Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Flashback: Rexford Guy Tugwell and Jim Farley, a Sharp Contrast of Two Who Served FDR. This Precedent to My Going on Bruce DuMont’s Show This Sunday with the Subject FDR (Along with Eric Zorn and Others).

[More than fifty years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

In the middle 1970s while in California on a business trip (The Conference Board), I took a side trip to Santa Barbara to see Robert Maynard Hutchins, the renowned former president of the University of Chicago. He was running something called the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Hutchins was an anomaly: a conservative educational reformer, he reinvigorated the University of Chicago by applying a standard that insisted on a core curriculum that boosted classics: a subject I was interested in since I was about to become chairman of an institution similarly interested in the humanities, Newman College in Saint Louis. Hutchins also hired Mortimer Adler whom I knew and the two of them went on to make genuine academic history (Lillian and I took the Great Books course as taught by Adler).

It is uncertain as to who converted whom to pushing university education to stress the liberal arts at Chicago. Hutchins became dean of the Yale Law school at age 28, scoring national attention in 1927. Two years later he was named president of the University of Chicago at 30. He quickly hired Adler and put him in charge of the program to move the U of C from what Hutchins felt was a highly priced trade school or “foundry” as he called it, to an institution that would celebrate the humanities. To Hutchins and to Adler, the well educated man would have four years of the humanities and then probably two or three years learning a trade. Adler invented the “Great Books” many of which, he jokingly told me, Hutchins had no time to read since Hutchins was busily publicizing the idea of the new university. He also invented the “Basic Program” which still exists, a movement based on the great books which does not provide university credit but a full-grounded 5-year superb education in the humanities which Lillian took. But it was Hutchins, not the abrasive Adler, who popularized the movement. He commented that he became aware of the need when interviewing beginning freshmen at the University of Chicago…many of whom said they were interested in securing justice for blacks and minorities…but could not adequately give a definition of justice.

Among other things Hutchins and Adler stimulated ideas in economic thought and made it a serious study rather than just a means with which to get CPAs and MBAs--manifested by the institution’s hiring Milton Friedman and a number of other Nobel prize winners in economics and the retention of George Shultz as dean of the business school.

. Of the two, Adler felt he was clearly the intellectual superior but having spent time with both of them, I felt it was a draw of genius: Hutchins for the well-balanced man and Adler, a Jew, then a converted Episcopalian (and before his death in his nineties, a Catholic. for brilliant but thoroughly compulsive engrossment in Thomistic philosophy. Adler popularized philosophical speculation with his landmark book “Aristotle Made Easy” which earned the enmity of philosophers who wish to remain obscure suffused in jargon. Adler made himself so universally hated among faculty members that after Hutchins moved on, he had to leave…yet of the two probably Adler’s mark on the institution is more indelibly recorded.

I wanted to get from Hutchins how to manage a university devoted to the humanities not trade school learning. He taught me much in the two days I spent with him. Incidentally, Hutchins told me that when things got tough for him at the University of Chicago, he had one fast friend on the board—John Stuart who was CEO of Quaker.

When I visited with him, Hutchins was running a great dream of his—the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions which was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers foundation. Then he called together the Fellows of the Center for luncheon which they ate family style, people like the heretical Episcopal bishop James Pike asking a nuclear physicist to “pass the bread. take one for yourself but leave some for others” and Harry Ashmore, former editor of the Little Rock “Gazette” during the melee over integration of Central high school there…while Hutchins, a Presbyterian minister’s son, would pontificate about John Henry Newman’s view of the theological doctrine of certainty differed widely from that of the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas.

One elderly gentleman who participated strenuously both with cogent comments and wonderfully irreverent repartee…the oldest guy in the group…got my attention. He was well in his eighties; they called him “sexy Rexy.” He was none other than a man whom I had frequently heard of in my youth when I had to read the “Tribune” editorials to my father while he was shaving—Rexford Guy Tugwell, who led Colonel McCormick’s hate parade for exerting “subversive views on governance.” Tugwell was the real intellect behind Henry Wallace’s radical reform of agriculture during the New Deal. He had been a key member of FDR’s “Brain Trust” a group of academics who helped develop socialist policies masquerading under different names during Roosevelt’s campaign…keeping them under wraps until he was elected and incorporated the New Deal.

Tugwell was born in upstate New York in 1891 and studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. He taught at Wharton but was ejected as a near Communist. He finished up at the University of Washington. He taught there, the American University in Paris and Columbia University. It was at Columbia where he met a group of people interested in the presidential career of Governor Franklin Roosevelt. They were all egg-heads and intellectuals. FDR kept them apart from a group of political pragmatists like Jim Farley which was engaged in getting him nominated and elected. Jim Farley told me he hadn’t been acquainted whatsoever with Tugwell until after election when Tugwell was unveiled. Tugwell told me that he hadn’t met Farley either. But they tussled after Roosevelt got in. Yet they had a lot of respect for each other. Tugwell asked me after I told him I had spent a number of hours with Farley in New York….asked me rather timidly…”and how is Jim? How old is Jim do you know?”

