General Articles

THE ELEPHANT ON PARADE

No one knows what kind of president Tom Dewey might make. But he has already proved that heat, hoopla and horse trading can’t shake him

HUGH MACLENNAN August 15 1948
General Articles

THE ELEPHANT ON PARADE

No one knows what kind of president Tom Dewey might make. But he has already proved that heat, hoopla and horse trading can’t shake him

HUGH MACLENNAN August 15 1948

THE ELEPHANT ON PARADE

HUGH MACLENNAN

No one knows what kind of president Tom Dewey might make. But he has already proved that heat, hoopla and horse trading can’t shake him

NO ONE seems willing at this time to predict what kind of a president Thomas Dewey will make if he is elected by the United States in November. Great national leaders, especially within a democracy, are usually one of three different species of men. One kind, the most colorless, is the pure administrator. Another kind, always the most beloved, is a national replica of the father-image which resides within us all. The third kind, the most dangerous, is a symbol of youth in revolt.

In times of prosperity, when bank accounts bulge and people are confident of handling their own affairs, they prefer an administrator. Coolidge, who did nothing to lessen their self-esteem, is still considered to have been a good president by men whose affairs flourished in the 20’s,

In times of trouble, people invariably turn to the father-image. Franklin Roosevelt, with bis fireside chats and wonderfully reassuring voice, was the father-image incarnate. Significantly, he was elected in the depths of the depression.

In times of despair, when the government has been too long in the hands of flabby men, people usually turn to youth in revolt. Invariably, such a leader is a man who believes in strong central authority, whether he calls it fascism, communism or something else with a label which has a sufficient history to give sanction to his power. So far we have seen no successful examples of this type of leader in federal politics in Canada or the United States.

To a certain extent all three of the leading candidates at the Republican Convention of 1948, which I attended as a representative of Maclean’s

Magazine, fell by nature and disposition into one of t hese three categories. Taft was certuinly the father type but, unfortunately for his ambitions at this or any other time, be seems to the public the kind of father who discovers the most excellent and logical reasons why a daughter should not marry the man of her choice. Stassen wns a symbol of youth in revolt, but such a vague one, and perhaps such a sane one, that he had aligned himself with a conservative party in a prosperous year and so was bound to find himself running in a political vacuum.

At the present moment the individual American, for all his anxieties about America’s relations with the outer world, feels prosjjerous and fairly selfconfident at home. He does not so much want to love his president, or to feel that his president loves him, as he wants to know that he hns a man in the White House who understands his job. Thomas E. Dewey, the able administrator who longs to take on the most difficult task in the world, has contrived to make himself appear, at least to his own party, the answer to that desire. From the l>eginning of the convention no one else had a chance of winning the Republican nomination.

Despite the fact Unit they often verged on Hheer comedy, the processes by which Dewey was nominated need not have been disheartening to an admirer of American democracy. Societies perish, we are told, because they become too fastidious to employ the vulgar means necessary to ensure their selfpreservation. If this is true, there is no need to worry about the durability of the United States so long as its destiny rests with the kind of men who nominated the Republican candidate. The men who voted Dewey in represent a certain type of man extremely common in the political life of the United States. So far as I know, only one of the delegates died that week. The rest of the 3,000-odd officials, delegates and alternates looked as fresh at the end as they looked at the beginning. They seemed able to think without giving themselves time to think. They were insensitive to noise, heat, sweat and chills. Abuse failed to touch them. Above all, they enjoyed their work enormously and never tired of it. If they had been the kind of men who couldn’t stand the pace of such a week in Philadelphia, they would have been some place else.

The general pattern of the American political convention was set nearly a hundred years ago, long enough to have Continued on page 50

Continued from page 7

created a venerable tradition on this continent. Since then the conventions have merely increased in scope without changing their essential nature. If (hey now seem noisier and more vulgar than they once did, this is because modern technology in the form of radio and television has played its usual part in amplifying bad taste and making it available to millions who might otherwise have been unaware of it. Americans regard the kind of behavior seen at these conventions as a fact, a particularly American fact, and this circumstance makes it in their eyes oddly unalterable. Foreigners, too, often forget that although the United »States is the most revolutionary of all countries in its techniques and manners, it is the most conservative of all in its political customs. Much of the behavior pattern which survives at conventions is a great deal more important than Americans themselves realize. It shows that, while the United States may have assumed the leadership of the western world, Americans themselves still have a longing for the simple folkways of their own past and for the time when they could act as irrespon| si ble children when they felt like it, knowing it made no difference if they did.

