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Ellis G. Arnall was Governor of Georgia, his native state, from 1943 to 1947; in those four years, he restored the prestige of the state university, put through the repeal of the poll tax, fought the Klan in the open, and worked unceasingly to diversify the agriculture of the land he loved so well. A leading Democrat, who speaks his mind with courage and candor, he is the author of The Shore Dimly Seen and What the People Want.


by Ellis G. Arnall

1

THE opinion that the United States will embrace conservatism for a long period, beginning with the election of 1948, requires the rejection of almost all the facts available and the adoption of an illogic that is stupendous. Since V-J Day, in no country except the Union of South Africa has a conservative party won at the polls in a free election.

That does not mean that, because of the tactical situation and the acknowledged disgruntlement of average Americans with runaway inflation and somewhat irresponsible bipartisan diplomacy, the Republican Party may not retain control of the House, even retain control of the Senate, or possibly elect Thomas E. Dewey as President. Politics in America can be temporarily illogical; and illogical though the thought of a Republican victory may seem, it is not impossible.

However, to the surprise of American onlookers, who were excited by the magnificent courage and even more magnificent rhetoric of Winston Churchill, the Conservative Party in England was reduced to a hopelessly ineffective opposition status in the post-war election. Wherever free elections were held on the Continent, without the intervention of either Russian or Western force, the victory went either to the centrist or the mildly leftist parties.

The Democratic Party of 1948 enters the campaign with certain obvious handicaps. President Truman is not an attractive candidate. The Democratic Party has been in power for almost sixteen years. There exists a revolt from party leadership of three elements held within the organization by President Roosevelt: the labor vote, the intellectual, and the Southern organizations. There is general dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living and with the shortage of housing. Universal military training is eyed with suspicion by many Americans. The failures of American diplomacy in the Far East, Palestine, and Italy, and the obvious need to reassociate American foreign policy with American morality, have weighed heavily upon the consciences of many voters.

Those are the liabilities, as stated by the petitioners who would seek to have the Democratic Party declared insolvent and proceed with a liquidation. This metaphor was suggested by Walter Lippmann, who wrote earnestly, on the eve of the conventions of the two major parties, that the Democrats, whom he foresees as certain of defeat, should select as their candidate someone suitable to act as receiver. In courts of equity, it is not considered desirable to place a going concern in receivership or bankruptcy, or to order it dissolved and liquidated and its assets distributed, unless the liabilities as actually proved exceed the assets as properly ascertained.

Republican political orators, from 1936 through 1944, continually asserted that Franklin Delano Roosevelt overstated the assets of his party and concealed certain of its liabilities. Seeking Democratic liquidation, they predicted it -- from the "election of a Chinaman" as prophesied by Henry L. Mencken in 1936, to the election of Thomas E. Dewey as predicted by Herbert Brownell in 1944.

Any middle-of-the-road party has a tendency to become a coalition of divergent interests, whether in opposition or in power. It is equally true that a conservative party tends to become a regional and caste organization, especially when trusted with office for longer than a very brief interval while the center regroups its forces. Neither the Republican Party in the United States nor the Conservative Party in Great Britain has ever made, within the past three quarters of a century, the slightest effort to be national in scope; they were, frankly at times but more often surreptitiously, dedicated to the service of limited groups within favored sections.

Geographically, the Republican Party made no contest in more than a fourth of the American states, and little more than token resistance in some others. Similarly, the Conservative Party in Great Britain made no pretense to nation-wide competition for Parliamentary seats. The Democratic Party is aggressive even in Vermont, and at one time or another has carried every American state, just as the now deceased Liberal Party in Britain battled for almost every constituency. Reaction aims at control of government, not at polling the people.

The Democratic Party always has been a coalition. Consequently, the Democratic Party always has carried water upon both shoulders, and moved forward grudgingly two steps and retreated one. The imminence of its dissolution has been pointed it out through the years by its critics, with striking phrases and equally striking inaccuracy.

