The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
SOME months ago, President Truman remarked that General Eisenhower was as fine a man as ever walked. It is doubtful, to say the least, whether the President’s judgment remains unaffected by the fact that General Eisenhower is now busily running against him for the Presidency. Though Governor Stevenson is the Democratic nominee, Eisenhower is still running against Truman. This may prove a productive strategy, and if so it will not be the first time that campaigns have been won by running against someone whose name is not on the ballot. As the impatient wife of a Missouri delegate remarked on the opening day of the Republican convention, “All we do is quote Lincoln, and all the Democrats do is run against Hoover.”
Stevenson realized that he had to dissociate himself from Truman and some of Truman’s buddies without abandoning the policies and losing the votes which had kept the Democratic Party in power for twenty years. He had to show that he was not at the beck and call of the President or the professional organization bosses. Truman’s proposals for a whistle-stop campaign were put in the deep freeze; Frank McKinney, a protégé of recently dethroned Boss Frank McHale of Indiana Two Per Cent Club fame, was handed his walking papers.
Eisenhower and his high command took little stock in these proceedings. Senator Nixon sounded the first volley with his charge that Stevenson was the “captive” of the Truman administration, the machine bosses, and the labor unions. Thus one of the key words of the 1952 campaign found its way into currency. Less sinister than “fellow traveler” and less insulting than “stooge,” it is ominous in its overtones. Eisenhower himself joined the assault, after Stevenson’s White House meeting with Truman, charging that only a few faces would be changed around Washington in the event of a Stevenson victory, but not basic policies.
While most unpartisan critics would agree that Stevenson has been a vigorous governor, and that he draws first-class men to him like a magnet, as does Ike, there are many whose doubts simply will not down. Such unconvinced critics feel, not that Stevenson is anyone’s “captive,” but that the ties which bind a candidate to all the tired, discouraged, and irascible elements which go to make up a party twenty years in power are too strong to be snapped by anyone save the electorate itself.
Stevenson, while proposing no significant alterations of existing foreign policy, is by no means committed to the explicit details of the Truman domestic proposals. He favors modification rather than complete repeal of the Taft-Hartley law, and affirmatively disclaims inherent powers to act without congressional authorization in domestic matters. He favors Federal health legislation to afford protection against the financial burdens of hospitalization, surgery, and catastrophic illness, but frowns upon the compulsory insurance proposals of President Truman and Oscar Ewing. He favors the present farm program but is not convinced of the wisdom of the Brannan plan for subsidized abundance to consumers as well as farmers.
In short, Stevenson opposes the abandonment or significant emasculation of any of the main measures enacted during the Truman and Roosevelt administrations, but would go much slower than Truman has gone in advocating new measures which involve an enlargement of the powers of the central government. He would continue the march to a welfare state, but at a slower pace, with greater concern for the sensibilities of groups adversely affected, and with more scrupulous regard for the importance of carrying the Congress along.
This conspectus scarcely sketches a candidate who is tailor-made to the specifications of the labor unions, the liberals, and A.D.A. Not unnaturally, one of the bumps which the draft-Stevenson movement encountered at Chicago was an increasing doubt among militants whether the Governor breathed enough left-wing fire from his aristocratic nostrils. And militant Republicans — even those who supported the General — were saddened by Eisenhower’s unwillingness to pledge publicly a campaign to repeal twenty years of American history.
Both candidates are fearful of too much centralization and of too much government. Neither would favor wholesale, precipitate changes from the status quo. But Governor Stevenson would be inclined to move cautiously to the left, while General Eisenhower would move cautiously to the right. General Eisenhower believes that the welfare state is a slave state, while Governor Stevenson simply believes it may not be all it is cracked up to be. One significant straw in the wind is the tidelands oil issue: General Eisenhower, after several fumbles, came out for giving the oil to the three claimant states, while Governor Stevenson favored leaving the oil where the Supreme Court said it was.
