Orson Welles on American Leadership in 1944 – and lessons for 2012
By LAWRENCE FRENCH
In the fall of 1944, Orson Welles wrote an article for FREE WORLD which supported his hero FDR, even though Welles must have been highly distraught at FDR letting Henry Wallace being dumped as his Vice-President from the ticket. Harry Truman became Henry Wallace's replacement, and of course we have no way of knowing what would have happened if Henry Wallace had stayed on the ticket and become President after President Roosevelt died, but I think it's rather safe to say we wouldn't have had one of the most shameful era's in American history, starting with the Communist witch hunts, that had been ongoing but only gained traction while Harry Truman was President. The most significant Truman decision was of course using Nuclear weapons against Japan. I can only say I seriously doubt that Henry Wallace would have made any of the same decisions Mr. Truman made after he became President.
However, to extrapolate a bit, I think it's obvious who Orson Welles would be fighting for in the election of 2012, as he fought so hard for President Roosevelt back in 1944.
With two small changes, here is what Welles might say about the election in 2012:
Most progressives remain (Obama) partisans even though few among them have forgiven his cheerful scuttling of the (New Deal), for just as few have forgotten that he was their most effective champion. They will vote for him again because of what he's done in their behalf, and for his great capacities, the first of which is his capacity for success. They will vote for him in the decent hope of what he may accomplish for democracy in the world in four more years.
"AMERICAN LEADERSHIP IN 1944" By Orson Welles
Free World, September, 1944
The interests of the small farmer and the small businessman, to say nothing of the enormous tasks of international organization, must be entrusted to a more catholic guardianship than that of Labor. The rights of the common man and the fullness thereof can be claimed for him only by a popular movement, recruiting the whole vigor of progressive labor but not dominated by its personnel. Such a movement (except as the P.A.C. has undertaken its responsibilities) is scarcely visible on the American scene. If there were any claim to its vital existence, Henry Wallace would not have been defeated at the Democratic Convention.
The liberal press has sought to comfort its readers with Harry Truman's voting record. Indeed, the scotching of such dubious suggestions as Jimmy Byrnes for the Vice-Presidency is a wholesome enough liberal victory, a victory which must be credited to the Political Action Committee and marked down as a triumph for organized labor. The blame for the defeat of Wallace, however, must be partially acknowledged by organized liberalism. At the Democratic Convention, the strategy of Wallace's direct support, independent of the P.A.C, was mostly unprofessional—always excepting the heroic efforts of a few able men like Senators Guffey and Pepper. That clumsiness is symptomatic and ominous. It must be remembered that the Wallace supporters were, in fact, the representatives in Chicago of the liberal viewpoint. Their lack of organization, their considerable dependence on progressive labor, reflects the whole condition of American liberalism.
What of our leadership?
The suggestion that Roosevelt abandoned Wallace because the Vice-President's progressive dauntlessness discomfited the President is absurd, or at least ungenerous. But it's true that if Wallace has behaved throughout his term of office as though he didn't care if he were renominated or not, it's just as obvious that Roosevelt is careful—jealously, tirelessly careful of his Presidency. This is a wise care, a politically skillful care, and we are grateful for it.
But there is something to thank God for in the spirit of Henry Wallace. We can only regret that each of these great men has not a little of the others greatness. They were a wonderful team. If Roosevelt were even braver in behalf of principle, and if Wallace had mastered only a little more of the tricky craft of politics, perhaps the team would not have broken up. What is missing in each of them is just exactly what was needed to beat Wallace's enemies. Roosevelt's caution at least proves he hasn't forgotten that these enemies are covertly, but even more passionately, his enemies as well.
It may be guessed that the mood o£ Wallace's fine, very plain Convention speech was the certainty of defeat; he may have been speaking only for the record. But Wallace, and we who have failed Wallace, must recognize that it is no longer enough for liberalism to go on the record.