Actually, only the stratification of American society can produce liquidation of the middle-of-the-road party. While this stratification is asserted by spokesmen of the extreme Left, and tacitly confirmed by such responsible conservatives as Senator Taft by his sponsorship of subsidized housing for low-income groups, it is neither acknowledged nor desired by the average American.

But the durability of the Democratic Party as a political entity and its immediate future, in the 1948 election and in the subsequent four years, are quite different things. They bear a relationship only because it is essential to understand the nature of the Democratic coalition and the mechanics of American politics.

Modern political history in the United States dates from 1868, when the extreme conservatives, the railroad entrepreneurs, the extreme Eastern sectionalists, and the established manufacturers of the East seized control of the Republican Party, ousted the fervid abolitionists, dismissed the remaining Whigs to the status of innocuous elder statesmen, and entered into an era of corruption that even the more dishonorable of the early Federalists or the more venal of the leaders of the party sponsored by the Bank in Jacksonian days would have gagged at.

Broken effectively because of the flirtation of a few leaders with the Knights of the Golden Circle in the Middle West, because of the unpopularity of its historic stand for civil liberties in the East, and because of the disfranchisement of the South during the longest and bitterest military occupation in modern history, the Democratic Party entered that era in a condition that its enemies found invitingly unhealthy.

By 1872, the first modern Democratic coalition was established, when gallant and cantankerous Horace Greeley flung his battered old white hat into the ring and set off tilting at windmills as both the Democratic donkey and the Rosinante of his own heroic imagination. They did not win that year, but by 1876 they had enough strength to do so, only to be cheated. In 1884 the Democratic Party was in power, and though, by the device of nominating the Wendell Willkie of his day, Benjamin Harrison, the Republicans returned transiently to the Presidential office, they were driven into complete retreat as a national party, and by 1896 had recognized their completely regional position.

The Democratic coalition of 1896, however, that went down to defeat was not the same coalition that existed in 1876 and for twenty years thereafter. Industrial workers, herded to the polls under threats, formed the backbone of the conservative vote, while the surprised and normally somewhat conservative farmers trooped into Democratic ranks. Despite the defeats that followed, including the merited one of 1904 when the Democrats retreated into a platform more conservative than their opponents', the coalition held and was successful in 1912. In 1916 it demonstrated the new geography of American politics when Woodrow Wilson won without the support of any of the states with heavy electoral votes.

The Southern-progressive-agrarian coalition of Wilsonian days disintegrated, but by 1932 a new coalition had been established. It is described by its critics as a combination of the South, the labor unions, the city machines, and the intellectual Left. Not a wholly accurate description, it will serve. The coalition was fashioned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was a political genius of the first order.

2

THE death of President Roosevelt, the end of World War II, the growing tensions within the Democratic Party and the world-wide feeling of insecurity present three questions about American politics. Can the Democratic Party win in 1948? Will the Democratic Party hold together? If it does not, what will happen?

It is asserted that labor is sulkily disappointed, that the South is in revolt, that the city organizations are languid, and that the intellectual leftists or leftist intellectuals have abandoned the Democratic Party altogether. Those assertions require objective examination.

There is the labor lassitude. The leaders of the great unions, and the men and women who work on assembly lines and in thousands of other occupations, are supposed to be indifferent to the success of the Democratic ticket in 1948.

Actually, labor organizations and individual members of unions, as well as unorganized workers generally, are exceptionally concerned about the result this fall. Only the very youngest workers, those below the mid-twenties in age, fail to remember the Depression. For most of those who are just at the thirty level, including those who went through five years of war, the memory of the soup kitchens and the bread lines is more lasting than the memory of the war. The memory of joblessness and of the foreclosures that swept home ownership to the lowest level in American history by 1932 is keen among the older group. Emotionally, if not wholly logically, they associate "Depression" with "Republican."

Practically, their leaders must get them to the Polls for the all-important Congressional elections. Except for a few unions that have the status of "company unions" because they serve monopolies, and whose leadership is Republican, and a few idealistic doctrinaires who dream of a genuine American Labor Party, and a handful of yet unpurged Commies who want a reactionary Congress in 1949, labor leaders are united in a determination not to elect a Taft-Hartley Congress.

