The Real Third-Party Candidate in 1948
Everyone knows by now that Thurmond's States' Rights Party meant to thwart Truman's unprecedentedly strong commitment to civil rights. The segregationist apostates didn't expect Thurmond to win the election (he carried only four Southern states); they meant to divert enough Electoral College votes from Truman to throw his contest with Republican Thomas Dewey into the House of Representatives. There, the next President would have to sell out civil rights to win all-powerful Southern committee chairmen's backing.
But Thurmond wasn't the only "third-party" candidate endangering Democrats and civil rights. If anything, he was the fourth-party candidate in the 1948 popular vote, coming in behind another candidate who, like him, had bolted the Democrats to run on an insurgent ticket. Never mind that this challenger was running left, accusing Truman of timidity on civil rights. Because this challenger had held a higher public office than Thurmond and was far better known, his defection gave segregationists an unexpected, unintended boost by drawing more votes from Democrats than Thurmond did.
Like Ralph Nader's voters in 2000, the leftist insurgent's supporters in 1948 cost Democrats several states: Michigan, New Jersey, and New York went narrowly to Dewey, whose civil-rights posture was at best platitudinous and ephemeral and whose antipathy to labor was legendary. Dewey carried his own state, the solidly New Deal New York, by 61,000 votes only because nearly half a million votes which should have been Truman's went instead to the leftist challenger, who claimed to be Roosevelt's true legatee.
I'm being a bit cute in withholding the mystery man's name, to tease those whose recent account of the 1948 campaign never mentioned him."A Sanitized Past Comes Back to Haunt Trent Lott-And America," read the headline on one of the New York Times's many fulsome accounts of the controversy. The nation needs"a crash course in the rougher and more complicated parts of its own history," the story advised."The urge to tidy up the story is strong." Apparently so.
Last week, the New Republic did mention someone else's passing mention of him on TV. But the magazine didn't mention that when Henry A. Wallace decided to run in 1948, he had recently become editor of . the New Republic. Why the eerie silence about Wallace, who was Vice-President of the United States during Franklin D. Roosevelt's third term (1941-1945) and became the 1948 presidential nominee of the Progressive Citizens of America party? A visionary but quixotic New Dealer with impeccably Midwestern roots in agriculture and business, he would have become president upon FDR's death had he not lost re-nomination as vice president to Truman at the tumultuous 1944 Chicago convention. Roosevelt seems to have dropped him because Wallace was drifting too far left: Out of office, he fell into the Communists' grip by agreeing, after mysterious visits to him at The New Republic, to head their PCA ticket.
There is no ambiguity about the PCA's backing and strategy. Leftist journalists such as I.F. Stone spoke proudly of it, for many of Wallace's positions were ahead of their time. He was a stout foe of racism and sexism when most Americans still sentimentalized them. He risked his life to address integrated audiences in Thurmond's South during the campaign. And his "vision of a vibrant American economy stimulated by government and generating vast number of jobs closely resembles what actually happened-and what almost no one else anticipated-in the postwar years," according to the centrist-conservative writer Michael Barone.
But these positions dovetailed or got hopelessly entangled with darker Communist goals, and Wallace stopped drawing distinctions. He kept denying Stalin's brutalities and the war-ravaged Soviet Union's imperialistic, nationalistic designs on Europe. He attacked the Truman Doctrine and even the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe against Stalinist advances. When the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, Wallace even attacked Truman's airlift to keep it free. Wallace thus handed segregationists an excuse to link civil-rights activism with Communist subversion.
By the end of the campaign, he had become an embarrassment and a threat to liberals such as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the journalist James Wechsler, and the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who rallied to Truman against Wallace, Thurmond, and Dewey. Wallace had held some real power in the early 1940s, but he and his Communist backers lost it all--and not only because J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy made sure of it, viciously, thereby tainting even the anti-Communist liberals' efforts to outflank him. No wonder that no one today, conservative or liberal, wants to be caught sounding as sentimental about the Wallace campaign as Trent Lott did about Thurmond's. Some old leftists still do reminisce about the warm glow of old struggles, denying that, wittingly or not, they, too, wound up defending a system that, even then, was enslaving and murdering as many people as racism had.
Unlike American racism, Communism did most of its dirty deeds abroad. Shouldn't we indeed forget the illusions of its American apologists like Wallace?
Forgetting has its uses, of course: In daily race relations, it can help Americans of all colors make fresh starts. "The old strategies of accusation, isolation, and containment have broken down," the late black historian C. Eric Lincoln wrote. "It is time now to reach for the hand that is reaching for tomorrow, whatever color that hand may be."