“Killing, Stupefying Heat”

The air in Philadelphia in the third week of June was as humid as air can be without congealing into actual liquid. The air-conditioning apparatus in Convention Hall either did not work j or did not exist, but the klieg lights I necessary for telecasting worked only too well. »Sometimes the temperature in the hall was over a hundred decrees

It was a killing, stupefying heat, yef for five days and nights the delegates and their alternates, the committeemen, the bosses, special pleaders, whoopers-up and ward heelers, together with thousands of men and women who had assembled from all over the nation to support their favorite candidate, kept up a pace which was at once majestically slow in the consummation of the vital business in hand and hectically frantic in all the details and methods surrounding it. In the humid air they were simultaneously boiled and dazzled by the klieg lights, which made them look unnatural to everyone, including the bar flies who watched the proceedings by television in the comfort of their neighborhood saloons. They snatched meals and drinks in crowded restaurants and bars. They attended morning sessions in the hall from eleven until two-thirty in the afternoon, and evening sessions from nine until long past midnight. On the night of the nominations it was five in the morning before the hall was finally cleared.

But Convention Hall was only one scene of their activities. The suites in the downtown hotels were kept open 24 hours out of 24 and long past midnight the lobbies were still milling with throngs. The politicians chivied the delegates like cheerful stoats. I never once saw a politician shake hands in a normal manner; he always used both hands, one grasping the stranger’s right, the other his elbow or shoulder, while a look appeared in his eyes which said more eloquently than words that this was the first occasion when the stranger’s real merit had been recognized and appreciated.

Throughout Philadelphia that week t he noise was constant. When delegates staggered into their rooms for a few hours of rest they sometimes found strangers asleep on their beds. All week

(¡heir ears were hammered by bands playing campaign songs, by the roar of jraffic in crowded streets and by the Overmastering roar of the orators, most ¡of whom had learned their trade before the day of the microphone. Now their ¿ravel voices were distorted and magnified a hundred times bv the technical apparatus into which they bellowed the most furious oratory I have ever heard.

Joe Martin, normally the Speaker of the House of Representatives and for this week permanent chairman (there were three chairmen in all, not because one was likely to crack under the strain but because the honor must be shared), pounded a five-pound gavel on a twoinch board of solid oak. On the fourth day he fractured the oak, but he merely grinned as though he had given a public demonstration of the weakness of material objects in comparison with the toughness of a good man.

In fact everybody, with the possible exception of Senator Taft of Ohio and Governor Duff of Pennsylvania, was marvelously cheerful and good-natured. The politicians and crowds at Philadelphia, with their posters, icons, slogans, oratory, skulduggery, deals, fixes, promises and abuse of their opponents, formed, when all aspects are considered, probably the most thoroughly good-natured assemblage one could convene in the world today.

1,094 With a Purpose

And yet the convention was selfconsciously serious in purpose and even in its more important aspects. Everyone who was there and everyone who thoughtaboutit knew that it might well turn out to be the most important political convention held in the United States since the one which nominated Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War. It was accepted as axiomatic at the convention that Harry Truman could not possibly be reelected unless the Republicans made fools of themselves in their choice of a candidate or in their campaign during the following months.

There were times, as I sat in the section of the first balcony reserved for the periodical press, when I was overcome by a feeling of awe at the power of choice residing with the 1,094 delegates below me. The presidency is such a tremendous position, far greater and more isolated than that of Prime Minister. Good or bad, weak or strong, the president is elected for a minimum of four years and nothing short of impeachment can oust, him during that time. There the delegates sat, row by row under their state placards, their alternates grouped in similar fashion behind them, two for every senator and representative sent by their respective states to the Congress, with a few more delegates as bonuses to those states which had voted Republican in 1944 or 1946.

They were a mixed group, containing both important and obscure men and women. At the head of the Pennsylvania delegation was the rugged figure of Governor Duff, a man of presidential capacity himself. In the Massachusetts section one could see the lean, shy, aristocratic features of Senator Saltonstall. There were several Negroes among the delegates. Glenn Cunningham, the famous middle-distance runner, sat in the Nebraska section. Irene Hunne and George Murphy of Hollywood were among the 53 from California. One delegate I met—and a quiet, thoughtful man he was—told me he was a veterinary from Indiana. Among these 1,094 there were certainly many, possibly a majority, who were only nominally of an independent mind. In some states it is t he law that

they must vote as a unit and in others they voted as their delegation chair! man instructed. It was also a fact that a large number of them were motivated chiefly by a personal interest in showing t hemselves on the side of the winner.

