An X-Ray of the Campaign


AT last the opposition to the New Deal is out in the open. It is not only in the open, but it is articulate, clamorous, embattled, and buoyant with hope.

For more than two years this opposition was in a state of abject despair. It saw only another defeat ahead, a defeat as overwhelming and humiliating, perhaps, as it suffered in 1932, and again in the Congressional election of 1934. During that period the Republican Party, the ‘natural enemy ’ of the party in power, reached the low tide of its existence. Its name remained; its traditions and philosophy remained, and so did a vast majority of its voters. But the party’s spirit, was broken. Its morale was shattered; its faith in itself had evaporated. For the unbelievable had happened, first to stun it, and next to paralyze its energies. A major depression had actually come under its auspices!

In the past the Democrats were the legendary breeders of depression. Their régimes only were associated with hard times. Their policies were the policies that frightened business, and often stampeded it into storm cellars. Prosperity in these United States had long been regarded as a sort of God-given asset of the Republican Party; with the result that when, in the course of a Republican Administration, prosperity withered, then faded away, the shock to the self-esteem of the Republican Party was dreadful to contemplate.

As a matter of simple historical fact, however, neither of the major political parties has had an exclusive lien either upon prosperity or upon economic adversity. In the course of its career each has had a fair share of both. And it may be safely calculated that each will have a fair share of both in the future.

Because the Republicans plumed and prided themselves on their mythical monopoly on good times, the debacle of the Hoover Administration reduced them first to bewilderment and apology, then to utter political consternation. All this made the Roosevelt victory in 1932 so easy as to be child’s play. In no sense was it a great political contest; it was a sham battle, first to last. In the course of it Mr. Roosevelt smiled and purred through the whole of a colorless campaign. The Republicans did nothing but wiggle and wobble.

By the time the successful candidate was inducted info office he was an allpowerful figure. No man in all our history, save only Abraham Lincoln, assumed the Presidency under conditions more terrifying than those of March 4, 1933.

Depositors were wildly demanding their money. Banks were closing in every quarter. General business was in a state of near collapse. State governments floundered helplessly in a pitiful effort to meet the emergency. Panic was spreading east and west with nothing to chock it. In such a crisis all eyes were turned upon Washington.

A series of bold, swift, and telling strokes by the new Executive brought order from threatened chaos. They inspired men with confidence in themselves, in their government, and in their country. The tide turned, but it turned slowly. The country was still afraid. The night mare had passed, but not its effect. Congress, when it met, was filled with fright. It stood ready to grant the President any power he might require. It stood ready to abdicate, and, in effect, it did abdicate.

Through two full sessions of the Seventy-third Congress, that body was a pliant instrument in the hands of Mr. Roosevelt. Opposition to him was practically silenced. Some of the legislation which he proposed was enacted without being read by 10 per cent of the membership. Even in the third Roosevelt Congress, he was defied and defeated upon one major measure only — ratification of the World Court protocol. And he lost that because he did not really fight for it. He compromised on other measures, to be sure, juggling and jockeying here and there, but in the end he won approximately what he wanted.

Party resistance to the New Deal during these three sessions of Congress to all practical purposes was nonexistent. An overwhelming majority of the Republican members voted for nearly all the reform and recovery measures the President proposed. Some of them were thunderous enough in their shout for amendments or for delays, but when the showdown came most of them voted as tamely on the New Deal side as did the tamest among the Democrats. Such vigorous opposition as there was came from the irregulars among the Democrats, The late Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana, for example, found himself in league with such Senators as Carter Glass and Harry F. Byrd of Virginia, and Senator Millard E. Tydings of Maryland. What an incongruous combination!


The essential New Deal reform proposals have now been given effect. There is ample reason for believing they have all been unfolded; there is further reason for believing that if this were not true that ‘ breathing spell’ letter would not have been written to Roy Howard.

Linked with these proposals, of course, are the purely recovery measures. The joint programme has been passed on to the country; it is being examined and analyzed and digested. The digestive process is slow, for the American stomach was never before asked to feed upon a diet like this.

