Monday, February 12, 2007

Flashback: The 1932 Dem Convention that Enthroned U. S. Liberalism.

[Continuing the memoir of 50 years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Liberalism is a mental aberration that has beset the Democratic party -----and the nation--since 1933. Believing Theodore Roosevelt’s progressivism should be repudiated by them as a generally conservative party, the Democrats thought they were picking the antithesis to TR in 1912. They nominated a Virginia-born former Princeton University president who had prescribed the future as being governed by a strong congress and weak presidency, Woodrow Wilson. A split between TR and William H. Taft, elected Wilson. But Wilson slowly moved to the left in domestic policy. But the sea-change came when he led us into World War I. After promising that he would keep the U.S. out of Europe’s war he was reelected. Then he concocted bogus inducements to enter the war after which he was seduced by a dream of himself leading the world community in a concert of nations. Wilson died a failure due to his own inability to accept any modifications in his League of Nations design, intransigence caused by a major stroke.

The media baptized him a martyr but his term ended with the country is great economic distress which Republicans Harding and Coolidge repaired. . To meet these popular conservatives, the Democrats turned to conservative candidates in tune with the times. The Depression worsened by Herbert Hoover’s insistence on raising taxes, applying a steep tariff and spending heavily on public employment convinced many Democrats that the solution was to recapture conservatism for their party. The country was so turned off by Hoover and the Republicans, that literally any reasonable Democrat could have been elected in 1932. And there were many good conservative choices available.

Electing either a conservative or moderate Democrat is what the party sought to do in with their presidential choice in 1932 but was fooled by nominating Franklin Roosevelt who it viewed as an ambiguous moderate. His wildly experimental liberalism—even radicalism—delivered the coup de grace by formally grafting the mental disorder of liberalism onto the Democratic party in perpetuity…after which, the Rooseveltian experience caused that scourge to infiltrate this country with a thoroughness that allows it to remain a scourge to both parties today.

From the `30s to mid-`60s, liberalism was manageable because it was patriotic. But since Vietnam it has worsened to the point where it challenges patriotism, fiscal sanity, common sense and moral reasonableness. It moves now to nihilism: the nonsense of Barack Hussein Obama touting the word “hope” which means different things to different people—“hope” of what? Thus liberalism which once stood for reform now embodies know-nothingism, the view that someone with little knowledge of government is needed to repudiate what is falsely viewed as faults of those skilled in government. The hoopla for Obama is startlingly like that raging in France whose socialist party is now running the sexy Segolene Royal as socialist candidate for president who has been photographed in a turquoise bikini and in a gay magazine with a naked man on the cover.

Mme. Royal, 53, is the girl-friend of the socialist party chairman, the father of her four children whose crowd-pleasing proposals and glamorous looks have boosted her from back-bench politician into one of the two competitors for France’s highest post. No one seems to know why they like her except for her looks. “I can’t say how things will change,” said Nasser Ledrac, a 23-year-old Paris student who is volunteering for her. “What I like about her is that she doesn’t hesitate to shake things up.” Shake things up how? No one knows. It is product of the same world-weary decadence as in some quarters here who are intrigued with how a good looking young black man with flappy ears strides purposefully in swimming trunks out of the surf in Hawaii…whose axiom is “hope” and little else. This has been where liberalism meets nihilism—in France and apparently only to a lesser degree here.


Back to 1932:

TR: How did it come that two fast friends, Al Smith and FDR became bitter rivals for the presidency?

Farley: Easy! Smith, who was a friend of mine, made a big political mistake. He was the most popular governor in the country when he ran for the presidency in 1928. He begged Roosevelt to run for his governor’s spot to keep his seat warm so to speak. He thought of the Chief as a coat holder which he decidedly wasn’t. FDR was elected governor the same year Smith was heavily defeated for president and when Smith returned to the state and asked FDR to do certain things, appoint certain people as he would a lackey, it turned out FDR has his own ideas. That started Smith bitterly complaining about FDR and FDR returning the favor by telling off-the-record the kind of mess he had inherited from Smith. So when FDR succeeded to Smith’s mantle as a famous governor the two of them looked at the year 1932 and thought each of them was suited for the presidency.

TR: How did it happen to be that a Democratic centrist-conservative like Jim Farley played such a climactic role in enthroning liberalism under a seemingly irresolute Roosevelt who was willing to bargain away the liberal philosophy in order to become president?

Farley: “Again, easy! Politics, if it is an art, is the art of being deceptive and playing your cards close to your vest. Roosevelt wanted the presidency so badly he turned his back on a number of things he had earlier supported. One was the League of Nations which he had endorsed as the vice presidential candidate in 1920. Now FDR, seeing that support for the League was spotty said he wouldn’t continue supporting our joining it because it wasn’t the same kind of League that Wilson had espoused—which got him off the hook. In the same way he was indirect on prohibition. That didn’t mean he was irresolute as you say—but that he was cleverly hiding his views.”

