THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
From Washington a distinguished Canadian reporter discusses
JUST AS THE Democratic Party seemed likely to achieve the unwelcome miracle of electing Richard Milhous Nixon president of the United States, John Steinbeck, the novelist, bared his soul to an old friend, Adlai Stevenson.
“Mainly, Adlai,” Steinbeck wrote, “I am troubled by the cynical immorality of my country. 1 do not think it can survive on this basis and unless some kind of catastrophe strikes we are lost. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and Nature can throw at us, save only plenty.”
Thus a century after the United States faced a civil war and discovered Abraham Lincoln, a tortured American voter faced this year’s decisions and discovered the current crisis of his people.
Steinbeck may underrate their nature as the South underrated it in 1860, but the novelist has identified, better CONTINUED ON PAGE 75
WiU~h by defaWt?
win oseotit to prejudice?
CONTINUED ON PAGE 75
The next president of the United States continued from page 15
“Eisenhower's successor,” says a Democrat, “will have to pick up the pieces. Ï don't envy him”
than any politician, the meaning of the 1960 election.
Is the United States morally fit to manage a new kind of free society at home and compete with another society of oppression abroad? Which side deserves to win the struggle for the world now entering its climacteric? Though the American people will not vote on any such noble, abstract issue next November, yet in a thousand versions that is the true issue before them, as it is before us, too, in our own Canadian version.
Every politician I have seen in Washington lately knows that to be the issue asThe new decade closes the door on the Fifties which, for all of us in the free world, was a decade of superficial success and inner failure.
But no politician among the six who may be the next president is yet prepared to bring the issue into the open. Politically it is too vague and too hot to handle while the confident Republican party and the dejected Democrats square off for the first doubtful election since 1948 and for control of the post-Eisenhower era.
“This election.” as one of the most influential Democratic statesmen of our times told me, "will decide who is to be president and not much more. Then he will decide everything, so far as his powers go, and they are practically unlimited. Since Eisenhower has bounced off every hard issue and settled none, next president will have to pick up all the pieces and put them together. Whoever he is, I don’t envy that man. His term is going to be one of the most troubled and decisive in our history.”
An end to the era of evasion
Why troubled and decisive? Because the nearly eight years of Eisenhower have been — by the tidal motion of politics and the genial personality of their dominant figure — a period of postponement, lethargy and spiritual recuperation after two furious decades of depression, war and social revolution; also because the recharged energies of a great people appear ready to reassert themselves by what Arthur Schlesinger, historian of the New Deal, calls “a breakthrough into a new political epoch.”
In a time of pause and evasion a popular president and amateur of politics could rule, as the saying goes, more like a constitutional monarch than a party leader, using as his congressional prime minister a political opponent, Senator Lyndon Johnson. No successor, with a different temperament and a new situation, can use Eisenhower’s method. The next president must lead boldly, like Roosevelt and Truman, or fail in everything.
Both by visible Constitution and invisible myth the chief executive of the United States is unique among the rulers of the earth. More than any other ruler he is the people. In him their strength, their weakness, their hopes and fears and dreams are all incarnate.
Cross the border these days and you will see that the supreme office is not only political but mystical — a mirror, father image and distillation of the American creaturehood.
Regardless of the Constitution, events have been quietly transferring power from the legislature to the executive because
only the executive can possibly have the secret information and flexible, day-today authority needed to manage a lifeand-death grapple with an alien system. Only the president can project the nation's power beyond its borders.
Americans sense that shift in their own system and know that in the next president they need a great one. At the moment none is in sight.
Six men. no more, can hope to be elected. Nixon, by common consent,
would probably win at the polls tomorrow but could certainly be defeated in November. Senator Johnson, Senator John Kennedy, Senator Stuart Symington, Senator Hubert Humphrey and Private
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Citizen Stevenson, the available Democrats, all believe they could win if given the chance to run.
