POLITICS NOVEMBER 25, 1936
This is the first of a series of articles on various aspects of the next four years in American life. The other contributors are: Secretary Henry A. Wallace, Under-secretary Rexford G. Tugwell, Morris L. Cooke, John L. Lewis, Dr. Arthur E. Morgan, Professor Thomas Reed Powell, Bruce Bliven and George Soule.—THE EDITORS.
In a cloudburst of votes, the people washed away "Jeffersonian" Democrats, assorted big shots, newspapers, in a deluge of hilarious bitterness—and when the sun rose bright and shiny, there was Franklin D. Roosevelt, sitting on top of the world.
The press, having reached the lowest level of degradation in national history, was thoroughly repudiated; history may record that it will never regain its prestige, that its political functions will pass to the radio. To stupid, bare-faced lies, gross intimidation and the pay-envelope fraud, the people gave one long razzberry. Even the Lords du Pont, who set about to purify all America, got knocked on their ears in their own barony, by their own retainers. Verily, the people used the "American system" to show what they thought, and in an American way.
It was the greatest revolution in our political history—even William Allen White said it showed a changed attitude toward government and very sagely referred to the fact that the people wanted the American Constitution's general-welfare clause considered. Too, the people gave a tip to the Supreme Court.
Of course, everyone knows why Congress is overwhelmingly Democratic: Roosevelt. But the real complexion of the next Congress is important, for there are all shades of Democrats. As for conservatives, there are plenty, and statistics are not necessary to prove it. Let us check the liberals and progressives. First, the loss of four is very serious. They are Sisson (D), friend of education and foe of Red-baiters, and Marcantonio (R), first-class fighting man for the underdog, both of New York; and Driscoll (D) of Pennsylvania, who exposed the telegram fraud of the utility holding companies. Moran (D) of Maine will not return either, as he did not offer for reelection.
But all the other House liberals have returned, stronger. For instance, Wearin and Biermann from Iowa, also Eicher, a clear, able thinker who has won after a bitter fight from the utilities and reactionary elements. The Farmer-Laborites have increased their numbers from three to five, the new ones being Tiegan and Johnson, both Minnesota and said to be good liberals. All of the Wisconsin progressives will be back, with accumulated experience and greater prestige. Magnuson (takes Zioncheck's seat). Coffee and Leavey, three new ones» come with the solidly liberal Democratic delegation from the cantankerous state of Washington. They rate 100-percent, except one, who suffers from a violent case of Townsenditis, the others having only mild cases, Connecticut sends Alfred N. Phillips (D), a successful business man, said to have courage and brains—Legionnaire—and friend of civil liberties. He will be heard from. With him comes W. J, Fitzgerald, in a nearby district, a laborite, long champion of better hours and wages and enemy of sweatshops. An ardent New Dealer, who, it is said, really understands Jefferson, and cracked the Byrd machine wide open, is Hamilton, a ray of light for Virginia, Ross Collins, Mississippi, hated by the military reactionaries, will be back after staying out one term, and will be as vocal as ever. Comes also Frank P. Havenner of California, intelligent advocate of public ownership and former secretary to Hiram Johnson, In the election the ladies did well: five made it, four of them serving last session, the new one being Mrs. Nan Wood Honeyman (D), Oregon, friend of Mrs. Roosevelt, grandmother, proponent of social legislation and considered liberal, A good sign of the intelligence of the people who forgot chivalry and good manners to a lady, was the defeat of Mrs. Kahn (R) of San Francisco, able, popular—and thoroughly militaristic and reactionary.
In the House the Republicans have dropped from their already meager 104 to 89—clean out of sight. They are dead, dead, dead. There are no members in the Party who form any opposition whatever; neither individually nor as a group have they the slightest thought of any program, or of anything but superficial criticism of acts and forces they do not understand. This is unfortunate. Hollister (R), Taft law partner, who followed Nick Longworth, is beaten—he was an intelligent conservative who fought like a man. He is really the only one worth mentioning. The others, like Chester Bolton, head of the Republican congressional committee, an amiable reactionary from Cleveland, were soundly defeated, and deservedly.
