Wanted: Strong Men and Radical Measures
Will there be anything new in the new deal? I feel perfectly sure there will be. Experienced observers invariably judge an incoming executive by his appointments. Thus, four years ago, when Hoover revealed that his Cabinet would contain Mellon, Davis, Hyde, Wilbur, and Mitchell, those of us who knew the ropes in Washington realized immediately that the country was sunk. By the same omen we are led to expect good things of Roosevelt. I have been greatly amused by some of the comment on the new Cabinet. One Wall Street writer hastened to assure his clientele that it was "conservative." A hostile--and ignorant--commentator declared it to be composed of "yes men." Some nitwit of a radio announcer found its make-up very "odd"--and that, mind you, after Doak, Hurley, and Adams. The real tip-off on this Cabinet is very simple. It contains, practically in equal parts, two types of people: (a) strong, independent, and aggressive characters; and (b) personal friends of the President. The selection of Homer S. Cummings to fill the important post left vacant by the tragic death of Senator Walsh is Roosevelt's first major mistake. Only three men measured up to this vacancy. They were Felix Frankfurter, Donald Richberg, and Huston Thompson. The significant fact about the Cabinet as a whole, however, is that the strong, independent personalities are nearly all progressives. To anyone who knows them it is quite obvious that the members of the Cabinet who will exercise a pronounced influence on the policies of the new Administration are Hull, Ickes, Wallace, and Miss Perkins. The others may be expected to follow Roosevelt's lead. Of course, it would have been a stronger combination if the President had followed his inclination to include Donald Richberg and Phil La Follette; the opportunity to strengthen it still exists if it is true that the Cummings appointment is temporary. In general, however, we have no reason to complain. It is the strongest Cabinet of this generation.
It needs to be, God knows. With banks and business houses popping all over the country, with the disclosure that private credit has fallen under the control of individuals who can only be classified as criminals, with one-third of the nation's earning power destroyed in a vain attempt to maintain dividends, and with the government's credit seriously impaired in a stupid and futile effort to support toppling capital structures, we need strong men and radical measures. Recent revelations before the Senate Banking Committee shed a brilliant light on the shenanigan which brought on this mess. We learn, for example, that Charles E. Mitchell, as chairman of the National City Bank and the National City Company, declared himself in for a cut of more than $3,400,000 of the profits over a period of three years, while at the same time he was allowing stockholders (although without their knowledge) to assume $25,000,000 of loans which are now carried on the books at a value of one dollar. To be sure, there was hardly a dry eye in the house when Mr. Mitchell described himself as the greatest loser from the decline of National City stock, although the general grief was partially assuaged when it developed that Mr. Mitchell paid no income tax in 1929, in spite of an income in that year of about $1,150,000. Mr. Mitchell helped himself to this measure of relief by taking a paper loss of $2,800,000 by selling stock, as he originally described it, to "a friend." Cross-examination elicited two interesting facts: that the "friend" was a member of his family; and that he subsequently bought the stock back. This is the same Mitchell who had the cheek, less than a year ago, to lecture Congress on its delinquencies, and to deliver his opinion on what was wrong with the country. I understand that very strong pressure is being exerted to displace Mr. Pecora as counsel for the Banking Committee in the stock-market investigation. Recalling the comatose condition into which the inquiry had fallen before Pecora revived it, it is difficult to believe that this movement will succeed. If the committee really wants to know the truth, it will keep him. Those who want the investigation stopped contend that "it is upsetting confidence." However, when a boil is ripe, why not lance it? If there is any comic side to this grim spectacle, let us award the palm to Harold Stuart. After describing the methods adopted by Halsey, Stuart and Company to float Insull stock, Mr. Stuart ventured a recommendation. There should be legislation, he said, to prevent this sort of thing. Mr. Stuart seemed perfectly serious. He did not hear the coarse remark from the press table: "Hold me, boys, I'm about to steal something."
If Hoover's sensitiveness remained acute to the end, his last days in the White House must have been his happiest. Those who rejoiced over his going were content to give silent thanks, while those of his admirers who remained seized the occasion to become lyrical. In the current number of the Saturday Evening Post William Allen White debates the question whether Hoover was "the last of the old Presidents or the first of the new." I say debates, although at numerous points the Emporia Evangelist is so overcome by the knowledge of his hero's fate that he simply breaks down and bawls like a calf. Accepting the doubtful premise that such a division is proper, it should be apparent to a less emotional observer that Hoover belonged to neither class. The Baltimore Evening Sun states the case aptly when it suggests that the Hoover Administration will be remembered as one of those eerie scenes in a musical comedy in which the stage is illuminated with a pale green light, and fantastic figures move among unearthly surroundings to the sound of weird music. Certainly there never was anything like it before, and if history has any lesson to teach there will be nothing like it again. Already it recedes into the past with all the unreality of a bad dream. Who were these people who for four years controlled the government of the United States? Where did they come from? Was there actually a Doak, a Hurley, a Wilbur, a Hyde, a Dolly Gann, a Richey (or Ricci), a Jahncke, a Joslin? Did we really hear such slogans as "prosperity is in sight," and "business has turned the corner"? Did men in responsible positions mumble about "rugged individualism" and refuse to act while millions of Americans slowly starved? We know it happened, but I venture to say that no lapse of time will make it seem more rational.
The compulsion to speak well of the politically dead has no force with me, and I deem it significant that the most eloquent obituaries pronounced over the late Great White Feather afford not a single grain of new information upon which to render a more favorable verdict. White's is a fair sample of the rest. All of them are characterized by the same moony unreality, the same incoherent babbling about an undefined and undefinable idealism, the same entranced obliviousness to established fact, that characterized the public utterances of their subject. Thus, it is stated that Mr. Hoover was "never at heart a plutocrat"--although he signed the Grundy tariff and has praised it ever since. It is said that his "deep conscientiousness" forbade him to use the tricks which politicians employ--although it did not prevent him from releasing the Wickersham report with a summary which flagrantly misrepresented its content. At heart, we are told, he really was a progressive--although he vetoed the Muscle Shoals bill, and never raised a finger to speed the submission of the lame-duck amendment. But what about his humanity? One of his stubbornest fights was waged to keep human food out of a drought-relief bill. In the face of mounting unemployment he used every resource at his command in opposition to the Wagner bills which would have prevented a large part of it. Nevertheless, one sentence in White's epitaph impresses me by its restraint. He says: "The picture of the President walking his lonely way on the path of duty needs a little retouching, a few dark strokes, to make it human." Yes, "a few dark strokes" will be needed to "make it human" to those who saw his cavalry, his infantry, his tanks, and his machine-gunners move on Anacostia plain the night of July 28, against the thousands of unarmed men, women, and children huddled there in their damp hovels, confidently believing that a kind government would never drive them out. "Human!" A woman who was to have a child in a month had a tear-gas bomb tossed into her lap. A Negro whose only offense was to stand in his back yard was beaten to the ground and dragged away. A nine-year-old boy who went back for his pet rabbit got a bayonet through his hip. And all this was done to show the country that there was a government in Washington which would "protect property."