Eleanor Roosevelt's words from the 1940 Democratic convention echo loudly today.11:00 PM, Mar 7, 2004 • By JOEL ENGEL
FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT was completing his second term and wanted a third one, but the unwritten rule written by George Washington said that presidents serve only two terms--and FDR's own patrician code said that it was unseemly to let ambition show so nakedly. So he did what was like him to do: He decided to wait for the 1940 convention to run out of alternatives and draft him as the apparently reluctant nominee who would govern only at the people's pleasure. Not until he heard a resounding chant of "We want Roosevelt" from those delegates in Chicago would he agree to run.
It seems quaint now to think that presidential candidates actually used to be chosen at conventions, which were not pre-scripted television commercials but bare-knuckle free-for-alls with half a dozen contenders and their supporters throwing political elbows at each other. FDR wasn't even in Chicago--he was back in Washington--but his giant invisible presence blotted out any light from shining on other candidates. What a strategy. After three days and nights, the convention bordered on chaos. Imagining how irritable those delegates were is possible only if you ever spent a summer week crammed beside thousands of others inside the stifling old Chicago Stadium (where Michael Jordan would later play) while wearing a wool suit and starched color, with the whole world either at war or on the verge of it.
What seemed horribly possible, as the hours and then days passed, was that the Democrats might lose the White House to Republican Wendell Willkie, a fierce New Deal critic. The fear reached a crescendo late Tuesday night--then burst a moment later to become the acclamation FDR needed. Out of nowhere, an amplified voice began chanting "We want Roosevelt! We want Roosevelt!"--and the throngs, as if on cue, joined in. This led to celebrations and parades in the aisles, not all of them peaceful, and the nomination was now a formality.
No matter that Chicago mayor and Democratic party boss Ed Kelly had sent his superintendent of sewers into the basement armed with a microphone and instructions to begin the mantra at just the right moment; if there hadn't been just such a moment, the ploy would never have succeeded as wildly as it had. What did matter is that the delegates woke the next morning with an emotional hangover and an uh-oh feeling. They realized they'd been used. And to get back their sense of dignity and independence they insisted on choosing FDR's replacement for vice president John Nance Garner; "Cactus," as they called him, was retiring from politics to his Texas ranch.
There were two problems, though. The first was that the delegates could not agree on their choice; half a dozen potential veeps trotted out without a clear leader among them. The second, and uglier, problem was that FDR demanded his own running mate--Henry A. Wallace--and let it be known that if he couldn't have Wallace, they couldn't have him. Period.
Under other circumstances the delegates probably would have gone along with Wallace, a leftist who as secretary of Agriculture during the height of the Depression had saved millions of people from hunger, possibly even starvation, by establishing a granary, which guaranteed adequate food supplies and stabilized farm prices. In fact, the delegates might have embraced him as the anti-Willkie. Willkie had been born a Democrat, Wallace a Republican; and where Willkie championed big business, Wallace backed the little guy. But because they needed to show FDR that this was a republic, not a monarchy, the delegates said no to Wallace. And they said it loudly--loudly enough for Roosevelt to hear in Washington, a thousand miles away. He heard them, all right, but he didn't respond--and that angered the delegates. They asked why he wouldn't come to address them himself. Who did FDR think he was? Through his emissaries he told them exactly who he thought he was. He was the president of the United States who'd refuse their nomination if they rejected his guy.
Now the chaos of the previous days seemed like harmony. This was anarchy, and it wouldn't have taken much to start a riot. Which is when the president called on his secret weapon.
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT was not with the president in the White House. She'd been spending the week at Val-Kill, the stone-faced cottage he'd had built for her in the woods, alongside a stream and pond, across the road from the Roosevelt family estate in Hyde Park, two hours north of New York City. Val-Kill was the only place she ever called home, the place she escaped to, whether that escape was from the pressures of politics or from the discomfort she'd felt at the Roosevelt home, where FDR's mother, not his wife, had sat beside him at the table and in front of the hearth. Eleanor had sat elsewhere, with the children.
From the March 15, 2004 issue: Postmodern candidates talk like handlers, and voters talk like pundits.Mar 15, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 26 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
WE DIDN'T ARRIVE here overnight, all at once--here at the tail end of this hallucinatory primary season, when politics slipped down the rabbit hole of postmodernism and became an activity that is only about itself. Scanning back through the last few years and my own meager experience, I can find three landmarks that, had I been paying attention, might have offered a hint of what we, the people, were getting ourselves into.
From the March 15, 2004 issue: Why isn't George W. Bush's message getting out? The truth is the White House isn't trying very hard.Mar 15, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 26 • By FRED BARNES and WILLIAM KRISTOL
A SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL spoke privately the other day about dramatic progress in the Middle East. Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds have broken an impasse and are on the verge of a historic compromise on a new Iraqi constitution. It mandates a pluralistic, democratic Iraq when the United States hands over sovereignty on June 30. Meanwhile, as a consequence of American intervention in Iraq, reformers have been strengthened in other countries throughout the region. In Pakistan and elsewhere, official support for Islamic radicalism--and official tolerance for terrorism--are on the wane.
