The Congressional Journal of Barber B. Conable, Jr., 1968-1984
Edited by Bill Kauffman
Barber B. Conable, Jr.—perhaps the most respected member of Congress of his era—kept a frank, insightful, revealing journal available now for the first time thanks to the efforts of editor Bill Kauffman in The Congressional Journal of Barber B. Conable, Jr., 1968–1984.
The journal is an honest, searching, sometimes humorous, occasionally cutting, and always fascinating look inside Congress. Conable, a Republican member of the House from upstate New York, wrote perceptively about Presidents Nixon, Ford, H. W. Bush, and the leading congressional figures of the day. For seventeen years he wrote about the big events as well as daily political life in an era that included Vietnam, Watergate, political realignment, and major changes in entitlements and taxes, where he played a key role.
“Influential Republican congressman Barber Conable’s journal takes us inside committee rooms, into party meetings, onto the House floor, and throughout congressional office buildings even as he recounts his contributions to major policies of the 1970s and 1980s. Great leaders—Conable’s friends and adversaries alike—pass into view but always as real people: humorous, ego-driven, strategic, and flawed. Allowing us inside the corridors and meeting rooms of Capitol Hill as well as Conable’s own thought processes, this rare insider’s account is intimate, frank, thoughtful, and clever. It is a rare achievement and a revelatory joy to read for those who wish to know the US Congress better.”
—Douglas B. Harris, professor of political science, Loyola University Maryland
“Barber Conable had the highest respect of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He was particularly helpful to me as a young Kansas representative on issues relating to taxes, trade, and the need for American engagement in the world. He was respected across the aisle for his keen intellect, fairness, and bipartisanship.”
—Dan Glickman, member of Congress 1977–1995, and author of Laughing at Myself: My Education in Congress, on the Farm, and at the Movies
“For those who minutely observe Congress, Barber Conable, a Republican from upstate New York, is remembered as a paragon of legislative professionalism. Now comes a splendid coda to his career of quiet excellence—his journal of his years in the House. This might be the most illuminating politician’s journal since John Quincy Adams’s, which are read today for their vitriol. Conable’s will be read as a window into the era before polarization extinguished civility.”
—George F. Will
“As a congressman Barber Conable rose to the heights of influence and respect by dint of hard work, a probing intellect, an infectious bonhomie, and a passion for the political game. All these traits are evident in this sparkling journal from a bygone era filled with political wisdom, insight, drama, and pathos.”
—Robert W. Merry, author of President McKinley: Architect of the American Century
“Extraordinary! Anyone seeking to understand Congress during the mid-twentieth century must read Barber Conable’s journal. His intellect and insight treat the reader to an astonishing insider’s view of Congress from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. Because Conable intended to keep his journal private during his lifetime, there is an intimacy, immediacy, and tangible truthfulness to the writing. Reading the journal reminds one of the essential humanity of our representatives. We observe Conable early on learning how to navigate Congress and finding a place on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He had a keen eye for subtle shifts in the congressional environment and an unrelenting clarity when evaluating his colleagues. The contemporary reader can identify changing dynamics in Congress that foreshadow the Congress of the early twenty-first century.”
—Sean Q Kelly, professor of political science, California State University Channel Islands, and coeditor of Robert H. Michel: Leading the Republican House Minority
“This book is a terrific primary source for anyone with an interest in Congress and American political history. Blunt, candid, and perceptive, Barber Conable’s journal tells us a great deal about where our country was—and where it was heading. It offers something that we seldom see in politics today: honesty.”
—John J. Pitney, Jr., author of After Reagan: Bush, Dukakis, and the 1988 ElectionSee fewer reviews...
Displaying his gift for clear expression and astute insight, Conable narrates the machinations of major tax measures, trade bills, and such special interests of his as public financing of congressional campaigns. While he is never shy about expressing personal judgments, he revels in the give and take of legislative politics. Conable had an acute sense of the human dynamics of legislating: In addition to the tax bills he shaped and struggled with as the leading Republican on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, his work with the 1982–1983 Social Security Commission, led by Alan Greenspan, is a classic exercise. Conable thought a deal was critical for the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund but politically almost impossible given the differing priorities of the chief protagonists, President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill. In the journal Conable pronounces the effort doomed on January 13, 1983. Two days later he marvels at the political and personal dexterity and skill that ended up producing a deal.
The journal illuminates Conable’s intellect, his commitment to his constituents, and his appreciation of principled pragmatism; his writings are in real time, not rendered retrospectively to make himself look better, a rarity among political legacies.