What the U.S. Election Means to Canada
One of Canada's most astute political observers diagnoses the results of the Battle of the Ballots, U. S., 1940
IT WAS half-past three in the afternoon when we reached the doors of Madison Square Garden. Thousands of New York's voters were in line already, with sandwiches in their pockets.
From four o’clock, when the doors opened, until half-past eleven, 23,000 people sat in the huge auditorium and cheered and stamped and booed the name of their President, and sang patriotic songs while 50,000 more jammed the streets outside.
When Wendell Willkie suddenly appeared, leaped to a table and stood waving his arms, the crowd screamed uninterruptedly for twelve minutes by the clock. Everybody stood on his chair, waving the Stars and Striix^. A little man with a bald head ran up and down the aisles like a rabbit, exhorting us all to cheer, and everybody was cheering too busily to notice him. One woman fell backward, knocked half a dozen others off their chairs like ninepins. An elderly matron started to |x>und me on the back with her fists, shouting. “We want Willkie!” as if l hadn’t guessed it. Four bands played, but nobody could hear them. Two men held Mr. Willkie by the legs so that he wouldn’t fall off the table.
Eight hours of sustained emotion, of almost religious ecstasy, mounting at the end to something very like hysteria. It could never have happened in Canada. Hut it happens in the U.S. A few nights before, when Mr. Roosevelt sUxxl on the same platform, his handsome actor’s face beaming, the shaggy head rolling as he spoke, there was the same ecstasy, the same adoration. And the same
thing had happened, with smaller crowds, in every hall where these two men apjieared.
I had seen it apjxxir in parades through the big cities of the Middle West, and in lonely railway yards when the candidates paused for a rear-platform appearance. I had seen it in the offices of Wall Street bankers and in country stores, in the talk of taxi drivers and bell boys and negroes down South, on the lean faces of fanners’ wives, standing at their d<x>rstej)s as the great election train rolled by. In three trips to the United States this year, in perhaps fifteen thousand miles of travel among these people, I had seen this thing develop into the climax of the 1940 U.S. election.
What is it? What has been happening to our good neighbors? Only the quadrennial excitement and free show of an election?
No, something much deeper: something which, in due time, will affect the course of the world’s history and affect the lives of every Canadian and every Canadian’s children. A vast heaving, not on the surface but throughout the whole immeasurable, virile stuff of U.S. life—a fundamental division and schism between two ideas, not yet resolved. Something is happening to our neighbors that moves them, that will continue to move them as have no events in their past except the Revolution and the Civil War.
The election was only a point of time, an incident in this process, a pause in the march. The march is going on, and if we knew where it was going we could foretell the course of the war, we could guess the nature of the next peace, we could glimpse the future shape of our world.
Before you can attempt to gauge the recent election and its results, before you can attempt to forecast the position of the United States in the war, you must understand a number of things that you will seldom read in the newspapers or hear in radio speeches.
New Deal Reaction
TN THE last four years the New Deal has bogged down.
A kind of paralysis has overtaken U.S. politics after the previous four years of adventurous experiment. Unemployment was as large as ever. Deficits continued. Clearly the New Deal, for all its fine reforms, had failed to solve the basic problems of the nation.
The American people had begun to understand that. Throughout the nation a feeling of disillusionment and frustration had begun to grow. This was more than the old familiar shriek of the rich man who, because taxes were going up, thought that Mr. Roosevelt had started a revolution. Millions of ordinary people, with small means, had begun to think for the first time that the old American democracy was slowly dying, that the economic system had become dependent on Government doles, that the Government was going to retain office indefinitely by a process of mass subsidy to the poor.
Millions of intelligent people began to believe—and still believe today—that the United States under Mr. Roosevelt, whether he knew it or not, was sinking step by step into some kind of totalitarianism. For the first time since 1776 a large part of the nation began to fear for the existence of the free American way of life.
That was the fear which crystallized in the Willkie crusade. Of course, it was not a crusade to many of Mr. Willkie’s followers. He had with him all the old dregs of the Republican Party, the discredited war horses, the interests which were concerned with their own profit only. But he had with him much more than that. He had with him millions of thoughtful Americans, especially young men and women who felt that there was no hope in the Republican Party but believed that Mr. Willkie, once Continued on page 39
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elected, would throw the party out the window, retain the accomplishments of the New Deal and repeal its mistakes.
