Sunday, March 8, 2020

Republicans in Democrats' Clothing?

Henry A. Wallace. Photo by D.N. Townsend, 1940, via Wikipedia. 

Like everybody else around here, I've heard that quote dozens of times and possibly used it myself, but this started me off wondering what Democrats Truman might have been talking about, and whether it was a genuine quote at all, a question Dr. Google doesn't seem to have heard recently, but it turned out to be not too hard to find the source, an address Truman gave at a dinner of the Americans for Democratic Action, 17 May 1952:

The first rule in my book is that we have to stick by the liberal principles of the Democratic Party. We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don't need to try it.
The record the Democratic Party has made in the last 20 years is the greatest political asset any party ever had in the history of the world. We would be foolish to throw it away. There is nothing our enemies would like better and nothing that would do more to help them win an election.
I've seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn't believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don't want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.
Which is close enough, though more pungently expressed, as you'd expect from Harry. As to the "phony Democrats" he was denouncing, he complained about their opposition to him on three main issues, the question of federal vs. state ownership of offshore oil deposits, where Southern Democrats including most importantly Russell Long of Louisiana and Tom Connally of Texas favored the states' rights position; the establishment of publicly owned power suppliers on the model of the TVA, where I can't find out which Democrats were causing trouble; and the civil rights platform of 1948 which was opposed by the former Dixiecrats, of course, especially Richard Russell of Georgia (one of the strongest contenders for the Democratic nomination in 1952) and Harry Byrd of Virginia, and —
No citizen of this great country ought to be discriminated against because of his race, religion, or national origin. That is the essence of the American ideal and the American Constitution. I made that statement verbatim in the speech on March 29th, in which I said I would not run for President, and I hope that speech, and this, will be the fundamental basis of the platform of the Democratic Party in Chicago.
We have made good progress on civil rights since 1948, in the Federal Government, in the Armed forces, and in the States. But we still need the legislation which I recommended to the Congress over 4 years ago. We must go ahead to secure for all our citizens--east, west, north, and south--the right of equal opportunity in our economic and political life, and the right to equal protection under the law. That is real, true, 100 percent Americanism.
This is very important to us abroad as well as at home. The vision of equal rights is the greatest inspiration of human beings throughout the world. There is one member of this ADA who can tell us from her own experience how important it is for the world to know that we share this vision. She has been our spokesman on this subject in the councils of the United Nations and she has done a wonderful job--and that is Mrs. Roosevelt.
—and where Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, the Democrat who had driven Truman out of the 1952 campaign by his victory in the New Hampshire primary, had a "spotty record" (though nothing like a Dixiecrat record). Which doesn't sound at all like Republicans in Democrats' clothing in terms of our memory, but I think what Truman must have primarily been referring to was a very early version of the Southern Strategy, a scheme by Senator Karl Mundt (R-SD) to bring Southern Democrats with Republicans into a conservative bloc by abandoning their own traditional commitment to civil rights in the 1952 election:
(Brian D. Feinstein and Eric Schickler, "Platforms and Partners: The Civil Rights Realignment Reconsidered", Studies in American Political Development 22(1), March 2008)
(I should note that not only did this plan fail, but both Mundt and Kefauver were solid votes on civil rights from 1957 onwards.)

If you want to use Truman's remark to provide an analogy to the present situation of the Democrats, though, don't think of it is as a diss Bernard Sanders should be launching at party "moderates",  in the first place because that's not how it works in structural terms: Truman corresponds directly to Biden in any valid comparison, as the loyal former vice president to the most beloved of all Democratic presidents (note how anxious Truman is to cite Eleanor as on his side, which she was) and the head of the party if there was one (in default of the offstage Obama and Hillary Clinton, Biden really is that).

And who Sanders corresponds to is a major figure who notably was a former Democrat, the Progressive Henry Wallace, Truman's predecessor as vice president, who served as secretary of commerce after being dumped as VP and, after Truman sacked him, ran an insurgent, Soviet-curious campaign against Truman in 1948: in the speech we're working with, Truman thanks the ADA right at the outset:
You helped to hang the record of the 80th Congress around the neck of the Republican Party--and I finished the job. You held firm against the fanatical and misguided attacks of the Wallace movement. And since 1948, you have been going down the line for policies and programs in the interest of the people and in fulfillment of the highest values we cherish in this Republic. I congratulate you on all the effective work you have done for the cause of liberal government.
It's absurd to call Biden a Republican in Democrat's clothing in any case. You can call him timid, you can call him over-hopeful about compromise, you can wish he would be more like Truman in calling such people out (Joe Manchin, Josh Gottheimer), but he represents the liberalism—not moderatism, if you want to insist that such a thing exists—of the Democratic Party, for better or for worse, as insistently as anybody ever has. And Sanders, whose intentions may be as pure and generous as Henry Wallace's (he was a lovely, radical guy but a terrible politician), really isn't a Democrat.

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