The Nation

75 Years Ago FDR Read the Results Right, and Took a Left Turn

Seventy-five years ago today, the American people rejected not just a president -- Herbert Hoover -- but a royalist vision of federal policymaking that had allowed tens of millions of citizens to suffer as the Great Depression swept across the land.

The election of November 8, 1932, is now generally accepted as one of the great realigning moments in U.S. politics, the point at which the country took the great leap forward from a past that favored limited federal and state involvement in economic affairs -- except where it came to securing the interests of the wealthy -- and embraced a more humane and democratic approach to governing.

To be sure, that approach has been under assault in recent decades. Yet, Social Security remains, as does the the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Fair Labor Standards Act and the minimum wage. Those of us with roots in small-town America still enjoy the benefits of Rural Electrification. And Americans of every region, race and religion retain at least a few of the liberties that were defined and protected by Roosevelt-nominated Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. There's still a Securities and Exchange Commission, which sometimes does its job, and a Federal Communications Commission, which could yet be redeemed by the appointment of a new chairman.

The agent of these reforms -- and the fundamental shift in the American experience they embodied -- was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democrat who displaced Republican Hoover. But it is important to remember that Roosevelt, the most patrician of our nation's many patrician politicians, did not compete in the 1932 election as the radical reformer that he became. The Democratic platform of that year was a cautious document, dictated by fear itself rather than the boldness that would later be associated with Roosevelt.

What made Roosevelt so remarkable, and so radical?

The results that were tabulated 75 years ago this evening influenced FDR to evolve his policies in a direction that was more egalitarian and democratic -- his critics still use the term "socialistic," and they are not entirely wrong. It was that evolution that redefined not just American politics but America.

Roosevelt won a stunning victory in 1932. He secured 57.4 percent of the popular vote, as compared with just 39.7 percent for Hoover. The Democrat carried 42 states, most by wide margins, while the Republican won just 6.

But those numbers do not begin to tell the whole story of what happened on that distant November 8. Roosevelt's popular vote total of 22,821,277 was 52 percent higher than that received by Al Smith, the Democratic nominee in the election of four years earlier. The Roosevelt landslide was sufficient to create a coat-tail effect that dramatically increased a narrow Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and gave the party control of the Senate.

A total of 97 new Democrats were elected to the House, most of them young and left-leaning. Their numbers were augmented by five members of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, who made no apologies for their radicalism. Thus, 73 percent of the seats in the House (313 out of 435) were held by members who had been elected on pledges to alter the economic equation to favor Main Street over Wall Street. Even some Republicans, especially from New York state and the upper Midwest, espoused a progressive vision that was to the left of what Roosevelt advocated while campaigning in 1932.

Nine Republican senators were defeated that year by the Democrats, who also won three open seats. This shifted control of the chamber from 48-47 Republican to 59-36 Democratic with one Farmer-Laborite. A half dozen "insurgent" Republican senators stood with Roosevelt or to his left on economic issues.

The congressional majorities would free Roosevelt to move steadily to the left, knowing that if he did not make the shift Congress would force his hand on a host of relief measures and related economic initiatives. And Roosevelt was inclined to move. It was not just the size of the Democratic landslide that influenced him. It was the clear evidence that many American voters were looking to the left of new president and his party for responses to the economic crisis.

On November 8, 1932, more than a million Americans -- almost three percent of the electorate -- cast ballots for presidential candidates who proposed far more radical changes than "a new deal." Socialist Norman Thomas won 884,885 votes, for a 230 percent improvement in his party's total. Communist William Z. Foster won 103,307 votes, for a 112 percent increase in his party's total -- and its best finish ever in a presidential race. And southern populist William Hope Harvey, who had helped manage Democratic populist William Jennings Bryan's 1896 presidential campaign, secured another 53,425 votes.

Roosevelt was conscious of the fact that, in a number of states outside the south, the combined vote for the Socialists and Communists edged toward 5 percent of the total. Shortly after the election, the president-elect met with Thomas, a former associate editor of The Nation, and Henry Rosner, a frequent contributor to The magazine who had authored the Socialist Party's detailed 1932 platform and who would go on to be a key aide of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

The new president did not adopt the whole of the Socialist platform. But, as historian Paul Berman observed, "President Franklin D. Roosevelt lifted ideas from the likes of Norman Thomas and proclaimed liberal democratic goals for everyone around the world..." FDR's borrowing of ideas about Social Security, unemployment compensation, jobs programs and agricultural assistance from the Socialists was sufficient to pull voters who had rejected the Democrats in 1932 into the New Deal Coalition that would sweep the congressional elections of 1934 and reelect the president with 61 percent of the popular vote and 523 of 531 electoral votes in 1936 -- the largest Electoral College win in the history of two-party politics.