This Willkie crusade created—or rather it crystallized—the deepest split in the life of the country witnessed in our lifetime. Here was no quarrel over a party policy, an old label. Here was bitter conflict across a yawning gulf between those who believe—roughly speaking—in a growing collectivism and those who want to re-establish free enterprise as the mainspring of society. It was class war, naked and visible to every American as never before, cutting across both parties, making old party ]x>licies and slogans meaningless. The bitterness of it, the passionate conviction on both sides, the utter split down the middle of the nation, is something that no one could believe without seeing it at first hand. We have never known anything like it in our Confederation.
But as the new crusade rallied around Mr. Willkie, having nowhere else to rally, a strange thing was happening, little noted in the election excitement. The United States was entering upon a war boom, probably the greatest boom in its history. And the war boom suddenly rescued the New Deal. The New Deal had been based on the simple proposition that if the Government spent enough money over and above its tax revenues it would create such business activity that, after a while, business would be able to put everyone to work, pay more taxes and finally balance the budget. This was so-called pump priming. It had failed.
Now, with the whole nation clamoring for rearmament, the Government could really start pump priming in earnest. It could double, triple, quadruple the deficit, and nobody would complain so long as it was for defense. If there was anything in the theory of pump priming, here was the supreme chance to test it.
The result was an actual easing of the basic economic tensions when on the surface tension seemed to be growing. The Government’s new money was beginning to flow throughout industry. War factories were shooting up all over the central plains and along both seaboards. Men long idle were going back to work. Production was breaking all records. The boom was well under way. Once again Mr. Roosevelt has produced a miracle in the nick of time.
Without such a miracle he could not have been elected. Without the war, of course, he would not have run, and nothing could have stopped a Willkie victory, so long as times were bad, so long as the New Deal was bogged down. Now the New Deal—the essential spending mechanism of the New Deal—goes on to unheard-of lengths, to such expenditures as no nation in history has ever known.
From the results of this process we in
Canada can never be immune. If the American people have indeed discovered the answer to the economic riddle, if they have established automatic prosperity at last, then we, too. can have it. If, on the other hand, this war boom is only another bubble which will burst after a few years of inflation, then we shall feel the shock of the explosion as surely as will the American people. Our Canadian economy is so enmeshed with that of our neighbors that we shall prosper or hunger with them. WherrCongress threw open the doors of the United States Treasury, it was spending your money and gambling with your capital as surely as it was risking the resources of the American people.
Can Boom Be Controlled?
CAN THE war boom be controlled?
Nobody knows yet, but everybody who can think has grave doubts. In a word, this is the economic position of the United States: Its national income is now seventy-five billions. The war boom may raise the income to a hundred billions—seventeen billions more than the 1929 peak. If the nation’s finances are to be put on a sound basis again, enough of the increase in national income must be collected in taxes to pay for the cost of rearmament and the other costs of government.
Will the United States have the courage to enforce such enormous taxes? Will the pump primers have the courage of their own theory and balance the budget, as they have promised, when the national income has reached unprecedented heights?
We shall see. (We shall also see something of the same sort being answered in our own country.) The test of the New Deal will be its taxation policies, its management of the nation’s income during the next few years. Here the Americans are in a happier position than we are, for with their idle factories and idle labor they can probably produce the essential war materials in addition to all their ordinary requirements, so that it will be unnecessary, for the present anyway, to hammer down their standard of living, as we must hammer down ours. Yet it is clear that they must begin to get their deficits and debt under control in the jx'riod immediately ahead if they are to avoid a financial collapse later or, alternatively, a new kind of economic system, totally controlled by the state.
Now it is true that neither Mr. Willkie nor even Mr. Lincoln, if he were alive, could prevent the development of this situation. Nobody can stop the welling up of a war boom. Nobody can avoid huge deficits to finance it in the early stages. Nobody can avoid large measures of government regulation when the Government has become a major customer of business. Also, nobody can repeal the specific social reforms of the New Deal, and nobody of real importance in the U.S. wants to.