Practical politicians have always held failure professionally unforgivable. The bravery of Wallace's last speech in Chicago had more meaning than Willkie's gamble in Wisconsin, but politically it doesn't seem to have been very much more wisely considered. Both men functioned within the framework of their political parties, both were at war with their party machines and party bosses, and both were disastrously reckless in that warfare.
The liberal movement cannot afford the political failures Willkie and Wallace were guilty of this year.
That sort of failure, at least, is not a Roosevelt weakness. But his political caution is not a lucky instinct when it dilutes the courage of his statesmanship.
Surely it would not have cost the President renomination if he had spoken out as did the Vice-President at the Chicago Convention. He could have afforded some part of that politically outrageous candor. It's clear he avoided it to avoid splitting the party; and while the supposition is fanciful enough, a forthright statement of liberal principles from Roosevelt at that time would have laid the foundations for the liberal party whose emergence is generally expected after his retirement.
It is Roosevelt's historic opportunity to found that liberal party. If he had stood clear of the Democratic bosses and openly defied the dirty banner of White Supremacy at the Convention, it's true he might have seriously handicapped his chances for reelection, but he would still have kept votes enough to give a liberal party such a fair and hopeful start as it's not likely to enjoy four years hence, or eight years hence—a start no power on earth could finally stop.
It must be admitted that no matter how convinced we are that he stands elsewhere, Roosevelt is presently visiting the moral side of conservatism. He knows better than any of us what will win an election and what will lose it. That's true. But it's also true that only Roosevelt knows what percentage of safety he requires. When he abandoned Henry Wallace we were not discouraged in our suspicion that the percentage required is very large.
FREE WORLD is certain that if the liberal opinion remains a mere minority vote, democracy is doomed. Henry Wallace is the particular prophet of that opinion. We expect to hear more from him. He is no day-dreaming theorist. His thoughts are often expressed with poetic intensity, but he has common sense in the full measure of his sensitivity. Read what he's written, examine well what he stands for. It is there to see that he is always more responsible than romantic. Indeed, as a diplomatist, he has even proven himself capable of the most imaginative tact. He was triumphantly successful in Latin-America and in China. And they were not easy missions.
Henry Wallace himself is proof that the aspirations of a great mass of the American people are broadly progressive. He is no accident. He is the spokesman and also the product of progressive sentiment, and the new significance he has given to the institution of the Vice-Presidency is due not only to the size of Henry Wallace as a man, but to the size of the opinion responsible for his existence. The future offers him a great place, and Henry Wallace is man enough for any place in history. There remains only the question of whether he is politician enough to make it. When the news came to him that Truman got the nomination, he expressed a kind of rueful relief. He was glad to be free, he said. He thought he could accomplish more that way. We hope he's right.
How then stands progressive leadership in 1944?
Mr. Willkie's party has all but excommunicated him for his outspoken progressiveness, and Dewey's nomination was easily agreed upon because no matter how highly the character of his statesmanship may be esteemed—or estimated—it is certainly not to be praised for those qualities which rendered Willkie embarrassing to a staunchly conservative party.
The Willkie of "One World" must be heard from again.
The Roosevelt of the Atlantic Charter must be heard from again.
The President remains, in spite of everything, the beloved liberal of the world, but his popularity at home seems to be all that holds together the left and right wings of the Democratic party, and his liberalism is in strategic hibernation.
We have always protested Roosevelt's policies, both foreign and domestic, when we have found them in disagreement with our principles. We now recognize that the Roosevelt persuasiveness may be bulwark enough against Republican Toryism, but we affirm that more is called for today from the leader of the American democracy. We expect that more will be forthcoming. We do not hesitate to go on record that American progressives in this election have no choice but Roosevelt.
Most progressives remain Roosevelt partisans even though few among them have forgiven his cheerful scuttling of the New Deal, for just as few have forgotten that he was their most effective champion. They will vote for him again because of what he's done in their behalf, and for his great capacities, the first of which is his capacity for success. They will vote for him in the decent hope of what he may accomplish for democracy in the world in four more years.