Of these five, however, all but one carry special disabilities and not one has yet begun to fill the mold of greatness that Lincoln filled a hundred years ago, or even to approach the stature of Theodore Roosevelt. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman in this century.
That fact depresses all thoughtful Americans and has turned Washington into a wailing wall; but it is neither surprising nor abnormal. No president since Washington, not even Lincoln, was ever tested, established or truly known before he was elected, ceased to be a man and became an institution.
The presidency, with its unwritten, psychic powers, does strange things to its occupants, sometimes converting small m'en into giants and giants into dwarfs. All the possible presidents of this year are subject to the old transformation.
Actually, as an eminent scholar of the American system assured me, the six available men are up to, or above, average by historic pre-election measurement. They seem to stand below it only because they have been long exposed to public view. All their disabilities are known, their full possibilities unknown. And they are all busily disparaging one another in pursuit of a prize and agony which only a super-egotist would accept.
Any one of them would probably make a good president under ordinary conditions. Is any big enough potentially to match the foreign competitors of Russia and China who now challenge not merely the power but the basic assumptions of the American system?
Will they follow the script?
Not even a candidate can honestly answer that question until he wields the awful power of the presidency. Meanwhile — since Nixon’s nomination is virtually guaranteed — the election campaign at this writing is a destructive intraparty quarrel of Democratic Party personalities in preparation for a dubious convention.
Like the batting averages of baseball players, the preliminary convention figures are presented daily to the nationwide audience of a quadrennial sporting event. At Los Angeles 1,521 delegates must give 761 votes to the winning candidate, and none of the five can yet claim anything like that total in advance. As generally calculated but subject to change before summer, the spring box score gives Kennedy about five hundred votes on the first ballot, Johnson about the same, Symington and Humphrey about 170 each, Stevenson none, since he is not an official candidate but stands ostentatiously aloof, awaiting a last-minute call that may never come.
There will also be half a dozen “favorite son” or ceremonial candidates on the first ballot — local magnates in control of their states' delegations, who seek only the honor of a passing tribute. After this brief ritual they will swing their support, if they can, to one of the serious contenders.
Up to a point the Democratic professionals have arranged the schedule at Los Angeles, the movie capital, almost as if they were writing a script for Twentieth Century Fox. According to these neat stage directions, no one comes near winning on the first exploratory ballot. On the second, the favorite sons drop out and the strength of the two front runners, Kennedy and Johnson, is indicated and fully revealed, at latest, on the third.
Neither proves strong enough to command a majority. So the deadlock is referred to the smoke-filled bedroom, that court of last resort which has so often picked a president.
There, in final denouncement, Kennedy and Johnson must break their deadlock by accepting a compromise candidate and dictating his nomination with a side deal on the vice-presidency. At this point Symington and Humphrey become serious contenders. Of the two Symington appears the more formidable, being the less controversial and, unlike Humphrey, having carefully avoided affronting any important group in party or nation.
Assuming that the script is followed so far (a large assumption) it is by no means certain that Symington can secure enough of the Kennedy and Johnson delegates to make a majority. If neither of these two men and enough of their followers are willing to accept Symington the convention summons once more that reliable catalyst, Stevenson, who counts entirely on this chance.
I he party is thereby committed for the third time to a script already played twice without success. It is now so shopworn — Stevenson having spilled his splendid talents on two hopeless elections — that it will be revived only as a last resort and in desperation.
All things considered, the adding machines and mechanical brains of the Democratic Party usually produce the name of Symington, not as the ablest statesman but as the most acceptable compromise among bigger men. But politics are not mathematical and are usually incalculable.
This spring Kennedy, risking his whole future and a presidential campaign now four years old on a sudden-death gamble, is trying to upset all the current arithmetic and repeal the old taboo against Roman Catholic candidates by controlling the convention before it meets.
This is a big gamble but it may be Kennedy’s only hope. He knows that he can hardly expect to win unless he goes to the convention with a majority of delegates publicly or privately pledged to him as seventeen other candidates of the two parties have done in this century. Otherwise the political weight of his Catholicism will be too heavy. His rivals will block his nomination, though they may not readily agree on an alternative.