Jamboree and Business

There were a good many official and unofficial foreign observers at this Republican Convention in Philadelphia, and I suppose all of us were in some degree astounded by t he realization that such a solemn act as the selection of t he probable next President of the Unit ed States should be preceded by days of ward-heeling oratory and accompanied by outbursts of infantile frenzy of a kind indigenous only to this one country in all the world. Yet it was in t he pattern and each of us had to find a way t o understand what we observed, remembering that hokum is an integral and time-honored part of all conventions in the United States, whether those convening are shoe salesmen, sociologists, florists or politicians. It was soon evident that such a convention as this had two quite different and opposing reasons for being called. One of these was to provide a jamboree on a gigantic scale for the faithful. The other was the hardest kind of business. Inevitably, the business went on behind closed doors in the BellevueStratford and the Benjamin Franklin hotels, while the jamboree was not only visible and audible in Convention Hall, but on millions of television and radio sets around the world.

On the first day it took the chairman more than half an hour to call the delegates to order. Then a girl with naked shoulders, a skint ight aquamarine dress and a silver cummerbund around her waist sang the national anthem. She was followed by the Methodist Bishop of Philadelphia, who in the invocation earnestly reminded the Republicans that they were sinners as he implored the Divine Being to quicken their shame at past wickednesses. It was a prayer that fell on stony ground, for the only wickednesses mentioned in that hall during the rest of the week were those of Democrats and Communists.

When the Bishop retired, he was followed by the Mayor of Philadelphia, the manner of whose introduction set the tone of all introductions to follow. “A man of the pee-pul,” the chairman shouted, “beloved by the pee-pul!”

The Mayor was followed by entertainers, introduced as the best barbershop quartet in America.

A long speech by Governor Duff followed and it might have been interesting if the speaker himself had been interested in what he was saying. But, as we already knew, Governor Duff regarded his speech as a mere formality. The job he had set himself at the convention was to fight the Grundy-Owlet machine in bis own key state and until Wednesday night that battle was not fought in public.

Voice of the Mothers

Following the Governor came Carroll Reece, the Chairman of the National Republican Committee. This tireless man, who had spent days and nights ! helping to organize the convention, was : in sight throughout its duration. Like j all the orators, he had a mighty voice. | Like all of them, he linked the New Deal and the Democratic administration with Communism, associated Franklin Roosevelt with the fact that America had been forced to participate in the war and afterward had lost the peace. The details of his address I forget, as I suppose that he himself has forgotten them. But his peroration I

shall remember whenever I see a politician grip a lectern with both hands and throw back his head to give me the business. “The American People,” he bellowed, “do not belong to the Government. The Government belongs to the American People. And the American People”—he paused for several seconds, then let his voice drop to a microphone whisper — “belong only unto God!”

Through the next three days and nights there were many, many more speecht«. After each one, the delegates from the orator’s home state waved their state banner and as often as not got up to parade around the floor. The keynoter was the silver-haired, redfaced, tight-lipped Governor of Illinois,. Dwight Green. In his address he employed the phrase “the American People” so often that I became hypnotized by it and lost all idea of what his speech was about. I well remember a Mrs. Frances Bolton of Ohio, who, the chairman told us, “speaks as a mother.” She did indeed. “We who know the cost of giving life,” she cried passionately, “as NO MAN ever can or ever will know that we cannot sit back at this grave moment in world history. Let me tell you that the WOMEN of America care! At election time in November they will show that they care!”

Mrs. Bolton was followed by the Coatesville Male Choir, which received from the chairman a truly Republican introduction. “This choir,” he said, “contains insurance brokers, a schoolteacher, realtors and a banker—in short, a truly representative group from their community!” Their first offering was “The Woodchuck Song.”

So the sessions went on while the real work was being carried out in the hotels. Resolutions were offered and passed, an on-the-record platform was presented by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and adopted.

An event of deep significance to Republicans occurred the night exPresident Herbert Hoover appeared to address them. The old man was as straight in the back and as stiff in the neck as ever, his hair very white, his face very pink. He received a tremendous ovation which may have atoned for some of the bitterness which has eaten into him over the past 18 years.

A Kick from a Lady

Hoover was followed on the platform by Clare Booth Luce, who gave an address in which she ridiculed President. Truman so mercilessly that even Westbrook Pegler objected to it t he next day in his column. The quickness of Americans to sympathize with the underdog was never more clearly shown t han by the reception of this speech. 11 was the kind which should have been made by nobody on any platform, least of all by a talented and beautiful woman. Her choice of metaphors would have been vulgar had they come from a man; coming from that exquisite woman they were shocking and they made many of t he men in the audience extremely uncomfortable. “After all,” one of the ushers said to me the next day, “maybe the guy hasn’t got much on the ball, but he’s a gentleman and he can’t handle that dame the way she handled him.”

