The Election Choice

I

IN this year’s election the choice will be between two Republicans. One will be a Norris-Insurgent Republican, who happens to be an Eastern aristocrat and carries the banner of the Democratic Party; the other will be a Conservative Republican, or, if you prefer, an Old Guard Republican, who unless something slips will be a plain man from the Middle West and will start with something of the coloration of local Progressivism.

Both will believe in property. Both will believe in government, plenty of government and strongly centralized. The essential difference between them will be in their conception of the uses of government for the benefit of a property-loving society. Mr. Roosevelt will head the forces which would subdue and harness the big fellow for the good of the little fellow, and pay very little attention to arguments that when you slow down the big fellow you slow down a multitude of little fellows who live their lives in his wake. Mr. Roosevelt’s opponent, perhaps Mr. Landon, perhaps a bigger or a lesser Landon by another name, will head the forces which would release the big fellow as far as is possible, and pay very little attention to arguments that the good things, in sifting down from the level of the few big fellows to the level of the many little fellows, often are obstructed or diverted.

That is the fight. It will be modified in this or that respect; it will be obscured in this or that respect. When you divide 125,000,000 people into two camps, there is never lack of inconsistencies and incongruities. But when you have worked your way through all the inconsistencies and all the incongruities in each camp — and all the special pleadings and all the rationalizations — this is what you have: two groups which are one in believing in property and are one in believing in powerful, paternalistic government, but are abruptly separated on the question of who shall be the primary beneficiaries of government. Reduced to the simplest terms, you have the spirit of George Norris on one side and the spirit of Herbert Hoover on the other.

So definite is this division, as anyone may see who looks beyond the façades of politics to find where passion in the people is lodged, that it makes little difference whether Mr. Roosevelt or his opponent will wish the cleavage. It makes little difference whether they will think of themselves as leaders in this division. The forces are running and they are stronger than individuals, however exalted temporarily. Touch the self-aware little fellow — I say the self-aware little fellow, not all little fellows — and you usually will find him admitting this failure or that failure of the New Deal, but up and fighting for Roosevelt. Touch the self-aware big fellow, the man who long was accustomed to serenity in power under Republican administrations, and you usually will find him in a rage, quite often a purplish rage. Candidates do not govern this sort of thing; they are governed by it.

It means that the question to be settled next November is one of emphasis in administration. And that is all that is to be settled. In saying this, one does not belittle the issue. Emphasis in administration can be of enormous importance, and will be in the four years beginning in January 1937. But it is necessary to understand that the issue is one of emphasis in administration of a paternalistic government, as between the little-fellow philosophy and the big-fellow philosophy, and is not one of revolution, as excited gentlemen on both sides like to convince themselves is the case. Mr. Roosevelt’s revolution is dead. The Supreme Court put out that fire when it invalidated his schemes to regiment American industry under the NRA and American agriculture under the AAA, and public opinion has stamped on most of the embers. If we must have a pat word for the unrest of the day, it is not revolution but reformism, which is but cambric tea to your true radical.

II

To test the proposition that the issue to be settled next November is one of emphasis in the administration of a paternalistic government, one has but to review questions which engage the attention of the country and of the party spokesmen. Mr. Roosevelt has bowed to the Supreme Court in the AAA decision, as in the NRA, and no longer attempts direct control over agriculture from Washington, but he continues the bounties to the farmers. He hopes thereby to exert an indirect control over production. But the main thing is that the bounties to farmers are continued. Do the Old Guard Republicans propose to uproot the whole bounty system? Not at all. They too are in favor of bounties. They submit, under political necessity, to the farmers’ argument that they are entitled to bounties in compensation for the high tariff protection granted manufacturers. But the Old Guard Republicans insist there are grave flaws and abuses in the Roosevelt bounties and therefore vast remediable waste. A matter of administration in paternalistic government.

Mr. Roosevelt pours out billions for relief. Do the Old Guard Republicans propose to halt relief? Not at all. They content themselves with charges of top-heavy administration, permeated by partisan politics, and with demands for elimination of waste. A matter of administration. Mr. Roosevelt inaugurates a system of social security embracing old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, and aid for the blind and for dependent children. Do the Republicans propose to resist the present-day demand for social security? Not at all. Will they propose, in the event of the Supreme Court’s invalidating Mr. Roosevelt’s security legislation, to resist substitute measures? Not at all. Their talk is of the terms of the legislation and of the timing and distribution of burdens. A matter of administration.