Was John Kerry's easy path to the nomination a curse in disguise?11:00 PM, Mar 3, 2004 • By FRED BARNES
WOULD JOHN KERRY have been better off not winning the Democratic presidential nomination so easily and so quickly? It's not an entirely idle or silly question. And the reason is that Kerry has emerged from the primaries with his candidacy and his record largely unchallenged. He hasn't been seriously vetted by the press. His image is undefined. All the public knows is he's been winning primaries and once served in Vietnam. Now, President Bush's reelection campaign will have a shot at defining Kerry.
Looking at the divide between silly America and serious America.11:00 PM, Mar 3, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
JOHN EDWARDS had one thing right: There are two Americas. But he botched the description of the line dividing these Americas--not surprising given that, after all these months and all that trial lawyer cash, he managed only to win the Democratic primary in South Carolina, which is like a Republican winning only the GOP primary in Washington, D.C.
The dividing line between Americans runs between those who are serious about the world and the nation and those who are silly on these subjects.
Edwards? Kerry? Whatever. The real action in the Golden State is Arnold and three important ballot initiatives.11:00 PM, Mar 1, 2004 • By BILL WHALEN
JUST AS LEAP DAY occurs once every four years, there's the quadrennial tradition of California having little--if any--say in the presidential nominating process.
Ralph Nader says that Rep. John Conyers is going to be filing a request for impeachment. Is the Impeach Bush movement gathering steam?11:00 PM, Feb 26, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
THE POLITICAL WORLD spent this past week analyzing Ralph Nader's decision to run for president, but lost was this nugget from Sunday's "Meet the Press" appearance:
TIM RUSSERT: In terms of what you stand for, this is what you said in July of last year about George Bush: "Mr. Bush was not only 'beatable but impeachable,' for deceptions and prevarications on national security matters . . ." Will part of your platform be the impeachment of George Bush?
General Wesley Clark leaves the race and takes his amazing résumé with him.6:40 AM, Feb 11, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
WHEN WESLEY CLARK formally bows out of the race later today, it's won't be because, as his son has recently charged, the media did him in. It will be because the man, by some accounts a decent fellow who served his country well, was not ready for prime time.
The Council for a Livable World asked the Democratic candidates a series of illuminating questions. John Kerry's responses are worth paying attention to.10:10 AM, Feb 5, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
WITH JOHN KERRY far ahead of the pack and almost certainly the nominee, the digging into his record has begun. Kerry hasn't made it difficult to unearth troubling stances when it comes to his positions on national security matters.
Some Deaniacs jump ship, while others spin conspiracy theories. Still others see victory close at hand.11:00 PM, Feb 4, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
ON THE EVE of the 1996 election, I had a long conversation with a friend on the Dole campaign who was traveling with the candidate as he made his last-minute hopscotch across the country. I had just offered him condolences on the race when he corrected me. Speaking from an airport pay phone in the wee hours of the morning, he explained that Bob Dole didn't just have a chance to win, but was assured of it.
Farewell to the disarmingly unpretentious Mrs. Dean.11:00 PM, Feb 3, 2004 • By CLAUDIA WINKLER
THE WORST THING about the collapse of the Howard Dean phenomenon is that it cuts short our acquaintance with the most appealing figure to emerge from the Democratic primaries--Dr. Judith Steinberg, as they know her at the office, and after hours, Judy Dean.
The Democratic contenders have been unusually kind to one another so far; Kerry's dominance might change that.11:00 PM, Feb 3, 2004 • By FRED BARNES
IN THE ANNALS of presidential primaries, the assessment of frontrunner John Kerry by his chief opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, John Edwards, may be the kindest ever uttered. Kerry, he said, "is a friend of mine. I have great respect for him." Sure, he and Kerry have differences, Edwards said, but "he's a good man."
Is the liberal senator from North Carolina really capable of winning the South? Would he even need to?10:00 AM, Feb 3, 2004 • By TERRY EASTLAND
JOHN EDWARDS has a problem even if he wins the South Carolina primary today.
John Kerry's patriotism isn't the issue--it's his judgement on the big decisions.11:00 PM, Jan 28, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
"A VOTE for the Liberals is a vote for the Boers!"
That's about as tough as a campaign slogan can get. It was the rallying cry of the Lord Salisbury-Joe Chamberlain forces in Great Britain's Khaki election of 1900. The war with the Boers had begun to go well after shocking, initial defeats, and the Tory-Liberal Unionist alliance called for an election and made it a referendum on the conduct of the conflict. In "Dreadnought," Robert Massie provides a sense of the campaign's tenor:
From the February 2, 2004 issue: John Edwards, not just another pretty face.Feb 2, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 20 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Greenville, South Carolina