There was another feature of the convention which, to my knowledge, none of the reporters troubled to mention, but which moved me, the outsider, more deeply than I have words to describe. Again and again the hand played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and at least four times it was sung by stars from the operatic or concert stage. The Republican Party was and still is the political instrument

of puritan America. It is puritan America with all its self-satisfied materialism; but deep down it is also puritan America in its flaming faith in the inviolability of the individual man. It was out of the spirit which won the Civil War, which the puritans waged to implement that, faith, that the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” came, just as it was in the course of that war that the Republican Party established itself.

Pandemonium and Chaos

It was Wednesday before the names of the candidates were put in nomination and no one who was present, in the hall that day is likely to forget it. It was during the course of the day that it became known that Senator Martin of Pennsylvania had bolted into the Dewey camp. It was at seven in the evening, in a small room boiling under klieg lights, that Governor Duff, too late to frustrate the Grundy-Owlet gang who were believed to have engineered Martin’s desertion, threw the Pennsylvania caucus open to the public and had each member polled in the presence of witnesses. It was at nine in the evening that the session was convened for the nominations and by 10 o’clock the temperature within the hall, inflamed by the body heat of more than 2,000 frenzied delegates and alternates, rose to over a hundred degrees.

Neither radio nor television gave a fraction of the sense of pandemonium and organized chaos which broke out on that night. Each candidate was nominated in a 15-minute eulogy by his chosen henchman and the nomination speech was followed by four seconders who were allowed five minutes each. This called for a schedule of 270 minutes of oratory. At the end of each nomination there was a period of half an hour or more of insane yelling, parading, noisemaking and hoopla that is known technically as a demonstration.

Nearly all of the nomination speeches ridiculed themselves. Senator Bricker, an imposing figure in size and stateliness, was so moved by his own words in praise of Senator Taft that for several moments it seemed doubtful if he would be able to finish. “No man,” the reporter next to me murmured, “can possibly think so highly of anyone else. Bricker’s going to end up by nominating himself.” We watched him as his mighty voice rallied after a weak spell and he tossed his mane of silver hair and lunged back at the microphone. At the end he gave us the name— Robert Alphonso Taft! Then, his face as red as an explosion, he staggered back into the arms of Carroll Reece and Walter Hallanan, who pounded him on the back while he shook his head slowly from side to side, as if the majesty of his own oration had knocked him out.

The Taft demonstration was louder than Dewey’s and milder than Stas sen’s, but it can stand as a sample of nearly all the rest. Before the final seconder had fallen silent, the Taft men took to the floor. It was nearly midnight then. Shirts were clinging to wet skins. Men sat with their jackets folded on their knees. There were still four and a half hours and five nominations to go.

Senator Taft’s face does not look at its best, on an election poster and his henchmen had two pictures of him on each poster they carried, one side smiling, the other side grim. Under the ghastly glare of the klieg lights, the posters constantly rotating, constantly bobbing up and down, the face stern on one side, smiling on the other, stern and smiling faces dancing on hundreds of posters on the ends of poles until the whole floor looked like a forest of decapitated heads bobbing and danc-

ing, the henchmen of Senator Tait went into a war dance that lasted nearly 50 minutes. Why anyone should bt moved to elect a man to a grave offict after such a display no non-Americar will ever understand.

On that night Governor Warren showed the tact which marked his behavior all through the convention. When his name was put into nomination by the California delegation, he allowed the demonstration in his honor to last 10 minutes, then he requested his followers to leave the floor. Such modesty was not for Stassen’s crowd. At three o’clock in the morning they were still under way, led by a drum majorette who mounted the rostrum to do a rumba while a girl in a boat was carried around the floor on the shoulders of the crowd. At four-something in the morning the nominations were finally over and the last one was probably the most instructive of them all

Wisconsin, toward the end of the alphabetical list of states, had beer unable to persuade Alabama or Arkansas to cede their right to nominate a favorite son in Wisconsin’s favor. So Wisconsin waited her turn. A lonely soldier, who had spent most of the war years in a Japanese prison, read a speech in praise of a military hero, his commanding officer. When he finished, the nomination was duly seconded, but there were no swaggering military bands as there would have been in Europe, no hokum as there had been earlier in the evening, no impressive swashbuckling to make up a demonstration. General MacArthur’s name was recorded by a tired secretary on the platform and what was left of the crowds went home to bed. In sever hours the delga tes were due back agair. to cast their votes.