It is impossible for labor organizations to get their members to the polls in the Congressional races without getting them to the polls to vote for Presidential electors. Labor will not bolt the Democratic Party to vote for Governor Dewey.

Republican enthusiasm over the campaign of Henry A. Wallace had become muted by the time of the National Convention. It was the New Party that killed the chance of Senator Taft for the nomination and compelled the unenthusiastic acceptance of a previously defeated candidate, in defiance of party tradition that no Republican who loses shall ever be given a second chance.

Labor is not excited about the New Party. Unorganized workers, whether in white collars or shirt sleeves, have slightly greater inclination to vote for Mr. Wallace than do the men and women in unions, but it is their personal tribute to the candidate and his deep human sympathies that veers them in this direction, and this transient emotion does not sway any decisive number.

The actual voting strength for the Wallace party will come from another source. It will come from the grain-belt states, and chiefly from the women of those states. They are keenly aware of the bitter failures of our bipartisan foreign policy; they are often unaware of its successes. They object deeply and, so far as the original plan presented is concerned, with very good reason, to UMT and the establishment of a military republic to supplant American democracy. They understand that, whether some Communists and fellow travelers may or may not be active in Henry Wallace's campaign, he is a man of abiding sincerity. Perhaps his are somewhat naive; perhaps they are tinged mysticism but they attract those who are understandably urgent in their emotional bias against war and bitterness and hunger.

It is from those sources that the New Party will obtain its four million votes, and some 60 per cent of those votes will come squarely off the Republican ticket. Except on the Pacific Coast, the Democrats will lose few votes that will affect the Electoral College results, while the Republicans will be affected in those states where the Dewey-Warren ticket needs votes the most.

As for the defection from the Democratic Party of the class that the critics, somewhat snidely, call "intellectual leftists," little can be noted. This group, comprised of the brilliant younger men who entered government during the days when the New Deal was engaged in domestic reforms of the utmost magnitude, and of those who share their thought play with Americans for Democratic Action and other such ideas, and voice their disappointment. But unlike the disillusioned young men of 1920 who either avoided the polls or cast a protest vote for Eugene Debs because of their disgust with the Mitchell Palmer outrages, in disregard of the excellent liberal record of Governor Cox, they will not leave the Democratic Party.

3

THEN there is the South, which is in revolt as it always is in Presidential years. This time the revolt may be serious enough to cost the Democrats the electoral votes of two or three states, if the men who managed the revolt have their way and the unfortunate politicians whom they have selected as their victims do not escape in some fashion.

The politics of the South is little understood by the rest of the country. The connection between the Dixiecrat Party and the struggle for ownership of the tideland oil reserves was adequately exposed by the Atlanta Constitution, which declared that oil lobbyists staged and controlled the Dixiecrat Convention at Birmingham and manipulated its steering and platform committees like puppets. The difficulties of Southern liberals have been revealed often enough in their own outpourings and in more dispassionate accounts of their efforts to eliminate outside domination of Southern politics.

As conditions now exist, the votes of Alabama, a state which has relapsed into the control of the absentee owners of its natural resources, and of Mississippi, almost certainly will be cast for a Dixiecrat nominee. Those of Georgia, perhaps, may be wasted in some other fashion, if a plot to keep the electors from being committed to the Democratic Party's nominee can succeed. In South Carolina, the Dixiecrat nominee is the Governor of the state. All other states of the South are safely Democratic under all conditions.

The liberals of the South are annoyed with the submission of some of the so-called "civil rights" measures by President Truman. They forced the elimination of the poll tax in Louisiana and Georgia -- and for that matter in Tennessee, though a legal technicality restored it. They recognize the futility of such measures as the Fair Employment Practices Law in improving the economic status of the Southern Negro. They have compelled adoption of measures that give to all citizens of many Southern states better schools, better health services, and more adequate public welfare benefits. But they are not going to leave the Democratic Party, because they have nowhere else to go. Neither has the South.