As for ideologues and their apologists, we can only hope that those who've "forgotten" the Wallace campaign in this month's accounts of the 1948 election aren't condemning themselves to repeat its mistakes. Unacceptable as Thurmond and Lott's politics have been, the antidote can't be to whitewash everything that has passed for anti-racism since the 1940s. Journalists' and historians' job is to help us all by telling the whole story.
comments powered by Disqus
Jesse Lamovsky - 8/8/2003
Was Henry Wallace as bad as Strom Thurmond? Thurmond may have been retrograde in his racial attitudes, but his campaign attracted the support of many small-r republicans and libertarians who were not in the slightest racist (like Murray Rothbard). Wallace, meanwhile, was basically a stooge for the American Communist Party, itself puppeteered from Moscow by one of the most hideous, mass-murdering governments ever seen on this planet. I'd say Wallace was not only as bad- he was much worse.
James Lyle Thompson Jr - 1/6/2003
Modern racism originates from Kant and Hegel and their disciples. John C. Calhoun studied Kant at Yale and declared that the south had the right to seccede or to nullify what ever national laws it didn't like, and that Blacks represented Kant's radical evil and so must for safty's sake remain slaves. President Andrew Jackson regrets in his memiors not sending troops to South Carolina to hang Calhoun and all his followers. Robert E. Lee was a great Kant Scholar. Johns Hopikins University's graduate school of the arts and sciences, the first in the US for nearly forty years, had two departments, Kant's philosophy, and Hegel's Saxon theory of History, which stated that no one without German (Saxon)bloodlines ever accomplished anything of cultural value. Under these influences, the Peabody Foundation went about a destitue South in the 1890s promising to fund the first time start up of public schools if they were segregated and if laws for general segregation of public places were introduced. The most infamous Kantian was of course Alfred Rosenberg, a German Balt not a Jew inspite of similarity of his surname, who was the chief ideologist of the Naszi Party, gave Adolph Hitler his ideas of starting the death camps, based on the precident of the 1927 US Supreme Court decision written by Olliver Wendell Holmes Jr, stating that two generations of feeble-mindedness were enough, which led to more than twenty-seven thousand involuntary sterilizations. A Harvcard trained social worker declared that a womman and her doughter in Western Virgina were feeble-minded because they spoke an archaic dialect. Also Massachusetts instituted the first segregation laws in the early 1800s. When the colleges were restarted after 1800, professors were sent for from Germany, as the Oxford Scholastics(secularized Thomists or Aristotelians) who trained the US founding fathers could no longer be had as their study was wiped out by George III. Kantianism is of course totalitarianism, a name adopted to conceal the true nature of Kantianism.
Mark Coleman - 12/26/2002
Since it's been noted and acknowledged that Wallace did not win more of the popular vote than Thurmond, I suggest the correction be made in the original posting and the title changed to "The Other Third Party in 1948." I think the point of the article would stand up just as well.
steve - 12/25/2002
As a member of a non-communist leftist group in the sixties and not a "sad old man", my memory of the expression "red baiting" is much different from yours. A common ploy of those against the civil rights movement in the early sixties and those in favor of the war in vietnam later that decade was to make the accusation that we were either communists or communist dupes. What was used to suppress debate and discussion and to bludgeon free speech was not the term "red baiter" but just the opposite. The expression "red baiters" refered to those who instead of engaging in open and free debate simply called us Communists or worse. They were the true suppresses of debate not those who just "called them as they saw it".
Bill Heuisler - 12/24/2002
Mr. Sleeper, your piece was well-written and fascinating. The snapshot of a half-century past reminds us all how far we've come and how many have been left behind. The responses from the men who were there were striking and wistfully sad...as history gone just out of reach often becomes.
Thurmond and Wallace, reaction and vision, both hopeless and both doomed to righteous failure, but one ignored. Excellent.
Opening the door to the forties shows how stridently divided segments of our melting-pot had become and gives a glimpse into the abyss some saw as destiny. That seductive dream still has devotees and you stirred them to resentful wrath. Well done.
jim sleeper - 12/24/2002
A review of the thread will confirm that I never hemmed and hawed on the Wallace vote. The moment I confirmed it by consulting the source who'd misinformed me, I set it right. It has no implications for for my larger argument, which didn't hinge in any imaginable way on Wallace's getting 19,000 more or less votes than Strom Thurmond. Happy Holidays. Jim Sleeper
Bob Civin - 12/24/2002
Now that the "debate" on the Wallace movement has wound down, I'd like to thank Jim Sleeper for initiating it. It has brought back many memories for me.