Each man his albatross
In neither case can the personal views of the candidate be separated from the balance of forces prevailing within and between the respective parties. Just as it is the strategy of the Republicans to picture Stevenson as the captive of the Trumanites, the city bosses, and the labor unions, so it is the strategy of the Democrats to hang around Eisenhower’s neck the senatorial albatrosses: McCarthy, Jenner, Kem, Dirksen, and all the others so conspicuously identified with the go-it-alone views of Senator Taft and General MacArthur. These gentlemen present as difficult a problem for the General as do the warring Democratic factions for the Governor.
In addition Stevenson is confronted with a situation summed up by the word “mess": laxness in the face of loose political morals, government by crony, overfrequent resort to the bludgeon and the tongue-lash in dealing with recalcitrant elements in the body politic, and a too intimate alliance with the big-city machines.
Stevenson could and did affirm that he was his own master, and that he was opposed to corruption and machine rule. But it was next to impossible for Eisenhower to disavow the “beefsteak Senators” of 1946, up for re-election in 1952: for upon their victories would depend the General’s prospects for a Republican Senate in the event of his election.
Furthermore, these men represented forces which mustered almost as much delegate support at the Republican convention as did Eisenhower himself. To repudiate them would be regarded as an act of rank party perfidy in the minds of many Republicans. To support them will risk the distrust and suspicion of the independents, whose votes will make the difference between defeat and victory.
Eisenhower followed the only practical course open to him. He announced support of all Republican nominees for Senate and House, and invited all to join him in his “crusade.” Senators McCarthy and Jenner were permitted no intimate contacts with the General, while others, less clearly marked in the public eye, were invited to Denver for conferences. Even this course opened the way for a couple of effective verbal jabs from Stevenson, inquiring blandly as to the common basis for an EisenhowerMcCarthy-Jenner-Kem crusade. The Stevenson high command will embroider on this theme until election eve.
It was equally obvious that Stevenson, as President, would have the potent Southern Democratic congressional bloc to deal with, but this did not present so good an election issue to the Republicans. Differences between the Southerners and the New Deal Democrats do not for the most part extend to foreign policy; and there is little indication that Stevenson plans to propose any program of radical or novel domestic legislation. For many voters who like the foreign policy of the Democrats but distrust ultra-liberal economic heresies, the veto power of the congressional Southerners might be a positive inducement for Stevenson support.
The civil rights issue
On one set of issues both parties and both candidates started out on eggshells — Federal civil rights legislation. Both nominees had stated personal positions prior to the conventions, bul both were wary even of reiterating previously expressed views afterward. Before his nomination, General Eisenhower had opposed compulsory Federal legislation forbidding discrimination in employment. Governor Stevenson, while preferring to have the matter handled by the states, advocated Federal compulsory legislation in the event the states did not act. This was in effect the Humphrey-Ives bill, reported favorably in the closing days of the 82nd Congress by a bipartisan subcommittee of the Senate Labor Committee (Senator Nixon voting no). Stevenson had flatly opposed any retreat by the Democratic Party from its 1948 platform, advocating extensive Federal civil rights legislation.
Here there seemed to be a clear issue between the candidates, and the national parties as well, since the Republican platform emphasized state rights while the Democratic plank emphasized Federal action.
How strong is the New Guard?
Conventions generate their own myths, and probably the myth of 1952 will be that Eisenhower was nominated by the amateurs. Nothing of the sort: nominees are not selected by pretty girls passing out pamphlets or by bow-tied, crew-cut young men shouting themselves hoarse in hotel lobbies. Eisenhower’s victory was a triumph of clear-headed, vigorous younger professionals over a bunch of tired and bleary old men who seemed intent on fighting yesterday’s battles.
The methods used by the Eisenhower machine, which was under Governor Dewey’s command, were professional in the smoothest sense of the word. There was, for example, considerable Taft strength in the New York delegation. Governor Dewey used almost every method short of the rack and the thumbscrew to suppress it, and two Negro delegates from Harlem were brought around by being reminded that Dewey has a long memory and two years left in the governorship.