Then where did the Willkie crusaders think they were going? They had no hope of an immediate reversal of the trend. But they had the long-term hope that the whole attitude of government in the United States could be changed. Where government appeared to them as a cunning enemy of private initiative, determined to undermine it step by step and to establish gradually another system, they hoped that Mr. Willkie could substitute for this attitude a real belief in private initiative.
He could not stop deficits immediately, or avoid regulation, or keep government out of business during the war. But, they thought, he could gradually withdraw government from business, he could gradually balance the budget, he could once more establish private initiative as the mainspring of society. And, most important of all, they believed, rightly or
wrongly, that through Mr. Willkie the liberty of the individual -old-fashioned freedom —could be saved where it would die if the New Deal went on much longer.
The war and the election have arrested all that. The Willkie crusade has failed. The New Deal goes on. Prosperity returns. A boom greater than that of 1929 is beginning. Yet that settles nothing permanently.
The real crisis has only been postponed. The real crisis will occur when the war boom is over, when the nation is rearmed, when peace comes. Then what does Mr. Roosevelt do with the millions of workers dependent on the manufacture of munitions? What does he do with the whole structure of U.S. business dependent on Government spending? And what happens
in our own country under identical circumstances? That is not yet clear to anyone, hut it is dear that we and our neighbors are in the same boat.
It is the post-hxxim era, not the immediate future, that alarms the thinking American. After the war, he knows, the issue of the recent election wall he joined again, more sharply than ever. For, once the temjxirary economic expedient of a war boom has been exhausted, once this shot-in-the-arm has worn off, the United States can postpone its decision no longer. It must then return to the orthodox business view, relying on a return of investors’ confidence and initiative to restore prosperity, or it must permanently accept the concept of Government as the guiding force of the nation’s economy.
with business largely dejxndent on Government spending.
Economic Struggle to Come
HTHUS the stage is being set even now -*• for the greatest economic struggle America has ever known, as important in its result as the Civil War. The intelligent ixople on both sides understand that [xrfectly well. I cannot convey their thinking better than by reporting a conversation in a bar on Forty-Fifth Street, on the day after election, between my friend Charlie, who supported Mr. Willkie, and my New Deal friend, George.
“The end of this thing,” said Charlie, “is now quite obvious. When the bust comes, after the war, the New Deal will have to set up a dictatorship and transfer its spending from armaments to public works. Nothing less will be strong enough to cope with the situation. And the fact that the American people are willing to give any President three terms, against all tradition to the contrary, indicates that a dictatorship can be established, when the need arises, with democratic trimmings.”
“Maybe,” said George, “but isn’t it much more likely you’d get your dictatorship from the other side? Suppose you elect Willkie. He tries, after the war, to repeal the New Deal. He tries to reestablish orthodox business methods. That immediately raises so much hostility from those who would lose their jobs, that you have to get tough. That is where the dictator takes over. That is where-from the right—that you have got every dictator in the world. Your dictator is called in to save the profit system—with social trimmings to appease the masses.”
“You’re wrong,” Charlie said. “You still think that Willkie was just another Republican. Well, it doesn’t matter about him personally, whether he is a stooge for Wall Street or the people’s saint. The point is that Willkie is a symbol, and if he had been elected it would have been by the great middle class of the United States, most of which undoubtedly voted for him. Those ixople, not Wall Street, would control the Government. And they are the last people in the world to submit to dictatorship.”
“Isn’t that being naive?” George retorted. “Of course the middle class would elect such a Government—good people, the backbone of the nation. But how long would they own their own party? The big boys have been in it from the start. They’re singing low now but when the going gets tough they’ll take over the show -and then where would your backbone of the nation be?”
"I don’t think the big boys could swing it,” Charlie said. “But if we don’t have a pause now, if we don’t stop for four years or so and digest all the experiments we have started, we are going to perish of indigestion. I voted for Roosevelt twice. I wanted Willkie so that we could stay on a plateau for a little while before starting up again. But we’ve decided by this election to rush on before we know how to manage the machine we have created. Everybody knows that the world is heading into more and more collectivism. Nobody but a fool tries to stop that tide. Our job in this country is to maintain the freedom of the individual within that tide, and my only quarrel with Roosevelt is that he won’t be able to do it, where Willkie might.”