Mr. Roosevelt piles millions upon millions into the TVA experiment. And in that business, curiously enough, he had earlier and far more consistent opposition from the big fellows than in either NRA or AAA and yet he won on TVA in the Supreme Court. The lawyers of the big fellows apparently underestimated the implications of the government’s power to provide for national defense and of its authority over navigable streams. They seemed to think that the government, in providing for national defense, could establish an enterprise in wartime, but in peacetime could not do much more than to sit on the enterprise and twiddle its thumbs. And they evidently thought the government’s authority over navigable streams did not extend to the doing of any unusual thing. But, although Mr. Roosevelt won the TVA battle in court, the next administration, if under control of the Old Guard, need not say it will go on with TVA. It can promise to abolish the enterprise.

Will Mr. Roosevelt’s opponent make such a promise? It would be very surprising. Indeed, it is virtually certain that there will be no such promise, although it also is virtually certain that most of the great power interests of the country will earnestly support Mr. Roosevelt’s opponent, whoever he may be, and probably many of them will contribute to his campaign fund. What may be expected of Mr. Roosevelt’s opponent are general promises to the effect that ‘sanity’ shall be introduced into the conduct of the TVA experiment, that private power interests shall not be bludgeoned in their relations with TVA and shall not be subjected to unfair competition, that elaborate corollaries of the power project shall be curbed and that a tight watch shall be kept on the pursestrings of the whole undertaking. A matter of administration.

So it goes, all down the line. Budget balancing, to the extent that it turns on reduction of expenditures rather than increase in revenues, is obviously a matter of administration. Mr. Roosevelt’s opponent, if elected, will be committed to huge expenditures which until lately were unknown in this country — for example, farm bounties and relief. The question is not whether, in seeking to balance the budget, he will summarily lop off great expenditures inaugurated by Mr. Roosevelt. The question is simply whether he will control these expenditures more economically than Mr. Roosevelt has done. And when one passes from spending legislation to what may be called police legislation — regulation of stock exchanges, security issues, and holding companies — one will find that the Old Guard Republicans will not promise anything like a clean sweep. Their changes, if they triumph, will be to some extent in amendments, but chiefly in administration.

The fact is that if one wishes to discover some matter on which there is likely to be a reasonably clear-cut division in this year’s campaign over what might be described as principle, rather than administration in a paternalistic government, one must turn to the State Department, where Cordell Hull, a traditional Democratic liberal, hammers away at reduction of trade barriers.

Mr. Roosevelt has had very little interest in this effort to apply historic Democratic doctrine. In the middle of 1933, when he substituted the New Deal for the Democratic platform of 1932, he is said to have remarked indifferently: ‘Poor Cordell. He has a lot of good ideas which will take ten years.’ Why he has backed Mr. Hull in the last year or so with certain outward signs of definite favor is hard to say. Perhaps he has a bad conscience over the manner in which he ditched Mr. Hull in London in 1933, after his Secretary of State had brought the leading statesmen of Europe to Washington to press his ideas and had followed them to the World Economic and Monetary Conference. Perhaps the President occasionally has a nostalgia for the political gospel of his youth. Perhaps his latter-day support of the Democratic Hull is another case of the capitulation of a clever and facile man to the moral authority of a quiet and steady man who combines information and conviction.

In any event, Mr. Hull has achieved some successes, probably more important as pathfinders than in concrete economic gains, and the President supports him, while it is on this important subject alone that Mr. Hoover and others of the Old Guard talk in terms of total abolition, not in terms of administration.

