28 APRIL 1961, Page 32

Democratic Dicta

IMMIGRANT Boat to Supreme Court is in' some ways even more remarkable than Log Cabin (or in this case Missouri Farm) to White House. But the little Jewish immigrant, who had not heard a word of English till he was twelve, was a natural associate, from his twenties, of those able, honourable and largely unambitious men who inhabit the upper sphere of American politics along with its other denizens. His brief reflec- tions on his, and their, principles should be com- pulsory reading for most of those allegedly de- voted to highmindedness: 'I suppose I have a general predilection against pedantic, didactic, formalised, so-called ethical principles.' What counts is 'what is in the atmosphere . . . what kind of things instinctively, unconsciously enter your being.'

These are fine words from a man who has clearly never done anything unprincipled in his life. But here we meet that curious crux, Roose- velt. I have often been struck in speaking to American liberals, devotees of Roosevelt tight through his presidencies, by the disillusionment they have felt now that the confidential records of the period are available. They see frivolity in the treatment of great issues and disingenuous- ness above and beyond the call of duty. Frank- furter's loyalty is surprisingly unshaken. His long association with political leaders saved him from what he saw in some of his own side: .`most Radicals think that all they have to do is just kick the other fellow out and everything will be lovely.' Experience told him that 'Government is the toughest thing in the world . . . rhetoric is something very different from governing.' His taped talk is a most successful commentary on this and other points.

About Truman one does not find disillusion. No one ever thought in the first place that he was a divinely inspired prophet, and his actual con- duct seems to have been notably more straight- forward than his predecessor's. His mind is less distinguished than Frankfurter's by a very large factor indeed. The English in which he recom- mends the Authorised Version is a powerful argument against its influence on style: 'I read the translation that was made under King James of Great Britain. That was the greatest thing he ever did in his life, and the reason for that, in my opinion, is the fact that that, along with Shakespeare. established the English language as we know it.' But it would be an intellectuals' error to imagine that this sort of stuff, and fear- ful triteness on other general subjects. had any bearing on his fitness to govern. Truman matched up to Frankfurter's criteria: he had the ability to see the essentials of a problem and to take the necessary decisions. And he is most penetrating on the Presidency. He also shares one extremely attractive personality trait with Frankfurter. He really does seem to be almost totally lacking in malice. This makes his criti- cisms of Adlai Stevenson. for example, particu- larly interesting. His few notes of slight sourness come in his smacks at British generals for denigrating American commanders: perhaps because they omitted to denigrate MacArthur.