This is the conversation of two of the best minds I know in the United States, each trying to put the thing in the simplest language. You can agree with either or neither. The important thing is that such conversations are going on in nearly every house in the nation, in every bar and restaurant. The important thing is that a large part of the nation, nearly half of it, lias become convinced that the United States is threatened for the first time with the ultimate loss of its democracy, the loss of its real freedom.
The people who were behind Willkie have been roused for the first time. Men and women who never paid any attention Continued on page 42
Continued from page ‘iO to politics spent weeks canvassing the voters. Housewives deserted their families to make speeches on street corners or argue with other housewives at the back door. Co-eds began to talk about the Constitution and Farewell Address.
These people will keep on fighting. They will organize for the next four years. They will try to rescue their movement from the old Republican Party. They will try to get rid of the old Republican politicians. They will rally around Mr. Willkie because he is the only leader in sight. Four years from now—if the war boom is over then and the economic crisis has developed and the unequalled personality of Mr. Roosevelt has been removed—they will make a supreme attempt to divert the course of American history. And we, as much as the American people, will be involved in the issue of that struggle.
The U. S. And the War
'“PHIS, then, is the nation to which the British Empire looks now for help in winning the war. This is the background against which the United States will decide whether to go into the war or not.
It would be a brave man who would predict the United States’ war policy. Probably it would be unwise for any Canadian to venture a prediction. Yet no Canadian can travel through the Union, east and west, north and south, into the big cities and the little towns, without sensing—in addition to the internal forces already mentioned—a new awareness of the outside world. After twenty years of isolation the American people are beginning to realize at last that their fate is bound up with the fate of the world at large - a fact implicitly denied by the national policy of the nation since 1920.
You can feel this upsurge of feeling everywhere, even in the deep-blue isolation belt on the eastern slope of the Rockies. This does not mean that the American people want to get into this war, for they are firmly set against it—at the moment. But it does mean that for the first time in their modern history they fear assault from outside this continentsomething which they have not really feared for more than a hundred years. They are building the largest navy in the world and a substantial army simply because of that fear.
It seems to me that this is important. If the American people fear attack by a combination of hostile powers, they may conclude that the safest and cheapest way to prevent that attack is to prevent the combination. They may decide that the only way to keep peace in the world, the only way to avoid enormous military costs and a reduction in their living standards, is to co-ojxirate to the utmost with other nations who are already resisting the potential attackers of the U.S.
Already the lesson is far advanced. If the Presidential election meant anything, it meant that the American people wanted more aid sent to Britain. It was a mandate to the President to be firmer and tougher with the dictators, and it is a mandate
Solution of the crossword puzzle on page 40
which undoubtedly he will accept with enthusiasm.
Behind the mandate of the American [people is an entirely new attitude toward Britain, an attitude which did not exist even last summer. It makes your heart beat faster to sit in a dingy theatre in a Kansas town and hear the audience applaud when they show the picture, “London Can Take It.” Or when you talk to a railway brakeman in Evansville and hear him say: “Lord, I never thought
those English had it in ’em.”
Or when the young taxi driver in St. Louis says: “All I want is to get hold of a gun, that’s all, and start shootin’. I’m married to a German girl, see, but she feels the same way about it.”
Or when you talk to an old soldier of the A.E.F., now driving a taxi for $19 a week in Minneapolis, and he says: “The trouble was we didn’t finish the job last time. Next time we won’t make the same mistake.”
Or when you stroll over to Madison Avenue, at the corner of Eightieth, for a cab and Jimmy Diaz, the driver, tells you about his son who is in college and will soon be an officer in the army. “And me a Mexican Indian,” says Jimmy. “Ain’t that a country worth fightin’ for? And if you think we’re goin’ to let England go under you’re nuts, mister.”
