How, Then, Should Smith Vote?
THE talk on the veranda had been prolonged, and only my old friend Smith, smoking in meditative silence, had refused to contribute to our discussion of the men and the issues of 1920. Between campaigns Smith is open-minded on all matters affecting the body politic. Not infrequently his views are marked by a praiseworthy independence. Smith has brains; Smith thinks. A Republican, he criticizes his party with the utmost freedom; and when sorely tried, he renounces it with a superb gesture of disdain. But on election day, in a mood of high consecration, he unfailingly casts his ballot for the Republican nominee. A week earlier he may have declared in the most convincing manner that he would not support the ticket; and under extreme provocation I have known him to threaten to leave the Republican fold for all time.
Party loyalty is one of the most powerful factors in the operation of our democracy, and it has its special psychology to which only a Josiah Royce could do full justice. Smith really thinks that he will bolt; but when it comes to the scratch, an influence against which he is powerless stays his hand when he is alone in the voting-booth with his conscience and his God. Later, when gently reminded of this mood of disaffection, he snarls that, when it comes down to brass tacks, any Republican is better than any Democrat, anyhow — a fragment of philosophy that is the consolation of great numbers of Smiths.
Smith, as I was saying, had refrained from participating in our talk on that August night where the saltless sea complained upon the beach and the pines took counsel of the stars. Then, as the party broke up, Smith flung his cigar into Lake Michigan and closed the discussion by remarking with a despairing sigh, —
‘Well, either way, the people lose!’
Smith prides himself on his ability to get what he wants when he wants it — in everything but politics. In all else that pertains to his welfare Smith is informed, capable, and efficient. In his own affairs he tells the other fellow where to get off, and if told he can’t do a thing, he proceeds at once to do it and do it well. It is only in politics that his efforts are futile and he takes what is ‘handed him.’ Under strong provocation he will, in the manner of a dog on the highway, run barking after some vehicle that awakens his ire; but finding himself unequal to the race, he meekly trots back to his own front yard. If the steam-roller runs over him and the self-respect is all but ground out of him, he picks himself up and retires to consider it yet again. He has learned nothing, except that by interposing himself before a machine of superior size and weight he is very likely to get hurt; and this he knew before.
Smith and I are in the north woods thirty-five miles from a telegraph instrument, where it is possible to ponder great questions with a degree of detachment. Loafing with Smith is one of the most profitable things I do; he is the best of fellows, and as our lives have run parallel from school-days with an unbroken intimacy, we are thoroughly familiar with each other’s manner of thought. What I am setting down here is really a condensed report of our talks. Just where Smith leaves off and I begin does n’t matter, for we speak the same language of the Ancient Brotherhood of the Average Man. Smith is a Republican; I am a Democrat. We have ‘gone to the mat’ in many campaigns, each valiantly defending his party and its heroes. But, chumming together in August, 1920, the punch had gone out of us. We talked of men and issues, but not with our old fervor. At first we were both shy of present-day matters, and disposed to ‘sidle up’ to the immediate situation — to reach it by reluctant, tangential approaches, as if we were strangers, wary of wounding each other’s feelings.
We mean to keep smiling about this whole business. We Americans seem destined to rock dizzily on the brink of many precipices without ever quite toppling over. We have lived through wars and rumors of wars, and have escaped pestilence and famine, and we are deeply grateful that the present campaign lays so light a tax upon the emotions. The Republic is n’t going to perish, no matter who’s elected. One thing is certain, however, and that is that this time we — that is, Smith and I — are not going to be jostled or pushed.
The other day we interviewed an Indian — whether untaxed or enrolled at the receipt of custom we did n’t ascertain. Smith asked him whether he was for Cox or Harding, and the rightful heir to all the territory in sight, interpreting our courteous inquiry in a restricted tribal rather than a national spirit replied, ‘No whisk.’ He thought we were deputy sheriffs looking for boot-leggers. Even at that, Smith held ‘no whisk’ to be the most intelligent answer he had as yet received to his question.
