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Susan Green

From Rags to Rockefeller

Tom Dewey: It’s Smart to Be Shifty

(12 July 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 28, 12 July 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Thomas E. Dewey was campaigning for the Republican primaries in Oregon, considered decisive as between him and Stassen, there wasn’t any cheap politician’s trick he wouldn’t resort to. Time Magazine reported:

“Tom Dewey was running like an alderman who wanted to meet all of Oregon’s 630,000 voters personally,” He had a hectic time “pumping hands, signing autographs, ripping off ten speeches a day. He peered at cows in Corvallis, at logging operations along the Umpoqua River. He accepted a salmon at Oregon City, signed his name in blood for the local booster club at Coos Bay, paraded with an organization called the Cavemen at Grants Pass and, at their bidding, munched on a large bone.”

How distasteful these ridiculous activities must have been to the precise soul of the aspirant to the presidency of the United States can only be guessed at. For, as reports have it, he is addicted to deliberateness, has a passion for neatness so that his desk never has disorderly papers on it; he craves well-sharpened pencils of the same length. He dislikes the telephone and keeps it in a drawer of his desk. He favors conservative clothes, thinks it undignified to be photographed in his shirt sleeves or with his mouth open because of poorly spaced front teeth. In private life he relaxes on his farm at Pawling, New York, plays golf and with his sons soft ball, and sings duets with his wife.

This is the personality of the man, but only part of it. He seems also to have a consuming ambition overriding all else. So while the repulsive antics of campaigning placed a ghastly, frozen smile on his face, he was fulfilling an inner urge to become “a great man.”

Dewey was not born rich. His father was the local postmaster in Owosso, Mich., where son Thomas was born in 1902. The son sang in choirs, managed a magazine route, worked in his father’s print shop when the latter took over the local paper. From the University of Michigan he came to New York to study music, impelled by having won a singing contest. On good advice, however, he abandoned singing for law – and politics, apparently with the conviction that anybody, but anybody, can become president of the United States, provided he makes the right connections. That he did make the right connections is evidenced by the fact that for each of his important campaigns he had as his campaign treasurer none other than Winthrop W. Aldrich, brother-in-law of John D. Rockefeller and chairman of the powerful Chase National Bank.

Big and Little People Not Quite the Same

Dewey got his break into big-time politics when another one of his good connections, George Z. Medalie, recommended him for the job of special prosecutor to clean out the gangsters of New York. With his calculating shrewdness, he must have realized that this was his big chance, for he worked with such efficiency and relentlessness that he piled up an imposing list of convictions.

Among those who fell under his axe were Waxey Gordon for income tax evasions, Lucky Luciano for the prostitution racket, and bigger fry like Jimmy Hines for Tammany graft and stock-exchange president Richard Whitney for grand larceny. Thus Dewey became a hero of a kind, with the reputation of doing a job against the little and the big racketeer alike.

That the little and the big people in society do not, however, occupy the same place in Thomas E. Dewey’s scheme of things – to say nothing of the little people taking precedence over the big – is apparent in what he says and does. For instance, in a speech he made on foreign affairs early this year he said: “Last November I urged that a plan be formulated in straightforward fashion to be run by a government authority under bi-partisan directors and with the ablest businessmen in the country in charge. I know of only one way to do a job well, either public or private, and that is to get the ablest people we have to run it, give them full authority and hold them strictly accountable for results.” Nary a word about labor! To Dewey the intertwining of government and business is what makes the world go round. He does not even give the lip service to labor that other politicians give. His advisers may have Candidate Dewey correct this omission of lip service, but the true man has revealed himself.

Not only in words, though, has he revealed his bias toward the big people. His record as governor shows it plainly. He is praised by his friends and has impressed many by his efficiency, his economy, his administrative ability, and much is made of the fact that he has piled up many hundred million dollars in the New York State treasury. The question is for whom has he piled it up? Teachers and parents’ organizations were agitating for a $103,000,000 appropriation for state education. It will be recalled that there were several “Marches on Albany” and one group took over the Senate Chamber for a while. Dewey is reported to have decided: “I think I’ll let ’em sit this one out” – implying that “ ‘em” were only Communists anyway. When it came down to brass lacks, he refused to allow more than $30,000,000 for state education.

However, while battling against adequate aid to the public schools, he allowed industry credit rebates from the unemployment insurance fund reserve which are expected to amount to $165,000,000 this year and which a year ago amounted to $152,000,000. The CIO was indignant, called these rebates a colossal grab, and contrasted them with the shabby allotments made for people’s needs.

We must give more attention to Dewey’s record as governor. His supporters promise: “What the United States would get with Dewey in Washington would be a projection on a national scale of what the State of New York has been getting with Dewey in Albany.” Dewey in Albany has been the scheming politician with his heart set on Washington. Is he a liberal? Is he a conservative? He is neither or both, as his cautious mind tells him will net him the best political capital. For example, he is given credit for a State FEPC law. Having put his wetted finger out in the wind, he found it dried in the heat of Negro resentment; therefore the FEPC, for Negro votes. However, in practise, has he, for instance, raised his voice against the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s policy of discrimination in its housing projects? Again, what kind of a liberal is it who would father a law making striking by government employees illegal, with drastic penalties for violations?

