Smith, Richard Norton. On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller. New York: Random House, 2014.

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller was the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in America. It was said about him that “Nelson could have been quite a glorious bum”. Instead, he devoted his life to public service, working in Franklin Delano Roosevel‎t’s Administration (though he was a Republican), and later serving four terms as a Republican Governor of New York and as a Republican Vice President of the United States. His liberal credentials were impeccable. In fact, Liberal Republicans of his era were often referred to as “Rockefeller Republicans.”


Nelson Rockefeller was an optimist and a pragmatist. He believed every problem had a solution. It is said he was a “Roosevelt Republican”—in the styles of both Theodore and Franklin.


Richard Norton Smith, the author of this book, noted in an interview immediately after the book was published[1] that Rockefeller said, “I believe if you don’t have a good education and good health, then society has let you down.” Smith further noted the irony that President Obama was probably to the right of Rockefeller politically, and how far to the right the center of gravity has moved in America.


Rockefeller wished that everyone to credibly believe that he or she could succeed in America. He believed that, as a politician, you had to give people hope. When running successfully for reelection as Governor of New York (and starting thirty points behind his opponent), he convinced New Yorkers that their taxes were well spent‎. Rockefeller advocated for preventive government, not reactive government.[2] As Smith asks in the interview noted above, can you imagine a Republican politician doing that today?


See the “Chapters” link of this blog, then go to Chapter 2 for a description of Governor Rockefeller’s politics and accomplishments. [here]

[1] Hugh Hewitt interview with Richard Norton Smith, December 15, 2014,

[2] For an example of preventive rather than reactive government, see ” Mydans, Seth, and Wayne Arnold. 2007. “Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert To Perils”. New York Times, quoting Lee Kuan Yew saying “Let’s start thinking about it now.” Lee Kuan Yew was talking about the island city-state using Dutch dyke technology to deal with a future of rising ocean waters due to global warming. As the authors of the article point out, “Let’s start thinking about it now” could be Singapore’s national motto. It would be a pretty good motto for Liberal Republicans too.