The Charlotte News



Inter-Office Memos:

Willkie Or Roosevelt?

By W. J. Cash and J. E. Dowd

As the only two editorialists for the Charlotte News, Cash and J. E. Dowd (his chief and employer) held opposed views on the merits of Roosevelt vs. Willkie in the 1940 election. They dramatized their differences by publishing editorial-page memos to each other in parallel columns, Cash championing the cause of Roosevelt, and Dowd that of Willkie. As it happened, Editor Dowd's misgivings about Willkie were far greater than any that Editor Cash entertained about Roosevelt.

--Note from W.J. Cash: Southern Prophet by Joseph L. Morrison
(The W. J. Cash half of this editorial appeared in the Reader section of Prophet.)

Site ed. note: Who had the better argument in the long-run? You decide. The debate presented here represents a larger debate in the country at the time and one which follows us to the present: Big government with more evenly distributed prosperity with inevitably consequent higher taxes or more privatization with big business being left with the responsibility of distributing the wealth? One might just consider in the process whether the post-war economic boom of the latter Forties and early Fifties came from the policies of Roosevelt-Truman or from Hoover-Coolidge-Harding. Dowd, a conservative Republican by heritage, clearly did not see any great crusader on a white horse in the strawhat wielding man of Elwood, Wendell L. Willkie (actually a Democrat just before switching parties to run for President).

Willkie's stand on foreign policy was not dissimilar to that of Roosevelt in 1940--neither favored direct intervention in Europe--and Roosevelt campaigned on the notion that he would not send American boys to fight on foreign soil unless this country were attacked--but both favored continued lend-lease aid and convoy to Great Britain as she valiantly strove to stave off Nazi bombing and rocket raids, a daily occurrence by October, 1940.

It should also be noted that Willkie went to work for the third Roosevelt Administration after his substantial defeat in November (though he ran the closest race of any of Roosevelt's previous opponents, Hoover in '32 or Alf Landon in '36, though not as close as the still-distant fourth opponent in 1944, Thomas Dewey).

Many credible historians argue that the economic boom of the post-War years was a function in reality of the War itself and its inevitable stimulus to both national pride and productivity. And, indeed, there was the so-called "Second Depression" of 1938 and many of Roosevelt's programs proved flawed in practice; yet, Roosevelt dealt with both a recalcitrant Supreme Court and a recalcitrant Congress, the former comprised of seven Republican appointees, five of whom were most unfriendly to Roosevelt's New Deal, until retirements and deaths began in the latter Thirties, and the latter fractionated between old-guard and moderate Republicans, Southern conservative Democrats and Roosevelt Democrats.

As with any era, a President can at most establish a vision, a direction, and a policy goal for the country and then lead toward its realization. The President's ability to deliver a rousing speech in terms which reach the hinterlands as well as the heart of urbanity most often determines the popular desire or not in the end for these policies; but moreover, it is, in the final analysis, the country at large, either inspired thereby or yawning and yawing, which follows an Administration to success or dooms it to dismal failure--or, more often, realizes it somewhere in the middle and afterward determines its "place in history" as good, bad, or indifferent based on whether we liked the person of the President, in terms of what he had to say and how he said it and tried to sell it to us, or not.

The editorials, together with the introductory box, were boldly featured on the regular editorial page of the paper.

THE editors of The News have felt that in fairness to their readers some stand ought to be taken as between Mr. Willkie and Mr. Roosevelt. It does not become a newspaper to sit on the fence in matters of importance, and least of all in an election at such a time as this. But the difficulty has been in making up their own minds. Here were two men running who were obviously good men. Both were open to criticism, both had faults, both had great merits. Which would really be best for the country? It was genuinely hard for any candid man who tried to make up his mind on the basis of the available evidence rather than preconceived prejudice to say.

The editor, J. E. Dowd, leaned somewhat toward Mr. Willkie, but was not sure. The associate editor, W. J. Cash, had decided to vote for Roosevelt but was well aware of great defects in his man, of telling arguments against him. And so the editors decided to set forth fully the arguments pro and con for each man in inter-office memorandums. Those memorandums are reproduced below.

Memo: WJC to JED -- Roosevelt vs. Willkie

Roosevelt's worst faults as President, it seems to me, are a certain vagueness of mind and indecision which sometimes amount to procrastination. The first has led him to listen to and act upon the advice of advisers who recommended things irreconcilable with one another, results in inefficiency and wastefulness, and a failure to follow through in many cases when he ought to follow through rapidly. The second fault makes him hesitate and procrastinate when he ought not to, causes him plainly to dread carrying issues to the people when he clearly ought to, and sometimes results in sudden rash decisions. His stubbornness is often a fault also, but it can be a virtue.

On the other hand, in time of crisis he seems to have the power to rise above himself and display great energy and decision. I have read all the arguments against the notion that he saved the country in 1933, but I still think he saved it--magnificently. Nor do I subscribe to the notion that he has canceled that out by wrecking it since. He has chosen his administrators badly in many instances and too much money has been spent for the results achieved. Nevertheless, I am far from sure, remembering what went on in the World War, that anybody else would have done much better--and I think they might very well have done far worse. Would the country have been better off if Hoover had been President from 1932 to 1936? Or would it be safer with Alf Landon in the saddle in these times? I don't think so.