I imagine most thinking people of the country will agree with the observation of a thoughtful Washington newspaper publisher that the time has now passed when the present Administration can offer as an alibi for its failures the fact that it inherited from the previous régime conditions that were unbelievably bad. The Roosevelt policies have now been operative over a sufficient period for the country to assess the degree of success or of disappointment that has attended them, or may hereafter attend them. Responsibility for what is ahead cannot longer be thrown back to the failures or the blunders of the Hoover-Coolidge era.

Even in the early stages of the New Deal there were a few critics of it, mostly skeptics of the journalist brand. They were bold, even brave, in their way, but they had no measurable following. They seemed merely to be voices crying in the wilderness; unbelievers in the good, the pure, and the beautiful; rockers of the boat. Until the 1934 election and for some time afterward, political opposition, except for Huey Long and his senatorial followers and except for the newly formed American Liberty League, was incredibly timid and futile. After its initial fling, even the Liberty League subsided for nearly a year. It subsided because it did not seem to know where it was going; it talked in vague terms of the sacredness of property rights, radicalism in government, subversion of our democracy, and the menace to our liberties. As a matter of fact, the League was lying low until the Congressional election was over; it was playing safe. Its adroit politicians realized that an Administration victory was probably inevitable, and they did not want to be too much identified at that early stage with the losing side.

That election further dismayed and depressed the Republican organization. The Administration had been given a tremendous vote of confidence. The Democratic majority in the House was increased from 313 to 332, and in the Senate from 60 to 69 — at a time, moreover, when the party in power was due for a jolt! Republican leaders asked each other what was to be done with voters so ridiculously infatuated with Mr. Roosevelt and his works.

Seven months more were to pass before the Supreme Court decision in the Schechter case pierced the gloom which had enshrouded the minority politicians since 1932. No boon was ever more gratefully received by a political party.

Vital phases of the NRA were declared invalid! The backbone of the New Deal was broken! A unanimous court had found the Administration and the Congress to be guilty of a violent assault upon the Constitution! At last an issue had been raised, perhaps a winning issue. Republicans were overjoyed; and the more so because outstanding Democratic lawyers joined Republican lawyers in denouncing the New Deal. Recalcitrant Democratic leaders (out of office) united with Republican leaders to rescue the country from the ‘terrors’ of unconstitutional government.

Immediately a movement was started for a coalition ticket in 1936, a ticket bearing the names of an anti-New Deal Democrat and a four-square Republican. Such a ticket, it was figured, might sweep the country—if it were skillfully picked. The movement gained headway. It seemed for a time to captivate the opposition.

The measure of various Democratic insurgents was taken. Senator Byrd of Virginia seemed the most promising. Here was a Southerner, one who could surely carry his own state and perhaps further smash the Solid South. He is a young and dashing figure. He had been an excellent Governor of the Old Dominion and had been a candidate for the Presidential nomination against Mr. Roosevelt. But, more important still, he had followed Senator Glass in opposing the New Deal in the Senate at almost every turn.

It could not be foreseen, of course, that the time was not far distant when Senator Byrd, along with his colleague Senator Glass, would return to the fold; when he would announce in his own newspaper, the Winchester Star, that Virginia would support the renomination and reëlection of Mr. Roosevelt, and that nothing could wean him away from the Democratic Party.

Former Governor Albert C. Ritchie of Maryland is another who was measured. He too is a Southerner — Virginia-born. He is an archcritic of the New Deal. Also he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination when Mr. Roosevelt won it. But he too has announced that he is a Democrat still — ’very still,’as the late David B. Hill of New York once remarked about himself.

Third in line of consideration for the coalition ticket was Lewis W. Douglas of Arizona and New York. He had served as the first Roosevelt Director of the Budget, and had resigned because he could not accept the Administration’s fiscal policies. He is a young and gallant political figure also, a man of personal charm, of rare courage, and of conspicuous ability. And he is the only one of the three who did not fatally discourage the coalition idea.