By backing off support for the League, he was regarded by commentator Walter Lippmann, a major force in opinion-molding as columnist for the New York Herald-Tribune, as a charming lightweight. Lippmann had gone to Versailles as an adviser to Wilson. “Franklin D. Roosevelt is a highly impressionable person without a firm grasp of public affairs and without very strong convictions. He is no tribune of the people. He is no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.” Lippmann was an adviser to Newton Baker, Wilson’s ex-secretary of war, who was by all odds the liberal in the race, having the same idealistic vision of international affairs as his old chief.

All the same, in early 1932 many observers and Lippmann himself acknowledged Roosevelt was well in the lead for the nomination. He has real personal charm, said Lippmann, but “the two reservations I have about Frank are an overemphasis on the mechanics of politics, leading to statements and silences born of expediency—and, as I see it, constituting a surrender of leadership and two, what seems to me a naïve attempt at intellectual isolation as far as international affairs are concerned.” Assuredly, Roosevelt at age 50 was handsome with a charismatic demeanor and magnetic voice. His having conquered polio was an inspiration and he proved as governor of New York that the illness did not impair his effectiveness.

TR: Was FDR a conservative who changed later to liberal?

Farley: “Well, no…I don’t think so. I think he was always liberal; he just didn’t let on. In his early years he wanted to slough off anything that would be an impediment to his getting elected. When his support of the League of Nations became an embarrassment, he dropped it. He started out as an enemy of Tammany Hall, the regular Democratic organization of Manhattan but when its opposition proved to be a handicap, he made up with the bosses. On prohibition he was neither a raging dry nor an ideological wet; he said he’d rather talk about bread than booze. Nobody thought he had it in him to be either a pronounced liberal, least of all a radical.

TR: His prime rivals were largely conservative.

Farley: “That’s right. Roosevelt’s rival candidates in the Democratic party were largely conservative. One exception was West Virginia-born Newton D. Baker, 61, a prosperous lawyer and the mayor of Cleveland who was later Wilson’s secretary of war. implemented many liberal ideas , a man who had started out as a pacifist but had so embraced Wilson’s war that as secretary of war he perfected a plan for universal military conscription. He rejected General Leonard Wood as top U. S. commander in Europe in favor of John J. Pershing; he burned with faith in Wilson and progressivism. And took up the cause of globalism—with the country keeping Wilson’s faith by joining the League of Nations. His big handicap was he didn’t talk much about domestic policy—and the big headache was the Depression; nobody was crusadinfor us to get in the League of Nations.”

Baker being a liberal, here are the others facing Roosevelt who were conservative as Farley described them:

o Former New York governor Al Smith, 59, “the nominee in 1928—the first Catholic to be nominated by either party--was a conservative self-educated man of the people (he never finished grade school much less went to high school or college but worked in his youth as a counterman at the Fulton street fish market, declaring his education came from “the university of hard knocks”). His formidable talents lie in his own charisma as an amateur actor and down-to-earth, unvarnished voice of the average man; he was the emotional choice of the working press who enjoyed his bombast.

Farley: “There had been a long history of animosity between Smith and the nation’s leading newspaper publisher, tycoon William Randolph Hearst who also wanted a career in the Democratic party (his own father had been U. S. Senator from California). In 1918 he sought the Democratic nomination for governor but lost it to Smith, president of the New York City Board of Aldermen. Hearst supported Smith in the general but once Smith was elected, turned on him.

“A steep price increase in the cost of milk by dairy companies in New York prompted Hearst to turn his media engines against the new governor and accuse him, however improbably, of being a baby killer and tool of the “milk trust.” Smith who was raised in the neighborhood of tenements on the Lower East Side vowed to make Hearst pay for his calumny. He challenged Hearst to a debate at Carnegie Hall but Hearst declined; Smith then took to the stage and called Hearst not just a liar but every name in the book, civil and uncivil. Thus Smith and Hearst became mortal enemies throughout their lives. Smith turned the tide of public opinion and turned Hearst into a highly unpopular man in New York city; the new governor was the first man since another governor, Theodore Roosevelt, to stand up to Hearst’s bullying. Smith’s courage underscored a belief that perhaps he was presidential material.

“More than anything else, Smith wanted prohibition repealed and had the workingman on his side—although he tended to overplay it, lending credence to the view of the Irish Catholic who liked his booze. Prohibition was a dividing wedge in the Democratic party: the Bryan heritage of rural dry crusaders still had a great number of followers but the blue-collars wanted repeal.”

TR: Then there was Garner.

o House Speaker John Garner of Texas, 63. Farley: “He was a conservative who was a foe of radical anti-business programs. He provided an almighty upset to Roosevelt when he won the California primary through the support of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. He fudged on prohibition but enjoyed “striking a blow for freedom”—his description of thirst-quenching—in his private quarters.”

TR: A good-looking, skilled pol named Ritchie.

o Albert C. Ritchie, 56. Farley: “Ritchie was a conservative, handsome, aristocratic-appearing four-term governor of Maryland, the scion of an old southern family whose great-grandfather had been the seventh governor of Virginia and a close friend to Thomas Jefferson; a conservative who held the conservative Democratic president Grover Cleveland in high esteem. He was a strong anti-prohibitionist.”