Governor Dewey has seen to that, by his opposition to any readjustment of the freight rate discriminations against Southern industry and by his view -- for when he speaks openly upon a subject he speaks fully and frankly, it must be said -- that the Southern and Western states are suitable only for economic exploitation.

Governor Dewey's views were adequately summarized in his written statement of March 29, 1943, to the Interstate Commerce Commission, protesting against any proposal to readjust and equalize freight rates as ordered by the Congress:

This would mean an increase in the cost of producing and manufacturing goods manufactured in New York State, which would make it more difficult for concerns to manufacture in New York State and make it more attractive for them to shift their manufacturing operations to the South.... New York did not create the present rate structure. Industries have located, workers have made their homes in reliance upon the present rate structure.... I insist that the rate structure should not be changed.

The Southern liberals, looking at Republican sponsorship of the Bulwinkle-Reed Bill, which allows transportation companies exemption from the laws against conspiracy in restraint of trade, and considering the financial backing of the Dixiecrat Party, regard the 1948 Republican ticket as a marriage of the transportation monopoly to the grabbers of the tideland oil fields. Other Southerners have other views, but they are views that will compel them to vote the Truman-Barkley ticket. Habit is one of these; the Democratic Party has been the Southern party all their lives. Selfishness is another; the South has known no prosperity since the War Between the States, except under the Wilson and Roosevelt-Truman administrations. Perhaps political cowardice is a third.

Except for a very few politicians, whom the backers of the Dixiecrat Party undoubtedly regard as expendable, there is nobody in Southern politics who wants to invite annihilation. They recall what happened, for example, in North Carolina as an aftermath of the 1928 Hoovercrat secession from the party: Senator Furnifold Simmons, possessor of the ablest political mind and the toughest political machine in the state's history, was wiped out overnight because he joined in the bolt against Alfred E. Smith. It will be far less surprising if the Alabama and Mississippi electors come back into the Democratic fold than if there is additional Southern bolting.

4

AN ACTUAL examination of the asserted liabilities of the Democratic Party, other than the supposed revolts of the South, labor, New Dealers, and city bosses, is an essential preliminary to any evaluation of the election chances of Harry S. Truman or any prediction of the future of the Democrats.

The greatest liability is the party's long tenure of office. Sixteen years in power has aged its leadership. President Truman, himself a veteran of politics, has shown a tendency to select advisers and to make appointments from the older group. The men coming up have had their enthusiasm dulled by the feeling that there was no opportunity for advancement.

Likewise the long tenure of the Democrats in power has emphasized the tensions within the party. In the Congress, it has placed committee dominance in many instances in the hands of individuals who have few qualifications except that they come from safe districts. That is a definite liability, which the party's leadership would do well to admit and to correct. But it cannot cost an election. It functions only to handicap the party organization, to slow down the making of decisions, and to reduce the quality of secondary administrative chiefs to the approximate level always maintained, except under Theodore Roosevelt, by the Republican Party. It is a liability of the party, but not one with which too many of the voters are actively concerned.

The public is concerned first with the cost of living and second with the problem of housing. But the rising cost of living is associated in the minds of most of the public with the election of a Republican Congress in 1946. The average voter accepts the theory of Republican responsibility for inflation, the elimination of all price controls and of the orderly allotment of primary materials, and the faulty tax reduction program that channeled most surpluses into the reserves of large corporations.

The public recognizes the responsibility of the Republican Party for the failure to meet the housing requirements of the people. In the public mind the successes of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration are identified with the Democratic Party. Perhaps it is an emotional bias that speaks in their minds, but they remember that America was well on the way toward widespread home ownership when the war interrupted the New Deal's housing program. President Truman has insisted repeatedly upon the adoption of a housing program; the inhabitants of trailer camps, the young people now doubling up with relatives, and the white-collar class that has seen housing prices rise completely beyond its means hold the Republican Party responsible for their plight.

