They All Kick Harry
Congress snubs him. Stalin thwarts him. Capital and labor rage at him. "Pray for me," he once asked — and with reason
IF SINCERITY is the mark of a good President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, 32nd in line since George Washington, is a success. “Pray for me,” he asked a newspaperman when the death of Franklin Roosevelt thrust him into the White House, “I need it.” In 18 months as President he has earnestly wrestled with the problems which a country and a world searching for the keys to lasting peace and prosperity have heaped on him. “I’m doing the best I can,” he says.
If inability to master the great issues he faces is the mark of a poor President, Truman is a failure.
He inherited from Roosevelt two great programs of unity—one to combine the sovereign nations of the earth into “one world” through the United Nations; the other to weld together the diverse economic groups within the United States. The one world is slowly breaking into two parts, one dominated by the United States, the other by Russia, and life in 1946 in the United States of America has been kept exciting and uncertain by violent friction between labor and industry and by the dissatisfaction of farmers with industry, labor and government. Unity has fallen into fragments.
Truman seldom gets the results he seeks. This frustration is apparent in his dealings in the international field, with the military, and on the home front. In September, 1945, he presented to Congress a list of 13 items on which he wanted it to legislate, and Congress has not turned one of the items into law. The military, over whom he is commander-in-chief, has sometimes flouted his wishes. The proposals he has made to Russia about foreign policy are not accepted in Moscow. Puzzled by his failure to win some approval from the Russians, he once decided that all would be well if only Premier Stalin would visit him in Washington and look around the United States. He invited Stalin over last spring, but Stalin refused to come. Truman sometimes thinks of himself as a voice crying in the wilderness. He speaks, and nobody hears.
Can Truman personally be held accountable for the slow collapse of the high hopes of 1945? Or would the complexities of modern postwar affairs overwhelm any man, not only the inexperienced Truman, but the capable and practiced Roosevelt?
Day in and day out the President of the United States is trying to satisfy not only the steelworker in Pittsburgh, the railroad president in Chicago, and the boatbuilder in Maine, but also the peasant along the Danube and the merchant in Shanghai. He has become a world force because the United States has become a world leader.
The country is as fervently internationalist and interventionist today as it was isolationist 10 years ago. The great portions of the world which welcome the change in attitude toward affairs outside the Western Hemisphere hope the country will be consistent, reliable, and soundly helpful in its foreign policy. The best assurance of consistency on the part of the United States would be a President who could be counted on to sway the nation. Truman’s personal influence, however, has fallen during his presidency.
Simply to placate followers who would not unanimously accept a stronger man, Roosevelt in June, 1944, had agreed to take Truman as his running mate for his fourth term. And it turned out that Truman himself instead of Roosevelt would serve all but three months of that term.
Plowboy to President
THE country wished him well when he entered the White House. It applauded his elevation as the sort of pluck-and-luck success story which always tugs at the good will of Americans. A dirt farmer plowing fields at 35, a bankrupt haberdasher at 40, President at 60—made to order for Horatio Alger.
Above all, Truman struck the country as a genial rather than a forceful character, and that gave it a sense of relief after 12 years of the strong Roosevelt hand.
But as time passed citizens began to condemn him for that very quality of mildness. The postwar world was far more complicated than people had thought it would be. The country began to cry for “leadership,” but different groups wanted to be led in different directions. Each thought Truman would be their man—the labor unions and other Roosevelt supporters because F. D. R. had put the imprimatur on him, the conservatives because he was an easy-going, practical man who read about Hannibal and American history instead of economic theory.
Truman has disappointed both groups. He announced his devotion to the policies of Roosevelt, but Congress revolted, and he lacked the force to push Congress where it did not want to go. His words displease conservatives. His actions displease New Dealers.
While his graph of popularity has been falling, Truman has remained calm and at ease. Only when he was disturbed in the spring by the railroad and soft coal strikes did he grow sharp and irritable. But it was a passing phase. He remains cheerful under the most trying circumstances. He comforts himself with reminders that Roosevelt more than once failed to have his way with Congress. He gets away from it all on
Continued on page 39
Continued from page 12
his yacht. He puts the day behind him by a plunge in the White House pool, where he does the breast stroke in spectacles. He relishes the humor of his most honored adviser, fat George Allen. And his wife, Bess, reassures him.
