Thursday, August 04, 2005

How a Hoosier Saved Civilization

The Debate Link had a worthwhile post on the Republican Presidential Candidate of 1940, Wendell Wilkie, and how his campiagn might have saved the world from Nazi tyranny. He links to a great Washington Monthly book review about Wilkie.

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt was gunning for an unprecedented third term. It was a dark time in the world. Hitler was well on his way to conquering most of Europe. Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belguim had fallen and France would soon follow. FDR knew he had to help the Allies and do it fast, but he faced a Congress, a rival party and a nation that was isolationist. The leading candidates of that year in the GOP were stauch isolationists. However, there were some in the GOP who understood the Nazi threat and wanted to get an internationalist on the top of the 1940 GOP ticket. The choice was Wendell Wilkie, a Indiana-born untilities exec who had never run for office. Now, Wilkie could have undercut FDR and ran as a hard isoloationist and cruised to victory. But he chose to not attack FDR where he was weak.

Here is an important quote:

Peters devotes the latter half of the book to the crucial role Willkie played after the convention in helping FDR prepare the nation for war. Later that summer, Roosevelt was desperately trying to sell the public on the wisdom of trading 50 mothballed destroyers to Britain for West Indian naval bases. The War and Navy Departments worried that this would leave the United States itself dangerously exposed. Lawmakers and voters felt the same way. Willkie, through intermediaries, let the president know he would not attack him over the deal, a gesture, Peters argues, that gave FDR the courage to go through with it.

Even more consequential was a speech Willkie gave in August, against the advice of key aides, supporting a return of the military draft, which FDR was calling for. To stake out such a position in the midst of an election campaign before the nation was even at war (remember, Pearl Harbor was still 16 months away), it took considerable political courage. Though polls suggested that the majority of the country supported a draft, the minority that opposed it was far more intense. When the selective service bill passed in September, Sen. Hiram Johnson said that Willkie had “broken the back” of opposition to the draft.

Wilkie's stance cost him the election, but saved the civilized world. What is so interesting is that Wilkie did something that very few politicians do today, put country before party. He could have played to the base as polticians tend to do now, but instead, he assumed leadership and made all the differece.

In a time when we are faced with a terrorist threat, it seems like Republicans and Democrats are not speaking with one voice. People seem to place partisan interests above national priorities.

This is why I am hopeful about the new group,

Partnership for a Secure America. This bipartisan group is interested in getting back to a foriegn policy that is summed up in the words of the late GOP Senator Arthur Vandenburg, that politics stops at the waters edge. We need to come up with a bipartisan policy in this new era instead of the bickering we have been seeing. It's time for leadership again and I wish this new group well.


At 5:08 PM, Blogger Mary said...


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