What’s Dewey For?

To no one’s surprise, probably not even to Senator Bricker’s, Dewey won the nomination on the following day. He won it mainly by reason of his preconvention organization, partly because of the hard and very clever work which had been going on in hotel rooms while we watched the jamboree in Convention Hall, partly also owing to the imponderables which always exercise an influence in affairs of this kind.

Dewey is a symbol of the force of management. As Governor of New York, by far the most complex of all the states, he has shown a good record, even though he inherited an excellent state of affairs from his predecessors. Governors Lehmann and Franklin D Roosevelt. Dewey has surrounded himself with able men, managers like himself, who have done their best for him. As a man, he has a reputation for coldness, for a hard head and a calculating ambition. He is in general more respected than liked. In spite of his comparative youth, the radicals who follow Wallace hate Dewey worse than they hate Taft, probably because they regard him as a more formidable enemy.

Dewey’s headquarters were quieter than Taft’s and much quieter than Stassen’s. The people who thronged his rooms in the Bellevue-Stratford were generally less attractive people than those who so audibly adored Stassen. But nearly all of Dewey's followers had the air of men and women who are accustomed to getting what they .want, who will get. it nine times out of 10.

When Dewey held his first press conference, he sat on a chair under klieg lights and answered questions for over half an hour. His hands were folded on the table before him, his voice was quietly modulated, his answers were quick, good-humored and to the point

and every one of them worked to his advantage. During this half hour of questioning Dewey appeared to be completely reposed. He never moved a muscle below those of his neck; his legs, arms and small body remained still and relaxed. Such control and self-confidence were almost disconcerting in a man who looked so young, for in spite of the responsibilities he has held in his life, Dewey could pass for a man under 40. No photograph does him justice, because no photograph reveals the nature of his eyes. In pictures, the height of Dewey’s frontal bones and cheekbones obscures the eyes with shadows and makes them look opaque. In life they are very large, luminous and dark, and he has a way of rolling them occasionally, whet her to express irony or amusement I could not tell. He disparaged no antagonist in his interview; instead he contrived to give everyone the feeling that the sooner the convention was over the better, since the result was so clearly a foregone conclusion.

When the convention was over, it was all too apparent that Harold Stassen had represented no real force at all. He had merely stood for a point of view, a point of view shared by millions of well-meaning Americans who desire no radical change but who would like to see a younger man, free of the taint of party bosses, at the head of the government. Were 1948 a depression year, 1 have little doubt that Stassen would have won the nomination for I got the distinct impression that, whereas Dewey would he more at ease dealing with individuals, Stassen would be happiest dealing with a crowd.

Taft’s Beliefs

One is forced to believe that a large portion of the relief felt in the United States over Dewey’s winning of the nomination is based on a deep thankfulness that the Republican nominee is not Robert Taft, for in American life today he represents the hitter reaction of pure isolationism. In him is lodged all the Middle Westerner’s naïve conviction that nothing but harm can come from Europe; that things were better 40 years ago than they are now

because 40 years ago labor was less obstreperous; that the United States will prosper if she stands aloof and will come to harm if she associates freely with the corruption of Europe and Asia There are still many voters in the United States who hold Taft to be completely right in such judgments. Around him the Republican Old Guard of the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover era stood firm. This is a Republican year and the bosses knew it, but fortunately they could feel the will of the people even in the small hours of the morning in the closed suites of the hotels. “Dewey,” an American reporter said to me, “is the least liberal candidate they thought they could get away with.”

On the night the third ballot was completed and Dewey was nominated by acclamation there was a long period during which we waited for him to reach Convention Hall in order to deliver his acceptance speech. Now we could see a small brigade of police officers formed in a double line, marking the path Dewey would have to take to the rostrum. Within a matter of seconds, the very instant after he had been officially acclaimed the nominee, he had become a public charge. Dewey was now a precious cargo, he was a ward of the state and he was guarded carefully even from the very crowd which had given him that honor.

When he finally appeared, intense, petite, his face was radiant with happiness. He opened his arms wide to j receive the emotion of the crowd while I Mrs. Dewey stood aside, her own digj nity grave and retiring. And because • it was a North American crowd, reared fundamentally in the British tradition of politics, even though it contained hundreds of bitter opponents of Dewey, it gave him a warm and earnest ovation as it responded generously to his simple speech of humility and promise.

Now he faces the entire country. Whether he can beat Harry Truman in November depends neither upon his promises nor his trained radio voice, but solely upon the effect of Russian strategy on the unconscious needs of the American people through the summer and fall of 1948. ★