Smith nearly upset the canoe one morning as he turned suddenly to demand fiercely, ‘What’s this campaign all about anyhow?’ This was a dismaying question, but it precipitated a fortnight of reminiscences of the changing fortunes of parties and battles long ago, with the usual profitless palaver as to whether the giants of other days were really bigger and nobler than those of the present. We decided, of course, that they were, having arrived at that time of life when pygmies loom large in the twilight shades of vanishing perspectives. The recuperative power of parties kept us interested through several evenings. It seemed a miracle that the Democratic party survived the Civil War. We talked much of Cleveland, speaking of him wistfully as the habit now is — of his courage, his bluff honesty and contempt for sham and hypocrisy.
In generous mood we agreed that Mr. Bryan had at times rendered meritorious service to his country, and that it was a good thing to encourage such evangelists occasionally to give the kettle a vigorous stirring up. The brilliant qualities as well as the many irritating characteristics of Colonel Roosevelt were dwelt upon, and we readily and amiably concluded that many pages of American history would be dull without him. He knew what America is all about; and that is something. We lamented the disheartening circumstance that in the very nature of our system of political management there must always be men of first-rate capacity who can never hope to win the highest place — men, for example, of indubitable wisdom, character, and genius, like George F. Edmunds, John Hay, and Elihu Root, and Judge Gray of Delaware.
‘When I’ve got a place to fill in my business,’ said Smith, ‘I pick out a man I’m dead sure can handle it; I can’t afford to experiment with fakers and amateurs. But when it comes to choosing a mayor in my town or a president of the United States, I ’ve got to take what I can get.’
There is no justification for the party system, unless the major parties are alert and honest in criticism and exercise a restraining influence upon each other. It is perfectly legitimate for the opposition to pick out all the weak spots in the record of an administration and make the most of them. The rules of good sportsmanship do not, unfortunately, apply in politics. With all our insistence as a nation upon fair play, we don’t practice our greatest game in that spirit. It was not, I should say, until after Mr. Cleveland’s second election that the Civil War ceased to color political discussion. Until I was well on toward manhood, I was troubled not a little by a fear that the South would renew the war, so continually was the great struggle of the sixties brought fearsomely to the attention, even in local contests. In the criticism that has been heaped upon Mr. Wilson’s administration we have been reminded frequently that he has been far too responsive to Southern influence.
The violence of our partisanship is responsible for the intrusion of all manner of extraneous matters into campaigns. It would seem that some single striking issue that touches the pocketbook, like the tariff or silver, is necessary, if the electorate is to be thoroughly aroused. Human nature in a democracy is quite what it is under any other form of government, and is thoroughly disposed to view all matters selfishly. Shantung and Fiume are too remote to interest the great number of us whose club is the cornergrocery. Anything beyond Main Street is alien to our interest. We’ll buy food for the starving in other lands, but that’s missionary work, not politics. Politics is electing our township ticket, even though Bill Jones does beat his wife and is bound to make a poor constable.
We became slightly cynical at times, in the way of Americans who talk politics heart-to-heart. The national convention, where there is a thrill in the sonority of the very names of the farflung commonwealths as they are recited on roll-call, is, on the face of it, a glorious expression of democracy at work. But in actual operation everyone knows that a national convention is only nominally representative. The delegates in their appointed places are not free and independent American citizens, assembled, as we would believe, to exercise their best judgment as trustees of the ‘folks back home.’ Most of them owe their seats to the favor of a district or state boss; from the moment the convention opens they are the playthings of the super-bosses, who plan in advance every step in the proceedings.
Occasionally there are slips: the ringmaster cracks his whip, confident that the show will proceed according to programme, only to be embarrassed by some irresponsible performer who refuses to ‘take’ the hoops and hurdles in the prescribed order. In other terms, some absurd person may throw a wrench into a perfectly functioning machine and change the pattern it has been set to weave. Such sabotage calls for a high degree of temerariousness, and cannot be recommended to ambitious young patriots anxious to ingratiate themselves with the powers that control. At Baltimore, in 1912, Mr. Bryan did the trick — the most creditable act of his career; but in accepting for his reward the premiership for which he was so conspicuously unfit, he foolishly spoiled his record and promptly fulfilled the worst predictions of his enemies.