I've been wondering why the role of the Dixicrats in the 1948 elections is remembered while the Wallacites have been mostly forgotten. I suppose this is because the Dixicrats have left a legacy. The Wallace people haven't The former were respomsible for a political realignment which lasts to this day. Most of the Dixicrats had been in the Democratic Party. When their group dissolved, they went into the Republican Party which now commands a majority in most Southern States. The Wallace people disappeared as a bloc when they just quietly returned as individuals to the Democraatic Party.
I agree with Jim Sleeper that racial prejudice has greatly lessened in the U.S. Most prejudice against African Americans today is based on class rather than color. In my opinion, that was always the case. The class-roots of anti-black prejudice wass pointed up in a now-sadly-forgotten book published in the early 1940s by Dr. Oliver Cromwell Cox, a sociologist teaching at Tuskegee Institute. Its title was "Race, Class, and Caste." Many of Cox's observations seem still valid today.
Christopher Phelps - 12/24/2002
Here is my summary of the debate: 1) Jim Sleeper wrote a column that claimed that the world of opinion was ignoring the real third party candidate of 1948, Henry Wallace, who beat Strom Thurmond in the popular vote. 2) I pointed out that no, Wallace did not, that Thurmond bested him in both the popular and electoral vote, and that hence it made no sense to discuss Wallace as the "real" candidate. I also pointed out that Thurmond was the issue because the aspiring Senate majority leader had praised his 1948 politics, whereas nobody had praised Wallace's. I argued that the column was a non-sequitor, that Sleeper's entire emphasis on Wallace as a neglected or suppressed story was in fact a non-story. 3) Sleeper, after some hemming and hawing, was forced to admit that Wallace in fact had done worse than Thurmond in the popular vote, but claimed that this left his argument untouched. 4) I held that in fact there was little left of his argument. I argued that the real story of the Lott-Thurmond comments had nothing to do with Wallace but with the Republican Party's attempt to simultaneously project an inclusive stance on race while playing to racist portions of the white electorate. 5) Sleeper responds with his "summary" which in fact makes an entire set of points about race in American culture and politics which were not made in the original column, but which apparently are made in his books, which I don't have the time or inclination to sort through and which have nothing to do with the 1948 election, winding it all up with a gratuitous insult at me and my "peanut gallery," whatever that may be.
I leave off here, and I'm going to give this a permanent rest now, having had plenty of all this. I will look at Sleeper's books, as he recommends. They sound quite interesting, and who knows, he and I may agree on some of the wide canvass he surveys in his current set of comments. I tend to think, though, from these comments, that his position reflects a liberal retreat from racial justice under the guise of anti-capitalist militance. But I will reserve judgment until I have read them.
As for this forum, clearly the "debate" is no longer advancing. I have stated this summary, which I think a review of the thread will corroborate.
May everyone have a good holiday, and if I may be permitted a new year's wish, may the next leader to live to one hundred have a better track record on race than Strom Thurmond.
jim sleeper - 12/24/2002
One of the good things about a loose-limbed, informal "chat room" discussion like this is that, like Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, it brings out all kinds of sentiments we might not usually hear. Some of the posted comments, especially those from veterans of the 1948 campaign who've have learned a lot from experience, offset if not dissolve the ideological bitterness that drives others who have piped up out of moral insecurity and ignorance.
As I said before, I didn't write this column to say (as some readers defensively asserted) "You think Lott and Thurmond are bad? Well, wait till you hear about Henry Wallace!" Wallace and the CPUSA are long gone and way out of power (although, to read some of these comments is to realize that there are still some wannabes). My message, rather, is that history can teach us something if we will let it, and that not only is the substance of the full 1948 campaign story instructive about problems which "progressives" continue to have; even more instructive, sadly, is the complete silence about those lessons which we see now in the NY Times and other papers which have pretended to give us all a crash tutorial on 1948.
Let me draw a few lessons here which I hadn't room for in the column. The most provocative is that, sometimes, tokenism matters. The mere fact that Bush works so closely with both Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, without any reference to race, truly is more important than some of us have been inclined to admit. It does matter that a lot of black people can't help feeling at least a sneaking pride at these two (who are well known to have differing "philosophies" about American foreign policy, among other things) serving in the nation's highest councils. Just ask the black kids I teach at Yale, and try to imagine how it affects their sense of themselves, whatever their foreign-policy views.