In the Senate the enemies of the New Deal were all defeated. New Senators, former Representatives, are Gillette (D) (specialty, peace) of Iowa, Lee (D), (specialty, New Deal) of Oklahoma, Lundeen (F-L) (specialty, social security) of Minnesota, and all on the progressive side. The loss of Costigan of Colorado is a tragic one. Some say the new Republican Senator from Massachusetts, Cabot Lodge, may be some opposition, although his main stock in trade is advocacy of the tariff and down with the Japs.
A comparison of the two houses shows both have gained in members with progressive tendencies. The organization, or lack of organization, in the Senate affords better opportunities to progressives because of smaller membership, longer tenure of office and the absence of restrictive rules. In the House the rules are so strict, the membership so large, that the situation is much worse for the liberals.
For a decade the House has been losing prestige. For the past two sessions, the House committees have jammed through bill sin a day or two without adequate debate—to be sent to the Senate for consideration lasting into months. Is the House is to regain its diminished prestige, it must assert its equality with the Senate, debate—and the liberals or progressives must fight together for legislation.
With the great majority vaguely New Deal but having every political slant of the compass, a definite program is of course subject to question. It is said also that the American people have no economic philosophy, no well considered aims, and that, therefore, this unwieldy majority will break into wandering factions and nothing will be accomplished.
Some say the election was no mandate to Congress at all. But since the people gave Roosevelt full power of attorney, and elected his congressmen, this in itself is a mandate to get the job done as it was started. The American people simply expect the President to “do what it takes.” Crying over the all-sacred Constitution and the flag leaves the voter unmoved. So I would say that out of the welter of the campaign the voter has commanded: Keep up the New Deal, we want the government to assume social responsibility; go ahead—now, F.D., and you, Mr. Congressman, we elected you, go to it—the Supreme Court is all right, but we elected you, not them.
The citizen may not understand the niceties of the Supreme Court legalistic historical mumbo-jumbo; he does know, however, that he wants representative government, and does not want this destroyed by cold and unsympathetic power. He may not even know that the Constitution provides not once, but twice, for the general welfare, but he thinks, quite rightly, “what the hell is government for, anyway; ain’t it for everybody?”
He also knows that he is entitled to a living constitution, and will refuse to accept a dead one. He wants a living body of fundamental law, not a meaningless skeleton of bones through which rattle empty and insincere phrases.
Neither the President nor Congress has any disrespect for the Supreme Court. But it would be nice indeed if the Supreme Court would get together and read over the Constitution—just as a family has prayer meetings at which it reads the original prayer book and not the selected sermons and homilies of a dead preacher. If the Court can be induced to read the original Constitution—not their selected decisions—they will find, all written in the Constitution itself, the provision and duty of Congress to provide for the general welfare; more, they would see this is a right under the Constitution of the people. There is no reason why the Court cannot be whispered a gentle hint from the people, just as it is proper for them to demand fair dealing from their elected representatives, the President, the Vice President, the Governors and the rest of the public officials who serve in a democracy.
There have been many disputes among the various branches of government in our history; it is nothing new. There may be, in the next four years, some violent disputes; some amendments submitted. Or possibility the Court will have the family reading of the Constitution, and accidentally run into the general-welfare clause, written in black and white—and act accordingly; in which case no amendments will be necessary.
Your average American has also figured something else, and that must be considered in the next four years of Congress. It is, that business should have the same function as government, or vice versa—to furnish a way of life, a job. He does not care whether he works for the telephone company or the Post Office; the one that gives him the security and carries out its function in the better way—that is the group, public or private, that should have the function.
This means another mandate to Congress. The T.V.A., Boulder Dam, similar enterprises and other public projects, federal aid of various kinds, the labor-relations and social-security acts—these have been accepted just as the army and the Post Office, and must continue—on a larger scale. Also, many pieces of legislation expire soon after Congress convenes—stabilization, devaluation powers, neutrality, C.C.C., Resettlement, R.F.C., reciprocal tariffs. They, in general, must be continued. The purely technical job of legislation will be a hard one—so hard, in fact, that the next session will probably be the longest in history.
There are some “musts” for the President, too. He must be as liberal and progressive as he talks. The President and Congress now face the problems of recovery, and he must meet, and Congress must meet, these problems—which are just as difficult as those of the depression.
If the graphs go up, the American people should go up, too, and not be left underneath like new American pariahs. In the depression Roosevelt gave the people human sympathy, and preserved the established order; in recovery, and the continuation of the established order, the people will not be satisfied with mere existence. With business recovery there must be human recovery.