On the issue of foreign policy, the Republicans can make no campaign. The policy has been bipartisan. Many Democrats will agree that President Truman may have been mistaken in making it so. The ultra-conservative infiltration can be held responsible for every mistake: for the disgraceful and cowardly attack upon fundamental liberties in Greece; for the condoning of Perón; for the retention all too long of the moronic little King of Italy; for the confused policy as to Palestine. What diplomatic victories America has won have come from following an altogether different line, which was realistic rather than expedient. The curtain of secrecy that surrounds the making of foreign policy is as much a Republican responsibility as it is a Democratic responsibility. But in the public mind it is a much greater liability.

Acceptance of reactionary participation in the making of foreign policy and the removal of foreign policy improperly from the sphere of public discussion and political determination was forced upon President Truman by well-meaning advisers of both parties, who pointed out to him the refusal of the reactionary leadership of 1918 to follow the policies of the American chief of state. That the crisis in the conduct of American foreign policy after World War I was due partly to President Wilson's unwisdom in making it a personal rather than a party issue and to his own physical collapse, literally on the eve of a popular victory, was overlooked in the fear that paralysis would overtake the conduct of American foreign policy unless it was determined by compromise.

The want of foresight of President Truman in accepting Republican interference in the conduct of diplomacy was more than matched by the impropriety of Republican participation in such counsels. It was an act of political immorality that it is impossible to condone. The conduct of our relations with foreign countries, the mighty issues of war and peace, and the question of national and individual survival should be determined by the people. The conduct of diplomacy through a dilution of policy masquerading as cooperation is dangerous, unconstitutional, and unwise. The participation, at any policy-making level, of any representative of the opposition party in the conduct of any Federal agency except those relating exclusively to the armed services is effrontery. If the opposition party accepts the foreign policy of the Chief Executive, as it should if that policy is wise, no issue exists upon that subject to submit to the people in an election; if it does not concur, it is its duty to criticize and thereby enlighten the public, so that the question may be settled at the ballot boxes.

The Republican Party, by its discovered disingenuousness in accepting a part in the framing of American diplomatic policies, is properly barred from any criticism of any failures, for which it is bound to accept completely all responsibility, and is stopped from claiming any share in the successes. This is a harsh structure, though eminently fair under the rules of logic and the common law, which holds that a trespasser is entitled to no compensation for improvements upon property but is liable for any damage that he may do. It is also justified by the record of muddling since the death of President Roosevelt. The bipartisan dilution of the Roosevelt European policy is a Republican responsibility. Broadly based democratic regimes were contemplated by Mr. Roosevelt in all liberated Europe. Democracy's most effective bulwark against Communism was recognized to be the democratic elements in the free nations, and the expatriated reactionaries who had fled or collaborated with Nazis deserve no American support. The Republican Party has forced on President Truman, through the myth of "bipartisan policy-making," mistakes hardly less deplorable than the disgraceful and cynical utilization of American armed forces in Central America in the Coolidge days.

Mr. Truman unquestionably must share with his bipartisan advisers some part of the responsibility for the not infrequent ineptitudes of the tea-toting wonder boys and senile brass-hats that have been forced upon the American people as representatives abroad in all too many instances. Instead of being deluded by the myth of non-political and bipartisan conduct of some phases of public affairs, he might have recalled that a very good case can be made out for the claim that the seeds of World War II were sown when Herbert Henry Asquith, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, succumbed to the blandishment of the Tories and admitted them to the war cabinet.

The historic role of the Republican Party, from the Caribbean scandals of the Grant administration so eloquently denounced by Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, through the outrages that marked our enslavement of the Philippines, to the era of unprovoked invasion of Nicaragua, has been one of support to the worst reactionary groups abroad. It inspires no confidence in the American people today.

Much of the campaign of 1948 must revolve around the personalities of the candidates of the two major parties.

Harry S. Truman's stock, as quoted in the popularity polls, has shown an unusually wide fluctuation. He is liked by Americans because he is one of themselves; he is disliked by Americans because he is not a strong leader in the Rooseveltian sense, when those hours come when they feel the need for strength. He has an excellent record, according to liberal statistics, but many liberals fear his devotion to the political party that he heads; yet, paradoxically, some party stalwarts fear that his liberalism causes him to forget some of the exigencies of party manipulation. His formal speeches lack the polish and the masterful delivery of his predecessor; his informal speeches sound like George Babbitt addressing a luncheon club. Then suddenly the realization arrives that this man is very typical of America, and that the criticism of him is the self-criticism of Americans, and that on an election day they are very likely to vote for one of themselves.

