Biography of Republican Governor William Scranton
The book chronicles the life of Bill Scranton growing up in the region of a city named for his great grandfather amidst family wealth from iron, coal, gas, and water and with two family members who had been elected to Congress. His mother was an outspoken 23 year member of the Republican National Committee who, though, did not want her “frail” son Bill to enter politics. At college, Bill Scranton denounced McCarthyism and established his more progressive philosophy of Republicanism that would continue through his later challenge against the Goldwater faction of the party. Ironically, his mother was active in the more conservative Grundy-Melon faction of Pennsylvania Republicanism.
Scranton served as a pilot during World War II flying combat supplies to North Africa. After the war, Scranton attended Yale and was a member of Phi Delta Phi, a fraternity membership that would otherwise mean little except to note that his fraternity brothers were to serve as a strong social network, including future President Gerald Ford (who would appoint Scranton Ambassador to the UN), Sargent Shriver, future brother-in-law to President John Kennedy, future U.S. Supreme Court Justices Bryon White (appointed by President Kennedy) and Potter Stewart, as well as Raymond Shafer (who would be Scranton’s Lt. Governor and later become Governor).
Bill Scranton’s mother’s hesitancy towards his entering politics perhaps echoed when Bill Scranton commented on his own son’s decision to seek elected office. The book quotes Scranton as proclaiming that “good public service is completely time-consuming and very tough on family life, particularly if your motivations are right—a desire to serve and not a personal ego trip.”
Bill Scranton served as a Special Assistant to President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. It was his assignment to ascertain that Secretary Dulles carried out the policies that Eisenhower and the Cabinet determined. There were some who believes Secretary Dulles had his own policy initiatives, and some saw Scranton as the true implementer of the President’s foreign policies. Meanwhile, Lackawanna Republicans were splintering into factions with six Congressional candidates. The local Republican leaders convinced Scranton to run for Congress in 1960, causing all the candidates to withdraw in deference to Scranton, a candidate with the right business, state political, and national political connections.
Ironically, John Kennedy being the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1960 was good news for the Republican Bill Scranton. Scranton’s friendship with Sargent Shriver, Shriver’s wife, and even with John Kennedy may have encouraged some bipartisan Kennedy-Scranton efforts. Scranton was elected to Congress from a district that had 50,000 more Democrats than it had Republicans. Scranton in Congress was a Republican who supported President Kennedy more than did many other Republicans, voting in support of Kennedy’s positions 54% of the time.
Several Pennsylvania Republican factions splintered even more during the 1962 elections. Social conservatives split with big business-manufacturing Republicans over who to nominate for Governor. The choice of the social conservatives, who had allied themselves with Philadelphia Republican leaders, was unacceptable to U.S. Senator Hugh Scott, who then sent word he himself would run for Governor. Many Republican leaders looked to the first term Congressman Scranton to run and keep the factions together. Scranton replied that he would run only if all 67 county Republican leaders pledged to support him. 66 did, which was close enough to “all 67” for Scranton, and he ran and was elected Governor.
Early in the campaign, Scranton called his Democratic opponent Richardson Dilworth as “soft on communism”, which was then a common Republican attack tactic that even Scranton regretted and later took back. The age of television was on the rise, and most observers believe Scranton won his televised debate with Dilworth. Dilworth had thought Scranton was not going to appear for the debate and was preparing to debate an empty chair when Scranton arrived late but ready to debate. Dilworth appeared flustered and never recovered. Scranton was also quick to capitalize on his opponent’s mistakes, as when Dilworth claimed northern Pennsylvania consisted of “nothing but bears.” Scranton noted that northern Pennsylvania contained many “educated bears, and they vote.” Scranton defeated Dilworth.
The first year of the Scranton Administration saw increases in liquor and cigarette taxes that helped balance the budget. The following year saw increases in payroll taxes to save the financially troubled unemployment compensation fund. State police wiretapping emerged as a controversial issue which remained unsettled when Scranton refused to let State Police officials testify before a legislative committee. Scranton’s proudest achievements were in education. Under Scranton’s tenure, state funding for public education increased by 50% and Pennsylvania’s first state college loan program was created. The Community Affairs Department, the first such Cabinet post in the nation, was created by the Scranton Administration. The author faults Scranton for not creating sufficient funding mechanisms for subsequent state budgets. This would boil as an issue for several years afterwards until an income tax was eventually created.
Scranton also unsuccessfully ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1964. After serving as Governor, Scranton served as Ambassador to the United Nations by appointment from his college fraternity brother, Gerald Ford. Scranton was upset over the lack of deliberations by the UN’s Security Council and its General Assembly, although he held high regard for the agencies that had specific missions.
This is an excellent biography of William Scranton that examines his life, career, and personality. The author describes Bill Scranton as someone who would make a commitment to achieve a goal and would then dedicate himself towards reaching the goal. He worked hard and was thorough in ascertaining that he was doing all that had to be done to meet his objective. This dedication made him a great candidate and Governor. Yet these same traits may have thrown him off center from the broader view required to be elected President. Overall, this is a very insightful and useful book for students of Pennsylvania political history.