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Irving Howe

Keep Your Mouth Shut, and Start a Presidential Boom

Who Is Ike, What Is He?

(5 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 14, 5 April 2018, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

No one, it appears, seriously doubts that if General Eisenhower were to consent to run for President on either of the two capitalist party tickets, he would be elected by a considerable majority. Each of the two major parties hopes for his consent, the Democrats at the moment more eagerly than the Republicans, and each dreads the prospect of his commitment to the other party. Liberals want him, Southern reactionaries want him, labor leaders want him.

The New York Liberal Party and the Americans for Democratic Action, anti-Stalinist catch-all for liberals, who have been pretty much committed to Truman up to now, have begun speaking up for Eisenhower. CIO leaders, aware that Truman is a dead pigeon and that Wallace threatens to win many “protest” votes, are angling for Eisenhower’s candidacy as a way out of a desperate situation. Max Zaritsky, leader of the AFL hatters union and an associate of the Dubinsky social-democratic wing of the labor movement, has openly come out for Eisenhower.

Now this is an extraordinary situation, almost unprecedented in recent affairs. Perhaps some precedent could be found when poor old Ulysses S. Grant was persuaded to run for President, even though he was something less than a mental giant, but even such a comparison would not be too valid. For when Grant ran for President there was certainly not the kind of crisis situation that would confront whichever candidate wins in 1948.

Where Does He Stand?

Here, then, is a man who won himself a considerable reputation during the war as a competent general, though no one knows exactly to what degree that reputation is deserved – and only a few people have raised the question of how admirable an activity commanding an army is in the first place.

In any case, aside from his role in the war, Eisenhower has neither done nor said anything at all which could make him a national political figure. Yet we find the non-Stalinist liberals publicly begging him to run and large sections of the public seemingly ready to support him.

No one knows what he thinks about them, or even if he thinks about them. Yet the hue and cry for him increases.

Is that not an extraordinary situation? Here the leaders of the Liberal Party and the ADA, who love to issue long programs full of detailed planks, are sponsoring a man who has never publicly committed himself on any issues.

Political Dilemma

What is the explanation? Well, for one thing, the non-Stalinist CIO and AFL leaders are in something of a jam. They know their members are dissatisfied with many aspects of the current political and economic situation. They know that Truman is universally regarded with contempt or ridicule and that a large part of the labor vote can never be swung to him if he runs. And they know, furthermore, that if Truman does run, a good many labor votes will go to Wallace, not because unionists support his pro-Stalinist foreign policy, but simply because they wish to register their sense of dissatisfaction. That means the labor leaders have to find someone who could replace Truman and enjoy popular support. Eisenhower seems about the only man to fit those specifications.

So the labor leaders and the liberals have begun to moan (not shout) for Eisenhower out of sheer desperation. Program, opinion, all that is discarded. Just give us the general.

It is to this desperate dilemma that the liberals have been driven by their policy of supporting the Democratic Party at all costs. And it is this dilemma that is liable to cause no inconsiderable grief to many non-Stalinist trade unionists.

For example, in the UAW Walter Reuther has not yet spoken up about the Eisenhower boom. But all of his nationwide political associates have tied themselves in with the Eisenhower boom. The likelihood, therefore, is that Reuther will also string along. But suppose Eisenhower continues to refuse and that Truman gains the nomination? Then, it seems, Reuther will, willy-nilly, support Truman, even while realizing that Wallace will take many labor votes on a simple protest basis.

In this morass of rotten politics, an aggressive and alert union leadership could rally the best union elements by a direct and uncompromising call for the immediate formation of an independent Labor Party. Whether the formation of such a party is possible for the coming election is less important than the effects such a call would have. The Wallace movement would be outflanked by the rising movement for independent labor action and in that way thousands of workers would be prevented from supporting the pro-Stalinist Wallace party.

A new swell of militancy could be aroused in the unions with the simple program of: break with all the capitalist and Stalinoid parties, form a party of your own. In this way, a path could be carved out of the mess in which the labor movement now finds itself with regard to political action.

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Last updated: 3 March 2018