IT IS a strange twist in our political life that the two men who are putting President Truman on the spot are members of his own party. They are Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee and Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas; one is investigating interstate crime and its relation to politics in government, the other is examining operations of the RFC. Neither is a Dixiecrat, nor have they any animosity against their chief. Both are high-minded men who are pursuing their duly without regard to partisanship.
The President seems one of the few persons in the country unimpressed with the Kefauver and Fulbright revelations. He still insists that his administration is beyond suspicion. However, the very day he said this, Dr. Alan Valentine, former Economic Stabilization Director, was telling an audience of his own disillusioning experience as an administrator. He said he had to curry favor all the time with the Democratic National Committee. The committee was so potent to Dr. Valentine that he called it “undercover government.”
President Truman in denying the imputation said complacently that history would vindicate his own administration as it had the administrations of a number of his illustrious predecessors — including Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this particular, Truman turned a blind eye to history as well as to the present facts about his own administration.
Whatever else may be charged against F.D.R., he kept the Democratic National Committee out of government from the start. Three members of the committee set up shop immediately as peddlers of influence, but they were ousted, and the word went down the line that this sort of thing would not be tolerated. Just the opposite has been characteristic of the Truman adminisiration, and the contrast. is due to the fact that whereas F.D.R. politically was brought up to fight machine politics, Mr. Truman was their child.
RFC — pro and con
Senator Fulbright’s investigation into the operations of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation has revealed only a tithe of the story of deterioration in many of the agencies and departments of government. And quite as bad as the revelations is the official attitude toward them. Nothing “illegal,” as the President has said, has been uncovered. That is perfectly true, yet the improprieties stand out before an increasingly outraged citizenry.
Senator Fulbright knows that the legislators as well as the officials close to the White House have been part of the influence indust ry clustering around the RFC. Since the derelictions of David I. Walsh the Senate has been acting as a club far more anxious to keep its members protected against outside assailment than to maintain its own prestige as a representative institution.
The legislators’ obligations are plain under the Constitution. Members enjoy immunity from legal proceedings by the citizenry, and for a good and sufficient reason. They could not do the public business if they had to weigh every word for its libelous content. Scandal in that event would flourish, corruption would become rife.
But, while members of Congress are immune from proserution for libel, that immunity is not absolute. There is a corresponding obligation that the Constitution puts upon the Congress to carry out. “Each house,” says the Constitution, “may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” A long time has elapsed since the provision was invoked.
The Reconstruction Finance Corporation is inevitably what Senator James P. Kem called a “Royal fruit cake.” It is charged with lending money on projects which are vested with the public interest. It takes up projects which the banks refuse on purely business grounds. Started in the depression, by the Hoover administration, it disbursed money when private money had gone underground.
The RFC might have been liquidated long ago if the business slump had not given way to war emergency. Clearly the RFC was just as necessary to preparedness as to recovery. Many a project necessary to defense simply could not be financed with private money. After the war the Hoover Commission recommended reorganization to permit the RFC to guarantee loans by commercial banks, and to lend directly only “in time of emergency.” The Commission continued: “Direct lending by the Government to persons or enterprises opens up dangerous possibilities of waste and favoritism to individuals or enterprises. It invites political and private pressure, or even corruption.” This danger is what the Fulbright Committee spelled out in actuality. The only safe course is to restrict RFC operations to the new defense financing.
A widespread idea exists that the loans under exposure have gone sour. The fact is that only one of them has put the RFC in red ink, and that is the Lustron Corporation, which put out prefabricated houses. And this is the very loan which was backed by public and officials alike. There was a shortage of houses and the building industry was riddled with expensive feather-bedding. It seemed that Lustron would remedy shortage and offset high prices. Senator McCarthy collected $10,000 from Lustron for writing puffs for this enterprise. But, beyond that questionable connection, the public interest at the time seemed to require RFC action on some enterprise of the Lustron variety.
It may be that, granted more time and accommodation, Lustron would have made good, but the fact remains that this was the only bad loan in the docket which the Fulbright investigation opened. And yet most of them were suspect. They were made in behalf of such nonpublic interests as Miami hotels and speculation in steel and other commodities.
Wilson and the unions
The screaming headlines which are giving the people a picture of the decline of political morality in the Capital are disguising the hard work and sincere purpose of the defense workers. Yet defense is not proceeding smoothly. Labor leaders are dissatisfied with their role in the defense setup.
The root of the trouble is that Charles E. Wilson is a businessman who is accustomed to march straight to his goal with the rest of his organization behind him. He is not used to a political atmosphere where soft words must be used instead of commands, where many types of people have to be propitiated, and where the organization moves in step not on orders but on persuasion. Wilson, in short, is a bull in a china shop. Yet the feeling is that defense would be slowed down if there were shared authority at the top.