Despite all his vagueness when it comes to detail or to doubtful matters, Roosevelt seems to me to have had a clearer notion of the general needs of our time than any other American politician. He plainly believes that the "depression" we have been going through is no ordinary "business cycle" but the result of fundamental dislocation such as that which has brought Europe to its present pass. I think that is so. He hasn't succeeded in remedying that dislocation—and it plainly must be remedied ultimately if we are to escape revolution and chaos. But I am far from certain that anybody else would have yet found the way out either.

Mr. Willkie suffers from the same vagueness of mind as Mr. Roosevelt. It is hard to make out precisely what it is he proposes, but as well as I can get at it he stands about where Woodrow Wilson stood in 1912. This is, he believes in a laissez-faire system with such government control as may be absolutely necessary. He fails to define "absolutely necessary." Laissez-faire broke down completely in the late twenties, and I doubt seriously that it can ever be made to work again in the complex world we live in. It certainly showed no power of revival in the four years of Hoover, when the rules were all made to favor it.


I recognize that there is truth m the argument that high taxes, the hostility of the Roosevelt Administration to business, the general uncertainty as to what is coming next, have operated to discourage enterprise and investment. The other side of that, however, is that business has often held to the notion that the profit margins of the 1920's represented the normal and has demanded that it be allowed to set the stage to go back to them. They weren't normal, of course, as any reader of Adam Smith knows.

The waste margin aside, I think the high taxes were inevitable. In the absence of a sweeping solution to our impasse, any Administration would, I believe, have had to follow much the same course Roosevelt has followed. It is easy to say "let 'em starve." But to practice it is to destroy the humane basis of American tradition. And I believe profoundly that it is to wade into absolute disaster. Trouble is people won't starve quietly, and what you actually get is, at best, wholesale disorder, at worst, complete revolution. Maybe a lot of them deserve to starve. Certainly a lot of them are chronic malingerers and good-for-nothings and unemployables. How much they are ultimately to blame for that I don't know. I think it might be wise to sterilize the worst of them, though the power would be dangerous. But for the present there they are. The goal of course is so far as possible to put the employable and useful among them to work. But for the rest I doubt that much can be done besides what is being done.


But it seems to me that the foreign case eclipses everything else in this campaign. And there Roosevelt seems to me to stand head and shoulders above Willkie. Mr. Willkie has yawed about pretty wildly and has not seemed to know what he did think. I suspect that he has been listening too much to Hugh Johnson, about the worst adviser on foreign policy I can imagine. He has certainly made some extremely rash promises. Roosevelt hasn't been entirely above those either. But he has the great merit in my eyes of having seen clearly what was coming up before us long before any other politician saw it. His timidity and indecision have shown up in his failure to hammer the theme home to the country and to arouse it to arm sooner. But I doubt that he could have roused it if he had tried. As it was, he was labelled warmonger every time he opened his mouth. And Congress has consistently cut down such arms appropriations as he asked. The Republicans voted solidly to cut $200,000,000 off the naval bill last Fall and the Alaskan and Guam bases were sabotaged by them. Surely, the Republicans don't get on to cast stones at Roosevelt on this score.


What is more important even is that Willkie is the candidate of the Republican Party. If he is elected a Republican House will probably be elected also. That means, for one thing, a general turnover in the vast personnel of the Government. That is, for six months after his entry into office there will be general turmoil in the capital and the jobs will be filled by men who know little about them. Or if that doesn't happen, if he defies politics and keeps the main body of the personnel on, then he will begin with a Congress bitterly antagonized by the failure of the pork barrel. I think either situation might be disastrous at the time.


Supposing, however, that the worst didn't happen. It is still true that the majority of the present Republican membership has got itself on record, far beyond Willkie, as isolationist in sentiment and as determined to have nothing to do with "Europe's war." Most of them will probably hew to that line. What is worse, the foreign affairs leadership in the Senate will be in the hands of Hiram Johnson, of Ham Fish in the House. And that could delay or block aid to Britain whatever Mr. Willkie wanted, and certainly might block or delay our decision as to Japan or Europe dangerously long—might get us into a position where we would have to fight alone or resort to appeasement, again regardless of Mr. Willkie.

I think myself that we have got to fight. And that being so, I believe it is immensely better to fight the war away from these shores than inside them. The South remembers what war on your own territory is like. Maybe the navy can settle it if we strike hard and fast enough. Maybe not. Maybe we shall have to send armies abroad. In any case, I think it is coming. And for a war President I have a great deal of confidence in Roosevelt. For all his great faults, I think he is capable of being a great statesman before such a crisis. It is that which clinches the matter for me.