A lot of people also noticed that even John McCain, who didn't say much of anything progressive about race,always seemed to have a young black woman next to him on the podium after every primary, standing there with his family. That was his adopted Bangladeshi daughter, who, I assure you, most American TV viewers thought was "black." It really did speak volumes to a lot of people who are not like some in this chat room. That Bush's brother Jeb got married to a Spanish-speaking Latina--and that she married into a family of WASP senators and presidents--shows that culture winds up trumping a lot of political initiatives more than we think. Get used to it.
I'm not minimizing structural realities and the institutionalization of racism. I just think that
most of the remedies our side has proposed since around 1967 have proven to be so patently counterproductve that they have often distorted or even deepened racism and racialism rather than mitigated, let alone vanquished them. That was my argument in The Closest of Strangers, with chapter and verse on the New York left and the postwar peregrinations of racial policy and activism in that city. The notion that blacks could be the cat's paw of a progressive shift, let alone revolution, was and is profoundly wrong. Yet, as I argue in The Closest, that's the presumption on which a lot of lefist politics and policy was based, and we are now paying the price of drowning ourselves for thirty years in identity politics and coming up with such genius ideas as racial districting, which handed the House to the GOP in ways and for reasons I describe in Chapter 3 of Liberal Racism, which has never, anywhere, been rebutted. It's time for a paradigm shift, and not only on districting.
The real secret here--the one I truly hope some of you will ponder--is that the capitalist system of today no more needs the old Lott/Thurmond racism than it does the patriarchal, sexist, homophobic conventions which we on the left always claimed it depended on. It hasn't depended on them for awhile now. The damage it did remains, but the trend lines are clear. A lot of the identity and sexual politics we thought would be "liberating" in structural, progressive terms has only strenghtened the plausibility and credibility of consumer capitalism, which is in fact incredibly destructive, in ways we not only haven't faced but are implicated in.
Nowadays, what lefties used to call "the system" alienates and atomizes people without much reference to race or sex; blacks and whites sit together in perfect equality in the television studios of sickening midday talk shows, screaming their degradation together. And the decent left is as trumped as the honorable conservative right. Speechless, in fact.
I'm not suggesting that the best progressive response is to advocate reverting to the romantic, often separatist racialism that mesmerized a lot of lefties from around 1968 to Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March; but neither was the answer to be found in the kind of racial engineering exemplified by racial preferences, bilingual education, racial districting, etc. I summarize this argument in The Closest of Strangers, pp 160-163.
Rather than concede the truth in this part of the argument, too many liberals and leftists have developed the bad habit of fixating on or even staging racial psychodramas, like Al Sharpton's show trials or Mummia or the black-church-arson "epidemic" that, in fact, never happened. It's almost as if we periodically need to fix the coordinates of old racism even more firmly, to make it 1963 all over again, so that we can regain our moral self-confidence and feel that there are clear marching orders against evil.
The American corporate capitalist world has passed this kind of thinking by. It no longer trades on the kind of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, which it depended on in our politically formative years and, certainly, when Henry Wallace and the CPUSA launched his campaign. The racial and libidinal decks have been shuffled, and people who accuse me of "racism" and "red-baiting" aren't aware of it. The NY Times is a multi-billion dollar capitalist corporation, and like Microsoft, Starbuck's, and Boeing, not to mention every major university and most small colleges, is absolutely gung-ho for the color-coding of American public life and identity--for "diversity," racial preferences, etc.
Doesn't that suggest to anyone that these things, necessary though they may be on some levels, may not be quite as liberating in the progressive sense as some lefties have spent their youthful energies and careers insisting? All I have been trying to say is that there is a certain opportunism alongside idealism in people who ought to learn where and how Wallace and his crowd went wrong. It wasn't only the Comintern, you see. I'm not charging anything of the sort. It was an all-too American strain of moral self-importance and self-delusion that helped extend the Lotts' and Thurmonds' lease on life. To blame the disaster that has befallen leftists all on racism and McCarthyism may make you feel warm and fuzzy at 3 am, but it is also to miss a lot of what has left people like Christopher Phelps and his peanut gallery where they are today.
george balgobin - 12/24/2002
It seems that Mr Phelps certainly mastered Sir Sleeper.
Gus Moner - 12/24/2002
I appreciated the article, thanks. We should al learn not to be conditioned by currentr media reporting and its enormous deficiencies. Your article has helped provide perspective.
