The position that The Nation has taken in the present campaign against both Cox and Harding and in favor of a vote either for Christensen or Debs, has aroused considerable inquiry, much approval, and some dissent among our readers. Some have assumed, because we declined to subscribe in toto to either the Socialist or the Farmer-Labor platforms*, that we did not want to see either Debs or Christensen elected and were advocating a protest vote for them which we would not advise if they had any chance of success at the polls. But the choice is rarely poor this year and we would rather see Christensen or Debs or Macauley chosen than Cox or Harding. We do not accept all that any one of them stands for, but practical politics is usually a compromise; few thinking men ever have had, or ever will have, a chance to vote for a party whose platform they accept in its entirety. The point is that the Farmer-Labor and the Socialist programs present at least the basis for more hopeful development than the old party policies, which fail to meet any of the demands of the new age which is upon us.
It is obvious that the determining factor in this campaign is a desire to rebuke and put an end to the policies of the Wilson administration. So strong is this desire that many intelligent voters make no attempt to distinguish between the indistinguishable Governor Cox and Senator Harding. The state of war with Germany would probably continue longer under Cox and we might more immediately and uncritically be committed to the League. Harding, on the other hand, might easily lead us into war with Mexico or sponsor a high tariff measure. To the average voter, however, these possibilities are of no consequence beside his desire to get rid of Wilsonism. To do this he imagines the most effective way is to vote for Harding. We do not think so. By electing Harding the country will get rid of Wilson next March. But in his place will be an unenlightened and reactionary Republican machine, its face set flintily toward the past, totally out of touch with the spirit of a new age to which it will be unwilling and unable to adapt itself. What the country needs above all, to borrow one of the Wilsonian phrases which have never been taken from their oratorical shelves for use, is to “give the government back to the people.” Something closely akin to this desire underlies the electorate’s purpose to rid itself of the autocrat in the White House. Yet the idea that this can be accomplished by voting for the self-effacing Mr. Harding seems ludicrous when one considers the prospect of Boies Penrose and the Senatorial clique as Mr. Harding’s collaborators in the task of restoring the government to the people.
Who is against Wilson? Nearly everyone, if one may exclude the solid South, where voting Democratic is as much a religion as a political faith, and those still considerable though steadily dwindling voters for whom party regularity transcends policies, facts, and the urge of a changing time. Lifelong Democrats and hereditary Republicans unite in their determination to shuffle off Wilsonism. Why is it that the opposite poles of political faith, from reactionary to radical, with the many shades of average American between, are linked in their detestation of Wilsonism? Well, for one thing, because of its insincerity. Reactionary as Union League Club Republicanism, Wilsonism, with its spurious liberal professions, has never secured the confidence of American Bourbons. Moderate conservatives, liberals, and radicals on the other hand are the more incensed because of the varying degrees of deception to which they were subjected by its erstwhile fine phrases and flowery rhetoric. Essentially there is no difference between the two major parties, but superimposed on the reaction that each spells the Democrats are accountable for conspicuous incompetence and glaring hypocrisies. That is the motif of the present campaign and the reason Wilson and all his works will be overwhelmingly rejected despite the pathetic ineffectiveness of Harding; despite the widespread antagonism to Old Guard control, dating from 1912; despite the Lusks and the Sweets who balance Palmer and Burleson; despite the knowledge of millions who will vote for Harding that he will not and cannot touch problems which most vitally affect them. It will be, as we have said, “election by disgust.”
Recommend so gloomy a prospect to our readers? Never! To vote for Harding in order to repudiate Wilson is in effect setting the stamp of approval on the very system which quadrennially offers only so nauseating a lack of choice. “A yellow dog year,” was the boast last spring of the Republican Old Guard. Did the spectacle of Democratic mismanagement and wrongdoing stimulate the Republican powers to pick as good, as able, and as antithetical a candidate as they could find? On the contrary. It impelled them to select as incompetent, as inconsequential, and as hitchable an Ohio politician as they thought they could “put over” on the writhing electorate.
No! The course for every one who values American tradition and ideals, who believes in the persistence of what was and is good in our national life, who desires the elimination of what is bad, who looks for progress and hopes for better things, seems so unmistakably clear as to disparage discussion. It is to vote against the old parties, except where individual candidates who have conspicuously and valiantly stood up against the tide of reaction deserve election on their personal merits. Eclectic voting is always preferable to blind party adherence. There are men running for Congress on all four tickets who could form a progressive bloc which might often tip the scales. But for President, the choice is clear. A vote for Cox or Harding means nothing; only a protest vote will count. Neither Farmer-Labor nor Socialist parties will elect the President this year, but votes cast for them will have unmistakable political meaning. The Nation makes no recommendation of choice between Farmer-Labor and Socialist Party beyond the suggestion that in certain regions where one party’s prospects are unmistakably fair its choice would be logical. In South Dakota, for instance, where the Farmer-Labor has an excellent chance of carrying the State, it is the Liberal’s duty to support Christensen. Finally, if there be those too timid to cast their political lot with a party the doctrines of which they cannot wholly or even in large part indorse, who do not realize the crying need of new purpose and new vision in national politics, let them stay away from the polls this year and spend election day tramping the woods or the fields where the air is pure and the sky is clean.
* The Farmer-Labor platform [was] printed in full in this issue.