“You didn’t ask for the job, Harry,” she says. “You’re doing all right.”
His year and a half in office has revealed that there are two Trumans, and the course followed by the United
States in foreign affairs reveals both the men sharply. This duality keeps him from consistently pleasing the conservatives. And it draws the denunciations of old Rooseveltians like two former New Deal Cabinet officers, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and Harold I ekes, who have bitterly condemned him as a renegade from the ideals of Roosevelt.
One Truman is a decisive executive who seems to know by instinct what is the right thing to do at the right time. This Truman went into action almost the moment he arrived in the White House.
He was showered with suggestions that he call off or postpone the United Nations conference which Roosevelt had scheduled to begin in San Francisco on April 25, but the strong-minded Truman refused.
In the midst of the conference a difference of opinion between the United States and Russia on the Polish question was harming the negotiations. Truman sent Harry Hopkins, the wise and trusted special adviser of Roosevelt, to Moscow. Hopkins got an agreement, and the United Nations conference came to a good end.
Again, at the end of 1945, this Truman stepped firmly on the stage and sent General George C. Marshall, one of the greatest military organizers in American history, off to China with instructions to harmonize relations between the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communists. In those three moves Truman was not only the man of action but the man of correct action.
The other Truman is an uncertain, fumbling man. He tries to hack his way through the jungle of foreign affairs with the help of unsound advisers and snap judgments. No sooner had he dedicated himself and the United States to a foreign policy based on co-operation and compromise with other governments than he began to act like an isolationist, because, soon after the conclusion of the United Nations conference, he listened to two men whose attitude toward other countries was intensely nationalistic.
On the advice of one of them, Leo Crowley, then Foreign Economic Administrator, Truman, in the middle of the summer of 1945, suddenly and without warning to other governments cancelled the lend-lease program. The action brought food crises to many foreign nations.
On the advice of another isolationist, Clinton Anderson, Secretary of Agri-
culture, Truman, in the early autumn of 1945, agreed that the country should give up rationing. As a result the United States in the following months could not deliver to the United : Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration the amounts of food which we had promised in order to relieve hunger abroad.
No Roosevelt Touch
Even at his best Truman lacks the Roosevelt touch, and its absence in these stirring times has hurt the United States in its foreign affairs. Roosevelt, for example, had a genius for guiding public opinion by dramatizing issues over the radio and in the written word.
Truman also lacks Roosevelt’s resilience in the conduct of foreign affairs, and the Russians have taken advantage of this shortcoming to advance their influence over eastern Europe and to spread it deep into western Asia at the very time Truman has been trying to keep Russia from getting ahead in those regions. When Roosevelt saw that he could not reach his goal by one route he tried another. Truman, however, runs over and over again into the same obstacles. He does not change his course.
The one means by which he has tried to penetrate “the iron curtain” is to demand that the countries where Russia is influential turn to an elective form of government like the United States republic or Britain and the Dominions. The demand didn’t make a dent. Yet it has been repeated in messages to the governments concerned, at meetings of the United Nations, and at special diplomatic conferences in London, Moscow and Paris. Roosevelt probably would have found out what the small countries wanted from the United States and then attracted them to our side by acting on that knowledge. Roosevelt was a subtle negotiator who believed in give and take. Truman, in foreign affairs, is like the cowboy in the play “Oklahoma,” who sings: “With me it’s all or nothing.”
The rift with Russia might have developed even had Roosevelt been President. While he was alive many Americans attacked his policy of conciliating the Russians, and neither he nor any other President can move far against public opinion. As Russia and America have drifted apart, America and the other countries of the West have moved closer together. Truman last winter invited Winston Churchill to the United States, and the former British Prime Minister urged the establishment of an Anglo-American alliance. While that alliance has not come off, the Truman Administration has been working out a program of joint arctic defense with Canada, and it has lent the United Kingdom $3,750,000,000.
