GENERAL ARTICLES

Truman For President?

Londoner in U. S. A. finds Truman’s star rising since the Democrat defeat, prophesies we’ll hear from Harry in 1948

BEVERLEY BAXTER March 1 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

Truman For President?

Londoner in U. S. A. finds Truman’s star rising since the Democrat defeat, prophesies we’ll hear from Harry in 1948

BEVERLEY BAXTER March 1 1947

Truman For President?

Londoner in U. S. A. finds Truman’s star rising since the Democrat defeat, prophesies we’ll hear from Harry in 1948

BEVERLEY BAXTER

I HAVE just spent 10 days travelling some 4,000 miles in the U. S. A. and have gathered impressions which are like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. There they are before me, but just how to put them together is a task which needs a combination of patience and skill.

We in Britain are apt to think that our political system is the best in the world and that the British Parliament is superior in its workings to all others. Perhaps that is true, but I am beginning to see that the Fathers of the American Constitution had something useful in their minds when they planned their; triplebased method of popular representation.

I shall illustrate what I mean by the existing situation today. Late in 1946 there was an election for the American House of Representatives. It resulted, as you know, in a great Republican sweep.

In other words the American people voted conservative with almost as much heartiness as the British electorate voted Socialist in 1945.

What were the causes of that sweep? One of the principal reasons was that the nation was angry with organized labor which had shown a disregard for the general welfare of the nation, and which had carried on its own civil war between the CIO and the AFL. So keen was the rivalry of the.se two factions, that, in an industry where they were both represented, one would call out its members on strike because some of the workers belonged to the opposing union. This meant that production would come to a standst ill although there was no dispute as to wages or working conditions involving the employers.

All that the unfortunate employers did was to supply the stadium for the battle. This raised intense resentment in the country, although we in Britain were only sullenly disapproving when the great General Workers and Transport Union threatened to hold up the whole of London traffic because a few employees of the London Passenger & Transport Board belonged to an independent union. Throughout the U. S. A. (here was a feeling that the Democratic Party under President Roosevelt had so consistently given in to Labor that only a Conservative victory could put it right.

In Britain we still see Franklin D. Roosevelt as

a world figure, a man of great heart and splendid vision. He was our friend in the dark days and we revere his memory. Perhaps the Americans are so close to their own scene that they are inclined first to think of him as author of the New Deal with its opportunism, its lack of economic philosophy and its extravagant methods of avoiding trouble and gaining time. I do not pretend to know whether this is fair or not but fortunately I do not have to decide. Certainly the figure of Roosevelt the adroit politician is more commemorated in abuse, than the figure of Roosevelt the statesman and war leader is honored by gratitude or admiration.

Triple Safeguards

SO WE come back to the election. The Republicans were returned, and President Truman, the decent ordinary citizen who had become heir to Roosevelt’s domestic policies, was pitchforked into a position of splendid isolation. Thus by decree

of the early Fathers of the Constitution the nation found itself going into 1947 with this version of the famous triple safeguards—

A Democratic President with all the gi'eat powers of the executive.

A Republican Parliament with power to initiate legislation which would be subject to the President’s veto.

The Supreme Court which decides whether legislation is in keeping with the Constitution.

At first glance one would say that this is chaotic, or at best a stalemate. Congress would refuse to agree to the President’s actions, and he would veto the measures put forward by Congress. But this is not how it works. The government of the country must go on, and this is recognized even by the most hot-headed party politicians.

A partially similar situation in Britain would have existed in 1945 if Mr. Churchill and the ministex-s of his Tory caretaker government had not been due for re-election until 1947, although the rest of the House of Commons had to be voted upon then in 1945.

We would then, uixder such imaginary circumstances, have had a predominantly Socialist House of Commons with a Conservative Executive knowing that the people wished for a greater degree of planning as well as for the paradise on earth that the Socialists had promised.

Since the Socialist majority could not turix out the Tory Governmeixt until 1947 they would have made a lot of noise but in the end would have been forced to work with Churchill and Churchill with them to find the best compromise possible. Personally I believe the nation would be far better off today had such a situation existed, instead of regarding the temporary excitement of 47% of the electorate as a mandate to nationalize industries in general.

Above all the whole world would have had the mighty Churchill still speaking with authority instead of engaging, as

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Truman For President?

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leader of the opposition, in a guerilla war against back bench cockshafers. No one would suggest that we should change over to the American electoral system that has the drawback of always preparing for some kind of an election, which dulls the conscience, deflects purpose and intensifies opportunism. Nevertheless we can see how it can work to the advantage of the nation even with these obvious blemishes.