Hence Kennedy’s killing whistle - stop campaign in the presidential primaries not only to secure pledged delegates but, above all, to demonstrate by public vote that the nation at last is prepared to elect a man of his faith as it has never done before. If he is to be nominated he must prove himself to be electable before the convention meets.
A Canadian, accustomed to Catholic prime ministers like Laurier and St. Laurent, can hardly realize, until he gets into the darker recesses of American politics, the depth and potence of the religious taboo. A large section — perhaps more than half the Democratic hierarchy — believes that a Catholic cannot be elected, that the experiment of AÍ Smith’s nomination in 1928 cannot be safely repeated.
As one of the major Democratic hierarchs put it to me: "I suppose Til vote for Kennedy if he’s nominated but it wouldn’t be easy. I’m not interested in any man's religion as a private citizen but I can’t help worrying about a president who might be influenced some day by a power outside this country. If it would be hard for me to vote for Kennedy what about the independent voters who swing every election?”
Kennedy cannot be written off so light-
ly. At the age of forty-two he has youth, a war record of heroism, a rumpled boyish air of idealism, one of the coldest and most calculating minds in politics, an ample store of inherited wealth, a stable of the best speech-writers and every tool of the politician’s trade.
His speeches, so far, have come closest to that call for greatness which the nation so urgently requires. Its “very survival,” he says, is at stake in the election. For election purposes, however, he has confronted his party with a cruel dilemma and has done so deliberately.
If it nominates him it risks the loss of the election to Protestant votes or to prejudice. If it refuses to nominate him solely on account of his religion it will antagonize millions of Catholic voters. All this Kennedy has long foreseen but, regarding himself as a historic test of religious tolerance, he has rejected the natural way out — refusing to accept the vice-presidential nomination which is his for the asking. This refusal, like many other things, may melt in the fierce heat of the smoke-filled Los Angeles bedroom.
Johnson doubtless knows more about the management of congressional politics, the art of the possible, than any man of his generation. If he is not an original thinker his abilities as a legislator are unequalled. Yet as a Southerner he carries the legacy of another taboo, never broken since the Civil War, and, like Kennedy in another context, he tests the nation’s tolerance and maturity.
Southerner — but no segregationist
It will be a hard test at Los Angeles. Were he not a Southerner, Johnson would almost certainly be nominated but any Southerner is suspected in the North, where Negro votes are important, of lukewarm support for civil (i.e. Negro) rights, though Johnson has lately advocated them with vigor at the risk of damaging himself in the South.
Besides, as the general manager of the Congress, this Democrat has loyally supported a Republican president in large national affairs and, ironically enough, his high sense of public responsibility may not be an electoral asset. Under Johnson the Democratic Party might find it difficult to attack a Republican record that he has helped to make.
Despite all these obstacles, Johnson is not only a tall, rangy, handsome extrovert but an impressive figure by any measurement. He brings into this year’s contest the gusto of Texas, the nostalgia of the western legend, the robust outdoor look of an old cowhand. His voice will be heard through the smoke of the bedroom.
Humphrey, with his homely, honest face, his jutting fighter’s jaw, his spontaneous, high-pitched rhetoric and his honorable poverty, articulates better than any candidate the early aspirations of the New Deal. For that reason he frightens the conservatives just as his fearless advocacy of civil rights frightens the Solid Democratic South. Kennedy or Johnson, or both in combination, could stop Humphrey in the convention. They probably will.
Though intellectually pre-eminent, Stevenson suffers from the third - term taboo. He has been tried twice under hopeless conditions. He will not be given another chance, when conditions are more hopeful, unless the convention cannot find an acceptable alternative.