There is an oft-quoted saying that the Democrat party always may be relied upon to do the wrong thing. Dating from 1876, when it so nearly won the presidency, it has certainly been the victim of a great deal of bad luck. However, remembering the blasting of many Republican hopes and the swift passing of many Republican idols, — the catastrophe that befell the muchenduring Blaine, Mr. Taft’s melancholy adventures with the presidency, the Progressive schism, and the manner in which Mr. Hughes struck out with the bases full, — it may hardly be said that the gods of good-fortune have been markedly faithful to the Republicans. Disappointments are inevitable; but even the Grant third-termers and the followers of the plumed Knight and the loyal Bryan phalanx outlived their sorrows. The supporters of McAdoo and Palmer, of Wood and Lowden, appear to be comfortably seated on the band-wagon.
Smith was an ardent supporter of General Wood’s candidacy, and we sat together in the gallery of the convention hall at Chicago and observed with awe and admiration the manner in which the general received the lethal thrust. The noisy demonstrations, the oratory, the vociferous whoops of the galleries touched us not at all, for we are not without our sophistication in such exhibitions. We listened with pleasure to the impromptus of those stanch veterans of many battles, Messrs. Depew and Cannon. At other times, during lulls that invited oratory, we heard insistent calls for Mr. Beveridge; but these did not reach the ear, or failed to touch the heart, of the chairman. The former Senator from Indiana had been a Progressive, and was not to be trusted before a convention that might, with a little stimulation, have trampled the senatorial programme under foot.
We knew before the opening prayer was uttered that, when the delegates chose a candidate, it would be only a pro forma confirmation of a selection made privately by half a dozen men, devout exponents of that principle of party management which holds that the wisdom of the few is superior to the silly clamor of the many. At that strategic moment when it became hazardous to indulge the deadlock further, and expediency called for an adjournment that the scene might be set for the last act, the great lords quite shamelessly consulted in full view of the spectators. Messrs. Lodge, Smoot, Watson and Crane, hastily reinforced by Mr. Herrick who, aware that the spotlight was soon to be turned upon Ohio, ran nimbly across the reporters’ seats to join the conference, stood there in their majesty, like complacent Olympians preparing to confer a boon upon mankind. It was a pretty bit of drama. The curtain fell, as upon a second act where the developments of the third are fully anticipated, and interest is buoyed up only through the intermission by a mild curiosity as to the manner in which the plot will be worked out.
My heart warmed to the enterprising reporter who attached himself to the sacred group for a magnificent moment. His forcible ejection only emphasized the tensity of the situation, and brought into clearer relief the august figures of the pontiffs, who naturally resented so gross an intrusion upon their privacy.
The other night, when every prospect divulged by the moon’s soft radiance was pleasing and only the thought of man’s clumsy handiwork was vile, Smith shocked me by remarking, —
‘This patter of both parties about the dear people makes me sick. That “vox populi, vox dei” stuff was always a fake. We think we’re hearing an echo from heaven when it’s only a few bosses in the back room of a hotel somewhere telling us what we ought to want.’ We descanted upon this at length, and he adduced much evidence in support of his contention. ‘What we’ve got in this country,’ he snorted, when I tried to reason him out of his impious attitude, ‘is government of the people by the bosses, for the people’s good. The people are like a flock of silly sheep fattening for the wolf, and too stupid to lift their eyes from the grass to see him galloping down the hill. They’ve got to be driven to the hole in the wall and pushed through.’
He was mightily pleased when I told him he had been anticipated by many eminent authorities running back to Isaiah and Plato.
' Saving remnant ’ was a phrase to his liking, and he kept turning it over and investing it with modern meanings. Before we blew out the candles we were in accord on the proposition that while we have government by parties, the parties have got to be run by someone; what is everybody’s business being, very truly, nobody’s business. Hence the development of party organizations and their domination by groups, with the groups themselves deriving inspiration usually from a single head. Under the soothing influence of these bromides Smith fell to sleep denouncing the direct primary.
‘Instead of giving the power to the people,’ he muttered drowsily, ‘the bloomin’ thing has commercialized office-seeking. We’re selling nominations to the highest bidder. If I were ass enough to chase a United States senatorship, I would n’t waste any time on the people until I’d been underwritten by a few strong banks. And if I won, I’d be like the Dutchman who said he was getting along all right, only he was worried because he had to die and go to hell yet. It would be my luck to be pinched as a common felon, and to have my toga changed for a prison suit at Leavenworth.’
