By Harry Welty
Published October 31, 2002
Never Vote for a Democrat and Other Simple Lessons
When I was 11 or 12 years old, long before my obsession with politics began, I
got some unsolicited advice about voting from my Grandfather. He lived by simple
rules. One of them was: "Never vote for a Democrat." The reason for
this rule he explained to me was that, "I did it once and it was the worst
mistake I ever made." He told me that he'd voted for a Democrat for
President because he'd promised to keep America out of war. My Grandfather was
talking about Woodrow Wilson who, after his election, promptly took up arms
against Germany. From that moment on my grandfather always voted the
straight Republican ticket.
Despite my Grandfather's conviction that America had no business fighting in a
European war, once war was declared, he immediately quit his job as a school
principal and enlisted in the Army. He also lived by another simple rule:
"my country right or wrong."
George Robb was born in 1887, the youngest of six children. His older brothers
and sisters had all been born under the earth like hobbits. Their Father had dug
a hole for them into a Kansas hillside. By the time my Grandfather came along
their father had built the family a stone house. That meant that my Grandfather
never had bugs or dirt fall from the ceiling into his crib. Ah, the good life.
George grew up on the banks of the Smokey Hill River near Salina, Kansas. He
attended the rural star school along with the children of the Swedish immigrants
who settled nearby. His mother always fretted that her boys might marry Swedish
girls. Never mind the hole that they called home, Lottie Robb thought Swedes
were a "dirty" people. After I moved to Minnesota and discovered the
Scandinavian love of saunas I found this particular prejudice remarkably ill
On the other hand, my Grandfather's father, though a Republican, was as
passionate a "small d" democrat" as ever lived. He had no quarrel
with the Swedes or the former slaves who moved to Salina in the years following
the Civil War. He believed that every man should be measured by his character
not by his race, resources, or rank in society. To that end Thomas Robb
encouraged all his children in their education and every one of them attended
college at a time when even a high school diploma was a special achievement.
My grandfather earned his Master's degree in History from Columbia, University
in 1915. The Columbia campus, where my Grandfather studied, is just a stone's
throw from Harlem, then the nation's largest black community. Two year's later,
after he was shipped overseas, my Grandfather found himself in command of black
soldiers raised from the streets of Harlem. Pershing's officer corps didn't want
black soldiers in the US military and so my Grandfather found himself assigned
with his troops to the French Fourth Army. The unprejudiced French quickly
placed their orphaned American troops in the front line well before most of the
white American units were sent in to fight.
Shot to hell and gassed to boot, my Grandfather returned from the war a hero and
a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He married and got a patronage job
as Salina's Postmaster. He lost it during the Great Depression when FDR
appointed a Democrat to take his place. It was a desperate time for anyone, even
a hero, to be out scrambling for a job to care for his family.
Fortunately, my Grandfather got a lucky break. Alf Landon, the Governor and
political boss of Kansas, had to appoint a replacement for the State Auditor.
The previous Auditor, a Democrat, had died in office. Landon needed to find a
candidate who would be able to hold onto the office for the Republican Party
through some tough Depression Era elections. Who better for the job than a war
hero? My Grandfather began his service to Kansas and it would stretch out over
the next 24 years. He ran the Auditor's office with another of his simple
convictions - that a man has only one truly valuable possession, his reputation,
and that once it is gone it is lost forever.
Not long after my Grandfather's appointment Alf Landon called him into his
office and ordered him to fire the former Auditor's staff since they were all
Democrats. My Grandfather told the Governor, in no uncertain terms, that his
employees were all capable, honest people and that their political allegiance
was irrelevant to the work they were responsible for. He kept the entire staff.
Twenty-four years later, when my Grandfather retired from office, some of those
same Democrats were still working with him.
Paul Wellstone died an untimely death last week ending a campaign which the
polls suggested he was poised to win. Though Wellstone was the most
extreme end of a liberalism that my Grandfather had no use for I have no doubt
that George Robb would have admired Wellstone's convictions and forthrightness.
My Grandfather certainly had no use for Harry Truman's politics either. The
Missourian was not popular in Republican Kansas. His presidency was often
summed up with the line "to err is Truman." I was born right in the
middle of the Truman Presidency and my parents had a lot of explaining to do for
having named their baby boy "Harry." (I was named for my other
Mom once asked her father what he thought of Harry Truman. My Grandfather's
response was short and simple. "I like him." My Grandfather was able
to say this even though Truman hadn't just died in a fiery plane crash. There's
another lesson to be learned here.
Welty is a small time politician who lets is all hang out at: