THE TWILIGHT OF TRUMAN
By EDWARD MONTGOMERY
HARRY S. TRUMAN won his fight with his opponents in the Democratic Party for the Presidential nomination, and in so doing signed his own and his party's death warrant at 'the forth- coming election in November. For if there is one prediction on which all the political observers in America are agreed, it is that Harry Truman's chances of being ex-Preiident of the United States next year are now practically one hundred per cent. In a previous article I stated my belief that " barring a miracle " Thomas E. Dewey of New York and the Republican Party which he leads as its presidential candidate would win the election. The miracle did not happen. General Eisenhower maintained his refusal to be drafted for the Democratic nomination. And after what occurred at the Democratic Convention there can be few, even among the General's most ardent admirers, who would not claim that he had been wise in doing so. Had he allowed his name to be put in nomination, there is little doubt that he would have won it on the first ballot, so desperately anxious were all the Democratic delegates to find a candidate with whom they could hope to win the election, and so maintain the party in power for another four years. It is also possible that with Eisenhower as its leader the party might have been able to reconstruct some semblance of unity among its bitterly warring factions during the campaign.
But that is all water over the dam now, though it must be noted in passing that perhaps the single most revealing and significant— not to add disturbing—feature of the American political situation and of the state of American public opinion in this election year is the fact, which few political experts would challenge, that there is in America today a man who, had he wished, could have won the election hands 'down as the candidate of either party, and might even, had he been so inclined and events favoured, have actually been the candidate of both. General Eisenhower is a Political phenomenon unique in American history—the man everybody wants, Republicans and Democrats alike. But the Republicans got Thomas E. Dewey and the Democrats got Harry S. Truman.
Immediately he knew, from the collapse of the opposition, that his nomination was assured, Mr. Truman took a hasty and bold— perhaps over-bold—decision. The bitter attack which he had launched at the Republican-dominated Eightieth Congress on his recent tour of the West—he called it " the worst Congress in American history " and then later amended that to " perhaps only the second worst "—gained him a good deal of publicity and some favourable popular response. On the strength of that, he apparently decided to try to restore his fallen prestige among his followers and to pump some fighting spirit into his dejected party by developing his preliminary sortie into a full-stale major offensive. So in his accept- ance speech to the Convention in Philadelphia at two o'clock in the morning he announced his intention, as his " duty to the American .people," of recalling Congress on July 26th to deal with legislation on the urgent problems of high prices, housing, civil rights and education.
In reaching that decision Mr. Truman and his political advisers probably reasoned something like this : Congress always makes a popular whipping-boy with the American people : The Congress is dominated by the Republicans ; if the recalled Congress fails to pass the legislation for which Mr. Truman is asking, in his campaign against Mr. Dewey he can place the blame squarely on the Republi- cans for inflation, the lack of housing, neglect of civil rights and of education ; if, on the other hand, Congress should pass any of the legislation he has proposed he can claim the credit for having taken the initiative and for having forced Congress against its will to do its duty.
It is a neat manoeuvre—almost too neat. And it may well prove a political boomerang. Few Congressmen, even of Mr. Truman's own party, are going to relish the prospect of spending the next two or three months in Washington, where the weather during August and September is something of a cross between that in the hotter parts of India and the wetter parts of the Gold Coast, wrangling over ways to combat inflation and improve the civil, status of the negroes, when they might be back home enjoying a vacation and getting in a bit of mending of their own political fences in anticipation of the coming election. If Mr. Truman wanted to find a way to irritate his own followers in Congress as well as the Republican opposition, he couldn't have chosen a better way to do it. More- over, he has given the Republicans a heaven-sent opportunity to turn his own manoeuvre against him. The two major issues which in recent months have divided the Democratic Party, like all Gaul, into three parts, are Mr. Truman's civil rights programme, which has alienated—or at least split—the " solid South," and his attitude toward Russia, which has alienated Mr. Henry Wallace and his fellow-travellers.
If the Republicans should now turn round and take Mr. Truman's civil rights programme away from him, and with the help of the Northern Democratic progressives—who combined with, the big- city machine politicians at the Democratic Convention to defeat the Southern wing of the party on the civil rights issue—push through Congress a strong series of Bills against lynching, against the poll-tax (the device by which the poverty-stricken Southern negroes are denied the vote) and against racial discrimination in employment, they would go a long way towards making the schism within the Democratic Party complete, and perhaps even toward destroying it altogether as one of the two major parties in American politics.
The Republicans know they have few votes to lose in the South, where to be a Republican is practically to be a social as well as political-outcast. They have many votes to gain from the negroes in the North who were weaned away from the Republican Party, as their traditional protectors, by Franklin Roosevelt's progressive leadership. If they can find a way, within the constitutional limita- tions on Federal powers, to abolish the poll-tax and other dis- criminatory devices by which negroes are kept from voting, they may well gain several million more negro votes in the Southern States, and perhaps break the Democratic domination of the South, which has been absolute ever since the Civil War, for ever. Here they are playing with a particularly terrible form of political fire, and they know it, and may for that reason go cautiously. In a previous article I forecast that this election might be one of the most apathetic of recent years. If, however, the Republicans should decide to try to turn Mr. Truman's championship of civil rights to their own political advantage, it may well turn out to be one of the bitterest ever fought, with incalculable consequences for the stability and unity of the United States.
Though this issue is of little direct importance to the outside world, and therefore of lesser apparent interest to those abroad than, for example, Mr. Wallace's efforts to create a new party on the issue of American policy towards Russia, nevertheless its potency for creating internal political division and disturbance in America at a particu- larly critical moment in international affairs make it of first-rate significance to the world as well as to America. On the other major issue on which Mr. Truman is recalling the Congress, inflation, -there is much less controversy, except on the question of who is to blame for it. Everybody is against inflation. The trouble is, nobody seems to have any idea what to do about it. And nobody is very hopeful that anything can be done about it. Therefore much the simplest thing, from the politician's point of view, is to do nothing about it, while at the same time diverting public attention by trying to pin the blame for it on someone or something else. This is probably the attitude that will be adopted by both parties in 'the forthcoming special session of Congress. Meanwhile, prices will continue to rise, and each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics will make what has now become an almost routine announcement that " living costs and prices again reached an all-time high during the past month." Inflation, however, is the one issue on which Mr. Truman has a good, though not unassailable, case against the Republicans. (They can find plenty of good arguments for pinning the blame on him.) But it won't divide the country. Everybody is against it.