III

Emphasis in administration is the only thing that is to be settled in the November election, except the fate of Mr. Hull’s applied Democracy in the State Department — emphasis in the administration of a paternalistic government. But, as suggested above, to state this issue is not to belittle it. The difference between the Norris emphasis in the administration of a paternalistic government and the Hoover emphasis may be very great, and, in given circumstances, it may be fateful. It is also true that the relative value of the Norris emphasis and of the Hoover emphasis may vary from time to time. Our political practice is very infirm, and we are incapable of sustained application of a body of ideas deliberately formulated. Our recourse, in this weakness, is in a kind of political rhythm. And if, in this period, we have swayed heavily toward paternalistic government, it may be that within the paternalistic government we must gain our progress, or at least attempt our correctives, by swaying now to the Norris little-fellow emphasis, now to the Hoover big-fellow emphasis.

The people who are putting the drive and passion into this 1936 campaign, the self-aware little fellow and the angry man of affairs, will have no trouble in deciding whether the swing of paternalistic government should continue toward the Norris emphasis or should be arrested and started back to the Hoover emphasis. But there are little fellows who do not think as little fellows and there are rich men who restlessly ponder upon their obligations to society. And there is a middle group who try very patiently to grope toward a forward way. It will not be easy for these men and women to make their decision.

They will be able to see the danger that Mr. Roosevelt’s vast expenditures may lead to the cracking of the government’s credit and to inflation, and they will know that nothing in the Norris emphasis could compensate the little fellow for the destruction, in part or in whole, of his life insurance policy and his savings deposit. They can ask whether the serenity of the big fellows, restored by the election of an Old Guard candidate, would not be a safeguard against danger of a collapse of the government’s credit.

They will be able to see that continuance in office of a spending President may furthur encourage the logroller spending blocs in Congress, even though general legislation may tend to move back into conventional patterns. They can ask whether further big spending will not lead, in efforts to protect an endangered public credit, to desperate additions to already onerous taxation and to a new depression of long-term business.

They will be able to see that pitiful army of the unemployed, 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 strong. They can ask whether that army might not be largely restored to jobs, for a few years anyway, if big business were reassured and the heavy industries were set going in substantial measure.

They will be able to see that if the heavy industries were set going the balancing of the budget would become an easier task, because, on the one hand, of reduced expenditures for relief, and, on the other hand, of natural increase of revenue; and if the budget approached balance the government’s credit would be a rock. Reasonable people can ask whether the possibility of all this is not worth some risks in the big-fellow emphasis.

But equally these reasonable men and women will be able to see that not a single idea has been developed by the old crowd, political and business, that rode high in power while the people were being led to the economic slaughterhouse of 1929. Here and there a Republican has attempted to formulate a body of doctrine in opposition to Mr. Roosevelt’s programme and to base it upon historic liberalism, with at least some recognition of the duty of party self-criticism that is implicit in such an attempt. Ogden L. Mills has been perhaps clearer and braver in this than most of his party comrades. But in this last winter, when the tide of criticism of Mr. Roosevelt became a torrent, who commanded less attention in Republican affairs than did Mr. Mills with his arguments? Reasonable men and women may ask whether the return of the old crowd may not mean the return of the old evils.

And they may ask whether they need risk paying that price for the removal of the dangers that are in the Roosevelt administration. They may ask whether the improvement in business will not press itself into the heavy industries at an accelerated pace, thereby automatically reducing expenditures for relief and increasing revenues, and thereby, in turn, promoting a balanced budget and safeguarding the government’s credit. They may ask, too, whether the return of the public’s thinking to familiar channels will not ensure a far stronger resistance in the next Congress to Mr. Roosevelt’s hasty and novel departures, and thus set up a normal and natural protection for the processes of recovery and for the government’s credit.

They may ask, in short, whether the force of organic economic recovery and the force of a more stable and critical public opinion, acting simultaneously, will not remove the worst dangers in the administration; and whether they must chance, in the election of an Old Guard Republican, the emasculation of measures devised by Mr. Roosevelt’s administration for the suppression of the financial anarchy and brigandage that were rife in what once was called the New Economic Era—not to mention the destruction of Mr. Hull’s labors.

It is, indeed, not an easy choice for reasonable men and women — this choice in a paternalistic government between the little-fellow emphasis, with its dangers to the government’s credit, and the big-fellow emphasis, with its dangers of blind reaction and of the arrogant and calamitous stupidities that preceded 1929. But, as things are at this writing, that’s the choice to be made.