As for Norman Thomas, he ran again in 1936, conducting what Time magazine would refer to as "a more civilized and enlightened campaign than any other candidate." But he amassed only 187,910 votes, for 0.4 percent of the total.

Thomas would joke that, "Roosevelt did not carry out the Socialist platform, unless he carried it out on a stretcher." That was a slightly bitter variation on the old Socialist's acknowledgment that FDR had read the results of the 1932 election right.

That process began 75 years ago this evening, when Franklin Roosevelt recognized that, while Americans had chosen him as their president, they signaled their intention that America should turn left.

San Francisco Goes Green

This weekend marks the San Francisco Green Festival, the largest eco-affair in the United States. Started six years ago as an annual weekend event in the Bay Area, the Green Festival has since grown into an enormously popular multi-tiered nationwide extravaganza. In 2008, the GF will hit Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DC before its yearly November appointment in SF.

Staged by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation, among scores of other publications, media outfits, non-profits and NGOs, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what's next on the horizon for renewable energy, the climate change fight, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more.

It's also a great place to buy gifts, chow down on free samples of organic chocolate and get buzzed on Yerba Mate and fair-trade coffee! A massive green fair more than anything, the GF draws tens of thousands of attendees who swamp hundreds of exhibitors hawking the latest in hemp fashion, non-toxic toys, eco-tourist offers, green building supplies, socially responsible investment options and vegan cuisine. And despite the emphasis on buying things, the festival always manages to present talks and lectures by major progressive figures on a variety of topical subjects. This weekend's GF features talks by Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, and The Nation's inimitable John Nichols.

The Nation will be at booth #510 throughout the Festival. Meet Nation writers and staffers and pick up free copies of the magazine and other swag! And don't miss Nichols' talk on Sunday, November 11, at noon on the main stage. He'll be making the case for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Click here for a full schedule and to buy tickets. The show takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, November 9, 10 and 11 at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. And if you can't make it to San Francisco, check out the GF website for info on webcasts and on future Fests in other cities.

Finally, watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival.

Dial "Dem" For Immunity?

With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to mark-up the FISA Amendments Act tomorrow, a movement against immunity for telecoms hasn't translated into legislative promises by even traditional Bush foes.

Currently four of the 19 committee members (Delaware's Joe Biden, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, Massachusetts's Ted Kennedy and Maryland's Ben Cardin) have vowed to oppose immunity. Chair Pat Leahy, top Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Illinois's Dick Durbin and Wisconsin's Herb Kohl are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether telecommunications companies deserve retroactive immunity for going along with the National Security Agency's illegal spying program. The other members of the committee have not issued statements and did not respond to The Nation's request for their position on immunity.

So after approving Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey yesterday, Senators on the Judiciary Committee, particularly Democrats and the moderate Specter, are once again agonizing about whether to defy the President.

Two weeks ago, it appeared the Senate would essentially offer no resistance. The Senate Intelligence Committee passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2007, 13-2, which included immunity. Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, who has received a combined $42,000 from AT&T and Verizon this year, penned a Washington Post editorial arguing that the heat should stay solely on the Bush Administration. "[If] the government were to require [telecoms] to face a mountain of lawsuits, we risk losing their support in the future," Rockefeller wrote.

But the matter became a cause celebre by Net Roots activists like MoveOn.org who pressured Democratic Presidential candidates to filibuster a FISA bill with immunity. Chris Dodd positively responded to the charge and soon the other Democratic Senators running for President-Biden, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama- followed his lead.

Then, at a Judiciary Committee hearing last week both Leahy and Specter expressed their skepticism about granting immunity without knowing the extent of the companies complicity. And this week Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, has come to Capitol Hill telling lawmakers that AT&T worked with NSA to compile a database of e-mail and phone calls of ordinary Americans.

What's discussed at the mark-up tomorrow may provide clues on whether committee members will scrutinize the role of telecoms in the abuse of executive power, or, ahem, let the companies off the hook.

