Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Election Strategy

Some things do not change:

The September 11th speech by Wallace was his first really adroit one. It was a bid to the discontented liberals wavering behind President Truman. What he said publicly they have been saying privately with increasing bitterness - even those who support the President. Henry Wallace appealed to the atavistic fear of all progressives - the fear of "Wall Street". This fear is not the sole property of the progressives. It belongs traditionally to the Democratic Party. It began with the agrarian Jefferson's battle against Hamilton, it continued with Jackson's fight against Nicholas Biddle's bank, it found its Silver tongue in the crusades of William Jennings Bryan, and it came to full flower under Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. In a very important sense, it is the reason for the Democratic Party -- because the only way to explain the lasting alliance between the South and the West is their mutual fear of domination by the industrial East. Today the South can agree on no issue with the West – except "Wall Street."

from a memo on Truman's 1948 re-election strategy. Note that they are talking about Henry Wallace, not the segregationist governor George Wallace.

Also note that during this time, Southern whites always voted Democratic. As game theory and the median voter theorem would predict, and as the memo describes, this meant that they were basically ignored. Now that they always vote Republican*, they will similarly be ignored.

History buffs will probably want to read the whole thing. The tone of naked political calculation is quite impressive, and there are lots of great bits, like:

The liberals are numerically small. But, similar to manufacturers and financiers of the Republican Party, they are far more influential than mere numbers entitle them to be. The businessman has influence because he contributes his money. The liberal exerts unusual influence because he is articulate. The "right" may have the money, but the "left" has always had the pen. If the "intellectual" can be induced to back the President, he will do so in the press, on the radio, and in the movies. He is the artist of propaganda. He is the "idea man" for the people. Since the rise of the pressure groups, the men of ideas who can appeal to them on their own ground, in their own words, have become an essential ally to the alert candidate in modern American politics.


The leaders of labor must be given the impression that they are once more welcome in the councils of the Administration. Much of this cultivation can be done only by President Truman himself. Immersed in the staggering burden of his work and preoccupied with his day-to-day problems it is easy for the incumbent of the White House to forget the "magic" of his office. The mere extension of an invitation to William Green, Dan Tobin, Philip Murray, Dubinsky or any of the prominent leaders to "came in and talk with me" has a stupendous effect on them and their followers.
One by one they should be asked to '"come by" and the President should ask them for their advice on matters in general. (This is a question of delicate "timing" -- it is dangerous to ask a labor leader for advice on a specific matter and then ignore that advice). No human being -- as every President from Washington on has ruefully learned -- can resist the glamour, the self-important feeling of "advising" a President on anything.


It is said invariably, and always without analysis, that the President is the Chief of State, the Symbol of Government. What the theorists as well as the politicians do not observe is that the public gets its impressions of its President mostly from the actions he takes when performing as Chief of State – as the Head of Government. The masses of the people rarely if ever think of him in his role of Government administrator, or as the responsible policy maker on our national economic problems.
They really form their lasting impressions from watching his incidental gestures – when he appears as the representative of all the American people….
…[A]t home the American people are daily forced to think of their President as a politician for the good reason that the news stories deal only with his activities as a politician – because it is what he is engaged in doing. His calling lists, week in and week out, are filled almost entirely with Government and Congressmen with whom he consults on problems that are important to the nation, but appear to the average reader complicated and dull.

Some things do change, however, The memo discusses Italians as a distinct ethnic group with a distinct political strategy. Nowadays Italians are just 'white people' and nobody thinks of them as a distinct group. Other 'facts' about the political process, like the loyalty of the Presidential cabinet and the public's toleration for the president acting like a politician, have changed.

The economic illiteracy is also astounding. The memo talks at length about the desirability of wage and price controls, like the ones that Nixon passed that caused massive damage to the economy. I shudder to think about what might have happened if these laws were passed. The suburbs might never have been built, and the last half-century would have seen a population crammed in decaying rent-contolled apartments.

* A cynic would say that Southern whites have a long and distinguished history of voting against whichever political party is known as the party of civil rights.

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