What has been done or attempted by the Roosevelt administration has been accepted, and is, therefore, routine. Whether it represents an “economic system” that will finally settle our troubles I do not discuss, although I think not. For unemployment is still with us, and this is the single, outstanding issue. A continuing unemployment census should have been instituted a generation ago—the fact that it has not been done is a disgrace to both parties. People are beginning to believe that the old-time politics is on the way out, and the new-time economics is on the way in. In any event, no one can offer any immediate solution of the unemployment problem or a ready-made economic system. It seems to me that what Congress should do, and the people should do, is to go on with the formerly extraordinarily, bitterly contested issues as ordinary, settled practices, reorganize for efficiency, move up a notch and attempt to analyze some basic principles upon which legislation may be enacted in the next four years.
For the people must be considered as of the land, and not merely as of laws, man made and out of date. There must be fundamental objectives to save this land; for that is the way we live. Food, health, clothing, shelter, water, trees, and what we call “life and liberty” are included. I shall divide them as follows: (1) The protection of civil liberties; (2) conservation; (3) housing; (4) land tenancy; (5) food and chemical preparations; (6) peace.
With the rising incline of business, coupled with the tenseness of the international situation, the preservation of civil liberties will be more difficult than ever. Certain “patriotic” organizations, some unconsciously influenced by ship-builders, the steel interests and the intelligence (espionage) department of the navy, will put heavy pressure on Congress for all kind of bizarre—and dangerous—legislation. Similar bills nearly passed in the last session.
The Red scare has been defeated dozens of times, but organizations, school boards, legislatures go on with all kinds of foolish “investigations.”
It is important for all to understand that the basis of democracy is that there is no limit to the freedom of speech. Any overt act, however slight, is covered by dozens of laws. An unpatriotic anarchist has as much right to talk nonsense in the most violent manner, as a highly patriotic, 100-percent American munitions maker—or, for that matter, President Angell of Yale.
Liberals and conservatives alike should take the offensive for the Bill of Rights. Bob La Follette Jr. already has a committee doing intelligent and aggressive work on that subject.
CONSERVATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Conservation of our natural resources—the drama of forests, rivers and the soil—suddenly took the imagination of the American people about two years ago. Roosevelt was the drum major; he gave conservation every possible encouragement. By executive order he created the National Resources Board, In 1934 the Board made a comprehensive report which resulted in broader public understanding. The Soil Conservation Service was created by Congress in 1935. And now through Washington, state planning boards, forestry and conservation associations, the American people indicate a desire for a general plan of conservation. It must contemplate great drainage areas, big rivers and little waters, dust storms, minerals, gas and oil; climates and different conditions; and the effect upon the earth of roads, bridges, cities, sewer plants and all artificial additions made by society.
In the conservation legislation already adopted and generally accepted in the country, Congress had recognized the direct responsibility of the federal government to protect the basic soil resources. The Soil Conservation Service has made only a beginning, but enough of one to show what is necessary, and what can be done. Indian pueblos, the Tennessee Valley, numerous districts over the United States which in the past looked as if they were destroyed for all time, are being rehabilitated. The work indicates clearly that it can be projected in the future on a comprehensive scale. Congress in the next four years must enact permanent legislation and make adequate appropriations. This is essential to our national existence.
Closely connected with conservation is housing. From eight to ten million families live in houses shockingly inadequate, which should be destroyed in the interest of public health and safety—and rebuilt. Check-ups by government departments have shattered a lot of rosy dreams about the “American standard of living”; unthinkable living quarters, city and country slum areas not believed to exist, have been found.
Statistics only wear one out, but they show that in slums disease is from two to five times as great as in decent housing. Not only that, but they are expensive: Cleveland’s slum area paid in $225,000 and it cost $2,000,000 to keep it up. Net loss: around $1,750,000 annually. This is true in varying proportions of very city in America.
Private speculative building never has erected and cannot now erect new dwellings of good standards at a cost that most city dwellers can afford to pay. Its opportunity is in the higher income levels.
Why not then, through the federal Treasury, subsidize housing? The return will be in better families, better health—and in better business and taxes. Senator Wagner passed his bill in the Senate last year—there is substantial sentiment for it now in the House. Secretary Ickes has already built fifty projects of low-cost housing and has the training and experience to do the job. The prospects for housing and its benefits, including employment, are good for the next four years.