Christopher Phelps - 12/23/2002
Do you mean the column "The Real Third-Party Candidate in 1948," the one that argues Wallace beat Thurmond so is eerily the occasion of "silence" in the press? I did read that one.
When one party lays out facts and arguments and the other replies with taunts and condescension, you're right, it's a losing proposition to keep on.
Perhaps in the future you'll write something for this site that is accurate and that I agree with. I won't hesitate to write in then to say so. Have a happy holiday.
jim sleeper - 12/23/2002
Dear Mr. Phelps,
You're losing control of yourself. Go back, read the column again, then take two aspirin and get a good night's sleep. Perhaps when you wake up, you'll realize you're fighting someone in your head, not me. "Tit for tat" arguments make sense only to the senseless. On sites like this, they're just boring. Please find another target. Bye.
George Jochnowitz - 12/23/2002
What does communism mean? It means famine. Stalin starved the kulaks. Mao created the worst famine the world has ever known, which lasted from 1959-61, killing 35 million people. Pol Pot starved Cambodians in addition to murdering them. North Korea is suffering from a famine right now.
Marxism is a philosophy of the far right. The world needs more redbaiting.
Christopher Phelps - 12/23/2002
What good deed? Admitting to being incorrect, then trying to blame it on someone else rather than take responsibility for it?
Gut check: If the piece was a pro-Wallace one, would you hold such a nonchalant view? Would you say that the basic argument was left untouched by such a fundamentally mistaken factual premise? Doubt it.
If you are going to step forward to boldly set the record straight, then having the record straight is a good idea.
jim sleeper - 12/23/2002
Just goes to show that in some minds, no good deed goes unpunished. Re-read the column, please.
Lynn Bogarde - 12/23/2002
Very interesting piece of history - good to air it.
Christopher Phelps - 12/23/2002
It is good to see a candid concession to the historical record. However, the claim that it doesn't matter much to your argument is bizarre. The whole premise of the column is that Wallace beat Thurmond, hence was "the real" third party candidate, with Thurmond actually the fourth party candidate. Scholars should not rely on e-mail. They should do their homework. Even the HNN should have double-checked these elementary facts before posting the opinion piece.
Del Spurlock - 12/23/2002
Good one Jim. And Madam Chaing financed Harry's whistlestop, too.I am in the City Tu.-Thurs. most weeks. Let me know when you are around.
jim sleeper - 12/22/2002
I think we all owe Bob Civin a note of thanks for speaking from direct experience. I'm sure a lot of people would be interested in learning more about what the Progressive Citizens of America said and did during the 1948 campaign. There are of course several accounts of the subject, including by Norman Markowitz, the title of whose book I forget at the moment, but who remains pro-Wallace in many ways.
I have written Liberal Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), which is already at BarnesandNoble.com. But it doesn't say a word about the 1948 campaign. It's about how liberals and the left have lost out by fixating on race and trying to dine out on the unquestioned glories of the civil rights movement of the '50s and 60s. Chapters 1,5,and 6 cover themes that should interest most of those who've participated in this discussion. I might add that I have always been a left-of-center liberal and, on economics, I still am. Race has gotten woven into this country's political economy in ways that progressive people thought they understood but didn't. That's what the book is about.
jim sleeper - 12/22/2002
Mea culpa. I won't embarrass the scholar who told me, via e-mail, that Henry Wallace had polled ahead of Thurmond, as I said in my column. He has e-mailed me again to say he was wrong and that Thurmond got 19,000 votes more than Wallace--1,176,000 to 1,157,000. As we all know, this doesn't much matter for my argument, especially if you note that throughout most of the 1948 campaign Wallace was ahead of Thurmond in the polls (starting out at 7% for W to 2% for T) and plummeted only as events in Europe flushed out his knee-jerk pro-Soviet line. (He came out against the Berlin airlift only shortly before the election; by the way, years later he repented his almost compulsive fellow-travelling.)
The point of all this, as I said in the column, is that Wallace came close to being like Ralph Nader, who, without winning any electoral votes, threw the election from the Democrat to the Republican. Wallace nearly did that, and had he not been so pro-Soviet in the campaign, he would have accomplished it, not only in New York, whose 47 electoral votes he DID hand to Dewey, as well as New Jersey and Michigan, but in several other states as well.
I did not write this column to say (as some people defensively assume), "You think Lott and Thurmond have been bad? Well, what about Henry Wallace?" Wallace and the CPUSA are long gone and way out of power, (although, to hear the people who are calling me a redbaiter, you realize that not all the surviving fools are veterans of the Abraham Lincoln brigade). The point is that not only is the substance of the 1948 Progessives story instructive on its own terms about problems the left has had with opportunism and apologizing for thuggery; the complete silence about that now is even more instructive.
