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Why Will They Vote For Harding?

Tropical Press Agency/ Getty

Nevertheless millions of Americans will vote for Harding. One half, more or less, of the electors will cast their ballots for this standing libel upon the normal man. It is incredible, but as certain as anything can be. There is no profit in crying out against a brute fact like this, but it is worth trying to find the explanation. 

That, I hear it suggested, is easy. There will be several thousand votes cast for the Democratic candidates in the belief that Franklin Roosevelt is none other than the T. R. who so lately filled the world with his name and fame. There may be some tens of thousands of votes cast the same way on the assumption that Franklin Roosevelt is the son of T. R. and sole heir to his manly virtues. On the other hand, some thousands of ballots will be cast against Cox on the assumption that he was once a notorious boss in Cincinnati. To put it as mildly as possible, a considerable proportion of the American electorate is not politically minded. This is, however, no sufficient explanation of the prospective Harding vote. Those who are not politically minded will distribute themselves pretty impartially between the traditional parties,with occasional clusters drawn one way by misapprehension, perhaps, or by considerations utterly irrelevant, but with offsetting clusters drawn the other way. Harding's vote will be rolled up into the millions by the politically minded, by those whose political choices are made with greater or less deliberation, who enjoy a greater or less freedom of decision. There will be men who vote for Harding for no reason at all and men who vote for him for reasons of private interest. If there were no others, money staked on Harding, at whatever odds, would be money thrown away. What we have to explain is the fact that millions of men who are as disinterested as might be expected in a world of practical affairs, men who are as enlightened politically as might be expected in a busy world, will vote for Harding. And among them will be many of our first class political thinkers. Look at the list of prominent men who have announced their intention of supporting Harding. Can you not pick out from among them men you personally know to be the salt of the political earth?

But are those men really free, politically? Is not their behavior quite definitely determined by party loyalty? Party loyalty is indeed a force of incalculable potency and mysterious workings. It is a force quite analogous to that of patriotism. "My country right or wrong" is a real sentiment, and a respectable one, is it not? It is a sentiment sufficiently deep in the blood to make even those who believe themselves possessed of a higher reason and a higher ethics find all manner of recondite reasons for excusing, or even supporting their country's action, although all the world conceives it to be wrong. Or perhaps I should have said, especially when all the world conceives it to be wrong. Do you remember how we resented European comment on our subjugation of the Filipinos, and the higher ethical grounds on which we defended our country's policy? Well, the Grand Old Party is, with many of us, an ohject of loyalty closely akin to the Stars and Stripes. As a boy, did you not experience a feeling of sick despair when the last returns showed that Grover Cleveland had been Irrevocably elected President? And did you not cling for comfort to the thought that after four years Grover would be retired to private life and all those Southern office holders exiled to their ancestral plantations? Did you not quiver with anxiety over the baleful flaring up of the Bryan hysteria and join, hoarse with joy, in the final hurrah for McKinley? You are older now and wiser. You admit the necessity of two parties, recognize good and evil in both, wish that he better man may win. You are an American first, a Republican second. Yes, on the surface. But all those forgotten hopes and fears lie somewhere under the surface, working tirelessly to generate for you reasons for remaining true to the old party.

Examine some of the reasons now offered by advanced thinkers for supporting Harding. He is a "normal man." He is a neutral substance with which you can mix anything else without taking the edge off its quality. Is he to be reactionary or progressive? He is without fast political color, as yet. He is receptive, as raw ambergris is receptive of the odor of musk, or of mildew, or as powdered talcum is receptive of attar of roses or asafoetida. A vote for Harding is, therefore, a vote for second thoughts. It is a postponement of issues, not an evasion. Isn't that a pretty theory, competent to free the sophisticated from the taint of unmorality that inheres in the position. My party, right or wrong? The trouble with it is that it violently assumes mediocrity to be identical with responsiveness to circumstance. Lloyd George is the kind of man this theory presupposes, a man with all his senses open to the currents of public opinion. When public opinion demanded the enslavement of Germany, Lloyd George demanded it more vocirerously; when public opinion ebbed toward reconciliation with Germany, it found Lloyd George extending a cordial hand to the Germans. He was for coercing Ireland, then for merely keeping order in Ireland, then—but public opinion has not moved so far, yet. That is real political neutrality. It is the rarest quality in the world, the most specialized. Of course, say the sophisticated supporters of Harding, he must have that quality for what other quality has he? Now what is at the bottom of this reasoning but the echo of a juvenile hurrah for McKinley?