Some candidate for the doctorate, hard put for a subject, might find it profitable to produce a thesis on American political phraseology. As a people we are much addicted to felicitous combinations of words that express large ideas in the smallest possible compass. Not only does political wisdom lend itself well to condensation, but the silliest fallacy will carry far if knocked into a fetching phrase. How rich in its connotations even to-day is the old slogan, ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too’; and many others equally illuminative of a period might be dug out of the records from the beginning of our history, including ‘the tariff is a tax,’ ‘the full dinnerpail,’ down to ‘he kept us out of war.’ A telling phrase or a catchword is enormously persuasive and convincing — the shrewdest possible advertisement. The present campaign has offered little inspiration to slogan-makers.
There is no way of knowing how many of our hundred millions ever read a national platform, but I will hazard the guess that not more than twentyfive per cent have perused the platforms of 1920, or will do so before election day. The average voter is content to accept the interpretations and laudatory comment of his party paper, with its assurance that the declaration of principles and purposes is in keeping with the great traditions of the grand old party. It is straining Smith’s patriotism pretty far to ask him to read a solid page of small type, particularly when he knows that much of it is untrue and most of it sheer bunk. Editorial writers and campaign orators read platforms perforce; but to Smith they are fatiguing to the eye and a weariness to the spirit. The primary qualification for membership on a platform committee is an utter lack — there must be no question about it — of a sense of humor. The League of Nations plank of the Republican platform is a refutation of the fallacy that we are a people singularly blessed with humor. We could ask no more striking proof of the hypnotic power of a party name than the acceptance of this plank, solemnly sawed, trimmed, and painted red, white, and blue, in the committeeroom, and received by the delegates with joyous acclamation. Senator Johnson must have laughed; the joke was certainly not on him.
The embarrassments of the partisan who is challenged to explain the faith that is in him are greatly multiplied in this year of grace 1920. Considerable literature is available as to the rise and development of the two major parties, but a student might exhaust the whole of it and yet read the Chicago and San Francisco platforms as through a glass darkly. There is a good deal of Jeffersonian democracy that is extremely difficult to reconcile with many acts of Mr. Wilson. The partisan who tries to square his Democracy or his Republicanism with the faith he inherited from his grandfather is doomed to a severe headache. The rope that separates the elephant from the donkey in the menagerie marks only a nominal difference in species: they eat the same fodder, and when the spectator’s back is turned, slyly wink at each other. There is a fine ring to the phrase ‘a loyal Republican’ or ‘a loyal Democrat,’ but we have reached a point of convergence where loyalty is largely a matter of tradition and superstition. What Jefferson said on a given point, or what Hamilton thought about something else, avails little to a Democrat or a Republican in these changed times. We talk blithely of fundamental principles, but are still without the power to visualize the leaders of the past in newly developed situations of which they never dreamed. To attempt to interview Washington as to whether he intended his warning against entangling alliances to apply to a League of Nations to insure the peace of the world is ridiculous; as well invoke Julius Cæsar’s opinion of present-day questions of Italian politics.
Delightful and inspiring as it would doubtless be, we can’t quite trust the government to the counsels of the ouija-board. The seats of the Cabinet or of the Supreme Bench will hardly be filled with table-rapping experts until more of us are satisfied of the authenticity of the communications that purport to be postmarked oblivion. We quote the great spirits of the past only when we need them to give weight and dignity to our own views. (Incidentally, a ouija-board opinion from John Marshall as to the propriety of tacking a police regulation like the Eighteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution would be first-page stuff for the newspapers.)
Monroe was luckier than most of our patriarchs. The doctrine associated with his name is jealously treasured by many patriotic Americans who have n’t the slightest idea of the circumstances that called it forth; but to mention it in a discussion of international affairs is to stamp the speaker as a person of breeding, endowed with intellectual gifts of the highest order. If by some post-mortem referendum we could ‘call up’ Monroe to explain just how far America might safely go in the defense of his doctrine, and whether it could be advantageously extended beyond the paths of all the western stars to keep pace with such an expansion as that represented by the Philippines, we might profit by his answer — and again, we might not.
We can’t shirk our responsibilities. One generation can’t do the work of another. In the last analysis we’ve got to stand on our own feet and do our own thinking. The Constitution itself has to be interpreted over and over again, and even amended occasionally; for the world does, in spite of all efforts to stop it, continue to move right along. This is not a year in which either of the major parties can safely harp upon its ‘traditional policy.’ There are skeletons in both closets that would run like frightened rabbits if dragged into the light and ordered to solve the riddles of 1920.