Dowd v Clinton, Chapter 3465

Is Maureen Dowd obsessed with Hillary Clinton or what? Last week, she complained that Hillary spoke "girlfriend to girlfriend" to women voters while refusing to share the pain of being married to a sexually exploitative monster who had made her violate all her beliefs and principles, as Caitlin Flanagan opined in the Atlantic. This week, Dowd accused Hillary of "playing the woman-as-victim card" because her campaign put out a humorous video portraying the last debate as a masculine pile-on (never mind that Hillary herself said she was the focus of tough questioning because she was the front-runner): "If the gender game worked when Rick Lazio muscled into her space, why shouldn't it work when Obama and Edwards muster some mettle? If she could become a senator by playing the victim after Monica, surely she can become president by playing the victim now."

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who quotes Caitlin Flanagan approvingly has lost their bona fides on gender issues. Flanagan, after all, is the woman who calls herself a homemaker while acknowledging that she's never changed her own sheets, who insists that children don't love working mothers as much as they do stayhomes, and who says women have a duty to have sex with their husbands at least twice a week. As for playing the woman-as-victim card, can this be the same Maureen Dowd who wrote in her last book, Are Men Necessary?, that men don't ask her out because she's too smart and successful and will never see 35 again? How's that for painting yourself as a victim  of sexism--which, I hasten to add, Dowd probably is!

You don't need to be Simone de Beauvoir to recognize that lots of middle-aged men would find Dowd too challenging and too old -- i.e., their own age. For applying this rather obvious sociological observation to herself--for permitting herself one unguarded moment and writing what women say to each other all the time--she was publicly taken to task all over the media. Unlike Hillary, Dowd backed down. I turned on the TV late one night and there was Dowd, all sultry red hair and fishnet stockings, gaily insisting to some male interviewer that her social life was terrific, no problems in that department at all.

The more people insist that sexism plays no part in the primary campaign or its media coverage, the more likely I am to vote for Hillary Clinton and I'll bet I'm not the only one. Her poll numbers with women are rising, after all. I think a lot of women are just fed up to here with the sexism they see around them every day at their own workplaces and that their male colleagues just don't notice as they ride the testosterone escalator upwards. Six male politicians salivating to score points, two super-self-satisfied male journalists asking the questions (and what questions!), one woman who has got to know the world is just waiting for her to set a foot wrong--it makes a picture. If you've ever been the only woman at the meeting, on the panel, with your job, at your level, you see that picture all the time, and it's a self-portrait.

While on the subject of Dowd, let me add that I am sick of Hillary being tagged with the adventures of Bill's genitals. What's it to Dowd or Flanagan that Hillary ran for the Senate instead of filing for divorce? At least Hillary isn't a sad doormat like Wendy Vitter and countless other political wives. As long as we are looking at candidates' spouses, what about Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards, smart lawyers who quit work to promote their husbands' ambitions? Nobody criticizes those choices, or says nasty things about those relationships. In fact, we are constantly being told how warm and wonderful these marriages are. Fact is, none of us knows a thing about what really goes on with the Obamas, the Edwardses, or any of the other candidates and their wives. And if it weren't for Kenneth Starr, we wouldn't know about the Clintons, either.

House Puts Impeachment On, Then Off, The Table

The move by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich to open a House debate on the question of whether to impeach Vice President Cheney turned into a imbroglio for the Democratic leadership of the chamber Tuesday as mischievous Republicans joined dozens of Democrats in rejecting a move to table the resolution.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had thwarted Kucinich's efforts to convince the Judiciary Committee to take up his proposal to hold the vice president to account for lying to Congress and the U.S. public in order to enter into a war in Iraq, and for trying to mislead again in order to start a war with Iran. So the Ohioan used a privileged resolution to bring the impeachment question up before the full House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, then moved to table Kucinich's resolution. "Impeachment is not on our agenda. We have some major priorities. We need to focus on those," said Hoyer, echoing Pelosi's position that presidential accountability is "off the table."

That should have been the end of it. But it wasn't.

A combination of more than 80 Democrats who apparently sincerely favored taking action against Cheney and Republicans who thought that an impeachment debate would embarrass Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders blocked the motion to table.

Only 162 members -- 27 Republicans and 135 Democrats -- supported Hoyer's call to table the resolution. A total of 251 members -- 86 Democrats and 165 Republicans -- opposed it.

What followed was wrangling between Kucinich and Hoyer on whether to refer the resolution to the Judiciary Committee. The majority leader wanted to bury the articles of impeachment in committee, while Kucinich keep angling for a debate on the House floor.

That set up more votes, as Democratic leaders scrambled to block Kucinich's moves.

C-SPAN covered it all, with its anchors breathlessly trying to keep up with the vote switches and political intrigues.