Memo: JED to WJC -- Roosevelt vs. Willkie

The way I feel about Roosevelt, in a nutshell, is that he has a great and sincere yearning to better the lot of the common people of this country, and that he has largely failed to do it on any practical basis. His influence on our thinking has been wholesome. He has had the nerve not only to sympathize with the victims of economic injustice but to do something about it. Many of his reforms are going to be with us from here on out, no matter who is President or which party is in power.

But I don't believe that he has the slightest idea of where we go from here. He must realize, or at least be pestered by the suspicion, that his voluminous deficit-financing, as he calls it, is only a substitute for the device of European and the South American loans by which prosperity was maintained in the twenties.


That had a horrible aftermath. The continuation of his fiscal policies are heading the country for the same crack-up, only this time it will be worse. The stability of the Government itself will be in jeopardy.

One of the reasons The New York Times has deserted Roosevelt is that he "fails to understand the fundamental problem of increased production." He has "encouraged great numbers of Americans to believe that it is possible to grow richer by working less or producing less."

I don't know much about that, but I do know, to my own satisfaction, at any rate, that the Government has got to maintain a going, flourishing industrial establishment for the simple reason that itself alone is incapable, even though it holds the first-mortgage on the country's entire wealth and wealth-producing facilities, of assuming a great part of the employment load.


I suspect that there is something out of joint somewhere which a mere change of attitude in national administrations won't fix. If the prerequisite to general prosperity is the accumulation of large individual fortunes, as seems to be the argument of those who have held leadership in the Republican Party, then I find myself instinctively allied on the other side.

But Mr. Roosevelt's famous line about "taxes being paid in the sweat of every man who labors" still holds good. I am against high taxes. I have mainly only scorn for politicians and the chiseling political method of doing business. I dislike bureaucrats--little people in big jobs. My decided preference for this nation as it grows up is for less government rather than more government.

Basically, whatever they may say about themselves, Mr. Roosevelt is a "more government" man. Mr. Willkie a "less government" man. As far as domestic policies are concerned, that is going to be the deciding factor for me. If there were no foreign situation, I would unhesitatingly vote for Willkie. But there is, alas, a foreign situation.


For his "Good Neighbor" policy with regard to Pan-America, Roosevelt deserves everlasting credit. He began almost at the start of his Administration to cultivate Latin America where his predecessors have been indifferent or downright unfriendly. His foresight here is going to stand us in good stead at a critical time.

As to European policy, I believe Roosevelt will have to take both credit and blame. He foresaw what was taking place and boldly asserted himself vocally on many occasions. His policy, events have shown, was the only one which American interests and American sentiment could have supported in the long run. But in the execution of the policy there has been typical Roosevelt floundering.


Say that he would have been accused of war-mongering, and he would have been. Say that he has been jumps ahead of his critics, and he has been. Say that he isn't to be blamed for failing to anticipate the shiftiness of Russia and the weakness of the French and the lethargy of theEnglish and I don't think he fairly could be.

Still, the fact remains that, to borrow a phrase from his opponent, he has walked noisily and carried a little stick. His leadership in national defense has been somewhat like that in the domestic field. He has uttered ringing phrases and followed them up with inaction. As a result, we have been caught in a tight pinch.

Now and for the immediate future, however, events abroad have forced our hand. We have set our course by hindsight rather than foresight, and insofar as the Chief Executive can formulate foreign policy the course of the country will inevitably be the same whether Roosevelt or Willkie is elected. Yet two factors remain to give me pause in following a desire to repudiate the Roosevelt Administration in its domestic phase.


One is the change of administartive officials that would take place at so unfortunate a time were Willkie to be inaugurated next January. Yet the caliber of those whose counsel Roosevelt seeks and whose advice he takes itself argues for a change. I believe that Willkie would be able to command the country's best brains and sincerest patriots.

A shakeup while there is still time, that is, might not be altogether a bad idea.


The other factor is an uneasiness that the masses of people in this country, who dote on Roosevelt and to whom he is constantly selling himself, would be a great deal less inclined to follow Willkie than Roosevelt into war or anywhere else. The waste-basket and egg-throwing episodes are a sign of bitter feeling, not so much against Willkie himself as against any man who dares to challenge Roosevelt, the common people's friend.

But this a democracy. The only way to elect Presidents is by the will of the majority. If enough people prefer Willkie over Roosevelt, you are not going to catch me arguing that they should let themselves be deterred because of the fear that Roosevelt's supporters won't accept his defeat in good spirit and won't play for anybody else.


The possibility of any such consequence bears out the contention that Roosevelt actually has stirred up class hatred. If that is the way of it, it will have to be dealt with. Four more years would only make it worse.

In sum, without a foreign situation to take into consideration, I would certainly vote for Willkie. Given the foreign situation as a fact, and assuming that this country's decision has already been made for it by events beyond its control, my reluctance to change horses in the middle of the stream is overcome by the conviction that the country can't afford four more years of Roosevelt.

But I still am not entirely certain in my mind. I just don't know. I'm waiting for a vision or a revelation. If I get one, I'll let you know.

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