Coalition plans are now in the discard, however. They went out the window with a dull thud a few weeks after the Schechter decision. Another startling event was responsible. The First Rhode Island Congressional District held a by-election on May 6; and to the astonishment of Republicans and Democrats alike it elected a Republican candidate by a plurality of approximately 24,000, to succeed a Democrat who had been elected less than a year before by a plurality only a few thousand less.

A suspicion had been engendered long before that the New Deal had ‘slipped,’ particularly in the East; that disappointment in its magic was being felt over a wide area, and that even the personal popularity of the President could no longer be invoked against a rising opposition. Rhode Island furnished tangible proof of that fact.


That election changed the course of the pre-convention campaign. It knocked out of the ruling Democrats such complacency as was left in them after the NRA decision. And it filled the Republicans with a degree of confidence scarcely justified, but thoroughly understandable. It was really the first heart-warming development in their favor at the polls since they lost control of Congress in 1930.

On the practical side, the Rhode Island result abruptly ended the agitation for a coalition ticket. That result convinced Republican leaders that they need not bargain with unfaithful Democrats for victory. It convinced these leaders that they had at least an even chance of winning in their own right; and, if win they should, why be under the necessity of dividing the spoils with their allies?

The fact is that a coalition ticket of Republicans and anti-New Deal Democrats was at no time a political possibility. It was a fantasy, conjured up by a sense of desperation. To expect a Republican National Convention to nominate a Democrat to head its ticket is and was preposterous. To expect any Democrat with the following of a corporal’s guard to take second place on a Republican ticket is equally preposterous. And to expect the Republican Party to change its historic title and character in order to beguile an uncertain number of Democratic malcontents into an alliance is obviously out of the question.

Still another practical effect of the Schechter decision and the Rhode Island turnover was to bring from cover countless Administration critics, long in hiding. They emerged by the thousands. One heard them pillorying the New Deal in the halls of Congress. One heard them reviling it in the market places, arraigning it in the press and in conventions assembled, in the clubs, and wherever else a hearer could be found. Not that this chorus of castigation was made up of new converts to the Old Deal. Nothing of the sort. Nine out of ten of these excoriators had been in an attitude of antagonism to the President or his policies from the beginning. They had been profoundly and sincerely distrustful of Roosevelt experimentation for two years or longer. The difference was that they had become articulate once more. They had recovered from their faint-heartedness, or perhaps from their genuine desire to give the Administration the benefit of every reasonable doubt.

I appeared recently before a meeting of nearly a thousand bankers in a Mid-Western state. When they had finished interrogating me at the conclusion of my address, I requested the privilege of asking them two questions. I asked how many men present were in sympathy with the New Deal. Not more than ten hands were raised. I then asked how many of those not now in sympathy with the New Deal had voted for Mr. Roosevelt. Exactly two hands were raised!

Just as the Schechter decision and the Rhode Island election killed off the coalition chimera, so the assassination of Huey Long dissolved the last prospect of a sizable third-party movement.

Senator Long confided his plan of action not alone to me but to many others infinitely more close to him. He proposed to lead an anti-Roosevelt delegation from Louisiana to the next Democratic national convention. He proposed to dramatize his opposition to the President to the utmost of his resources. He expected to be outvoted a hundred to one, to be vilified, and perhaps to be howled down by New Deal partisans.

Then he proposed to bolt the convention, unfurl his share-the-wealth banner, and organize a nation-wide revolt against the party in power. He would not have been deterred by the bigness — the impossible bigness — of creating a national organization; nor by the fact that he had not the remotest chance of winning; nor by any other obvious discouragement. He would have played for two results. One was the defeat of President Roosevelt; the other was the nomination of Huey Long by a radicalized Democratic Party in 1940.

With Senator Long gone there is no leadership left to coalesce the forces which he hoped to bring under his command. Governor Floyd Olson of Minnesota is not to be counted on. He wants to succeed Senator Schall in the Senate and become the leader of the ‘wildcat’ group in that body. In his effort to unhorse Mr. Schall he is flirting with the Roosevelt Democrats in his state.