We have a bad habit of fixating on or even staging racial psychodramas, like the black-church-arson story that never happened, almost as if it was we who wanted to fix the coordinates of the old racism firmly in place because that gives us a sense of moral equilibrium and of moral clarity and marching orders. The truth is that the capitalist system which so rightly troubled Wallace and does trouble its critics today no longer trades on the kind of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. which it depended on in our politically formative years and long before. The decks have been shuffled. The NY Times is a multi-billion dollar capitalist corporation and, like Microsoft, Starbuck's and Boeing, it is absolutely gung ho for "diversity," racial preferences, gay rights, etc. Shouldn't that tell you that these things are not quite as "liberating" as some lefties have spent their careers arguing? I am trying to suggest that there has always been a certain tactical opportunism alongside the obviousl bravery and idealism of people like Wallace, and that the left never learned any better than did honorable conservatives how to draw the distinction.
Look, I have written a book about this: Liberal Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, available right now from BarnesandNoble.com.) All my arguments are there.
Christopher Phelps - 12/22/2002
Glad to have the figures confirmed.
The "silence" to me simply seems a function of the fact that Lott was complimenting Thurmond and nobody was complimenting Wallace, hence Wallace is a non-issue.
Wallace was by far and away the best candidate in that race if we were to isolate civil rights as the sole issue. He was vastly superior to Truman. However, I agree with you completely about his softness on Stalinism and the fuzzy headedness that reflected in his wing of progressive liberalism.
I continue to think that the issue of the Lott comments today has nothing to do with the issues of the Wallace campaign. The issue is the two-facedness of the Republican party: its attempt to project an inclusive image while playing to a range of racist sentiment in the white electorate.
jim sleeper - 12/22/2002
You're right on the figures; the column is in error on the popular vote. I took the word of one of the authors of a book on the subject, who told me in an e-mail. But now he confirms that Thurmond polled 19,000 votes more than Wallace. The margin makes no difference, of course, but neither does the difference in electoral votes, for the point of my column is that, like Ralph Nader, who also got no electoral votes but did cost Gore the election, Wallace was a threat to Truman on that ground. Indeed,had he not done some truly foolish things during the campaign, like come out against the Berlin airlift, he might still have thrown the election to Dewey.
As for the purpose of the column, I have already addressed this in responses to other e-mails. Here I'll just say that it would be a mistake to read it as saying, "Oh, yeah, you think Thurmond was bad? What about Wallace?" That's not at all the point. The point is the complete silence, as if the Wallace campaign tells us nothing about how progressives have sometimes approached civil rights.
Bob Civin - 12/22/2002
I hope I'm correct in assuming Mr. Skorodin has tongue in cheek in saying, "If Wallace had been elected, we wouldn't have had the problems we are having now."
If he had been elected -- a giant "if"-- we would have had had problems impossible to even imagine today. I say this with the hindsight vision of someone who, regretably, is old enough to have been an enthusiastic and hard worker in Wallace's 1948 campaign. I even have a file of Progressive Party campaign materials, including the words of that great song "It's the Same Old Merry Go-Round. I was young, idealistic, and very very naive then.
I still think Wallace was on the side of the angels and, as someone has noted, he did succeed in moving the Truman agenda to the left. I now think though that he is now a tragic figure in U.S. history. He was a political naif --always a danger. He allowed his Progressive Party to be taken over lock, stock, and barrel by the Communist Party USA. He refused to believe that the USSR was expansionist even following the Communist takeover of Czecholovakia in February, 1948 Communist domination of the Progressive Party was evidenced, too, by their ability to push through the so-called "Macedonian Resolution" at the Wallace nominating convemtion in Philadelphia -- which I attended.
Wallace left the Progressive Party in June, 1950, when it came out in favor of North Korea in the civil war which had just started. Naive as he was, Wallace couldn't accept that. That Party limped along for another several years under the leadership of a San Francisco labor leader named Vincent Hallinan. It then just sort of evaporated.