The critics of President Wilson have dwelt much on the vision of the founders, without conceding that he too may be blessed with a seer’s vision and the tongue of prophecy. To his weaknesses as a leader I shall revert later; but his highmindedness and earnest desire to serve the nation and the world are questioned only by the most buckramed hostile partisan, or by those who view the present only through the eyes of dead men.
When President Wilson read his war message to the Congress, it must have been in the minds of many thousands who thrilled to the news that night, that a trinity of great American presidents was about to be completed; that a niche awaited Mr. Wilson in the same alcove with Washington and Lincoln. Many who were impatient and restless under the long correspondence with the Imperial German Government were willing to acknowledge that the delay was justified; that now the nation was solidly behind the administration; that amid the stirring call of trumpets partisanship would be forgotten; and that, when the world was made safe for law and decency, Mr. Wilson would find himself in the enjoyment of an unparalleled popularity. It did not seem possible that he could fail. That he did fail of these hopes and expectations is not a matter that any true lover of America can contemplate with jubilation. Those of us who ask the greatest and the best things of and for America can hardly be gratified by any failure that might be construed as a sign of weakness in democracy. But Mr. Wilson’s inability to hold the confidence of the people, to win his adversaries to his standard, to implant himself in the affections of the mass, cannot be attributed to anything in our system, but wholly to his own nature. It is one of the ironies of our political life that a man like Mr. McKinley, without distinguished courage, originality, or constructive genius, is able, through the possession of minor qualities that are social rather than political, to endear himself to the great body of his countrymen. It may be, after all our prayers for great men, that negative rather than positive qualities are the safest attributes of a president.
It may fairly be said that Mr. Wilson is intellectually the equal of most of his predecessors in the presidency and the superior of a very considerable number of them. The very consciousness of the perfect functioning of his own mental machinery made him intolerant of stupidity, and impatient of the criticism of those with whom it has been necessary for him to do his work, who have, so to put it, only asked to be ‘shown.’ If the disagreeable business of working in practical politics in all its primary branches serves no better purpose, it at least exercises a humanizing effect; it is one way of learning that men must be reasoned with and led, not driven. In escaping the usual political apprenticeship, Mr. Wilson missed wholly the liberalizing and broadening contacts common to the practical politician. At times — for example, when the Adamson Law was passed — I heard Republicans, with unflattering intonation, call him the shrewdest politician of his time; but nothing could be further from the truth. Nominally the head of his party, and with its future prosperity in his hands, he has shown a curious indifference to the maintenance of its morale.
‘Produce great men; the rest follows.’ The production of great men is not so easy as Whitman imagined; but in eight tremendous years we must ruefully confess that no new and commanding figure has risen in either branch of Congress. Partisanship constantly to the fore, but few manifestations of statesmanship: such is the record. It is well-nigh unbelievable that, where the issues have so constantly touched the very life of the nation, the discussions could have been so marked by narrowness and bigotry. The exercise of autocratic power by a group pursuing a policy of frustration and obstruction is as little in keeping with the spirit of our institutions as a stubborn, uncompromising course on the part of the Executive. The conduct of the Republican majority in the Senate is nothing of which their party can be proud.
Four years ago I submitted in these pages 1 some reflections on the low state to which the public service had fallen, and my views have not been changed by more recent history. It would be manifestly unfair to lay at Mr. Wilson’s door the inferiority of the men elected to the Congress; but with all the potentialities of party leadership and his singular felicity of appeal, he has done little to quicken the public conscience with respect to the choice of administrators or representatives. It may be said in his defense that his hours from the beginning were too crowded to permit such excursions in political education; but we had a right to expect him to lend the weight of his authoritative voice and example to the elevation of the tone of the public service. Poise and serenity of temper we admire, but not to the point where it seemingly vanishes into indifference and a callousness to criticism. The appeal two years ago for a Democratic Congress, that the nation’s arm might be strengthened for the prosecution of the war, was a gratuitous slap at the Republican representatives who had supported his war-policies, and an affront to the public intelligence, that met with just rebuke. The cavalier discharge of Lansing and the retention of Burleson show an equally curious inability to grasp public opinion.