It took two more roll calls before members completed the procedural business of sending Kucinich's articles to the Judiciary Committee -- on a final vote of 218-194. That was technically a "win" for Hoyer, but the day belonged to Kucinich. After all, the Ohio congressman and Democratic presidential contender had succeeded -- albeit briefly -- in getting impeachment on the table.


John Nichols is the author of THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"


It Is Time For "A National Inquest"

In May of 1972, when then-President Richard Nixon was riding as high as he ever would politically, anti-war activists attempted to place an advertisement in The New York Times urging his impeachment for illegal war making in southeast Asia.

The two-page ad, headlined "A Resolution to Impeach Richard M. Nixon," called on the newspaper's readers to support House Resolution 976, which had been proposed several weeks earlier by Michigan Congressman John Conyers and several other liberal representatives.

Nixon and his aides went ballistic. The same political operation that was busy orchestrating the Watergate crimes celebrated a brief attempt by pressmen at the Times to block the printing of the paper including the ad. When the censorship failed, Nixon's political henchmen made sure that Times executives were inundated with letters condemning the very mention of presidential accountability as "traitorous." A Nixon aide showed up to thank the pressman for trying to prevent publication of the ad. Attorney General John Mitchell and a top Republican in the House, Gerald Ford, explicitly attacked the authors of the impeachment resolution and its supporters. And the group that placed the ad was hauled into court and accused of violating federal campaign finance laws because they had encouraged the election of House members who would pursue impeachment.

Condemnation and ridicule of those who would impeach a president in a time of war is obviously nothing new. And there will be always be political and media players who are at the ready to tell the sincere proponents of the rule of law that it is not the right time to mention impeachment. They will declare that the Constitutionally-defined process is "off the table." They will even warn, ominously, that the Republic -- or, at the very least, the prospects of the proponent's own party in a coming presidential election -- will be harmed by the exercise of patriotic duty.

That's the message Congressman Dennis Kucinich got Tuesday when the Ohio Democrat attempted to force the House to consider the articles of impeachment he has brought against Vice President Cheney. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, moved to table Kucinich's privileged resolution seeking to open a debate on the issue. So, today, it is not just a Republican White House but the leaders of a Democratic-led House who are resisting the pull of the Constitution.

What should Americans who keep faith with the Republic's best values and intents answer think about the question of whether the House should move to hold a top member of the executive branch to account? The best response is to recognize that those who raised the subject of impeaching Richard Nixon in 1972 and those who raise the subject of impeaching former Nixon aide Dick Cheney in 2007 are the keepers of an American tradition that stretches back to 1787.

That was the point made in a response to the controversy about the 1972 Times ad authored by Telford Taylor, who had served as the chief U.S. prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.

"Making full allowances for the hyperboles of partisan politics, it is impossible to justify the violence of the attacks leveled by Messrs. John N. Mitchell and Gerald R. Ford against the Congressional sponsors of the Resolution (H. Res. 976) for the Impeachment of President Nixon, set forth in the advertisement printed in The Times on May 31," wrote Taylor, one of the ablest and most honorable legal thinkers of the 20th century. "It is, of course, entirely proper for anyone so disposed to contest the charges set forth in the Resolution, but to condemn them as 'revolting,' 'disgraceful,' and 'traitorous' is wholly unwarranted."

Taylor recalled that the founders of the American experiment had intended impeachment to be proposed when there was a sense in the land that a member of the executive branch had committed "an abuse or violation of some public trust." And he recalled the faith of Alexander Hamilton that the essential value of the impeachment power afforded the House was that it provided "a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men."

Noting that "such a 'national inquest' is precisely what is proposed in the Nixon impeachment resolution," Taylor argued that initiative was timely and appropriate -- as similarly well-versed scholars of the Constitution suggest today that Kucinich's articles of impeachment represent the right response to the lawlessness of Cheney and the administration the vice president has defined.

"It may well be doubted that a Congress which has been unable or unwilling to take less drastic steps to reassert its proper responsibilities for peace and war is likely to embark on the impeachment process, especially at a moment when President Nixon is riding the tide of Congressional support for his missions to Moscow and Peking," argued the Nuremberg prosecutor 35 years ago in language that is just as compelling today. "But these political realities should not be allowed to obscure the seriousness of the issues posed by the impeachment resolution, which merits full consideration by the appropriate agencies of the House of Representatives."

Telford Taylor offered the right response to those who attempted to squelch an impeachment initiative in the spring of 1972. That response is just as right in the fall of 2007.


John Nichols is the author of THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

'We Need a Nobel Prize in Law'

It's very moving to watch how Pakistan's courageous lawyers have emerged, for the second time this year, as the vanguard of resistance to the Musharraf government.