Symington is an obvious alternative. He alone has no specific disability and threatens no taboo. This ruddy, elegant man — the conventional portrait of self - made American success — has cleverly combined an appeal to conservatives with a pro-
labor, pro-farmer record in congress. He has secured Truman’s support by indicating the government’s defense policies and promising to be tougher with the Russians.
Yet Symington hardly looks like the heir of Truman, much less of Roosevelt. Rather he looks like the possible compromise between more powerful men.
All these considerations and personalities add up to the clearest fact of a confusing election — the Democrats have failed in the last four years to produce a dominant, unchallengeable and natural
leader while the Republicans have produced Nixon.
Moreover, the available Democratic candidates are systematically undermining one another in a family row which undermines the whole party while the Republicans are united under one man. Hence the pessimism of the Democrats. They know they can carry the congress again as the established majority party but may lose the presidency by what they regard as a violation of nature’s laws.
The Democrats will make Nixon’s character the pivotal issue of their campaign,
probably at the risk of throwing a boomerang. Without their help Nixon would be an issue in any case. It was as a personal issue, a storm centre and Eisenhower’s hatchet man that Nixon lived and throve from the beginning.
In one so superbly equipped with intelligence, experience and courage what is it that disturbs the ordinary voter and infuriates the Democratic politicians to the point of hysteria? Mostly it is Nixon's personal record of ruthless destruction, his little acts as a man rather than his big acts as a statesman.
Having chopped his way to the top, he commands his party as few men have ever commanded it outside the presidency. He has laboriously constructed a new, simple and folksy image to obliterate the old or, as his friends say, he has fully served his chief in a disagreeable task and can now afford to be himself, a naturally gentle Christian turning the other cheek to his traducers.
The transformation is smooth but not easy. When I saw Nixon during a recent visit to Los Angeles he was surrounded by such a super-colossal production as only the movie capital could contrive. Kleig lights beat down on him, television cameras were focused on his face, and several thousand Hollywood characters shouted and cheered him in a glittering banquet hall.
Apparently oblivious to his surroundings, he chatted with me about his youthful trip through British Columbia as casually as if we had met alone on some woodland trail.
I found him to be, on the outside at least, a charming modest man with an open, candid face quite unlike his newspaper pictures. Then followed a peculiar experience which may represent his fatal weakness as a candidate.
As the television cameras started to grind and millions of Americans watched him from coast to coast, Nixon answered the loaded, brutal questions of the press corps with an agility, frankness and perfect control of language unlike anything I had ever seen in a public man before.
That was the flaw in his performance — it was too perfect. The audience was fascinated but not moved by this man. He touched these people’s minds but not their emotions. Unlike Eisenhower, whose diction is always jumbled, Nixon communicated ideas but not feelings. Anyway, I left Los Angeles convinced that Nixon would be elected president only by a negative force, the failure of his opponents. He would succeed in spite of Nixon.
Everything I heard in Washington a few weeks ago confirmed my conviction, for what it is worth. Nobody there, among many who saw him almost every day, could explain the enigma of this public but solitary being, the most interesting fact in the election.
No Democrat of my acquaintance doubts that Nixon would make a strong, efficient and decisive president — a president, moreover, who has long since accepted the New Deal after bitterly attacking it as “socialist boloney,” a self-styled conservative and extremely poor man who talks more and more like a liberal and is preparing to liberalize the policies of a truly conservative Eisenhower.
His technical qualifications, in fact, arc as perfect as his speech and manner but, like them, raise a mysterious psychic question: On his personal record of
smear, destruction and ambition, can this man, entirely reliable in the routine business of government, be trusted in a crisis when only character will count?
The Democrats say Nixon cannot be trusted, that somehow, somewhere, sometime, he will let the nation down. After a week of this hatchet work on the hatchet man, one begins to distrust the Democrats’ distrust. The sinister qualities ascribed to Nixon can hardly be in human nature, but they are enshrined deep in Democratic mythology, whose greatest asset this year is the old and somewhat tired legend of “Tricky Dick.” His greatest asset, on the other hand, is the Democrats’ failure to agree about anything except him.