Morton Skorodin - 12/22/2002
If Wallace had been elected, we wouldn't have the problems we are having now.
william c berman - 12/22/2002
Jim Sleeper captures well the darker side of Henry Wallace's campaign in 1948, namely, his gross apology for the Stalinist empire in eastern Europe
Such was the last political hurrah forthis once bright star of American liberalism. Yet the threat to Truman coming from Wallace pushed Harry Truman to the left on matters such as civil rights and the economy. Thus Wallace helped Truman to re-vitalize a sagging Democratic center
that sought to protect and extend the New Deal, while winning a fifth term for FDR. Such are the ironies of history as they unfolded in that extraordinary political year,
which Gary Donaldson explores in his accomplished study,
Truman Defeats Dewey.
Christopher Phelps - 12/22/2002
My figures are the standard ones. The question is, where were your figures from? (Mine are in every record of the election I've ever seen, including, for example, THE NEW YORK TIMES ALMANAC. I had never seen an assertion that Wallace outpolled Thurmond until your column. I will check Makowitz and Barone when I have the opportunity.)
Yes, the figures are close, but when one candidate gets 2.4 percent and wins 39 electoral votes, and the other gets 2.38 and wins no electoral votes, almost anyone would put the first as ahead at the finish line. I've always called Wallace the "fourth party" candidate that year.
I am glad to know you aren't excusing what Lott has done. However, I wonder why then a column on Wallace -- it still seems an utter non-sequitor to me.
jim sleeper - 12/22/2002
Several people have now said that they think Thurmond actually did get maybe 10,000 more votes than Wallace. I took my claim that Wallace had come out ahead from a book whose author I will now check with again. Of course, it's not an important difference.
More important is your question about how I can equate Wallace with Thurmond and say he's just as bad. I'm not saying that. I'm simply asking why so many journalists and commentators who claim, as the NY Times did at some length, that we should stop sanitizing the story of 1948, go on to tell "the story" without managing even to print Wallace's name, let alone describe his candidacy. It's that selective amnesia that interests me and that I think we need to explain. What I think it reflects is that, bad as Lott and Thurmond unquestionably are, there is a need on the liberal-left to keep re-staging these racial psychodramas in order to disguise the fact that a lot of the capitalist system has moved beyond them on this score and is actually more "progressive" about race and sex than the "identity politics" left. Explaining why I think that's so is a longer discussion than I have time for here; but I have written a book on the subject, called Liberal Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) which you can get from Barnesandnoble.com or your bookstore. There, incidentally, I make clear that I'm not on the right at all and have no engagement with the conservative movement in any way, eitehr as a writer or as a citizen.
RICHARD FICEK - 12/22/2002
Dear Mr.Sleeper,It seems to me extreme to claim that,Wallace as someone who at the time described himself as a progressive capitalist-though admittedly not as anti-communist as Truman-was comparable to a racist like Thurmond.Had Wallace described himself as a communist or a fellow traveller a right wing case might be made that his campaign should be seen as the other side of the Trent Lott story.I don't understand how anyone today can equate the threat to a healthy U.S.democracy,even as it existed in 1948, coming from racist politicians to the threat seen coming from American communists. To the political right ,which if I'm not mistaken you belong, the damage done to civil rights from Wallce came from statements like"...Those who put hatred of Russia first in their feelings and actions do not believe in peace".Hardly,in my mind, a evil statement or position.I would hope that as a historian you would agree that the harm done by racists like Thurmond were much more damaging to the health of U.S.civil rights of the time.I think the worse you could say as a right wing historian was that Wallace was niave.Ironically,it is interesting though that blacks did not support his party in great numbers giving credence to the claim of one historian[Richard W.Walton] that Wallace's campaign actually helped Truman's campaign.By the way,I may be mistaken, but I believe Wallace received 1,157,063 votes,Thurmond 1,169,032.Thank you though for your article.It did cause me to think hard about your position which is the sign of a well written-albeit,in my opinion,misleading article.Sincerely,Richard Ficek,Oshawa,Canada
Andy - 12/22/2002
I have seen a source on the Internet which stated that Thurmond got 1,175,000 votes -- more than Wallace's 1,157,000 votes. I did see another source which stated that Thurmond got 1,169,021 votes.
Did Wallace really receive more popular votes than Thurmond?
jim sleeper - 12/22/2002
The term "red-baiting" has an interesting history, but people who hurl it as an epithet these days must be ignorant of how its meaning and moral burden has changed.
Like "racist," the term "red-baiting" has been pretty much discredited. It has been discredited, first, by history, which, since the Venona Papers and other post-Soviet discoveries, has actually vindicated some of the Communist-hunting that used to go on. It has also been discredited by the very people who most often use it. One has only to look at them, and what they think and how they speak and write. "Red-baiter" used to be a kind of show-stopper in debates, causing the person who was its object to bite his tongue. It was quite obviously a way to suppress debate and discussion, which, of course, is what Communism itself has been about since around 1932.
