What America Needs Now is a Leader Like Joe Martin

November 14, 2010


By Mike Kirby
Sun Chronicle

I have found a political leader who can be an example for Massachusetts, Washington and all of America.

This man, while the leader of a party, has a long history of setting aside partisan demands for the good of the country. He has never been known to adhere to the "us-vs.-them" mentality that seems to pervade current American politics.

If the opposing party says one thing, his knee-jerk response is not to launch into an angry diatribe of why his party is right and the other side is wrong.

His name? Joseph W. Martin Jr.

Sure, you're saying, no wonder Kirby is praising Martin. This is a local newspaper, and Joe Martin was a local hero, perhaps North Attleboro's most well-known and greatest citizen. A congressman for nearly half a century and twice the speaker of the United States House, Martin was one of the most well-liked and well-respected Republicans in the nation for much of his time in Washington.

But I'm not trumpeting Joe Martin because he's a local boy. I'm trumpeting Joe Martin because his record was the opposite of today's leaders, who must believe polarizing the nation is better than working out a deal with the opposition party.

Though he has been dead for nearly 43 years, Martin still stands as a shining light of civility. Instead of letting something that could help Americans fail, he would always seek - and usually get - a compromise that would serve both his party and all Americans.

Don't believe me? Just go to the record books.

In 2003, Stonehill College Professor James Joseph Kenneally wrote "A Compassionate Conservative," a 335-page biography of Martin, who had donated his papers to the Easton school. (The Joseph W. Martin Institute for Law and Society opened at Stonehill in 1989.) Kenneally's book is loaded with passages that make Martin appear to be a role model for today's leaders.

For instance, the introduction states: "In this, the first full-length, scholarly examination of Martin's career, readers will encounter a devoted public servant who often modified his party's extreme stances on domestic matters during the Great Depression and on foreign policy issues leading up to World War II.

This political biography effectively illustrates that bipartisanship does not mean abandonment of principles, that kindness, integrity, and gentility are compatible with effective leadership, and that close friendships with members of the opposing party can contribute to a more effective Congress."

Later, Kenneally explains why Republicans elected Martin minority leader in 1939: "To his colleagues and Republicans throughout the nation, the new leader announced he would place patriotism about politics and direct a policy of constructive opposition whose primary objective would be to put ten million Americans back to work. ... Sure that this was the first step toward the party's revival, Republicans throughout the country celebrated the 1939 election of Martin as minority leader. For many of them he symbolized new directions for the GOP, abandonment of obstructionism, and a return to a tradition of cooperation. ... One of the reasons Democrats respected Martin was that he had curbed the wildly partisan speeches and attacks that were a hallmark of the Snell years."

The Stonehill College biography of Martin has this interesting passage: "Martin supported some New Deal measures such as the enactment of the Social Security program and was instrumental in the passage of the first minimum wage legislation, but, for the most part, was a critic of the Roosevelt administration. Nevertheless, he and the president admired each other and enjoyed a pleasant relationship.

"Although Truman and Martin were further apart politically than Roosevelt and Martin, their relationship, too, was marked by mutual respect, with Martin the only Republican at Truman's swearing-in as president in 1945.

"On New Year's Day 1947, when Martin was about to assume office (as speaker of the House), Truman phoned him and then recorded in his diary, 'He assured me that cooperation was at the top of his consideration. And that he wanted very much to help run the country for the general welfare. He told me he would be most happy to talk to me at any time on any subject. I am inclined to believe him.' "

Need more proof? A Jan. 1, 1940 profile of Martin in Life magazine has a couple of passages about Martin's leadership style:

"Joe Martin does not drive. He leads. He never says, 'Go.' He says, 'Let's go.' He is not a boss, but the captain of a team."

He has my vote.

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