The La Follettes are out of it. For the time being, they are satisfied with their Progressive Party in Wisconsin. To strengthen it, they too have coquetted with the Roosevelt Administrationists. And the Administrationists have played ball both with the La Follettes and, in an offside fashion, with Governor Olson. Mr. Roosevelt wants the electoral vote of Wisconsin and Minnesota. He may need them to win. And to say that he will not do what is necessary to draw these two states into his column is to misjudge his political astuteness.

The following of Father Coughlin might be a formidable element in the campaign, if it were deliverable; so might that of Dr. Francis E. Townsend. So far the political weakness of Father Coughlin is that he blows both hot and cold. One day he is in violent opposition to the New Deal; the next he is apt to be equally violent in his derision of the Old Deal. It is difficult to be sure which side he is on.

In the case of Dr. Townsend, it is as improbable as an August snowstorm in Washington that either of the major political parties will espouse the Townsend Plan. If neither does, the Townsendites, as a body, will have no place to go. Their vote would be split about as that of the American Federation of Labor or the Elks, or the Rotarians or any other organized group of citizens.


It is now manifest that the two old parties will fight it out between themselves next November. There may be sideshows here and there, but they will not draw much attention from the performance under the Big Top. And in this contest the West, or perhaps it is more accurate to say the Mid-West, will have an important part. It may even play a decisive part. In any event, that area is being advertised as the great ‘ battle ground’ of 1936. This is upon the assumption that the East is slowly congealing against the New Deal, and can be taken for granted; and upon the further assumption that the South will go Democratic in any case.

As a matter of fact, both parties are already making overtures to the West. President Roosevelt lately visited the section. He stopped there long enough to tell the Western farmers the difference, as he sees it, between Democratic performance and Republican promises.

Republican leaders, on their part, are flattering the Western voters. These leaders are saying that the next party candidate must come from the farm belt. This is intended as an assurance to the agriculturalists that the Republican heart beats for them. They are saying further that the Westerners may write their own ticket so far as farm-platform pledges go. And, as a final bouquet to the West, Easterners are prepared to hand the next national convention to any farm-belt city that wants it.

It might be said parenthetically that not all Western Republicans are convinced that the East will award them the next candidate. If the situation looks hopeless, they say, that might be done. But if the New Deal seems headed for defeat when the June convention is held, there is a strong suspicion in the West that the East, with the support of its allies in the South, will grab for itself the richest of all political prizes.

At the moment Republican leaders admit freely that they are at a disadvantage in their quest for Western support. They have nothing concrete, for example, with which to match the New Deal millions that are going to corn and hog and wheat farmers. They have nothing with which to match the hundreds of millions that have gone to refinance debt-burdened Westerners. Nor have they anything to offer in trade to those political elements of the radical brand which hold the balance of power in such states as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. And so far the Republican leaders have been utterly unable to interest deeply the great bulk of farm voters in any issue except the issue of the farmer’s own pocketbook.

City residents in the West, as elsewhere, see more to next year’s battle than AAA benefit checks or FCA mortgage relief. But that is not true of ruralists; and the rural population in most of the Western states runs from two to one to ten to one.

I recently completed a month’s survey of the ‘Grass Roots’ states of the West. My intensive inquiry extended both to economic and to political conditions, and they are closely interlocked. As a result of that inquiry, certain very positive conclusions were reached. They are in line, moreover, with the conclusions reached by a number of my journalistic associates, on the same errand, each working independently of the other.

That part of the West which lives by the soil — and most of it does — is unshaken, if not unshakable, in its support of the New Deal. It is so unshaken that if it had been called upon to vote last November instead of November 1936 it would have rolled up a decisive majority for the reëlection of President Roosevelt. What its state of mind will be next autumn, if the chorus of criticism continues, — and that criticism is as caustic in the West as in the East, if not in comparable volume, — is as much one man’s guess as another’s. But if the Western farmers are called upon to repudiate the AAA, without the guarantee of a substitute subsidy, it is more than a mere guess that they will do nothing of the sort.