The election is thus a profound psychological study but it is much more than
that. It is a study in national crisis, overt and hidden.
Internally, the United States, for the first time in human history, has achieved what Kenneth Galbraith, economic high priest of the Democratic Party, has called the Affluent Society.
A non-elected philosopher, Galbraith can safely ask the public to recognize that in a new, unrecognized era of abundance the whole method of the Affluent Society must be changed, that more of its money must be spent on social capital like schools, roads, slum clearance and conservation, less on trivial luxury.
Another eminent philosopher, Walter ppmann, can safely declare that the nation has lost its "serious purpose” somewhere along the line, can denounce the president for "promoting private prosperity at the expense of national power,” can accuse him of abandoning faith in the genius of his people by his "attitude of defeatism.”
The philosophers already have stirred up a national debate on the future of the Affluent Society, cutting straight across the party lines of the election debate, but no candidate for office can lightly risk the conclusion of the philosophic analysis — the conclusion of higher taxes, or economy in such sensitive areas as farm subsidies, or both.
No candidate has dared so far to disturb the comfort of a people snugly installed in Peace and Prosperity, the Republicans’ most telling election cry. This refuge may be temporary and precarious but it feels good.
Omens of growing power
Just the same, there will be organic changes in the Affluent Society under the next president. They cannot be foreseen in detail but they will involve larger state influence over the economic system — of which Nixon’s direct settlement of the steel strike and Kennedy’s pleas for the poor are clear auguries. The same trend will probably be seen in the two party platforms even if they are written with the usual ambiguity. Under many disguises, things are going in Galbraith’s direction.
Externally, every thinking man knows that the United States has encountered in the Russian system a competitor that was guaranteed to collapse long ago and yet is growing faster, and in a statistical sense at least, is doing much better than the American system. Every thinking man knows that if the curves of the present graph are projected forward they point only to communism’s increasing success in the world struggle.
Does the electorate at large think that far ahead? Is it willing to face the wrenching decisions of policy and the actual costs of victory in the struggle? It will take a bold candidate indeed to hazard his election on such an assumption in a boom year. It will take a great president to deal with the paramount issues postponed in the election.
Behind these tangibles of policy and cost stands the ultimate, intangible question: Do the American people have within themselves the intelligence and moral power to manage a new society in explosive change at home, to meet the competition of an exploding, immoral power abroad?
Already a few men venture to ask and answer the question. While our neighbors approach the November poll, apparently in rude economic health and assured by a complacent president that their defense is equally strong, one of his Republican predecessors ventures to disagree. The nation, says Herbert Hoover, suffers from a "moral slump.”
A moralist whatever else he is. Hoover sees everywhere — in crime, corruption, payola, the triviality of American life, the timidity of politicians—a malignancy that is threatening the soft, affluent body politic.
Can any presidential candidate get elected, is any willing to try. by attacking that threat surgically with the scalpel of plain, old-fashioned truth? Not likely. The volunteer surgeons are not candidates but retired statesmen, philosophers and anguished novelists like Steinbeck. But the next president will have to face up to
the fundamentals so long evaded.
After the beaming but rather tragic face of Eisenhower, a setting sun that dazzles all beholders while casting dark shadows in the background, comes the hard, mysterious face of Nixon or one of those five other faces, all familiar on every front page but truly unknown. The next president must pick up the pieces.
What does the election mean to Canada? Specifically, not much. Our old position as unofficial Democrats—because the Democratic Party used to enforce lower tariffs than the Republicans or because
the Republicans used to be isolationists— has little validity today. So far as intrinsic Canadian-American relations are concerned, one party would probably be as good to us as the other.
These calculations are too limited and short-run. In affairs more vital, in the issue of life and death for everything of value among free men. the ultimate result of the election must affect us as intimately as it affects our neighbors. Whoever he is. neither we nor any people can escape the next president, his greatness or his failure.