The whole handling of the League of Nations was bungled, as most of the Democrats I know privately admit. The end of a war that had shaken the very foundations of the earth was a fitting time to attempt the formation of an association of the great powers to enforce the peaceful settlement of international disputes. Here was a matter that spoke powerfully to the conscience and the imagination, and in the chastened mood of a war-weary world it seemed a thing possible of achievement. Certainly, in so far as America was concerned, it was a project to be approached in such manner that its success could in no way be jeopardized by partisanship. The possibility of opposition by Democratic Senators, the hostility of Republican Senators, which was not merely partisan, but in certain quarters tinged with bitter personal hatred of the President, was to be anticipated and minimized.
The President’s two trips abroad were a mistake, at least, in that they encouraged those of his critics who assailed him as an autocrat and supreme egotist stubbornly bent upon doing the whole business in his own way. The nation was entitled to the services in the peace negotiations of its best talent — men strongly established in public confidence. Mr. Wilson paid dearly for his inability to recognize this. His own appearance at Versailles conveyed a false impression of his powers, and the effect at home was to cause uneasiness among many who had most cordially supported him.
The hovering figure of Colonel House has been a constant irritation to a public uninformed as to the training or experience that set him apart for preferment. In sending from the homebound ship an invitation to the august Foreign Relations Committee to gather at the White House at an hour appointed and hear the good news that a League was in prospect, the President once more displayed a lamentable ignorance of human nature. His attitude was a trifle too much like that of a parent returning from a journey and piquing the curiosity of his household by a message conveying the glad tidings that he was bringing presents for their delight. There are one hundred millions of us, and we are not to be managed in this way.
Colonel Roosevelt might have done precisely these things and ‘got away with it.’ Many thousands would have said it was just like him, and applauded. The effect of Mr. Wilson’s course was to precipitate a prolonged battle over the League and leave it high in the air. It hovers over the present campaign like a toy balloon floating within reach of languid and indifferent spectators. In that part of the country with whose feelings and temper on public matters I may pretend to some knowledge, I do not believe that anyone cares greatly about it. The moment it became a partisan question, it lost its vitality as a moral issue that promised peace and security to America and all the world. Our attitude with respect to the League has added nothing to the nation’s dignity; rather, by our wobbly course in this matter we have done much to weaken the case for worlddemocracy. Its early acceptance, with reservations that would have stilled the cry of denationalization, would have made it an achievement on which the Democratic party might have gone to the people with satisfaction and confidence. Even considered as an experiment of dubious practicability, it would have been defensible at least as an honest attempt to blunt the sword of the war-god. The spirit in which we associated ourselves with the other powers that resisted the Kaiser’s attempt to bestride the world like a Colossus needed for its complete expression the further effort to make a repetition of the gigantic struggle impossible.
As a people we are strongly aroused and our imagination quickened by anything that may be viewed in a glow of spirituality; and a scheme of peaceinsurance already in operation would have proved a dangerous thing to attack. But the League’s moral and spiritual aspects have been marred or lost. The patience of the people has been exhausted by the long debate about it, and the pettiness and insincerity, the contemptible evasion and hair-splitting, that have marked the controversy over what is, in its purpose and aim, a crystallization of the hope of mankind in all the ages. Such a League might fail; certainly its chance of success is vastly decreased by America’s refusal to participate.
In the cool airs of the North, Smith and I have honestly tried to reduce the League situation to intelligible terms. Those voters who may feel constrained to regard the election as a referendum of the League will do well to follow our example in pondering the speeches of acceptance of the two candidates. Before these words are read, both Governor Cox and Senator Harding will doubtless have amplified their original statements, but these are hardly susceptible of misinterpretation as they stand. Mr. Harding’s utterance is in effect a motion to lay on the table, to defer action to a more convenient season, and take it up de novo. Governor Cox, pledging his support to the proposition, calls for the question. Mr. Harding defines his position thus: —
With a Senate advising, as the Constitution contemplates, I would hopefully approach the nations of Europe and of the earth, proposing that understanding which makes us a willing participant in the consecration of nations to a new relationship, to commit the moral forces of the world, America included, to peace and international justice, still leaving America free, independent, and self-reliant, but offering friendship to all the world.
