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Washington Wire

Harry Truman may not have given his party victory at Philadelphia, but he gave it self-respect. It was fun to see the scrappy little cuss come out of his corner fighting at two in the morning, not trying to use big words any longer, but being himself and saying a lot of honest things that needed to be said. Unaccountably, we found ourself on top of a pine bench cheering.

We have always thought of Truman as Mr. Average Man himself, nice and likable and commonplace and mediocre. These attributes make something of a problem when one is President. But it is the hope of salvation for the average man that you find in him a touch of the divine if you jab around long enough, and there was real splendor in the way Truman took over that convention. As we wrote last week, “he is a stronger campaigner than a lot of people realize.”

As for the aptly described “turnip” session of Congress, the right people are against it, including Fulton Lewis Jr., Senator Walter F. George and columnist David Lawrence. Dewey’s delay in commenting was understandable enough: poor fellow, he has to wait for a Gallup poll.

We like the session because of our prejudice in favor of the parliamentary system of government with responsibility fixed squarely on the legislature and on the majority party there. What should an election center on if not the legislative record? That is why British and Canadian elections seem so much more realistic than ours. The record of the 80th session is wretched. Committee work was finished on a dozen big bills when Congress quit; if the GOP refuses to enact them now, that shows them up; if they pass them, that is good too. Either way, the public gains.

We doubt if Truman wanted to touch off the Southern revolt. But it had to come sooner or later. The historical moment is here, and the Democratic majority is defying the Confederates. The gratifying thing on this civil-rights issue is the vitality the ancient party shows even at its lowest moment. As for the Southern seceders, they are in a hell of a quandary, if we may say so. The very existence of these old Bourbons depends on a one-party system where nobody votes. They are ten years behind sentiment in the South itself. If they “secede,” then the South gets two parties and the competition for votes will be keen enough to end some of the old restrictions, which will be a fine thing. The Atlanta Constitution says the big Northern oil companies are financing the revolters in order to protect “states’ rights” in tidelands oil. What a charming combination of self-interest and sentiment. Wall Street and magnolia blossoms.

Does Truman have a chance? By his spectacular action at Philadelphia, Truman established the feeling that the Democrats have a fighting chance, which was his party’s most urgent need. It is a little too early to say. Actually the outlook is still extremely gloomy for the Democrats. This is partly because of the Wallace faction in key states like New York, Illinois, Michigan and California. Without the Wallace split, Truman might have an outside chance; with it, the brutal fact is, and has to be stated, that many happy Republicans are going to be returned in three-corner races and their states will go GOP.

The Berlin crisis is really a bigger story than the presidential election. It is hard to overemphasize its gravity. Officials here don’t want war, and are glad to have public attention distracted by domestic politics. The point to remember is that the US isn’t bluffing, though the Russians seem to think so. To commit provocative acts over the Berlin air strip, to threaten to knock down one of our planes as they did the British airliner on April 5, seem simple madness in the present inflammable state of American sentiment. The exchange of notes has stripped the affair of all pretense; this is a direct test of power.

We think the following is an authoritative State Department view; Russia is trying to “sell” us Berlin twice. She sold it to us once in exchange for those parts of the Russian occupation zone which the Western armies liberated; now she wants to sell it to us again for a share in the Ruhr and readmission to western Germany. The Russians seem unaware, now as always, of the reality of American feelings. The Allied air shuttle gives the situation time to develop. The State Department wants no emotionalism; it wants to be cool, deliberate. Russia understands force, and that explains those B-29's and warships. The Department hopes the matter can be kept out of the elections. But one slip of a Soviet plane over Berlin could have terrible consequences.

The biggest political issue in the country is still inflation. Neither party’s record is good on this, though the public seems to be tending to blame the GOP more. Truman gallantly resisted pouring $5 billion into the spending stream in tax reduction, but on the other hand he fired Eccles when the latter pushed bank-credit curbs. Controls were necessary in war and are needed now. But here is where economics parts company with politics. If there are price controls, there should be wage controls, too. What party is going to propose that? Furthermore, inflation has reached the point now where any real interference will probably precipitate a recession, brief or otherwise, which would be politically suicidal to any candidate. We expect more demagoguery than action on inflation at the special session, but we are willing to be agreeably surprised.


This article originally ran in the July 26, 1948, issue of the magazine.