Most of the obituaries Sunday of former Rep. Bruce Alger (R-Texas) dwelled on his role in what became known as the "Adolphus Hotel Incident" in Dallas four days before the elections in November of 1960.
Alger (who died April 13 at age 96), then the Republican representing the Dallas area in Congress, led an angry demonstration of fellow conservatives as Texas Sen. and Democratic vice presidential nominee Lyndon Johnson and wife Lady Bird entered the Adolphus to address supporters.
More than a few pundits concluded that resulting voter sympathy for the Johnsons narrowly tipped Texas's electoral votes from the Republican Nixon-Lodge ticket to that of John F. Kennedy and Johnson. As Johnson aide Bill Moyers remarked: "He didn't know how he was going to carry Texas, and he greatly feared losing Texas because he thought it would discredit him in the nation and with Kennedy. If he could have thought this up, he would have thought it up."
There were later reports the Johnsons were spat upon by the placard-waving, mostly female crowd.
"There was no spitting, because our people weren't spitters," Alger recalled to this reporter in 2011. He proudly recalled the sign he waived in Johnson's faced that day reading "LBJ SOLD OUT TO YANKEE SOCIALISTS" and how "I wanted to make sure Lyndon saw I was the one carrying it."
But there was much more to Alger's remarkable life than this one incident the press so focused on after his death. Alger, in fact, was the forerunner of the "tea party" conservative of today.
Like Ron and Rand Paul, he was outspoken in his criticism of the modern role of the federal government and of the U.S. role in international organizations such as the United Nations. Like fellow Texan Ted Cruz, Alger based his philosophy on firm adherence to the Constitution and never compromised on what he considered constitutional violations.
And like Marco Rubio, the young Alger was a much-in-demand speaker by fellow conservatives. One example was a dinner for the fledgling Republican Party in Mississippi in September 1960.
"... 505 guests showed, raising $60,999 at a $100-a-plate function to hear Texas Republican Rep. Bruce Alger decry Southern Democrats," then State Republican Chairman Wirt Yerger Jr. wrote in his memoir "A Courageous Cause." "I told the crowd 'it would be nice to have some Mississippi congressmen with conservative records like his.'"
A graduate of Princeton University who played on its football team, the young Alger joined the Army Air Corps in World War II and saw action in the Pacific as one of Gen. James Doolittle's B-29 bomber pilots.
Following his discharge, Alger settled in suburban Dallas and, in his words, "made pretty good money" in the real estate development business that made Dallas a major post-war mecca. Alger was also president of the White Rock (Texas) Chamber of Commerce.
"When our congressional seat opened up in 1954, several community leaders urged me to run," he told this reporter. "I decided to run, but as a Republican — which surprised folks, because there wasn't much to the Republican Party in Texas then."
Campaigning as tirelessly as he did in building his business, Alger canvassed entire office buildings and high school football games at half-time. In an upset that made national news, first-time candidate Alger rolled up 53 percent of the vote against Democrat Wallace Savage, the former Dallas mayor.
The only Republican member of Congress from the Lone Star State was not welcomed warmly by the two Texas Democrats who dominated Capitol Hill: House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson.
"After I took office, the Texas [congressional] delegation had one of its breakfasts and the speaker was Paul Butler, who was the Democratic National Chairman," recalled Alger. "He said to me: 'There's 24 of us [Democrats in the Texas delegation] and one of you. You won't be here long.'
"I smiled at him and replied: 24 to one? Looks like pretty even odds to me!"
The firebrand Republican drew widespread attention with his opposition to federal programs ranging from Medicare and public housing to the subsidized school lunch program. Of the latter, he told this reporter years later: "I felt it would become a case of the federal government mismanaging something that was best handled by parents and local school authorities. And today, the First Lady criticizes the program for its lack of nutritious food. I was right then — I'm right today."
The Adolphus Hotel incident notwithstanding, the Republican Party was growing in Texas by leaps and bounds in the early 1960s. Days after the incident and amid widespread press criticism, Alger was re-elected by a landslide.
Two years later, fellow conservative Ed Foreman became the second GOP House member from Texas and GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Cox drew a strong 43 percent of the vote against Johnson ally John Connally. Polls showed Alger's friend Barry Goldwater in strong shape to carry the state's electoral votes against Kennedy and Johnson in 1964.
"But the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas changed everything," recalled Alger, pointing out how Johnson was now president and headed for a big win in the 1964 elections. The new president "pulled out all the steps" against old antagonist Alger, the former congressman said, "and it was just impossible for me to win under the changed climate." He lost to Democrat Earle Cabell, a former Dallas mayor, by a margin of 57 to 43 percent.
Believing that politics was an avocation and not a profession, Alger never sought office again. He returned to real estate, became a stock broker, and eventually retired to Florida.
Sharp until his final years, the former congressman gave interviews and never backed down from his most controversial stands or actions. Upon learning from this reporter in 2011 that a picture of him brandishing his "LBJ Sold Out" placard was featured in the latest volume of Robert Caro's Johnson biography, an excited Alger promptly went out and bought it.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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