He was older than Rex—born in 1888 (Rex in 1891). Tugwell never occupied a very senior official post in the FDR administration…probably because of his candor which would have gotten him into trouble with the media…but he was more influential with Roosevelt than most cabinet officers—and spent more time face-to-face with FDR than most. As a guru for the collectivization of agriculture (although he couldn’t stand farm work because he was abnormally sensitive to hay fever), he became undersecretary and then head of the resettlement administration, a federal agency that relocated the urban poor to suburbs and impoverished farmers to new rural communities. He was the guiding genius who started the extensive federal experimental farm at Greenbelt, Maryland…which is still a marvelous institution. But the idea of federal planning, which he pioneered and his work at the Resettlement Administration did him in politically.

That’s where I heard of him as a kid because McCormick’s “Tribune” claimed Tugwell was out to radicalize farm communities and turn Republican suburbs into left-wing Commie cells. He also was the guiding spirit behind a number of Henry A. Wallace’s reforms including the soil bank, plowing under every second furrow of crops to get the prices up and other things. Tugwell became the “go-to” guy in the New Deal for economic planning…agriculture, minimum wage, social security, unemployment comp, although he was about as conservative as Farley was about federal relief programs. And he flatly opposed the idea of an extensive welfare system believing that being on the dole continually robs people of initiative.

He played a major role in forming the Civilian Conservation Corps. His idea was that experienced foresters should take under their wing a certain number of young men who would learn the trade while paid by the federal government. Once he had the idea, FDR gave him the job of handling all the details which was moot justice. Who would be chosen? How would they be housed? Who would build the CCC camps? Who would handle the unions which were outraged at all this? Would the boys build their own camps or would the union laborers do it?

Tugwell would talk to FDR by the hour about the European experience with insurance against the hazards of industrial life and insurance against unemployment. FDR was the doubter but Tugwell was the proponent. Roosevelt vetoed Tugwell’s most extensive plan and decided on a contributory scheme and sent Tugwell to the Library of Congress to collect actuarial figures about old age, accidents, illnesses. Together they worked out the idea that deductions from pay envelopes and enfoced contributions from employers could carry the costs.

Tugwell was sent to work with Sen. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y) who had been chairman of the National Labor Board during the first half of the NRA (National Recovery Administration). Against Tugwell’s advice, Wagner induced FDR to issue two executive orders—authorizing the Board to hold elections for determining bargaining agents and to present violations to the Justice Department for prosecution. Tugwell and Wagner thus devised the guts of the National Labor Relations Act which banned unfair practices such as sponsoring company unions by employers, interfering with employees’ choice of bargaining representatives and refusal tro bargain with elected agents. Tugwell sketched out the NLRB board to be set up.

In 1937, Farley personally asked FDR to get rid of Tugwell and he did in order to ease the heat. He told me, “Tugwell was one of those who was so radical that he could easily see that we would be defeated because he alienated a lot of people.” But Tugwell continued his private association with FDR. FDR told him he would get another job as soon as the heat was off…and he did. In 1942 he became the last non-Puerto Rican to become governor of the territory. He served from 1942 to 1946. After that, he came to the University of Chicago under Hutchins.

When I started teaching at Wharton in 1974 I discovered the file that led to Tugwell’s being ejected as a Communist. I looked at it and decided they had the old guy dead to rights. He was an intellectual communist but by no means a Marxist. The next year I thought it would be great fun to get him to speak at my class on April 12, 1975, the 30th anniversary of Roosevelt’s death. In order to get it done I had to fight with the U of Penn administration which was leery of it because of a number of wealthy conservative alums who remembered Tugwell. After I visited with President Martin Meyerson, he agreed but then there was another complication. For some reason, Tugwell called me up and said he couldn’t come. Why not? He was elusive. Then his wife called me and said that he didn’t want to come because as an old man in his eighties he had to go to the bathroom every half hour and he was embarrassed. Together we hatched a plan where I called him and said that because the kids at the school were so immature, his talk would have to last only a half hour at a time and then everybody would take a stretch. I could almost hear him sigh in relief and he agreed immediately.

His return to Wharton was a triumph. The alumni attended and found out the old guy was so much against welfare as distinct from agricultural planning and reforms that had long become part of government that he sounded like Barry Goldwater. One newspaperman from the Philadelphia Inquirer called me up and asked if he could attend the class. He was a young fellow greatly interested in New Deal history by the name of Steve Neal. Neal attended and that was the first time I met him who would go on to become a White House correspondent for the “Tribune”, later the “Sun-Times” political columnist and a historian in his own right who wrote some landmark books including the story of the 1932 convention that nominated FDR. His untimely death deprived us all of a friend and astute analyst and historian.

This Sunday I’ll be on “Beyond the Beltway” with Bruce DuMont along with Eric Zorn to discuss Roosevelt through the eyes of Farley and Tugwell…before I zip out and go to my own show on WLS which follows Bruce.

More about what Rex Tugwell told me about FDR which departs somewhat from what Jim Farley said…but then coincides…next time.

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