The Military to the Fore
In his diplomatic struggle with Russia Truman has turned for help to the Army and Navy, and for the first time in American history military force plays a large part in the peacetime foreign policy of the United States. When Japan ended World War II by surrendering in August, 1945, Truman established General MacArthur as his bulwark against Russia in the Far East by naming him Supreme Commander in occupied Japan and by giving him almost supreme political authority there. Truman has accepted the Navy’s proposal that the United States take sole control of a chain of island bases across the Pacific to protect North America from a Russian advance by that route. Foreign policy in the
Western Hemisphere has had a military foundation since Truman, following the advice both of Army and diplomatic counsellors, requested authority from Congress for the United States to help arm Canada and the Latin countries of the New World. The seeds for an arms race have been planted.
Nevertheless Truman is not a militarist. The tensest controversy in the United States during the autumn, winter and spring of 1945 and 1946 pitted Truman and the War Department against one another. The prize was the atomic bomb. When that earth shaker was dropped on Japan last August, Truman had no idea how it should be controlled for the future. The War Department, however, knew what it wanted—control kept in the United States and by the Army.
Truman gradually reached the opinion that the use of atomic energy should be supervised not only by the Army but by civilians, and he set forth his views in a message to Congress. The War Department flouted those views and asked Congress to keep the control in American military hands. Truman first arranged for the eventual internationalization of control by appointing Bernard Baruch, a trusted volunteer adviser, as his representative on the atomic energy commission of the United Nations. He then gave his moral backing to the supporters in Congress for civilian control in the United States, but Congress dallied with a decision.
The home front has provided a series of crises for Truman since Japan surrendered, and the crises together have changed the whole course of government policy in domestic affairs from the line Roosevelt developed from 1933 to 1945. The great domestic problem when the war came to an end was to convert the industrial machine of the United States from war goods to peace goods. To facilitate that change-over, workers needed encouragement to stay on the job. To protect American pocketbooks during the change-over, consumers needed price-control legislation. What Truman wanted was production—the country and the world were waiting for goods from United States factories.
But the greatest wave of strikes in United States history followed the war, and prices began to climb the inflationary staircase. Production fell far below need. Price ceilings were raised and the price-control law endangered by the opposition of industry and retailers. Truman was trapped. To grant wage increases would encourage price raises. Labor wanted wage increases so that postwar pay envelopes would equal wartime pay, which included many hours of overtime. Labor also wanted price control. Labor was the backbone of the New Deal launched by Roosevelt and praised by Truman. If he held down wages, Truman would hurt his standing with labor. If he let them go up, prices would get out of control. Few Presidents have ever faced such a dilemma.
Truman tried to cope with the problem by arrogating new power to the Federal Government. When the United Automobile Workers struck against General Motors in December, he proposed that the company open its books to the scrutiny of his agents. The company balked, but Truman set up a “fact-finding” committee, which recommended that the union take an increase of 18j^ cents an hour. Government interference did not end the strike. General Motors did not want to pay 18HJ cents. The Auto Workers stayed out until March.
And after them went the steelworkers. the soft and hard coal miners, the railroad brotherhoods and the seamen. Traman became a changed man as strike after strike postponed his goal of full production. Starting out prolator, he grew angry over the rail strike and asked Congress for legislation that would permit him to draft strikers in key industries. The great unions, the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the rail brotherhoods, attacked the proposal. So did conservative Republicans. Truman in this crisis satisfied nobody.
But in two major crises he disclosed that he remains at heart a New Dealer. Early in June he vetoed the Case Bill, which would have limited the bargaining power of labor unions in dealing with industry. Late in June he vetoed the bill continuing price control in an emasculated form. He wanted real price control or nothing.
Truman’s friends excuse the President’s inability to get the country’s production going strongly by pointing out that Congress is hostile to all his proposals. No President has accomplished much when he could not get Congressional backing. Herbert Hoover suffered in the same way, and so did Woodrow Wilson in his final years in office. Congress is violently reactionary from the New Deal. When Truman entered office curbstone critics thought he would tame Congress because he himself had served in the Senate for 10 years. But the Senate and House of Representatives turn on friends as readily as on strangers.