Above all, when it happens that the I President and the Congressional maI jority are of opposing parties, it pre; vents that wild torrent of legislation j which is inescapable from a government that allows a large majority to go to its head.

Personalities often dominate events, i but not infrequently events dominate personalities. Thus Mr. Truman found himself after the Republican victory as a President released by the country’s vote from being an automatic protag-

onist of all his predecessor’s policies. He had already shown firmness when he dismissed the left wing Mr. Wallace. Now in his new capacity of Chief Executive without a parliamentary majority he began to display both firmness and adroitness. First he broke the coal strike by hitting Mr. John L. Lewis so hard on the chin that the union leader must have thought he had blundered into a contest of J. Lewis vs. J. Louis. Whether the President would have dared to be so bold with a Democratic Congress is hard to say. Personally I doubt it. At any rate Mr. Truman had the unusual experience of accepting the admiring plaùdits of the very people who had thrown his party out at the polls.

Then on the eve of the assembling of the newly elected House of Representatives the President pulled a beauty. With every Republican straining at the leash to remove the ceiling on commodity prices President Truman did it first. The U. S. A. rocked with laughter and approval. This “weakling” who had reached the White

House by accident, this “innocent,” this “piano player” from Hickville, was suddenly making the Republican Party look foolish. He had nothing in his hand and he was taking all the chips.

Three weeks ago, while lunching with a group of New York editors, I suggested that in 1948 Mr. Truman would be re-elected. They tried not to laugh, for Americans are a kindly and considerate people. Last night I met two Republican candidates who had fought hopeless seats and had been defeated. One of them said: “I will

make a prophecy although you will probably think I’m crazy. I predict that our next President will be none other than Harry Truman,” and his companion nodded approval.

In the newspaper of one of the editors at the luncheon I mentioned, there appeared an editorial today suggesting that Truman was playing his cards so skilfully that it would be unwise to rule out the possibility of his re-election in two years’ time. I am interested to know that my guess is not as preposterous as it seemed three weeks ago.

It is said that the President has rid himself of many of his New Deal advisers, and has replaced them with men more in tune with prevailing thought. Whether this be true, or only partially true, it cannot be denied that his recent pronouncements on the state of the union have shown an authority and a clarity which have done much to strengthen the morale of the people.

Once more I come back to the dangerous mood in which the Republican Party, and even more the Republican businessmen, found themselves after their victory at the polls. “We have to teach labor a lesson.” That was a phrase one heard again and again. They talked of punitive legislation. They were angry and they did not mince words.

I do not believe that anything can prevent the ultimate growth of organized labor in the U. S. A., although that growth may be checked by the irresponsibility of its union leaders and by the Bourbonism of extremist employers. Until British trade-unionism made the blunder of allying itself to one political party and thus lost its claim to political independence, we can say that it brought great benefits not only to workers but to the whole nation.

American economy will need a strong labor movement if it is to avoid the weakness that is the inevitable sequel to the fear that comes with slumps or even recessions. There may be reckless opportunists among the hierarchy of American trade-unionism but I cannot bring myself to doubt that in the minds of the workers there is a deep desire for ordered, sane progress.

There are good and bad employers in the U. S. A. as there are in every country that operates under private enterprise. I saw the example of the first when visiting Rochester, N.Y., recently, a fair city which nestles tantalizingly on the banks of Lake Ontario with Toronto so near. The prosperity of Rochester with its 400,000 people has benefited mostly from one firm: the Eastman Kodak Company. In the spirit of the founder, George Eastman, who died so tragically, there is a pension scheme for employees, and a dividend or bonus paid twice a year on shares held by the workers. Excursions are arranged at the firm’s expense for senior employees in the factories to visit other of the firm’s factories elsewhere, and everything is done to create a feeling of partnership between management and employees.

This is an example of what is best in enlightened capitalism. Can organized labor allow these benefits to continue undisturbed, will it be wide enough to do so, or must it insist upon taking everything in its maw? If labor is inexorable in its demands the march of unionism is going to be hard, for American soil is not fruitful for the seeds of sectional domination.

So I come back to my jigsaw puzzle and the difficulty of putting the pieces together. Will the Republican sweep of 1946 result in the election of a Democratic President in 1948? Can American individualism remain impregnable against the influence of Socialist Britain and semicommunist Europe? Can labor and management in the U. S. A. become partners or will they fight it out? Will American economy alternate between violent boom and slump, or will there be a growing measure of direction at the centre?

The eyes of the world are on the brave new world, on the U. S. A. and on Canada, which still believe that the State must be the servant and not the master of the individual. What happens on the two sides of the 49th parallel will influence the tides of destiny in the entire world. The winds are rising now. ★