There are other issues between the two parties in the Western region. But they do not count at the moment, and it may fairly be assumed that they will not count heavily next year.

Political principles are preached in the West, but principle cannot be made to outweigh personal profit in a section that has lived on promises more than on profits since 1920.

It is a literal fact that, among the scores of farmers that I encountered, I did not hear one complain that the Constitution was being undermined by the Roosevelt régime. I did not hear the Supreme Court mentioned except for an occasional inquiry whether I thought the court would knock out the processing tax. There may be frenzied cries in the East, ‘Save the Constitution!’ But one hears no such cries in the West. Even in the Western cities that issue is dismissed as a matter of no particular importance.

I did not hear social security mentioned in any quarter, rural or urban. I did not hear the new banking act referred to except by one banker in Omaha. Once or twice holding company legislation was brought up, but in a most casual manner only. The matter of a balanced budget seems to concern no Westerner save an occasional editor here and there. Public expenditures are a matter of concern only in so far as hereafter they may be translated into higher taxes.

In other words, precious few of the New Deal policies and practices, other than farm relief, engage the interest of the Western country. The East may be losing sleep over these policies, but to the West they are almost as far off as war in Ethiopia.

When one talks to these Westerners about corn-hog checks, or wheat prices, or livestock prices or mortgages, a light of intimate knowledge and satisfaction appears in their eyes. This is essentially true of the farmers. It is scarcely less true of the small-town banker, the cross-country bus passenger, the filling-station pumpman or the railroad brakeman.

It is this satisfaction with things as they are in the West that convinces me that the New Deal enters the campaign in that part of the country with the odds in its favor. My conviction is strengthened by the testimony of every Republican editor and reporter I met in a dozen states, by every political leader of whatever party, and by most of the business men, however anti-New Deal they themselves might be.

This attitude seems to exist, it should be added, in spite of the fact that the New Deal has scarcely a defender among the newspapers of these states. Only here and there does one find an isolated journal — one in Lincoln and one in Madison, among them — that is sympathetic toward Mr. Roosevelt.

In the larger cities the more important business interests are distinctly anti-Roosevelt. This is true regardless of the fact that business itself is admittedly better than it has been for years.

Little credit for this improvement, however, is given the present Administration. That which is given is given grudgingly. The feeling prevails in the bigger business quarters that the AAA probably has justified itself, but that the country would be better off if the rest of the Roosevelt experiments had never been made. There may be far less enthusiasm in the West for Mr. Roosevelt personally than there was a year ago. Certainly this seemed to be true in that part of his westward swing between West Virginia and Fremont, Nebraska, where he made his farm speech.

When he visited this same country a year ago, those of us who accompanied him saw in the people an attitude akin to adoration. No such attitude was evident a few months ago. Perhaps it was because he appeared this second time more in the rôle of a party candidate and less as the man who had rescued the country from economic demoralization.

If there is one positive notion among Mid-Westerners regarding Republican candidate possibilities, it is that, with the single exception of Mr. Hoover, one man might perhaps do as well as another. The feeling against the former President is one of intense and almost unbelievable distrust.


It is a truism in politics that personalities are infinitely more interesting, if not more important, than principles. It has ever been so. Similarly, candidates in any campaign are apt to become more absorbing in the end than the platforms upon which the candidates offer themselves to the people.

In the presidential contest that is ahead, the renomination of Mr. Roosevelt, if he lives, may be put down as the one certainty of the moment. This will not be believed, I know, by those who swallow all that ‘confidential’ newsletter writers dish up to them, or by those who are perhaps influenced in their judgments by maladroit Liberty League salesmanship.

Certain of these letter writers, I happen to know, have confided to their clients the positive information that the President will be frightened into withdrawing from the race to succeed himself. He will be shown in a few more weeks, it is added, that if nominated he cannot conceivably win, and, rather than take a beating, he will find a diplomatic excuse for retiring. He will surrender his party leadership.

