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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Thursday, November 11, 2004  

We beg rock-ribbed Manhattan correspondent Steve M's forbearance for an Armistice Day tribute to Capt. Harry Truman, who served with courage in France, and later, as president.

At a time when it's possible to drive from Virginia Beach to the Pacific without passing through a blue state, the Democrats would do well to reacquaint themselves with Harry Truman, the Common Man personified, who didn't belittle the farmers and shopkeepers of small-town America, but was belittled because he was one of them, and whose America rebuilt postwar Western Europe and stood for the free world against totalitarian aggression.

One wonders how many of today's Democratic Party leaders might say, as Truman did, in announcing the Truman Doctrine: "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure."

One wonders how many of today's Democratic politicians would end a talk to Congress as Truman did his first: "I humbly pray God in the words of King Solomon, 'Give therefore Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern good and bad: for who is able to judge this Thy so great a people?'"

Or would end a message to the United Nations as Truman did his first: "May He lead our steps in His own righteous path of peace."

* * *

What currently prevails in the Democratic Party isn't the spirit of Truman but of Henry Wallace, who ran against Truman in 1948 as the proto-Peace 'n' Justice ® candidate of the Progressive Party.

Henry Wallace was a unique character in American political history, whose inventiveness in agricultural science was remarkable, but whose visionary tendencies in politics led him to be an outright dupe of Stalin, whose banjo-picking fellow-travelers in this country ran the Progressive Party as an extension of the Popular Front.

A favorable review of a recent sympathetic biography of Iowa's most famous political son by former US Sen. John Culver and former Des Moines Register reporter John Hyde duly notes Wallace's "endearingly kooky" taste in the New Age spirituality of the day.

A lifelong fascination with mysticism and the occult appears to have made him an easy mark for charlatans, among them a faux-Indian medicine man and opera composer named Charles Roos, who was given to addressing Wallace as “Poo-Yaw” and “Chief Cornplanter.” Wallace considered Roos a soul-mate. In the 1930s the two men purchased a tract of land together near Taylor Falls, Minnesota intended for spiritual retreats where they could, in Wallace’s words, “find the religious key note of the new age.” More politically damaging was his friendship and correspondence with an expatriate Russian artist and “guru”—complete with bald head and Fu Manchu mustache—named Nicholas Roerich. Wallace eventually gave Roerich a Department of Agriculture expense account and sent him on a $75,000 expedition to Central Asia in search of drought resistant grasses. The raucous story of Roerich’s fleecing of Wallace and the U.S. government is straight out of a Preston Sturges comedy and is one of the many highlights of American Dreamer. Regrettably for Wallace, a cache of the nutty letters he penned to Roerich was made public and unquestionably tarnished his reputation. Critic Dwight Macdonald famously dismissed Wallace as a “corn-fed mystic” during the 1948 Presidential campaign.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr's review of the book for the LA Times is titled, "Who Was Henry A. Wallace? The Story of a Perplexing and Indomitably Naive Public Servant."

Schlesinger recalls the split in the American Left at the time of the '48 campaign:

The onset of the Cold War had divided American liberals. Most New Dealers believed that liberalism and communism had nothing in common, either as to means or as to ends, and joined Americans for Democratic Action, a new liberal organization that excluded Communists. On the other hand, the Progressive Party represented the last hurrah of the Popular Front of the 1930s. As the radical journalist I.F. Stone wrote in 1950, "The Communists have been the dominant influence in the Progressive Party. . . . If it had not been for the Communists, there would have been no Progressive Party."

Wallace, in a messianic mood, saw himself as the designated savior of the republic. Naively oblivious to the Communist role in his campaign, he roundly attacked the Marshall Plan, blamed Truman for Stalin's takeover of Czechoslovakia and predicted that Truman's "bipartisan reactionary war policy" would end with American soldiers "lying in their Arctic suits in the Russian snow." The United States, Wallace said, was heading into fascism: "We recognize Hitlerite methods when we see them in our own land." He became in effect a Soviet apologist...

In their sympathy for their subject, Culver and Hyde do not do justice to the principled objections American liberals had to Wallace's alliance with the Communists. Eleanor Roosevelt herself led the repudiation of Wallace in column after column…

Culver and Hyde do not quite defend the Wallace of 1948, but they let him down more easily than he deserves. In the end, he came in fourth, behind even the Dixiecrat candidate, Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

* * *

It says here the Dems would do well to nominate another Harry Truman. But you get the sense the party, as currently constituted, would sooner support a Henry Wallace – especially if he were from Iowa.


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