If men call for more specific details, I remind them that moral committals are broad and all-inclusive, and we are contemplating peoples in the concord of humanity’s advancement. From our own viewpoint the programme is specifically American, and we mean to be American first, to all the world.
Mr. Cox says, ‘I favor going in’; and meets squarely the criticism that the Democratic platform is not explicit as to reservations. He would ‘state our interpretations of the Covenant as a matter of good faith to our associates and as a precaution against any misunderstanding in the future,’ and quotes from an article of his own, published in the New York Times before his nomination, these words: —
In giving its assent to this treaty, the Senate has in mind the fact that the League of Nations which it embodies was devised for the sole purpose of maintaining peace and comity among the nations of the earth and preventing the recurrence of such destructive conflicts as that through which the world has just passed. The coöperation of the United States with the League, and its continuance as a member thereof, will naturally depend upon the adherence of the League to that fundamental purpose.
He proposes an addition to the Covenant of some such paragraph as this:—
It will, of course, be understood that in carrying out the purpose of the League, the government of the United States must at all times act in strict harmony with the terms and intent of the United States Constitution, which cannot in any way be altered by the treaty-making power.
There is no echo here of the President’s uncompromising declaration that the Covenant must be accepted precisely as he presented it. To the lay mind there is no discernible difference between a reservation and an interpretation, when the sole purpose in either case would be to make it clear to the other signatories, through the text of the instrument itself, that we could bind ourselves in no manner that transcended the Constitution.
Smith is endowed with a talent for condensation, and I cheerfully quote the result of his cogitations on the platforms and the speeches of the candidates. ‘ The Republican Senators screamed for reservations, but when Hiram showed symptoms of kicking out of the traces, they pretended that they never wanted the League at all. But to save their faces they said maybe some time when the sky was high and they were feeling good they would shuffle the deck and try a new deal. Cox is for playing the game right through on the present layout. If you’re keen for the League of Nations, your best chance of ever seeing America sign up is to stand on Cox’s side of the table.’
Other Smiths, not satisfied with his analysis and groping in the dark, may be grateful for the leading hand of Mr. Taft. The former President was, in his own words, ‘one of the small group who, in 1915, began the movement in this country for the League of Nations and the participation of the United States therein.’ Continuing, he said, in the Philadelphia Ledger of August 1: —
Had I been in the Senate, I would have voted for the League and Treaty as submitted; and I advocated its ratification accordingly. I did not think and do not now think that anything in the League Covenant as sent to the Senate would violate the Constitution of the United States, or would involve us in wars which it would not be to the highest interest of the world and this country to suppress by universal boycott, and if need be, by military force.
In response to a question whether, this being his feeling, he would not support Mr. Cox, Mr. Taft made this reply: —
No such issue as the ratification of the League of Nations as submitted can possibly be settled in the coming election. Only one third of the Senate is to be elected and but fifteen Republican Senators out of forty-nine can be changed. There remain in the Senate, whatever the result of the election, thirty-three Republicans who have twice voted against the ratification of the League without the Lodge reservations. Of the fifteen retiring Republicans, many are certain of reëlection. Thirty-three votes will defeat the League.
Smith, placidly fishing, made the point that a man who believed in a thing would vote for it even though it was a sure loser, and asked where a Democratic landslide would leave Mr. Taft. When I reminded him that he had drifted out of the pellucid waters of political discussion and snagged the boat on a moral question, he became peevish and refused to fish any more that day.
The League is the paramount issue, or it is not; you can take it, or leave it alone. The situation may be wholly changed when Mr. Root, to whom the Republican League plank is attributed, reports the result of his labors in organizing the International Court of Arbitration. Some new proposal for an association of nations to promote or enforce peace would be of undoubted benefit to the Republicans, in case they find their negative position difficult to maintain.
The platforms and speeches of acceptance present, as to other matters, nothing over which neighbors need quarrel. As to retrenchment, labor, taxation, and other questions of immediate and grave concern, the promises of both candidates are fair enough. They both clearly realize that we have entered upon a period that is likely to witness a strong pressure for modifications of our social and political structure. Radical sentiment has been encouraged, or at least tolerated, in a disturbing degree by the present administration. However, there is nothing in Mr. Cox’s record as governor or in his expressed views to sustain any suspicion that he would temporize with the forces of destruction. The business of democracy is to build, not to destroy; to help, not to hinder. We have from both candidates much the same assurances of sympathy with the position held nowadays by all straightthinking men — that industrial peace, concord, and contentment can be maintained only by fair dealing and goodwill among all of us for the good of all.
