It is one o the tragedies of our time that William O. Douglas will not be the next President of the United States. The next President of the United States–or so every sign seems to point–will be Dwight D. Eisenhower. And the tragedy is highlighted by even a quick comparison of the political characters of the General and the Justice–of the man who will likely be President and the man who ought to be.
The military man has long worn, like Joseph, a coat of many colors. Pour years ago a group of left-of-Truman liberals wanted to draft him for the Democratic nomination; only a few months ago, a Democratic President offered him the succession on a platter; today, his Republicanism suddenly rampant, he is jubilantly backed by assorted G. O. P. stalwarts, some of whom, on domestic issues, are well to the right of Robert Taft. Indeed the General has been so cautiously noncommittal, even when he has been free to speak his political piece, that a recent series of newspaper articles, purporting to reveal his views, made headlines with such stuff as his support of democracy, free enterprise, and sound fiscal policy and his opposition to communism, corruption in government–and, presumably, the man-eating shark. An extremely able G. H. Q. administrator with a knack for negotiation and an engaging grin, Eisenhower has approached the White House with a crablike coyness as the hero whom nobody, not even Taft, hates and nobody really knows.
By striking contrast, the civilian government servant has long and courageously flaunted his political colors, hate them who will. There is no doubt where Justice Douglas stands on every important issue of our day. In his Supreme Court opinions–dishearteningly often in dissent–and increasingly in extracurricular writings and speeches, he has etched out a clear and militantly liberal political credo such as no other man high in public life can match.
Conservative and convention-bound critics of Douglas’s forthright off-the-court expressions have accused him of subtly campaigning for the Presidency from the bench. The charge is doubly absurd. Again unlike Eisenhower, Douglas not only has flatly refused to run for the office but has sharply discouraged all admirers, politically potent and amateur alike, who have asked his tacit permission to stage a campaign in which he need take no part. More significantly still, and once more in telling contrast to the amiable General, the views which Douglas has been stating so strongly–in particular, his ringing defense of civil liberties at home against the onslaughts of the proliferating witch-hunt and his castigation of a military-minded foreign policy that would try to stop communism with guns (and dollars) alone–are precisely the views that no elective office-seeker in his right mind would utter in the face of the conform-or-else anti-communist atmosphere of the times.
Yet if American liberals had to choose today the two most crucial issues on which to stand and be counted, as a matter of fighting principle and to hell with political expediency, it would be hard to get away from the’ exact pair Douglas has chosen; the decline of freedom at home and the dependence on naked power abroad. Moreover, Douglas is the only man of national stature who has spoken out boldly, officially, and ex-officio against either of these deepening dangers, much less both.