Politics

Turnip Day in Washington

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“A frightful imposition,” Dewey called the proposal for a special session of Congress, indicating his appraisal of both the sincerity of the Republican Party platform and the urgency of the problems which Americans face. In such a spirit Dewey can lose the 1948 elections. Tor Truman’s call for a special session is a stroke of bold and liberal leadership and a confident reassertion of the Validity of American democracy.

On three key issues, housing, inflation and civil rights, the 80th Congress so far failed utterly. These are the issues on which Americans fill judge the major parties by their records in the special session.

 

Housing. Four million American homes must be provided for this year. Passage of the Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill which provides for 15 million new homes in 10 years by public housing, slum clearance and aid to private construction, is the first priority of the special session. Full hearings have been held on the bill. It was passed months ago by the Senate. Obeying the orders of the National Association of Real Estate Boards and the National Association of Home Builders, the House Republicans, led by Joseph Martin (R., Mass.). Jesse P. Wolcott (R, Mich.) and Leo E. Allen (R, Ill.), have prevented the bill from coming to the House for a vote. Instead, they jammed through a fake housing bill.

The Democratic platform clearly calls for passage of the T-E-W bill. The Republican platform states that “government can and should encourage the building of better homes at less cost,” and recommends federal aid for slum clearance and low cost housing when the job is not being done.

Yet only 103 of 185 Democratic Representatives, and no more than 41 of 235 Republican Representatives, have signed the discharge petition on the T-E-W bill. The first test of the leadership in both major parties and of the alertness of Americans is to get this bill out, and to make it law.

 

Civil-rights legislation is the second priority of the special session. Both parties are absolutely committed to passage of such legislation. The Republican Party platform calls for “prompt enactment” of an anti-lynching law, and federal legislation to abolish discrimination, the poll tax, and segregation in the armed forces. The Democratic platform supports all these proposals and more in calling for legislation to carry out the President’s civil-rights program.

As in the case of housing, there is no possible excuse for delay. A bill to abolish the poll tax has passed the House and received the support of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A bill to establish a permanent FEPC has been approved by the Senate Education and Labor Committee. A strong anti-lynching bill has been passed by the House and is ready for Senate approval. The final measure, the abolition of discrimination in the armed services, can be accomplished by executive order and is up to the President.

Once again, a few Southerners may threaten a filibuster. But ifall the 52 Republicans and 12 of the 45 Democrats in the Senate vote for cloture, any filibuster can be broken.

Inflation is the third issue demanding action by the special session. Wholesale and retail prices reached all-time peaks this month. Consumer credit has been forced up $3 billion this year, while holdings of government bonds have dropped $400 million as 13 million American families have been forced by inflation to use up most or all of their savings.

The Republican Party platform speaks of the “present cruelly high prices.” It pledges “an attack upon the basic causes of inflation.” The Democratic Party platform promises to “put a halt to the disastrous price rises.” The special session, if it holds to these promises, will enact legislation to restore consumer-credit control; to extend and strengthen rent control; and to authorize price and wage ceilings.

On two further issues united action can bring immediate success. One is on Truman’s request for an “adequate and decent law for displaced persons in place of the anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic law which this 80th Congress passed.” The second is passage of the $65 million loan to construct the world capital of the United Nations in New York City. Unless this loan is passed, the UN may well move to Geneva.

 

Turnip Day, on which Congress reconvenes, is the day turnips are planted in Missouri come hell or high water. So it is with the party promises. In 1948 Americans are alert and politically wise. The only good politics for both parties in the special session is to subordinate politics to service on behalf of America’s needs.

The Republicans have a great chance to lead on civil rights. If, instead, they reconstitute their alliance with the Southern Democrats and kill civil-rights legislation as part of a bargain for blocking all action this year, then the Republicans will force a party realignment and soon face defeat.

Given the political awareness of Americans today, neither the Republicans nor the Administration can let the Southern conservatives dictate national policy. If the men who represent five percent of the electorate of five Southern states decide to bolt, then

Let ‘em go! The new enthusiasm of the Negroes, the liberals and labor will make up for their loss ten times over.

Truman has brought himself back to his January, 1946, strength, when he presented to Congress Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights. If, as in 1946, he speaks for the record, and fails to fight, then he and his party will be politically destroyed. If he fights and loses, the Democratic Party will have earned the right to survival; if he fights successfully, it can win.

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

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