’s most turbulent years. He saw the country through financial despair during the Great Depression, as well as through all of the uncertainties and hardships of conflict during World War II. Policies including the New Deal, the Social Security Act, and the Banking Act of 1935 were passed on his watch, and he is largely credited with implementing some of the most successful and timely initiatives in U.S. history to address the economic and geopolitical stresses of the era.
However, not everyone in Washington felt the President’s ideas were the best solutions for such troubled times. One notable objector was a Republican Senator from Michigan named Arthur Vandenberg. Not only had he publically opposed the President’s New Deal initiatives, but he was also a vital part of a conservative coalition that halted Roosevelt’s efforts to pack the Supreme Court with liberal-leaning judges. As one of the President’s strongest critics, Sen. Vandenberg was far from an agent of compromise in the U.S. Senate.
The turn of the decade ushered in growing concern over the state of the world, as Germany, Italy, and Japan began hostile operations that threatened the sovereignty of nations the world over. While the United States remained free, mounting pressure to intervene on behalf of the Allied Powers reached a head with Japan’s attack on American soldiers at Pearl Harbor, prompting formal U.S. engagement in 1941. Four years later, the war was drawing to a close and the United States was emerging as the leader of the newly free world, having been one of the only Allied nations to remain consistently sovereign throughout the conflict.
However, with victory came responsibility. Questions of the United States’ international post-war obligations divided Congress, with Democrats supporting continued international presence and efforts to rebuild while Republicans favored disengagement and domestic focus. The President landed on the side of the Democrats, which greatly concerned congressional Republicans, especially Sen. Vandenerg. He became one of Congress’s most vocal opponents of post-war international involvement and acted as an unofficial spokesman of sorts for those who shared his isolationist ideals. The issue continued to polarize Congress along party lines, resulting in partisan discord.
Then, in 1945 among growing concern over the threat of a remilitarized Germany and Japan, Sen. Vandenberg himself orchestrated a change of heart amongst Senate Republicans. He declared before the chamber that while he was concerned about the nation’s continued presence, no country could “immunize itself” from the realities of the international community. He then offered his and the Senate’s cooperation to the President as a post-war plan was created, which eventually included our country’s involvement in both the United Nations and NATO. Reflecting several years later, Sen. Vandenberg explained his stance on foreign policy saying, “In a word, it simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage.”
The United States’ continued involvement helped to rebuild the world after six war-torn years. Without Sen. Vandenberg’s bipartisan leadership in the Senate, that may not have been possible, and his commitment to bipartisan foreign policy sets an example that is relevant still today.
Photos courtesy of the Bipartisan Policy Center