Sturdy biography of a political stalwart of the past, largely forgotten now.
Paul McNutt (1891-1955), writes Kotlowski (History/Salisbury Univ.; Nixon's Civil Rights: Politics, Principle, and Policy, 2002, etc.), was a politician through and through; he “embodied change and continuity,” a neat trick, and he managed to upset conservatives and liberals alike in his various guides as governor, federal administrator and New Deal proponent. Moreover, he was one of those now-fabled politicos who worked both sides of the aisle, not just in order to solidify power and win favor, but also because bipartisanship was the right thing to do. One of the many virtues of Kotlowski’s book is that it covers the necessary ground—a challenge, given McNutt’s many careers and accomplishments—yielding a book that is overlong but not unnecessarily padded. Another of its virtues is that it demonstrates ably that though McNutt indeed lived in a different time, with his heyday in the 1930s, it was most certainly not a more innocent one: If FDR played McNutt hard in several Machiavellian episodes, McNutt returned the favor by working his own political machine to his advantage. In doing so, he managed to alienate FDR further, all but guaranteeing that Henry Wallace would appear on the ticket, even though Wallace was considered “too liberal and idealistic in his politics, eclectic in his intellectual pursuits, and standoffish in his manners.” Another little-known aspect of McNutt’s work involved his efforts, while working as high commissioner in the Philippines, to secure the safe passage of many hundreds of Jews from Nazi Germany. Kotlowski also considers his subject’s contributions in many other venues, including his service as dean of the Indiana University School of Law.
No amount of scholarly work is likely to raise McNutt in the public consciousness, but it’s not for want of trying in this capable, readable biography.