When a liberal got a tax demand

Carl Solberg’s excellent biography of Hubert Humphrey – the liberal Mayor of Minneapolis, Senator for Minnesota, and vice president to Lyndon Johnson – contains the following story.

Until he became vice president in 1964, Humphrey was perennially short of cash. When the candidates released statements of their wealth in 1964, Humphrey was the only one to have to pad his to make him look richer than he was. He topped up his salary with speaking fees, but these dried up during his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1960. Then, as Solberg tells it, he was hit with an

“unbelievable” $225 [$1,950 in 2019$] boost in his local taxes at Waverly and heard that someone in the county assessor’s office had said “Humphrey is rich, so why not?” Humphrey was so incensed that he called on his friend [Fred] Gates in Minneapolis to rush to the courthouse and protest. 

In fairness to Humphrey, he was not a maniacal taxer. During his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1972, he attacked the high tax policies of his opponent, South Dakota’s far left Senator George McGovern. We can cut Humphrey a bit of slack over his outrage at the Wright County assessor and wonder what he might have said about modern day taxers like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Conservatives, read a liberal book. And vice versa

Like Humphrey, Solberg was a liberal. A liberal writing about a liberal might sound like something a conservative should avoid.

I think that would be wrong. Reading Solberg’s books doesn’t necessarily make you like Humphrey’s big government policies any more than you did, but it does help you to understand them better than you did. It helps, of course, that Solberg was a good writer and Humphrey was a fundamentally decent and likable man, despite what Hunter S. Thompson might have said. Mutual understanding is in short supply in American politics today. Anything that can increase it ought to be welcomed. If you’re a conservative, especially one with an interest in Minnesota’s history, this book is a good place to start. And if you’re a liberal, maybe track down a sympathetic biography of Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.