Thursday, February 15, 2007

Flashback: Two Events Change the Course of the 1932 Democratic Convention—and of the United States—to Install Liberalism as the Party’s Official Philosophy…a Philosophy that is With Us Yet.

The most recent…and by all odds the best…exposition of the two climactic steps taken to ensure the nomination of Franklin Roosevelt at the Chicago Democratic convention of 1932…is contained in the book Happy Days Are Here Again by the late Steve Neal. One step was taken without Jim Farley; the second by his intervention. The theory is intact that conservative Democrats unwittingly delivered their party to liberalism—a theory I tried out on Farley years ago and which he did not exactly deny.He did agree that the number strength Roosevelt had was weak and that if a deadlock continued, that number would start drifting off. One of the first to spot the weakness was the newly-elected Speaker of the House, John Garner. On the eve of the convention, he said to friend, “He [Roosevelt] will have a majority but not two-thirds. Al Smith will have around 200 delegates and they will hold out until the last against Roosevelt. Ritchie will have some and they will be against Roosevelt all the way. Senator Lewis [J. Hamilton Lewis of Illinois] will not be a candidate and Cermak [Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago] will hide out his anti-Roosevelt votes behind Melvin Traylor.”

The step taken without Farley was by Joseph P. Kennedy, a tall, red-haired Boston financier known as one of the very few Wall Street speculators to get out of the Crash before the market collapsed…the reason being that while he was having his shoes shined one morning, the shoe-shine attendant compared his stock-buying with him. Kennedy immediately withdrew his holdings believing that if a shoe-shine attendant was in the market it was precariously over-serving and that a crash was imminent. Kennedy, the patriarch of the dynasty, was a thorough conservative and anti-globalist, a deadly enemy of the philosophy of Woodrow Wilson. As with many others, he was a Roosevelt man not knowing the full extent of FDR’s proclivity to listen to radicals. Kennedy told Arthur Krock of “The New York Times” that “Roosevelt was a man of action. He had the capacity to get things done…I knew what he could do and how he did it and I felt that after a long period of inactivity we needed a leader who would lead.”

In Krock’s presence, Kennedy called William Randolph Hearst who was backing John Garner and told him that a continued deadlock would cause votes to drift away from Roosevelt and go to Newton Baker, the liberal candidate for the Democratic nomination. Kennedy told Hearst: “If you don’t want Baker, you better take Roosevelt—because if you don’t take Roosevelt, you’re going to have Baker.” Hearst asked, “all right. Is that my choice? Could I get Ritchie?”—referring to the conservative governor of Maryland. Kennedy said, “No, I don’t think so. I think if Roosevelt cracks on the next ballot it’ll be Baker.” “All right,” said Hearst, “I’ll turn to him [Roosevelt].”

Hearst called his aide at the convention and told him to find George Rothwell Brown, the chief Hearst Washington correspondent and tell him this: “He wants you to go to Speaker Garner and say to him that he is very fearful that on the next or some subsequent ballot delegations will desert Roosevelt. Mr. Hearst is fearful that when Roosevelt’s strength crumbles, it will bring about either the election of Smith [former New York governor Al Smith] or Baker. Either would be disastrous.” (Note: Brown’s and the “Tribune’s” George Tagge play essentially—not in all particulars but many-- the same role Lynn Sweet plays at the “Sun-Times” since her political sagacity is without peer at the newspaper). That was the decisive action made without Farley.

Farley had come to the same determination as Joe Kennedy. Surreptitiously, he arranged a meeting with Garner’s protégé Rep. Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) and proposed Garner for vice president with Roosevelt. Rayburn was noncommittal but said, “we’ll see what can be done.” Rayburn got on the phone with Garner and Garner agreed to switch to FDR. He came back with no objection but with the proviso that Farley himself place Garner in nomination for vice president so afraid was Garner of treachery. Farley agreed.

Even though Garner agreed to the switch, Rayburn had a great deal of trouble with the Texas delegates who wanted to hang firm with Garner. It was an uproarious meeting of the delegation between those who wanted to stay with Garner and those who wanted to follow Garner’s advice and switch to FDR. There was a call to poll the delegation. Garner had to agree. The vote to switch from Garner to FDR was 54 to 51. Thus by only three votes was the switch made in the Texas delegation which got Roosevelt closer to the nomination.

As the tide started to turn, William McAdoo who hated Smith worse than poison—and Baker as well—wanted to be on hand at the Chicago stadium to cast California’s votes from Garner to Roosevelt. He hopped in his official limousine and sped to the Stadium but midway there, on the Near West Side, his limo unaccountably ran out of gasoline (McAdoo always believed that gasoline from the car, supplied by the Cermak hospitality committee, had been siphoned). Stalled in the middle of the street with the traffic horns honking, McAdoo flagged a Chicago policeman who offered him a ride on the back seat of his motorcycle.

McAdoo rode for a while but his long legs were dragging on the street, so the cop hailed a taxi and with McAdoo inside the cop led the way with siren wailing. McAdoo secured recognition from the chair and said “the great state of Texas and the great state of California are acting in accordance with what we believe is the best, first for America and next for the Democratic party…California casts 44 votes for Franklin D. Roosevelt!” The stampede was on and the favorite son states—Illinois led by Cermak—dumped their candidates and went for Roosevelt.

But the fact remains that if Hearst, a conservative, had not given up on Garner, another conservative and McAdoo, a relative conservative, had not tumbled from Garner in obedience to Hearst and if Garner, a conservative, had not tossed in his cards for Roosevelt, the Democratic party would have had either Garner or Governor Ritchie, either one of whom would have been elected president. The likelihood is great that the New Deal and all its machinations would not have been born. Nor the presidential impetus much later to involve us in the second World War.

“Fundamentally, that’s a correct assumption,” said the conservative Farley to me. The conversation was part of a paper I delivered at Harvard in 1977, a year after Farley’s death. The other portion of the paper was compiled after an interview with Farley’s opposite, radical economist from the University of Pennsylvania who was kicked out of his faculty position because the university believed he was a communist-- Rexford Guy Tugwell, enemy of Farley, one of the liberal brains-trust of the New Deal, a stormy petrel of the administration who later was FDR’s governor-general of Puerto Rico.

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