On the housing issue, Charles Abrams, New York Post writer on the question, says:

“What prompted the usually shrewd Mr. Dewey to abandon housing this year was his feeling that he could pick up the support of the anti-housing forces while also wooing the vet and the pro-housing groups on the basis of his past housing record. But this record will look sadly blighted in the light of 1948.”

What is Dewey’s past housing record? He has been cagey enough to take credit for the state rent control bill which, however, is absolutely ineffective as long as there is any kind of federal rent control law at all. Again, his provision for homeless GIs has been described as “a handful of huts.”

Dewey’s great achievement as governor is his tax cutting record. He has reduced income taxes 40 per cent and business taxes 25 per cent. Together, business and businessmen derive the greatest benefit. He stubbornly refused to raise taxes and lose his prestige among business people. This year, to meet the state budget, he ordered an across-the-board slash in expenditures of nine per cent by all his department heads. How many state employees became jobless is not advertised – but taxes were not increased.

Expediency, Caginess Plus Calculation

Now let us look at Dewey as he rushed about the country campaigning for delegates to vote for him in the convention. John Gunther in Inside U.S.A. said of Dewey’s preconvention behavior back in 1944 that it was marked by “canniness born in him, plus an overlay of caginess born of experience ... He avoided going out on a limb and taking positions on issues unnecessarily. Every step was carefully calculated and prepared.” In 1948 Dewey had to give the appearance of being a little more definite.

Perhaps what is best known about Dewey, because of the publicity given to his controversy with Stassen on the issue, is what to do with Communists. Dewey is against the Mundt bill, he said:

“I am unalterably, wholeheartedly and unswervingly against any scheme to write laws outlawing people because of their religious, political or social or economic ideas.”

But, says Dewey:

“The Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities has been widely criticized in our country because it has been called a red-baiting committee. As a matter of fact, it has been doing a fine, solid, good American job for a great many months. It has done a fine job of exposing Communists and bringing them out in the open, where they belong.”

That’s just what Mundt bill advocates say that bill will do. Mr. Dewey doesn’t speak from conviction but from expediency, so he cannot be consistent.

Commentators have hailed the nomination of Dewey as the growth, of the Republican Party from isolationism to internationalism. Dewey’s internationalism is of recent vintage. He was opposed to lend-lease, direly predicting that it “would bring an end to free government in the United States and would abolish the Congress for all practical purposes.” He did not declare himself on the Marshall Plan until months of debate and discussion showed him which way the wind was blowing.

But as far as the working people arc concerned, the internationalism of the capitalist class today means only a more enlightened approach toward American imperialist interests than isolationism. In the final count, capitalist internationalism is preparing the groupings for World War III.

A humorous touch must be added here on Dewey’s internationalism. Robert G. Spivack, writing in The Nation of May 8, 1948, describes some of Dewey’s posturing thus:

“When visitors came to his hotel suite in New York or the executive mansion in Albany, Dewey would light a cigarette, sit back, appear to relax, and casually reminisce about his ‘memorable’ nine-hour conversation with Winston Churchill, or his delightful ‘chat’ with Premier de Gasperi, or the ‘insight into conditions’ he got from the Austrian Consul General. The idea he wished to convey was that these men and other foreign dignitaries already regarded him as the next President. Naturally, he implied they were keeping him abreast of affairs so that when he took over he could quickly establish liaison with the heads of other powers.”

Such are Dewey’s qualifications in foreign affairs – of course, there are his advisers who know more about machinations abroad.

Stands for Nothing but His Ambition

What is Dewey’s stand on questions disturbing labor? But why should he commit himself at this point? In 1944, halfway through the campaign, Dewey became aware that it was unwise to attack the New Deal because of popular sentiment for it. Quite unabashed he suddenly switched and came out for nearly everything that Roosevelt was identified with. So there is plenty of time for Dewey to take “a stand” on labor in the 1948 campaign.

However, Time Magazine, issue of April 5, 1948, lists among Dewey’s recent switches his change on labor legislation from being pro-Wagner Act to becoming pro-Taft-Hartley Act. As for other vital problems, entirely muffed in the Republican platform, Dewey has given himself some leeway, for he approved the platform “as I interpret it.”

So here is the measure of this man who would be President of this nation of some 150,000,000 people in an era of chaos and crisis. Roosevelt had a political cult to offer the capitalist class at a time of lesser crisis. The man could be identified with his beliefs, both of course serving the capitalist class. Dewey stands for nothing but his own ambition. He appears to have no convictions at all. But he has certain talents for administration in the narrowest sense of the word, and above all the talent of having convinced certain interests, notably the Rockefeller interests, that he can serve them well.

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