Barber B. Conable Jr. - Clip 1

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Barber B. Conable Jr.


Thomas R. Bruce

Resource Type

Video Interview

Date of Recording





From the video archives of the Cornell Law School Heritage Project. The interviewer-videographer is Thomas R. Bruce. This video covers Barber Conable's reflections on the special qualities of the Cornell Law School, the importance of his experience as a small town lawyer to his subsequent career as a state senator, Member of the US House of Representatives, and President of the World Bank.

Barber Conable was born in Warsaw, New York in 1922. After graduating from Cornell in 1942 he enlisted in the Marines which sent him to the Pacific front where he learned Japanese and fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima. After the war he returned to Cornell to study law. He earned his law degree in 1948 and then later re-enlisted and fought in the Korean War.

Not long after establishing a legal practice in New York, Conable entered politics. Both his father and brother served as judges in New York state. Conable served in the New York Senate for two years, 1962 - 1964, and then was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving nine more terms until he retired in 1985. He was known on both sides of the aisle for his integrity and honesty; he refused to accept personal contributions larger than $50.

In 1986 President Reagan appointed him President of the World Bank. By the time he retired five years later he had convinced Congress to double its appropriations for the Bank.

As a Republican he was a long-time ally of Richard Nixon until the Watergate scandal. Conable broke off all communication in disgust and even refused to go to Nixon's funeral. Conable contributed to the folklore of the scandal when he heard the tape of Nixon instructing his Chief of Staff to obstruct the FBI investigation, calling Nixon's comment a "smoking gun." The phrase entered the common parlance and made its way into all the headlines.

Barber Conable was an expert in budgetary issues. As a longtime ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of his major achievements was a provision in the U.S. tax code that made so-called 401(k) and 403(b) defined-contribution retirement plans possible, and contributions to those plans tax-deferred under federal law. He also took on the World Bank at a time when most Americans saw it as deeply suspect. He reorganized its bureaucracy, extracted an increasing American contribution which encouraged other nations to follow, diverted its focus from prestige projects toward ones more clearly designed to relieve poverty, and also insisted the bank pay greater attention to the environmental impact of the large schemes it decided to support. This shift of focus did not make him popular with President Reagan's successor, prompting Conable to comment that President Bush had wanted him to support an American agenda while he had thought he was there to help poor people.

Barber Conable died in 2003.


Cornell Law School, Cornell Law School alumni


The initial phase of this project was sponsored by a generous grant from the law firm of Sutherland Asbill and Brennan LLP. Clip 1 of 2.