Though the Democrats seemed at times to have dissolved into fragments of mobs, there was nothing in their convention to equal the deepseated bitterness, the visibly congealed malevolence, of the Taft-Eisenhower battle.
The high spots of the Republican convention were significant. First was the speech of Senator Joe McCarthy. The Wisconsin Senator gave the delegates the red meat for which they hungered after a long vegetarian diet. His drama had a plot, with identifiable villains, identifiable crimes, and an identifiable hero. As this plot unfolded, it became unnecessary to deal with vexing issues and ticklish details. The cry of “Throw the rascals out!” gave way to the more stirring whoop to throw the traitors out.
Then came, with Senator Dirksen’s finger pointed at Governor Dewey in the debate over the Georgia credentials, one of those rare moments when masks fall away and primitive political passion shows itself.
The sentiments to which Dirksen gave utterance were those of a majority of the delegates. More than 500 delegates, though knowing their cause was hopeless, stood out for those sentiments on the first ballot by voting for Taft. And many more, though voting for Eisenhower because they thought he alone could supply the indispensable ingredient of victory, felt a sense of recreancy in so doing, and responded in their hearts to the Dirksen eloquence.
Since 1936 the Old Guard has grown in strength, especially in the Congress but even in delegate votes at national conventions. The Old Guard has failed to name a presidential candidate; but Taft’s vote was the highest yet attained by that faction. If General Eisenhower loses the 1952 election, it will not be the Old Guard which takes charge of the Republican Party, but a newer guard of McCarthys, Jenners, Dirksens, and their associates — whose rejection at Chicago will cry out for vengeance. To many, apprehensive as to the health of our two-party system, this will be the strongest argument for Republican victory in November.
More steel, more inflation
The government at Washington continued to function, after a fashion. Perhaps the manner of its functioning served to illustrate how accidental are the points of contact between campaign issues and the matters with which those in charge of government must actually deal. The steel strike was settled, after months of precious production lost, and upon terms which could have been reached without a strike. The government, swearing it would never consent, consented to a $5.65 per ton increase in the price of steel. This was what the companies had originally demanded as the price of their compliance with the Wage Stabilization Board’s settlement.
The unions got most of what they had asked for; the steel companies got what they had asked for; and the country got more inflation. The administration’s change of position was largely induced by Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett, who bluntly informed the President that a settlement was imperative on any terms and that he could no longer be responsible for failing to inform the people plainly just what the prolonged strike was costing in terms of a hobbled defense establishment.
Congress had refused to grant the President additional powers of seizure; the Supreme Court had denied the existence of inherent presidential power under the circumstances; and seizure under the Selective Service Act was deemed unworkable. Truman’s choice was between invoking the hated Taft-Hartley law or getting a voluntary agreement. Secretary of Commerce Sawyer and Price Administrator Arnall disagreed about the inflationary consequences of the settlement — which Arnall consistently opposed to the bitter end. John L. Lewis’s huge eyebrows are wiggling in eager anticipation of a pre-election coal crisis.
Mood of the Capital
Abroad, election-year developments were ominous. United States bets upon the Shall of Iran as a potential strong man were wasted, as he crumpled before the audacious Mossadegh, with whom it became increasingly obvious the West must come to terms regardless of British objections.
Congressional cuts in Mutual Security appropriations were forcing Britain and France to reconsider their own capacity to fulfill their parts of the NATO program. Korean truce negotiations were at a standstill, with United States policy-makers considering a submission to the International Court of Justice of the mooted prisoner-of-war issue.
These, then, were the immediate concerns of government. They seemed to have little relation to what the candidates and their supporters were discussing. But there was among men of good will a widespread conviction that both parties had chosen the best they had and that perhaps for this reason Providence would continue to forgive most of our frantic boasts and foolish words — even those which inevitably mark our party conventions.