Angry protests by thousands of lawyers in Lahore and other cities on Monday were the first organized demonstrations opposing the emergency rule imposed by the General's dictatorship. Their brave support for the rule of law, democratic institutions and human rights reminded me of Garrett Epps' proposal that a Nobel Prize in Law be given every year.

As Pakistan's lawyers put their lives on the line to defend the rule of law and human rights, one can't help thinking of the torture-writing lawyers who've filled positions in the Bush Administration. Linked to that is this Administration's ugly hypocrisy: exporting democracy abroad while subverting the rule of law at home and abroad--obstructing the International Criminal Court, spitting on the Geneva Conventions, condoning torture.

As Epps wrote, "One of the hallmarks of authoritarianism today, as in times past, is its unremitting hostility to law and its demand for docility before the state and the powerful interests it protects." Is it a surprise that the anti-democratic Bush Administration would place the US's trust and money in an openly anti-democratic Pakistani regime?

Judiciary Panel OK's Waterboarding, Er, Mukasey

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning approved President Bush's nomination of former Federal Judge Michael Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.

Mukasey, a radical advocate for expanded executive power, had refused to condemn the torture tactics -- such as waterboarding -- that Gonzales sought unsuccessfully to legitimize.

The committee voted 11-8 to forward Mukasey's nomination to the full Senate with a recommendation that the former judge be confirmed.

All the Republicans on the committee backed the nominee of their party's president. They were joined by two Democrats, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who said they were convinced to support nominee by his private vow to enforce any law Congress might enact barring waterboarding or related torture tactics.

To his credit, committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, pointed out that the assurance from Mukasey was meaningless.

"Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president," explained Leahy.

The full rationale for rejecting Mukasey was offered by the last Democrat to announce his position, Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, who said, "As Judge Mukasey's answers mirror the president's on this issue -- and defy common sense -- we are forced to question his independence as well. The attorney general's loyalties must be to the Constitution, to the American people and to the law. Too much doubt on this point is disqualifying."

Disqualifying for those who take seriously their oath to defend the Constitution. But not, unfortunately, for Schumer, Feinstein and their Republican colleagues on the committee.

The New Prohibition

Reason magazine offers a stinging critique of a new crop of increasingly draconian DUI laws titled, "Prohibition Returns!" One example: In Washington DC, cops can arrest you for any blood alcohol reading above 0.01, even if you are not legally drunk.

David Harsanyi writes, "Neoprohibitionists aim to muddle the distinction between drunk diving and driving after drinking any amount of alcohol. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) endorsed the idea at a Senate Environment and Public Committee hearing way back in 1997, contending that we 'may wind up in this country going to zero tolerance, period.' Former MADD President Katherine Prescott concurred, in a letter to the Chicago Tribune, where she stated 'there is no safe blood alcohol, and for that reason responsible drinking means no drinking and driving.'"

Now, that's crazy talk, and much like the recent push to ban people from smoking in the privacy of their own apartments, it's a classic case of our puritanical instincts run amok. We seem unable to maintain the distinction between between a personal vice and a legal crime. People do and should have the freedom to do things that are not necessarily good -- even outright bad -- for them. They don't however have the right to be a hazard to others. So it makes sense to ban smoking in public spaces due to the dangers of second-hand smoke, but not to designate cigarettes a controlled subtance so you can get the FDA to essentially ban it.

Similarly, it makes sense to crack down on drunk driving, but not to restrict people's right to drink alcohol, period. "Drinking is under attack these days in ways we haven't seen since the failed experiment with national alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Indeed, for many neoprohibitionists, that experiment wasn't a failure at all, since it did cut alcohol consumption, which is all that matters. We can see that mentality today in policies that go beyond preventing drunk driving or punishing drunk drivers and aim to discourage drinking per se," Harsanyi writes.

I'm not a hard-wired libertarian like Harsanyi -- who objects to even road blocks during holiday season -- but I do think it's time to say no to this push to control private behavior and space. It's outright un-American.

Postscript: I noticed that the article is adapted from Harsanyi's book, titled "Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America Into a Nation of Children." I've never much cared for the term "nanny state," if only because it's one of those catchy rightwing phrases that plays on liberal stereotypes to dismiss perfectly sensible policies. It also misleadingly suggests a liberal/lefty consensus on the extent to which the state should regulate private behavior, be it eating, drinking, smoking, taking drugs, or sex. Besides, groups like MADD -- and their ideological position on regulating personal behavior -- get plenty of support on either side of the traditional left/right divide.