It is difficult to imagine anything more fantastic than Franklin D. Roosevelt — or any other Roosevelt, for that matter — yielding to such alarms. The members of that distinguished family may run head-on into defeat. Some of them have, but they never have been known to anticipate it. They may run toward a fight, but never away from one.

And what is there in the political situation of the hour that need scare President Roosevelt?

The Supreme Court in the NRA decision did, in fact, delimit certain powers upon which the New Deal rested its case. A single Congressional district in New England somersaulted into the Republican column. In the recent November voting, the Democratic Party lost its narrow margin of control in the New York General Assembly. Philadelphia and Cleveland elected Republican mayors. Hudson County, New Jersey, went Republican. That about sums up the reverses, major and minor.

In taking the November test votes into account, however, one must balance against these reverses the unprecedented majority given ‘Happy’ Chandler, the New Deal candidate for Governor of Kentucky. The Democratic majority in the state was in excess of 95,000. It was 20,000 more than any other Kentucky gubernatorial candidate ever received. No lost ground there.

Also, an Associated Press compilation of the popular vote cast on November 5 in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky showed that Democrats cast 3,909,474 ballots to 3,760,884 cast by Republicans. And three of these states are in the East, where the New Deal was assumed to be weakest.

There is nothing there that might give the President, ambitious for a second term, a nightmare.

The truth is that whatever there is of funk in the political setup at the moment, is on the Republican side. That party is floundering in its search for a candidate more desperately than it has floundered at any time in its long career. And it is floundering almost as desperately in its search for issues.

The candidate offerings have not been impressive. Governor Alfred Landon of Kansas is locally famous for his balanced budget, for his Coolidgian common sense, and for his rare courage in dealing with scandal in the state house. He is famous for little else.

Colonel Frank Knox, the vibrant and outspoken Chicago publisher, seemed to be making headway toward the nomination until he boldly announced his substitute for the AAA. It may have been suicidal. Another bounty for the farmers! The only essential difference between his brand of farm relief and that of the New Deal is that he would finance his farmer subsidy directly from the Treasury instead of by processing taxes.

In the far distance is Senator William E. Borah of Idaho. Every four years for two decades he has been paraded by his friends as a formidable figure, six or eight months before a nominating convention. But as each quadrennial roll call drew nearer, his candidate potentiality would steadily subside. It is subsiding once more.

On the side lines, awaiting the call, is that brace of obliging Senators, Yandenberg of Michigan and Dickinson of Iowa. They owe their availability chiefly to geography. They are Westerners. When that is said of them the most has been said that can be said.

Republican Party poverty in the matter of strong or striking or sparkling candidates is matched in the matter of issues. There is the Constitution. But one cannot escape the suspicion that as an issue it has largely spent its force. The NRA might have burned as an issue if it had lived. But it no longer rises to plague its parent-in-chief.

Money spending on a colossal scale by the New Deal undoubtedly disturbs thousands of thoughtful men and disturbs them profoundly. They realize that some day a torturing accounting must be made, an accounting that will involve either heavy taxation or worse. But that taxation will not come until this campaign is over. Meanwhile, the question is whether the beneficiaries — there are millions of them — of this spending will support the spenders next November.

Perhaps, after all, the Republican travail at the present time over candidacies, on the one hand, and platform planks, on the other, is wasted grief. I strongly incline to the belief that it is wasted. I have a conviction that it will not make a great deal of difference whom the minority party nominates, and, except for the farm plank, it will not make any more difference what the platform promises.

That conviction rests upon the proposition that the next election will turn upon the state of the American pocketbook. If there is a sense of security and well-being on the part of the country ten months from now; if the belief prevails that the depression is past and that substantial recovery has come, the Democratic ticket will win. All else will seem to the majority of the voters to be so much excess baggage.

But if the country should go sour in the summer and autumn of 1936; if large-scale unemployment still casts its blight upon our economic system; if a feeling of futility and despair grips the hearts and minds of millions of men and womon, then a gigantic protest vote will be cast against the New Deal. That vote will elect whomsoever the Republicans may nominate, and it will elect him without bothering overmuch about his platform proposals.