They do not feel that way about the present Governor of New York.

5

CONSIDERED objectively, it is difficult to forecast the election results of November, 1948, except for the near-certainty that the Democrats will regain control of the Senate. It is quite possible that Governor Dewey could win the Presidency, while losing for his party both branches of Congress. It is equally possible that President Truman might win, while the Democrats either lose the House or win it by so narrow a margin that their control will be nominal rather than effective. The outlook for effective cooperation between the Congress and the Executive would seem slightly better if the Democrats win, but inevitable political realignments must occur in America before the Congressional elections of 1950. Consideration of these raises the question of the future of the Democratic Party, whether it wins or loses this November.

The final adoption in 1804 of the Twelfth Amendment to the Federal Constitution acknowledged a profound change in the form of American government. It recognized the position of the President of the United States as a party leader. In effect, it provided that the United States should have a two-party system of government.

It is fundamentally because of the Twelfth Amendment, which provides for the separate election of a President and a Vice-President by the Electoral College, that no third-party movement has been possible in the United States. Either the new party must swallow up one of the old parties, as the Republican Party formed by a merger of free-soilers and abolitionists swallowed up the ineffective Whig organization, or it must represent nothing more than a temporary party of protest like the Populist, the Bull Moose, and the La Follette Progressive.

No one recognizes this constitutionally impelled political design more fully than does Senator Robert A. Taft. It is possible to disagree with his apparent premise, derived not from his father but from the Bull Moose doctrinaires, that the time of America's maturity has been reached and that American frontiers are exhausted; it is not possible to discount either his sincerity or the logical manner in which he has sought to make the Republican Party over into coalition of the privileged industrialists, the larger partners, and the to-be-subsidized completely dispossessed. That is a reasonable assumption for anyone who believes that America must now be divided along caste and economic lines alone into a Right and a Left.

If the Democrats should lose the 1948 election by a heavy margin, and if the New Party should achieve some six million votes that would record unanticipated gains in industrial centers, it is possible that a serious attempt at the organization of a new party might be undertaken. Walter Reuthier, with his mildly socialist viewpoint and his unquestioned adherence to constitutional democracy, might find it possible to organize the equivalent of an American Labor Party. It could not hope to win the 1952 election, but it might be the winner in 1956.

If the Democrats should lose narrowly, regaining control of the Senate, the reorganization of the party would be inevitable. Younger leaders would emerge. Labor and Southern and Western states would be courted more effectively. The party would be revitalized and would return to power after a four-year lapse.

Much the same thing would happen to the Democrats if they win this fall. They would adjust their internal differences. Dissidents, who remained silent during the Roosevelt period, would be disciplined. The Democratic Party would settle down to a long period of uninterrupted control over both the executive and legislative branches of government.

Some long-needed reforms would be introduced into government. Unquestionably, the seniority system in the committees of Congress would be eliminated, thus improving representative government. Compelled to recognize the realities of American geography, industrial and political alike, the Southern and Western states would receive a full measure of justice, as Franklin D. Roosevelt had planned for them when the war interrupted the domestic reforms of the New Deal. Monopoly would be curbed by more rigid enforcement of the Sherman and Clayton Acts, and the exemptions from those measures provided by the most recent Congress would be repealed. If the Democratic victory were large enough, President Truman would be enabled to reassert the basic American doctrine of party responsibility in the conduct of foreign affairs.

The surprising response of Democrats and average voters to the acceptance speech of President Truman at Philadelphia may be the clue to the outcome and to the future. It did not have the eloquence of the 1933 Inaugural; it was a different kind of speech: it was a speech by an Average American suddenly conscious of his responsibilities and of his own resources with which to meet them. It had a ring of confidence.


Copyright © 1948 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1948; The Democrats Can Win - 48.10; Volume 182, No. 4; page 33-38.