ORSON WELLES’ ALMANAC: Henry Wallace for Secretary of Commerce
In this column, Welles writes from Washington D. C., where he has flown to assess the seemingly slim chance former Vice-President Henry Wallace has for becoming President Roosevelt's new Secretary of Commerce, after 14 conservative Senators have voted against Wallace's confirmation.
ORSON WELLES' ALMANAC
By Orson Welles – January 29, 1945
A number of great men were born on January 29th, and you can do them honor in different ways. For William McKinley you should wear a carnation today, for Tom Paine you should buy a bond, and for W. C. Fields you can have a drink.
I flew to Washington to try to find out if Henry Wallace has a Hottentot’s chance of getting the important job F. D. R. tried to give him.
The President has written two letters in Henry Wallace’s behalf. Liberals who figure their big vote won F. D. R. the election are beginning to mutter that these two documents spell out a gigantic double cross. The truth, I’m sure, isn’t nearly so melodramatic.
We haven’t any reason to believe that Mr. Roosevelt doesn’t like Mr. Wallace, but it’s true that we haven’t any proof that he’s very fond of him. The President’s best friends are joyous extroverts and boon companions, and Henry Wallace isn’t either one. I think the President really meant it when he told him last July not to worry about taking organized support with him to the Democratic Convention.
I want to think the President was perfectly sincere when he put his arms around “Henry” and promised such a letter as would put his re-nomination for the vice-presidency in the bag. I do think the President permitted himself to be persuaded against Wallace, not because he didn’t really approve of him, but because his personal feelings were lukewarm. I think that explains Document Number Two, the fateful “Dear Jesse” letter.
F. D. R. can be a lot more convincing: if he’d only get behind him and push, Wallace might be okay. But just now Roosevelt is way behind him, and when he pushed he shouldn’t have tripped him at the same time.
The President’s stock answer to all disappointed liberals is that he shouldn’t have to do everything by himself.
Of course he’s right; the liberals ought to be as well organized now for Wallace as they were in November for Roosevelt. But really, this time the blame isn’t any more with them that with the President. There are exactly fourteen Senators who will have to answer to history. They were treated last Thursday to one of the richest and most sensible discussions of our economic future it has ever been a politician’s privilege to enjoy. The Wallace program simply defied assault and the Senators try as they might, could think of no objections they were willing to entrust to newsprint. The program is what matters, and the man was all they dared to vote against.
No matter what happens, most of the top men presently in RFC and Commerce are expected to alleviate the D. C. housing shortage by resigning. With real leadership in these agencies, they should participate fully in foreign economic operations. Jesse Jones simply ignored the President’s order to amalgamate the Rubber Development Corporation and the Export-Import Bank in FEA, and Leo Crowley isn’t a man to fight very hard for anything.
I was assured on good authority that it was decided some time ago in a cabinet meeting to extend lend-lease to France. Only Henry Morgenthau knows why Treasury is still holding it up.
After amassing all this interesting information, I left Washington by fast express. We traveled much slower that the Russian Army.
Here is the text of Henry Wallace's eloquent speech, "What I mean by a liberal person," from Madison Square Garden, New York, on September 21, 1944. Wallace was introduced by Orson Welles, who provided his own magniloquent comments for the occasion.
HENRY WALLACE: My good friends, Orson Welles, Jo Davidson, good friends all of you: Tonight I see America as a vigilant watcher and perpetual guardian of the ramparts of the future. This future has one essential—the continuous rebirth of liberalism. The light of this liberalism is all-important, not only to the United States but to the far corners of the earth.
Should the ignorance of the selfish, the blindness of the fearful or the designs of the international freebooters capture Washington, where then would be the victories of Berlin and Tokyo, either for us or for the world?
You may well ask what I mean by a liberal person. A liberal is a person who in all his actions is continuously asking, "What is best for all the people—not merely what is best for me personally?" Abraham Lincoln was a liberal when he said he was both for the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict he was for the man before the dollar. Christ was the greatest liberal of all when He put life before things—when He said to seek the Kingdom of Heaven first and things would take care of themselves. Great artists, actors and scientists must be great liberals because in order to create great things they are compelled, for a time at least, to forget "self." In the fever of enthusiasm they strive to create a new beauty, to discover a new truth, to serve mankind in a new way.
Read the rest of the speech here: