MANY labor and liberal spokesmen say President Truman has doomed the Democrats to defeat in the Congressional elections this year and in the presidential election of 1948. Oddly, the Republicans are not quite so sure about this.
When Mr. Truman forced the cancellation of the railroad strike he was the hero of almost everybody in the country except the leaders of the two brotherhoods which called the strike. He received from Congress probably the greatest ovation that body has ever given a President. But with the cancellation of the strike the sense of crisis began to pass. It faded rapidly a few days later when the coal strike, which also had threatened to paralyze the nation, was finally concluded by the negotiation of a new contract. Threats of other stoppages, including a general
maritime strike, lay just ahead, but they did not seem, to the average citizen, to hit immediately at his vitals.
Leaders of organized labor promptly turned on Mr. Truman and assailed as “Fascist” the emergency legislation for which he had asked. They were joined immediately by the extreme conservatives.
Labor objected to nearly all the powers sought by the President to prevent or end strikes “against the Government” but most strenuously to his proposal that, if necessary, workers in seized industries should be drafted temporarily into the armed forces. The conservatives did not want the Government empowered to take over and operate critically important industries in which strikes threaten or occur, and objected especially to Mr. Truman’s stipulation that during the period of Government operation all profits should go to the U. S. Treasury.
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irony of Mr. Truman’s predicament, two facts must be kept in mind.
The first is that until the rail crisis, he had a straight prolabor record. During his 10 years in the Senate he voted for every piece of legislation which had union support. As President he continued to be prolabor at every turn—not only in his legislative recommendations but in his administrative actions.
The second fact is that Mr. Truman had been regarded as a nice, well - intentioned person without much steel, although close observers could see that he was decisive and had courage. But he was never cut out to be a dictator, and being attacked as one puzzles him.
Mr. Truman’s display of strength in a real crisis left a favorable impression on many citizens, especially in the middle classes and on the farms. However, most of these people, outside the South, which is Democratic anyway, normally vote Republican. The Democrats cannot carry the nation as a whole without the support of organized labor.
Bridling the Unions
The whole situation is further complicated by the fact that most people, including many rank-and-file union men, feel that unionism and industrial strife have reached the point where they must be subjected to some degree of regulation in the public interest.
Thus Mr. Truman found himself in an intricate whipsaw, with no early prospect of escape. After everything calms down—if it does— most of the unions will get behind him again, but perhaps not solidly or enthusiastically enough to keep the Democrats in control of Congress and I the presidency.
While the domestic political front has been broken into whirling fragments, the united front on foreign policy has been re-established and strengthened. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes’ firmness at the first Paris meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers was applauded in Congress and by the public generally. The country clearly is not in a mood to appease the Russians.
Most of the important objectors to the Byrnes policy are on the extreme left wing, but they include also moderate leftists such as Secretary Wallace and Senator Claude D. Pepper of Florida.
Wallace is still important to Truman. But, partly because of his attitude toward Russia, Wallace’s influence in liberal circles is waning. Pepper’s star, on the contrary, is rising, in spite of his insistence that we should be less uncompromising in our dealings with the Kremlin. He is one of the most skilful debaters and forceful orators in Congress.
Despite his southern background, Pepper is popular with the northern Negroes, who hold the balance of power in several big states, because of his efforts in behalf of a law prohibiting state poll taxes.
If Pepper would shift ground a little on the Russian issue, he could go a long way politically. He is capable of making the shift whenever he deems it expedient. For he is not a Communist or fellow traveller. He has been, for example, one of the foremost and staunchest advocates of the British loan. He is 12 years younger than Wallace, and 26 years younger than Harold L. Ickes, another Rooseveltian with a combined liberal and leftish following. By 1948 Pepper may be the leading spokesman for the left wing of the Democratic Party and therefore deserving of serious consideration for the vice-presidential nomination, if Mr. Truman runs again.
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