Tied in with the problem of conservation and housing is land tenancy. In the South, tenant farming, in a rapidly deteriorating soil, is the lot of 46 to 70 percent of the agricultural population. But it is no longer confined to the South. It is growing all over the United States. Fifty percent of the farmers, and probably more, in Iowa are now tenants—Illinois 44 percent, South Dakota 49, Senator Norris’ Nebraska also 49—all these Middle and Northwestern states running anywhere from 29 to 50 percent. To meet this situation the Bankhead-Jones bill was introduced two years ago.
What shall we do, buy land for tenants, and start them out spic and span? Just turn them loose with a title—and a big mortgage? No, there must be, in these changing trends of government, restrictions as to cropping, requirements in conservation and prohibitions as to the selling or mortgaging of the land. Coöperatives must be encouraged; a permanent land policy will be necessary.
The President, and both Houses, favor the legislation. Therefore, the problem is to write the bill. The Bankhead-Jones bill provided for a $50,000,000 corporation; bond authorization, $300,000,000 (nowhere near enough); purchase of land and equipment. Such legislation may at least begin to attack the problem.
FOOD AND CHEMICAL PREPARATIONS
Food and prepared chemicals obviously bear directly on the health and lives of a people. Old Doc Wiley realized this thirty years ago, and got the Pure Food and Drug Law. It was the greatest advance for public health the American people had ever made. However, the law is inadequate—it was inadequate at the time, because of jokers in the bill, for it only narrowly defines and prohibits offenses that are difficult to prosecute and convict.
Concerning drugs, the law only enjoins honesty on labels, and is silent on advertising; there is no control of radio or printed matter. Hence, any fraud can be perpetrated with advertising if the fraudulent representations are left off the label itself. Dangerous contraceptives, poisonous cosmetics—causing suffering, deformities, blindness, sometimes death—are on the market. As written, the law largely nullifies the government’s efforts to ban fake cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis “cures.” The bottles of drugs do not even require a warning statement of the dangers in self-treatment.
Drugs dangerous to health under ordinary conditions should be outlawed. The good features of the old law should be maintained, with adequate control over food, drugs and cosmetics, curative devices, “slenderizers” and medicines advertised as contraceptives. The great increase in the past few years of processed, canned and packaged foods, going into every home in America, must be considered. This is especially true with a growing population.
In the new legislation false and dishonest advertising must be prohibited. Certain factories must have public-health corrections through the banning of insanitary practices. The jokers must be eliminated. The penalties must be certain and, in some cases, severe. Next year a fair and practical bill will be introduced by Representative Virgil Chapman of Kentucky, and very likely effective legislation will be enacted.
Paramount in the duty of Congress is keeping this country out of war. In the last session, following the Senate Munitions Committee and considerable agitation by members of Congress, some progress has been made in the adoption of effective neutrality legislation.
We all know the President hates war—so does Congress, and so does everybody else. The duty is to show that hatred by staying out of it. Entering the League of Nations now is out of the question. That world civilization may be destroyed is no compelling reason to join the League, the World Court or any other international organization, because we can hardly save civilization by getting ourselves destroyed too. The League is subject to old-world animosities, the injustices of the Versailles Treaty, and the status quo set up by it; there is secret diplomacy and dealing of cards under the table. With conditions as they are today, we simply cannot work with the League of Nations.
To stay out of war we must do two things: first maintain economic (sell to neither side), military and political neutrality; second, extend reciprocal trade treaties, encourage the breaking down of tariff barriers, promote international economic understandings, keep our soldiers at home. By an unselfish neutrality policy this nation may accomplish a great deal for the cause of peace.
COöPERATION WITH ADMINISTRATIVE BRANCH
Important in the big job to be done is the cooperation of the administrative branch with Congress. In the first four years this branch with Congress. In the first four years this branch hardly got to know Congress or its members in either House—they stayed at their end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the legisltive branch stayed at theirs; times were hectic and both were too busy. In the past four years the brain-trusters have been kicked around so much they are now about human—and the Congress will now be more tolerant. Hence, by cooperation and a little collaboration, the government can do a much better job.
Here now, we march on another four years. There is no reason why every branch of the government, the courts—and the Supreme Court—should not observe the change that has taken place in our lives, and not only discuss, but protect the general welfare provided in our Constitution, the American Constitution.
This article originally ran in the November 25, 1936, issue of the magazine.