From their public utterances and other testimony we are not convinced that either candidate foreshadows a stalwart Saul striding across the hills on his way to the leadership of Israel. Mr. Harding shows more poise — more caution and timidity, if you will; Mr. Cox is a more alert and forthright figure, far likelier to strike ‘straight at the grinning Teeth of Things.’ He is also distinctly less careful of his speech. He reminds the Republicans that ‘McKinley broke the fetters of our boundary lines, spoke the freedom of Cuba, and carried the torch of American idealism to the benighted Philippines ’ — a proud boast that must have pained Mr. Bryan. In the same paragraph of his speech of acceptance we are told that ‘Lincoln fought a war on the purely moral question of slavery’ — a statement that must ring oddly in the ears of Southerners brought up in the belief that the South fought in defense of state sovereignty. These may not be inadvertences, but a courageous brushing-away of old litter; he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt.
Smith rose from his morning dip with the joyful countenance of a diver who has found a rare pearl. We were making progress, he said; he thought he had got hold of what he called the God’s truth of the whole business. What those fellows did at Chicago and San Francisco was to cut the barbedwire entanglements in no man’s land, so that it does n’t make much difference on which side of the battle-line we find ourselves on election day. The parties have unwittingly flung a challenge to the independent voter. An extraordinary opportunity is presented to citizens everywhere to scrutinize with unusual care their local tickets and vote for the candidates who promise the best service. As Smith put it, we ought to be able to scramble things a good deal. Keep the bosses guessing: this he offered as a good slogan for the whole Smith family. In our own Indiana we would pick and choose, registering, of course, our disapproval of Senator Watson as a post-graduate of the Penrose School, and voting for a Democrat for governor because Governor Goodrich’s administration has been a continuous vaudeville of error and confusion, and the Democratic candidate, a gentleman heretofore unknown in politics, talks common sense in folksy language.
We finally concluded as to the presidency that it came down to a choice of men tested by their experience, public acts, and the influences behind them. The imperative demand is for an efficient administration of the Federal Government. The jobs must be given to big men of demonstrated capacity. Undoubtedly Mr. Harding would have a larger and more promising field to draw upon. If it were possible for Mr. Cox to break a precedent and state, with the frankness of which he seems capable, the order of men he would assemble for his counselors and administrators, he would quiet an apprehension that is foremost in the minds of an innumerable company of hesitating voters. Fear of a continuance of Mr. Wilson’s indulgent policy toward mediocrity and a repetition of his refusal to seek the best help the nation offered (until compelled to call upon the expert dollar-a-year man to meet the exigencies of war) is not a negligible factor in this campaign, and Mr. Cox, if he is wise, will not ignore it.
The manner of Mr. Harding’s nomination by the Senatorial cabal, whose influence upon his administration is hardly a speculative matter, invites the consideration of progressive Republicans who rankle under two defeats fairly chargeable to reactionary domination. It was apparent at Chicago that the Old Guard had learned nothing and would risk a third consecutive defeat rather than accept any candidate not of their choosing. Mr. Harding’s emphasis upon his belief in party government, as distinguished from personal government — obviously a slap at Mr. Wilson — is susceptible of an unfortunate interpretation, as Mr. Cox was quick to see. If the Republican candidate means submission to organization chiefs, or to such a group as now controls the Senate and the party, his declaration is not reassuring.
If Smith, in his new mood of independence, votes for Mr. Cox, and I, not a little bitter that my party in these eight years has failed to meet my hopes for it, vote for Mr. Harding, which of us, I wonder, will best serve America?
With renewed faith and hope we packed our belongings and made ready for our return to the world of men. Having settled the nation’s affairs, and being on good terms with our consciences, we turned for a last look at the camp before embarking. Smith took the platforms and the speeches of acceptance of the candidates for president and vice-president of the United States, affixed them firmly to a stone, and consigned them without ceremony to the deep. The fish had been naughty, he said, and he wanted to punish them for their bad manners.
- ‘The Third-Rate Man in Politics,’ in the Atlantic for August, 1916.↩