TR: A wild character named McAdoo.

o William G. McAdoo, 69. Farley: “Wild is right. A real operator and wheeler-dealer, who a newly-minted conservative. As convention manipulator cut a deal with William Jennings Bryan in 1912 to toss the nod to Wilson in return for which he became Wilson’s treasury secretary.” A tall, lanky 6-foot-three-inch southern lawyer (born in Georgia, moved to Tennessee) who became a New Yorker, he grew rich in investment banking, as a civic leader ran the construction effort that built the Holland tunnel, linking New York city to New Jersey. A born convention manipulator, he cut a deal with William Jennings Bryan in behalf of Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 convention. Wilson was just about ready to pull out as a candidate when McAdoo canceled it and told Wilson he was going to be nominated. Without McAdoo’s delivery of Bryan, Wilson would have been a goner. In gratitude Wilson made McAdoo his treasury secretary (and Bryan his secretary of state).”

TR: McAdoo sounds like the most interesting of all.

Farley: “Of McAdoo it could be said that there was no end to his ambition, including his willingness to use his personal life to ingratiate himself with power. Left a widower with seven children, he chose as his second wife the daughter of President Wilson, a felicitous choice which gained him entrée to the White House on family occasions where he tried to importune Wilson to make him the president’s successor. Wilson’s severe stroke cut short any chance of the president being able to speak much less endorse McAdoo. After Wilson retired, McAdoo moved to California where he ingratiated himself with Hearst and converted overnight into a pro-Hearst conservative, made big bucks as an investment banker, getting elected to the U. S. Senate with Hearst’s help.

“In 1920 he started off as the favorite but lost to Ohio Governor James M. Cox; McAdoo didn’t regret that too much because election of a Republican was in the cards that year anyhow. He geared up again in 1924 and again began as the favorite. Here he clashed with Smith, the popular governor of New York. Using his southern connections, McAdoo cut a private deal with hotly anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan to oppose Smith. But Smith people discovered the alliance and publicized it which set McAdoo back on his heels as a bigot.

“Then the Smith forces discovered that McAdoo had received money from Sinclair Oil with the assistance of a corrupt former Harding interior secretary. They leaked that and McAdoo was foiled again. To make matters worse, Baker, Wilson’s old secretary of war, supported Smith which enraged McAdoo. McAdoo was so bitter he declined to support Smith and probably voted for Hoover. Now in 1932 , McAdoo played his cards more adroitly. He worked closely with Hearst and backed Garner, believing that Garner might well fold in the convention and McAdoo could emerge. McAdoo was pretty old for a presidential candidate at 69, but he dyed his hair and leapt up stairs to show people how youthful he was. Formally he was for Garner; privately he was for McAdoo and deep down he was nurturing many personal reasons to sink the dagger into Smith—to get even with him for 1924 and 1928. He had no reason to be for Roosevelt but after himself, he wanted anybody else to be nominated but Smith.”

Illinois favorite son Melvin A. Traylor, chief executive of the First National Bank of Chicago.

TR: A staid Chicago banker for Democratic president?

“We [the Roosevelt forces] hoped that by holding the convention in Chicago, we’d be helped by the city’s mayor, Anton Cermak. But this was not to be. A Czech non-Catholic, free-thinker who didn’t go to church, Cermak saw the need to back Al Smith because it would endear Cermak to the heavily Catholic working class of the city. When Farley exerted great pressure on Cermak to back Roosevelt, the wily mayor did a reverse-flip and picked a Chicago banker—a hero of sorts—as Illinois’ favorite son Traylor who kept his bank from defaulting and stemmed a run on his bank when 39 other institutions crumbled including, very nearly, the National Bank of Commerce headed by Charles G. Dawes, former vice president of the United States and Nobel prize winner. Traylor was a pro-business conservative.”

So in summary, there were many reasons to assume that the Democratic party would name a conservative as its 1932 nominee. Smith was…Garner was a rather famous conservative…Ritchie was a well-known conservative governor of Maryland…McAdoo was as an ally of Hearst and backer conservative Garner…Traylor had the favorite son backing of Cermak, holding his delegates together so he could pitch them to conservative Smith at the proper time. The only liberal appeared to be Baker, Wilson’s secretary of war. It looked like the Democratic party would be electing a president from the right-side of the aisle or at the very most possibly a centrist. No strong liberal appeared in the midst.

TR: How did a party brim-full of conservatives, one acknowledged liberal and one seemingly go-along accommodationist, end with a patrician who became a near-revolutionary?

Farley: “Well, near-revolutionary are your words,” he said. “But I will grant you there were many things we tried that looked statist, that didn’t work—but he instilled hope. But as to his programs, I can only say I was as surprised as were most people. He was a plunger, a gambler and a risk-taker who listened to people who urged him to try anything—anything to jolt the economy and get it to jump-start. They came largely from liberal academia. And he was feted for it by liberal newspaper reporting, people who had been nurtured by academe who liked anything that criticized the so-called plutocrats. But if you’re asking me if I knew when I was getting him nominated what he would be like, the answer is no. While we held the line—if I may say so, brilliantly--two things got him nominated—a phone call somebody else made and a meeting I called. After those two things, the nomination was in place and we were on our way.”

What the two things were: next time.

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