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John Edwards Should Do a Truman | The Nation

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John Edwards Should Do a Truman

In her "Editor's Cut" call for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate war profiteering by U.S. corporations -- operating on the ground in Iraq and on the homefront -- Katrina vanden Heuvel makes reference to the role U.S. Senator Harry Truman played in cracking down on war profiteering during World War II.

The Truman model is a good one for today's muckrakers.

The senator from Missouri was blunt. Truman did not fall for the line that words needed to be watched in wartime. Rather, he accused corporations that engaged in war profiteering of "treason."

He was also proactive. When Truman heard rumors of war profiteering, he got into his Dodge and, during a Congressional recess, drove 30,000 miles across the U.S., paying unannounced visits to corporate offices and worksites. The Senate committee he chaired launched aggressive investigations into shady wartime business practices and found "waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and profiteering," according to Truman, who argued that such behavior was unpatriotic. Urged on by Truman and others in Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported broad increases in the corporate income tax, raised the excess-profits tax to 90 percent and charged the Office of War Mobilization with the task of eliminating illegal profits.

Truman, who became a national hero for his fight against the profiteers, was tapped to be FDR's running mate in 1944.

As has been duly noted, it is unlikely that Republican leaders in the Senate will allow a Truman-style committee to operate under the Capitol Dome. But that does not prevent an intrepid contemporary pol from following Truman's lead.

But who will go down the trail Truman blazed?

Why not John Edwards? He's a skilled trial lawyer who knows how to go after corporate misdeeds. As a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former presidential and vice presidential candidate, he's prominent enough to draw media attention to the hunt for profiteers. And Edwards has been on the right side of this issue for a long time.

When he was campaigning for the 2004 Democratic presidential nod, Edwards delivered a stump speech featuring a riff on war profiteering that was well received by voters in early caucus and primary states.

"We need to end the sweetheart deals for Halliburton and stop the war profiteering in Iraq," declared Edwards, who made pointed references to Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm but also to a list of other defense contractors that have contributed heavily to George w. Bush's campaigns and that have profited heavily from his war.

"The American people know there is something wrong going on with war profiteering and Halliburton and the contracts in Iraq," said Edwards, who promised to examine every contract handed out by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his aides "with a magnifying glass" in a hunt to halt "the fleecing of the American people."

Edwards wanted to wield the magnifying glass as president -- and it is no secret that he is still interested in occupying the Oval Office.

What Edwards needs ought to recognize is that the best way to get there is to go down the road Truman took.

Edwards should hop in his Dodge, or, better yet, his hybrid, and take that 30,000 drive across the country. He should bang on the doors of Halliburton and the other profiteers. Sure, critics will call him ambitious. But they said the same thing about Harry Truman. Truman didn't care. He just kept banging away at the profiteers, and the American people kept cheering him on -- the way they always do when a prominent figure has the courage and the conviction to defend the national treasury against the ravages of corporate criminals who use the excuses of wartime to line their deep pockets.

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