Too many American leftists remained in denial about this for a long time, even after 1936, 1939, 1948, 1956, etc. As each of these years and their instructive events passed by, people who accused people of "red-baiting" began to assume all the characteristics of narrow sectarians, religious fanatics, and sad, old men. It was only a club to bludgeon free speech with, it was no longer a cry of protest against injustice.
Anyone who stands up and shouts "red-baiter" in response to a column like mine is presenting himself as Exhibit A for my argument that the left has no more purged itself of its worst tendencies than the right-wing closet segregationist have of theirs. Surprise, surprise, surprise.
jim sleeper - 12/22/2002
No one is excusing anything Lott has done.
My column explains that Thurmond carried four states. It analogizes Wallace to Nader, who carried none.
Wallace came in ahead of Thurmond, according to Norman Markowitz's book and Michael Barone's. Where are your figures from? Obviously, it makes no difference since the tallies were virtually the same.
Daniel Schaffer - 12/21/2002
Was the New York Post's publisher then Dorothy Schiff?
Good luck, Dan Schaffer
Bob Harper - 12/21/2002
Actually, Mr. Proyect's message speaks for itself. It is astonishing after all the revelations of the evils of Communism that there should still be those whose apparent dogma is 'No enemies on the Left!'
John Rylander - 12/21/2002
Actually, of course, at least if one means American racism (hard to tell over the history of the world, and the whole history of the world isn't as relevant as the 20th C when judging the thought leaders of that century), Soviet Communism and its offspring and kin killed far, far more people. American racism (more particdularly, slavery) contributed to the early deaths of millions, but communism killed many tens of millions, and presumably shortened the lives of a billion more.
American racism and slavery are the darkest parts of American history--but astonighsingly, they're small potatoes _in_comparison_with_ the actuals evils of world communism.
We can be thankful (to those who died to bring it about) that American slavery is long gone--despite Trent Lott's wishes as to who'd have won the war that ended it--and that non-American slavery is also dramatically diminished compared with most (perhaps any other) times in human history.
And we can be at just as thankful that communism is in rapid decline as well, a still dark but fading shadow of its former powerful, aggressive, militaristic, totalitarian self.
Christopher Phelps - 12/21/2002
Sleeper is wrong. Wallace did not come in ahead of Thurmond in the 1948 popular vote. In fact, Wallace came in fourth behind Truman, Dewey, and Thurmond. Wallace received 1,157,172 votes. Thurmond received 1,169,021. Moreover, Thurmond carried some states, and Wallace carried none.
The entire Sleeper piece is a non-sequitor. Perhaps no one is talking about Wallace because...no Senate leader put foot in mouth by talking nostalgically about Wallace!
Much could be said about the racial and geopolitical split in liberalism in 1948, but using Trent Lott's inexcusable apology for Dixiecrat segregationism as another chance to beat the dead horse of the left is hardly the best we can imagine.
jim sleeper - 12/21/2002
In response to Mr. Marcus' comment, James Wechsler was strongly for Truman. His newspaper's publisher, Dorothy Schiff, imposed the Dewey endorsement, doubtless owing to too many liquid lunches with the high and mighty of NY Politics. Wechsler, Schelesinger, and others in Americans for Democratic Action did despair of Truman at the beginning of the campaign, but they rallied to him when they saw the odds and when Truman himself became more persuasively populist during the whistle-stop tour. An editor can't impose a counter-endorsement on his publisher, but in practice Wechsler and ADA went with Truman.
Leonard Marcus - 12/21/2002
Jim Sleeper makes an error in including James Wechsler among those who "rallied" to Truman during the 1948 election. The then liberal New York Post, of which Wechsler was editor, split its editorial support between Wallace and Dewey, its publisher, Margaret (I forget her last name for the moment)disagreeing with her editor and both writing editorials. Of the near dozen papers in New York at the time, the only one that backed Truman was the left-wing PM (which may have become The Compass by that time).
Louis Proyect - 12/21/2002
The subject heading speaks for itself.
- West Point historian says if his cadets can understand the history of war, so can Congress
- Australian historian Alan Atkinson wins $100,000 literary prize
- From his perch in Saudi Arabia, Princeton’s Mark Cohen says Jews and Muslims should remember they used to get along
- Duke honors historian John Hope Franklin with year-long series of events
- What New Left History Gave Us