More than anything in history, more than all the last war, the Battle of Britain has shown the American jxxiple the true quality of the British race, has broken down old barriers, has laid the foundation for co-operation in the future which may be the salvation of the world’s democracy.
All we know now—and it is made certain by the re-election of Mr. Roosevelt—is that the American people are determined to throw the weight of their unequalled industrial power behind Britain. Whether they will ultimately come completely into the war only the future can determine. But not in all my travels, not even in the deepest isolation belt, did I find an American who believed that the United States could stay out permanently. This strange fatalism about the war, among people most anxious to keep out of war. is probably the profoundest fact in U.S. opinion toward the world. It is the only point on which everyone you meet in the U.S. appears to agree.
It is, in fact, dawning on the American jjeople that they are already in the war. And more than that is dawning.
You find everywhere in the U.S. not only the feeling that Germany must be beaten, but that something must be done to prevent another similar threat to civilization in the future. I have found that feeling in the least likely places—not merely on the Eastern seaboard where they have always been relatively conscious of the world at large,' but in the deep South, which is now perhaps more passionately behind Britain than any part of the
country, and in the Middle West, in the heart of isolationism.
This feeling is inarticulate yet. It is not interested in the old League of Nations or in Union Now, or in any specific plan. But if you will talk to small-town editors, to businessmen, to professional men, you will hear them saying that winning the war isn’t enough. The world, they say, can’t go on as an armed camp. The United States can’t afford to live in a barracks. Somehow the democratic peoples must get together.
The Awakening Giant
TT IS all both vague and inarticulate yet,
and you cannot put your finger on it, nor gauge the strength of this feeling. But every important impulse of men and nations is vague and inarticulate at the beginning. All the great movements of history have grown out of such imponderable stirrings in the hearts of men who had no final plan but did have an instinct about things.
I did hear some American thinkers say that the shape of things to come already is clear —some kind of grand alliance with the British Empire, an understanding among English-speaking jx:ople who basically believe in the same things. Six months ago nobody talked like that. Now you frequently meet people who do. It is too early, however, to be sure that these ixiople are right. But no one who has been among the American people this year—not just in the tourist cities but in the towns and villages—can fail to feel on all sides something vast astir.
Dimly yet, but with increasing clarity these i>eople who have decided to back Britain, who are building a mighty military machine of their own, who have accepted conscription in peacetime, who have re-elected a known internationalist who was a League of Nations candidate for the vice-presidency in 1920 —these ]>eople who make up the largest democracy in the world, a democracy which for twenty years has tried to mind its own business, are realizing their destiny. This awareness, expressed in government policy, but more certainly felt in the talk of unknown Americans, is full of infinite possibilities for good in the world. It may be the chief hope of the world’s democracy, of freedom among men everywhere.
In the next year, when this instinct must develop into action or cool off again into futile isolation, more than victory in the war will be at stake. Since there can be no sound peace without the United States backing it, the whole future of civilization is at stake. This decision rests with a hundred and thirty million obscure men like Jimmy Diaz, the taxi driver, the Mexican Indian whose son is an officer in the army, and who says that if you think the United States will see the British Empire go under, you’re nuts, mister.
Britain Speaks to the Empire
Tn a recent issue of Maclean’s there appeared a poem by Sir diaries G. D. Roberts, “The Empire Speaks of Britain.” It so appealed to Allan Junior, a wellknown Scottish poet, that he wrote the following reply—“Britain Speaks to the Empire."
I KNEW you would not fail me in the hour When evil foes attacked your Motherland.
You are to her, as Buttress is to Tower—
A strength vouchsafed unto no other land.
Proud, proud and glad am I to know you bleed When I am wounded: that you feel the smart When I am smitten, and that we, in deed
And thought are one, as we are one in heart.
Today we face the Tyrant, all alone—
The fate of world-freedom in our care;
But, with God’s help, we’ll hurl him from his throne, As now we hurl his legions from the air.
If Britain be your shield, you too are hers,
As steadfast, as unconquerable, as sure.
And when the gale the sundering ocean stirs.
Your mighty strength will help her to endure.
I called: you answered nobly to that call—
A presage that this Britain shall not fall.
' —Allan Junior, Dundee, Scotland.