Commentary Magazine

Order of Battle: A Republican's Call to Reason, by Jacob K. Javits

How to Carry New York

Order of Battle: A Republican's Call to Reason.
by Jacob K. Javits.
Atheneum. 328 pp. $5.95.

Jacob Javits's Republicanism has confounded his constituents since he first ran for Congress in 1946. Democrats wonder how he can be a Republican, and Republicans wonder whether he really is one. Yet despite all the musings, he has won every election he has entered—and always at the head of his ticket. Javits has his varied constituencies well in hand. He manages to assure conservative Republicans that, no matter what else he may be, he is a loyal Republican. And he has little difficulty in convincing liberal Democrats that he is about as liberal as our politicians come. The formula is unbeatable.

Order of Battle is an address to the Republican party in which Javits recounts his series of victories in enemy territory—or, How to Succeed in New York Politics Without Being a Democrat. To a party that has had the distinction of losing most of its elections in most places most of the time since 1928, such advice might be worth attending. However, Javits's only counsel to his fellow Republicans is to be more liberal: on civil rights and civil liberties, on welfare legislation and economic planning, on foreign aid and the Cold War. What he is really saying is that Republican candidates represent the minority party and should therefore make a pitch for Democratic votes. Of course, this has already been done, with some success, by several of his colleagues in and out of the Senate: Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, Clifford Case of New Jersey, Thomas Kuchel of California, Mark Hatfield in Oregon. But the trouble is that all too many Republican candidates don't seem to want to win with Democratic votes. Ballots cast by Negroes, Jews, eggheads, and other unsuccessful Americans seem a trifle tainted, and any Republican who makes a pitch for them must be somewhat suspect himself. Republicans worry about the company they keep. While they realize as well as anyone that votes are weighed by quantity rather than measured in quality, they would prefer at heart to keep the club membership exclusive.

Once anyone decides to be a party man he must create for himself an image of his party that allows him to live comfortably with it. Thus, according to Javits, the Republicans are the party of Henry Stimson, Robert La Follette, Fiorello LaGuardia, and George Norris. Such a depiction is what the psychologists call “selective perception”: it leaves out Karl Mundt. Similarly the Democrats become an admixture of Tammany Hall, the Ku Klux Klan, A. Mitchell Palmer, and John Nance Garner. And why not? Only if we engage in such good-humored caricatures, deluding no one but ourselves, can we vote a straight party ticket with a straight face.


Javits has always been a Republican. His father was an Orchard Street janitor, who got two dollars from Tammany Hall for each vote he delivered from his tenements. “I saw at close hand the evils of the Tammany-run Democratic machine in New York City—its flabbiness, its corruption, its cynical exploitation of the needs and hopes of immigrants like my family and neighbors.” Being repelled by Tammany has not made Republicans out of many New Yorkers. Yet Javits chose the Republicans and stuck with them. He voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928, not for Al Smith. He voted for Hoover again in 1932, not for Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936 he supported Landon, and in 1960 he lined up with Nixon rather than Kennedy.

Yet no matter how Javits votes in the polling booth, his voting record as a Senator hardly differs from that of liberal Democrats like Joseph Clark and Paul Douglas. On the face of it either of these men could have written Order of Battle, with only the most marginal of changes. But one thing does distinguish Republicans from Democrats, however liberal both of them may be. Liberal Democrats are essentially anti-business. They believe the values of business to be inherently corrupting and the steadfast pursuit of profit a barrier to the achievement of a rational society. Such Democrats are especially mistrustful of our large corporations, and they are at their best in conducting investigations of business skulduggery. It is here, and only here, that Javits parts company with them. He can be enlisted in liberal causes on all fronts save that which seriously criticizes the business community. For he is willing to assert, perhaps more candidly than are conservative Republicans, that theirs is “the party of business”:

“Business,” properly understood, is so central to every aspect of our civilization that Republicans should proudly anounce that they are indeed “the party of business.”

It is not clear whether Javits, when campaigning for re-election, makes this proud announcement on Lenox Avenue or outside the gates of the U. S. Steel factories in Buffalo. But he does tell us here, using Jacques Barzun for authority, that the “businessmen” of Greece and Rome and the Renaissance were the underwriters of art, culture, and humane learning. Whether General Electric and Gulf Oil are to be cast as the new Medici is not made clear. Javits does suggest that the Republicans—“as the party of business”—can take a more effective lead in the civil rights struggle than can the Democrats.

He may have a point. What Negroes want is simply to be admitted to a society that has hitherto denied them full membership. This is the meaning of “integration.” Yet Negro Americans will never be equal citizens until they can move as freely as white Americans can. No amount of civil rights bills will overcome the fact that the great majority of Negroes will continue to be ghetto-bound for many years to come. Integrated neighborhoods are out of the question for the foreseeable future because there just are not enough whites—liberal or otherwise—willing to live alongside Negroes. And so long as neighborhoods are either black or white, so will be schools and so will be people. But U. S. Steel and General Electric are in a position to do what white liberals cannot do. Being autocratic enterprises they can, without having to worry about the consequences, hire and upgrade Negroes. And these corporations, arms of “the party of business,” can do more for the cause of civil rights by putting white collars on several tens of thousands of Negroes than does all the lip service of liberal Democrats who scurry back to the other side of town at night. Better and steadier jobs are not integration; but they will have to do until the day comes when white Americans are willing to have darker-skinned Americans as their neighbors. Considering that Republicans like Roman Hruska voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it may be that Republican executives at General Motors will follow suit.

In 1946 Javits agreed to serve as his party's candidate for the House of Representatives. The district, stretching from Columbia to the Cloisters, was and is a Democratic stronghold. Yet Javits won it in the four straight elections he contested—after which it reverted to its rightful owners. In 1954 he branched out to run for Attorney General of New York State and defeated a Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Jr.) by almost 200,000 votes. Javits's initial successes, first in Manhattan in 1946 and on a statewide basis eight years later, were due more than anything else to the ethnic grapevine.


I never cease to be impressed by how rapidly the word gets around. It took only a few months for the hundred thousand or so voters of the 21st district to find out that there was a new candidate named Javits running for Congress. And it took them only a few weeks to persuade themselves to vote for this newcomer even though he was on the Republican ticket. Who tells whom is not clear. But the word gets quickly relayed. And in 1954, even in the wilds of Utica and Binghamton, key voters were apprised of the Manhattan Representative who wanted to go to Albany as Attorney General. It needs no sample survey to know that Javits wins because Jewish Democrats cross over to support him. Most Jews are safely in the Democratic column and—unlike other groups—are not usually considered as a “swing” vote susceptible to wooing by a Republican. But Javits has pulled it off. I have looked at the seven Democrats he has successively defeated, and I am convinced that all of them would have compiled records just as liberal as Javits's had they been elected in his place.

We—and by this I mean virtually every New York Jew—not only vote for Javits but, more significantly, we don't even give his opponent a second look. How many would defect were he slightly more conservative, say like Kenneth Keating, is impossible to say. But I don't think many. It is still a fact in 1964 that unassimilated ethnic groups want one of their own kind in public office, and the higher the office the better. The desire for such symbolic representation is in a sense pre-political. For in settling for an ethnic emblem, voters are trading their ballot at a rate far below what they might otherwise command for it. Yet there is no calculus telling us how to compare the psychic gratifications of an ethnic victory with the political pay-offs that might be had from electing representatives not of our own origins. Considering that the Boston Irish have ended up with a Teddy Kennedy, the Cleveland Poles with a Frank Lausche, and the Chicago Negroes with a William Dawson, New York's Jews have not done badly at all.

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