Ralph Carr Shows Politicians Can Stand for Liberty

The following article originally was published December 21 by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

Ralph Carr shows politicians can stand for liberty

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

If you still have last-minute Christmas shopping to do, we have a suggestion. Adam Schrager, the thoughtful 9News reporter, wrote a book called The Principled Politician: Governor Ralph Carr and the Fight Against Japanese American Internment. This delightful account of important Colorado history came out in paperback earlier this month.

Carr served as governor from 1939 to 1943, an era spanning parts of two of the nation’s greatest challenges: the Great Depression and World War II. Carr responded to both these crises by defending liberty and individual rights.

As Carr entered office, Colorado government faced a $1.8 million deficit. Unlike many of today’s politicians, whose answer to deficits is to raise taxes and “fees” or increase government spending, Carr called for fiscal responsibility.

Schrager writes that Carr “announced plans to abolish many of the state bureaus and boards established by the last administration.” He also “proposed shifting the net income tax benefiting schools into the state’s general fund.” During a speech he “told the crowd that anyone who joined the civil service to have an easy job financed by taxpayers… could expect to be fired.”

We wish we could hear Carr’s common-sense wisdom reflected in today’s political debates. (All quotations are from Schrager’s book.) “The way to save money is to stop spending it.” “Spending and lending is unsound and… thrift and the full payment of debts… is simple and common honesty.”

While seconding the nomination of Wendell Willkie, who lost the presidential contest of 1940, Carr said, “If we are ever to save this country, we must first save business. Every one of you is in business — big business and little business, farmers, stockmen, laboring men, industrialists.”

Carr turned down a chance of running with Willkie (a wise move in retrospect) to continue his work in Colorado. Carr said, “What have we done to justify your returning us to office? We have taken the income of the state of Colorado. We have lived within it. We added not a dime of new taxes. We cut the levy for state purposes… and we balanced your blooming budget.”

Carr opposed Roosevelt’s expansive political controls: “The New Deal has usurped the powers of the state [and] undermined personal liberty.”

Carr added, “It is not disloyal to oppose and to question the policy of one who has not yet proved himself omnipotent and to require that he too be limited and circumscribed by those same ideals and standards governing others. We insist that the president recognize and follow the Constitution which created him.”

Carr summarized his basic political philosophy with an eloquence rare in politics: “The individual is supreme and government is established only to protect and foster his rights.” He later added, “Every time the individual submits to a central government for a solution of another problem of business or life, there is a consequent surrender of individuality, of privilege, of right.”

Carr argued that the term “liberal” had been stolen by the left. He said, “The true liberals are those who consistently follow the proposition that liberty means freedom to exercise individual rights unaffected by external restraint or compulsion… The underlying theory of the Constitution is found in the proposition that every man may use the talents which God has given him, may reach any goal toward which he sets his eyes, and may enjoy the fruits of his ambition, his study and his toil, provided only that he does not use his powers to injure his fellows.”

The fate of the nation changed on December 7, 1941, when Japanese bombers attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor. Carr rose to the challenge, setting up “an emergency meeting of the Colorado Council of Defense for the next morning,” Schrager writes.

While most Coloradans responded to the crisis admirably, some turned to paranoia and racist threats. Some called Japanese Americans “vipers” and “yellow rats.” Various politicians and media personalities wanted to put them into concentration camps. The Denver Post wrote, “To hell with the Japs!” Nels Smith, governor of Wyoming, said “there would be Japs hanging from every pine tree” if sent to that state.

Carr rejected racism. He said, “We have among us many of a new generation of Japanese people born in the United States — sincere, earnest, and loyal.” He offered a “hand of friendship” to immigrants. He urged protection of the Bill of Rights and the “security, freedom, and opportunity” it offers.

In a public address, Carr granted the existence of enemy “fifth columnists” and assented to federal relocation policies. Yet he also spoke for “loyal German, Italian, and Japanese citizens who must not suffer for the activities and animosities of others.” He warned against “the danger of inflammatory statements and threats against these unwelcome guests” forcibly sent to Colorado.

Though we may not approve every detail of Carr’s career, he has richly earned his place in history as a man who defended liberty. We thank Schrager for telling his inspiring story.