The trouble with any system which puts organized labor leaders in positions of authority in the emergency is not often understood. Labor leaders are representatives of their unions, and they remain representatives of their unions when they hold emergency positions. That gives them a sort of divided loyalty. Every decision has to be viewed not as it affects the country at large but as it affects the interest of their particular union.
This knowledge that duty to the job is subordinated to a kind of expediency is something that Mr. Wilson cannot stomach. It isn’t the way to get on with the task. He will contend that he assumed the administratorship of defense as an individual, not as the representative of anybody or any interest. It he were to resign, the National Association of Manufacturers would not walk out of the emergency, as the United Labor Policy Committee did when the labor leaders quit the Wage Stabilization Board.
This is all true enough, but the position of labor leaders and that of business leaders is altogether different. Most businessmen can get leaves of absence from their boards of directors, but a union leader, even if he got a leave of absence, which is unlikely, would not expect to see his job again. For example, Walter Reuther has a day-to-day fight on his hands to maintain his position as head of the automobile workers.
The answer to the problem is not easy to provide, but more consideration for labor’s feelings is called for, and this is what men of good will behind the scenes are striving to promote.
McCarthy’s kangaroo court
The storm still rages around the State Department. Acheson’s critic, Joe McCarthy, has captured two committee jobs which put him, as Senator Benton angrily told the Senate, in the position of conducting his own kangaroo court under official auspices. He is on a Senate Appropriations subcommittee handling State Department appropriations. He is also top Republican on the main Senate investigating subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures under Senator Hoey’s dignified chairmanship. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, incidentally, was compelled to make room for the Senator from Wisconsin on the Hoey Committee.
McCarthy supervision is a constant surprise to foreign diplomats. Elsewhere the legislatures would not dream of tolerating personal arraignments of members of the foreign service of their countries. A critic would be immediately ruled out of order on the ground that this was a staff matter within the exclusive competence of a responsible minister.
Dulles and Japan
To some extent John Foster Dulles is taking the heat, off Acheson in the Ear East. It is the Republican Dulles in whose hands the treaty with Japan rests, and they are strong and able hands, as befits a man whose experience with international affairs goes back to Versailles.
The situation of Japan, will be critical as long as military operations in Korea continue. How far do we intend to go in North Korea? If we go far, the Chinese will undoubtedly call for help from the Russians. But will the Russians intervene?
The feeling in Washington is that if the Russians come in, they will not be content with taking over Korea, but will try to gobble up Japan, too. In that event our strategical position in the Far East, with seven divisions locked up in Korea, would be precarious. Dulles found almost complete unity in disarmed Japan on the request that American forces he kept in Japan even after the occupation status has been wound up. In the meantime General MacArthur is leaving all Japanese peace talks to Dulles.
The American negotiator in the West, Philip Jessup, commands far less confidence than Dulles among the oppositionists. He is a marked man in the McCarthy book. Whatever he does is suspect. Another effort to “get” him is under way in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s examination of the Institute of Pacific Relations. This group, with which Mr. Jessup used to be closely associated, is already “tagged.” Government employees who have been members risk having a black mark put on their records.
The IPR’s “crime” as demonstrated in leaks and sensational (and unnecessary) “raids” and “seizures” is that it once had a bad apple or two on its research staff. That is enough grounds for murder of an organization that in time past has done excellent service in Pacific research.
Mood of the Capital
The mood of the Capital is putting on more and more overtones of 1952. It is said, by those who ought to know, that Mr. Truman will not run again. In default of Truman the name of Chief Justice Vinson is still under canvass. Vinson is undoubtedly Truman’s choice. But the Democratic Party, judging from a poll, is turning to Senator Paul Douglas.
The selection surprised most observers, for Douglas has remained singularly aloof from Presidential polities, and does not seem to have lifted a finger to stir up a candidature. For one thing, it is difficult to see how he could spare any time for playing politics. No man, with the possible exception of Senator Taft, is more indefatigable in doing his Senatorial duties. He seems to have a hand in most legislation. For a freshman Senator he is a phenomenon — he assumed leadership with a naturalness that was compelling. He is one of the most redoubtable personalities to come to Washington in years.
Speaking of Taft, his stock appears to be falling steadily in Washington since his electoral triumph. More than one Republican Senator is irked by a leadership which is not wedded to a firm and acceptable line of policy. But what has really set Taft back is the press campaign that has sprung up over what is called the “TaftMcCarthy axis.” The St. PostDispatch, in particular, is training its guns on Taft. The alleged collusion derives from an AP report last summer saying that Taft had told McCarthy to keep on making charges, that “if one case doesn’t work, to bring up others.” There is reason to believe that Taft is uneasy over this growing barrage, no less than over the restiveness of the GOP.