The friends also point out that the burdens of the office in the first year of the postwar period have been too great for any one man to shoulder easily. He cannot keep his eye on all the many balls that are in play at once in political life. When the railroad and coal strikes were monopolizing his attention last spring, he had to turn aside from his efforts to save the legislative program of price control and the agency that ran it, the Office of Price Administration, from ruination by an unfriendly Congress.
The limited length of the President’s working day—split into little bits by a long succession of callers at the White House, the need for reading reports and letters, and the demands put upon his hours by the highest administrative officials who are directly responsible to him—gave him no time to impress upon Congress the importance of staving off inflation by government dictation as long as he was impressing upon industry and unions the importance of staving off the national stagnation which strikes in basic industries induce.
The New Inner Guard
His critics, however, protest that he has weakened himself by driving away his best advisers. The 10-officer Cabinet Truman inherited from Roosevelt has been completely changed, with one exception. Henry Wallace remains as Secretary of Commerce, but Wallace has no influence in the White House. The greatest dud in the new Cabinet is Lewis B. Schwellenbach, Secretary of Labor, whom Truman bypassed on the strike problem. Mediocrity is common today in Washington. Truman has complained that good men won’t take the jobs he offers them. The strong band of intellectuals whose presence in the Administration gave an unusual flavor to the Roosevelt era has been broken up.
Truman has installed in office a number of his friends from his home state of Missouri, who are more noted for loyalty to the President than for their wisdom either in public affairs on the highest level or in politics. Two of
his closest advisers have been consistently attacked by old friends of the New Deal as opportunistic friends of the “economic royalists” whom Roosevelt denounced. They are John Snyder, Secretary of the Treasury, who was a St. Louis bank president, and George Allen, Mississippi. Allen is a member of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, but his main task is to be on call for Truman at all hours of the day or night. Yet Truman appreciates the worth of some officials from the old school. He fought energetically in the winter of 1946 to retain Chester Bowles, who had been director of the Office of Price Administration. Snyder urged Truman to remove price ceilings. Bowles fought to keep them on. Truman worked out a compromise which both Snyder and Bowles accepted.
The final complaint made against Truman is that he is dilatory. He waits until issues come to a crisis before he deals with them. Roosevelt was quick to recognize impending problems and tried to control them before they came to a head. Instead of nipping the rail, coal, steel, automobile and shipping strikes in the bud, Truman let each of them explode before he asserted his moral and legal authority to dissuade the strikers from leaving their jobs in the first place.
He does not anticipate trouble. He did not foresee in the closing days of the war that the coming of peace would inspire great pressure to get millions of men out of the Army and Navy. Had he warned the public about the need for keeping military strength high after the war, the degeneration of the American forces perhaps could have been prevented. As it was, the Army and Navy fell below the strength needed for their assignments.
Blame for the flabby tendency toward procrastination rests with the special advisers as well as with Truman. “Never force an issue,” they have told him. It is a defensive strategy that makes presidential leadership impossible.
Public approval of the way President Truman is handling the job has shown a sharp decline, according to a recent Gallup poll which records a slump from 87% approval in July, 1945, to 43% today. “The decline has been one of the sharpest ever noted in the popularity of a major public figure,” the pollsters observe. Roosevelt’s lowest rating in the poll was 50.5 prior to the outbreak of war.
The first practical sign of Truman’s standing in the public mind and heart will come this November, when the voters elect a new House of Representatives and 32 Senators. Truman himself wants to run for a second presidential term in 1948, and at the moment the Democratic Party has no one else to turn to. If the country chooses a Republican House, the chances against Truman’s winning the presidency, two years from now, will be dim. Such a vote would indicate that a strong tide is running against the Democrats, who have been in charge since 1933. Even if the country returns a Democratic Congress, however, Truman will face a difficult path, for the Democratic party is divided into two strong factions, a liberal-labor segment and a southern-conservative segment. The continuation of that division into 1948 might so weaken the Democratic party that it could not win.
In the meanwhile Truman will plod along in his effort to heal the enmities that keep him from accomplishment in the presidency—the enmity between Russia and the West, between industry and labor, between White House and Congress, and between Democrats on the left and Democrats on the right.