Harding is modest, say others. He will not try to do everything himself. He will not make rubber stamps of his cabinet officers. He will surround himself with abler men than himself, who, as a body, will run the government as no single man, no matter how much of a superman, could run it. Think of Harding's appointees as a brilliant circle of stars, with Harding the blue void within. Is that not a sufficient reason for voting for him?

It is a cherished American tradition that there is a kind of man who has the ability to surround himself with abler men than himself, to execute his purposes. Roosevelt sometimes claimed title to such a gift; Andrew Carnegie would have had this virtue alone credited to him in his epitaph. There must, however, have been a twinkle in the eyes of these men when they indulged themselves in such modest paradoxes. To detect ability unerringly, to detect it, not in those whose reputations have been achieved and whose energies are exhausted, but in those who are still unknown, and still full of creative force: that of itself implies ability of the highest order, not specialized, perhaps, nor capable of giving a definite measurement of itself to the outside public, but the more vital for that. Surround yourself with men abler than yourself. Excellent advice, but try to apply it, and see how often you will be disillusioned, even if, like Harding, you have so little to start with that the chance next comer ought to be capable of magnifying you. The men who succeed through this plan have to be men of sure judgment and independent will, at the very least. But Harding? His modesty ought to go further. He ought to announce not that he "will select the men of superior ability to surround him, but that he will let them surround him of their own initiative, or, perhaps, at the initiative of those political leaders who selected Harding for us as the kind of President we deserve. Elect Harding, and the blue void is guaranteed; but the brilliant circle remains to be materialized.

But after all, is not pure and persistent party loyalty something of an exception in our present era of political confusion? Is it not more to the point to inquire into the attitude of those on whom partisanship has always sat lightly, the men occupied primarily with business or professional affairs too modest to count as "interests," the "average" American good citizens? Whole schools of them are going to vote for Harding, though they may have voted for Wilson four years ago. Why?

Somehow, the impression has fastened itself upon multitudes of Americans that three years ago we went into the braying, big end of the horn and are now squeezing out of the little end. We thought we were settling the world, but straightway it became more unsettled than ever. We thought we were winning undying gratitude from mankind, but returned travellers keep telling us that America is unpopular everywhere except in the Forbidden City of Lhassa, where we have never been heard of.

We thought we were attaining a new national unity, but sectionalism and class feeling are more rampant than ever before. We have our inflated cost of living, our crushing taxation, our discount on government bonds to remind us of our participation in great events. But we'd like to forget it all. "Forget it": that is America's one great contribution to the rules of practical living. Things have gone amiss: let us apply the rule. The politiacal event is, Vote for Harding. 

For under Harding we shall undertake no international enterprise that will recall to mind the great days when we set out to make the world safe and free. We shall debate the railroad problem languidly, and rock along. We shall not be forced to think deeply on the problems of labor and capital; they will solve themselves or adjourn themselves, with the least conceivable reference to Washington. If we are employers, we will fight our own battles in our own way, and whether we win or lose, will try to salt down a little money. If we are employees, we'll look to our cards and go in or stay out according to our hands, certain, that if the President will do nothing to help, neither will he dare to swing over us a scourge of scorpions like Palmer. In our souls we know that the problem of our international position will have to be met some day. The time will come when we shall be compelled to face the industrial problem seriously. But only the Lord knows how weary we are of the past and the future. And so we say. Forget them and, furtively, with shame in our hearts, decide to vote for Harding.