As the political campaign goes into its final days, the best informed observers appear to believe that President Roosevelt will win by a substantial margin. Our readers will hardly need to be told that the editors of The New Republic will view such an outcome with satisfaction. There are faults to find with the Roosevelt administration, both in its foreign policy and on the domestic front; we have never hesitated to point out what seemed to us to be failings, and we expect to continue to do so in the future. But all political life is a choice of alternatives; and any possible disadvantages from a fourth term for Mr. Roosevelt fade into nothing when compared with the disadvantages of a first term for Mr. Dewey.
Particularly in the closing weeks of the campaign, Mr. Dewey has talked himself out of any possible serious consideration by serious people for the presidency. His own actions, and those which have been performed, unrebuked, by persons close to him, seem to us to indicate beyond question that he is not of the moral stature necessary for the presidency of the United States in a period of great world crisis. We recognize the possibility that he may be elected, not by the votes of people who favor him but by the accumulated votes of those who have a grievance, or think they have one, against the Democratic administration, plus the votes of those who are against a fourth term on general principles; but if he is successful, we submit that, on his recent record, it will be a calamity.
First of all, Mr. Dewey has shown himself a man without profound convictions on any subject, domestic or foreign. He has adopted most of the New Deal, and most of Mr. Roosevelt’s foreign policy; but it is painfully apparent that he has done so after consulting the polls of public opinion, which have told him that a majority of the people support these policies. If you study his record, it is impossible to find any clear and consistent line; and this weakness comes down to the present moment. For instance, in his Minneapolis speech he adopted Mr. Roosevelt’s policy on the Security Council, including freedom for the American representatives to initiate measures against an aggressor without each time going back to Congress for authorization. And yet, on the same Western tour, he endorsed the candidacy of one of the worst isolations in the Senate, Alexander Wiley of Wisconsin. He permitted the keynote address to be given in his Chicago speech by Colonel McCormick’s isolationist spokesman in the Senate, Wayland (“Curly”) Brooks. He mentioned favorably Richard Lyons, the McCormick candidate to succeed Senator Scott W. Lucas. How in the world can you reconcile these attitudes? The answer is, that you can’t, and you aren’t meant to. Mr. Dewey hopes that the internationalists will remember the Minneapolis speech, and that the isolations will remember his friendship for Wiley, McCormick et al.
But this is not, in our judgment, the worst aspect of the Dewey campaign. That worst aspect is the deliberate and wholesale use of falsehood as a political weapon. Not since Hitler’s campaign in Germany before 1933 have we seen such unparalleled and sweeping mendacity. If the Republican Party should win, its campaign methods will rise up to haunt Mr. Dewey in the White House. If the party loses, we shall be lucky indeed if we can bridge over the profound chasms that have been created between groups in our America.
In saying this, we are not being unreasonably squeamish. Political oratory is always like a lawyer’s plea in court: it makes the best case possible, and it omits facts which are incompatible with that best case. But what the Republican Party is doing is different. For a very recent example, we have its use of the “Clear everything away with Sidney” slogan. The New York Times and Arthur Krock, in whose column it first appeared, insist that this phrase referred only to the vice-presidential nomination (as to which, incidentally, Mr. Sidney Hillman was slapped in the face). Mr. Hannegan, supposedly the only person in the room with the President at the time, flatly denies the whole thing. The Republican National Committee, however, has released hundreds of recorded radio broadcasts saying that “everything in your government will be cleared with radical Sidney Hillman and his Communistic friend, Earl Browder.” When The New York Times protested, the Republicans first promised to correct the error and then refused to do so.
Another example is the Republican slogan, “Bring the boys home quicker, with Dewey and Bricker.” This is based on the disproved story that the Democrats intend to delay demobilization rather than face possible unemployment for returning veterans.
Another story which seems to be in the same category is the charge that Senator Truman was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Truman denies it as completely as any man could, and there seems to be plenty of evidence that it is false. But of course, the denial never catches up with the accusation; and the men who put the story out counted on that fact.
And again, there is Mr. Dewey’s attack on the Democratic Party because of a letter written by the Arkansas campaign headquarters, inviting contributions of $1,000 and saying that those who do this “undoubtedly will be granted special privilege by party leaders [and] called into conference from time to time to discuss matters of national importance and to assist in the formulation of administrative policies.” This letter was clumsily worded and never should have been sent at all; but no one can seriously believe that it bore the significance Mr. Dewey attached to it. It was obviously a cheap appeal to the vanity of possible contributors to campaign funds. Even the heat of a campaign does not justify pretending to be horrified when you are not.
It seems fairly clear that the important defections from Mr. Dewey which have occurred in the closing days of the campaign—defections like those of The New York Times, Senator Joseph Ball, Russell Davenport, Walter Lippmann—have expressed an unuttered conviction that Mr. Dewey just simply will not do. He does not measure up to the size of the job. With Mr. Roosevelt’s admitted defects, he remains a great symbol of democracy, the first figure of hope to enslaved people throughout the world. Under his leadership of one of the two strongest nations on earth, and in many ways the strongest, the United Nations have somehow managed to stick together, have turned a defensive war which one seemed likely to end in defeat into an aggressive war which now seems certain to end in victory. He never adopted to the full the policies which the editors of The New Republic and other progressives wished to see employed, for prosperity at home; but he came closer to it than any other President in our history and miles closer than Mr. Dewey, who would certainly give so-called “free enterprise” its head and plunge us again into depression. It is impossible not to respect Mr. Roosevelt for the enemies he has made, just as it is impossible not to fear and distrust Mr. Roosevelt for his friends. As we said of the New York Governor in our special supplement of September 25: “In spite of his strong self-will and burning ambition, Mr. Dewey would be the prisoner in the White House of the worst elements in the Republican Party, so far as concerns the two great objectives of our time: prosperity and peace.”
This article originally ran in the November 6, 1944, issue of the magazine.