For the Liberals Still Furious at the Democratic National Committee

This Wasn’t the First Time

this day (March 4th) in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as the 32nd President of the United States. John Nance Garner served as Roosevelt’s first Vice President — a full eight years. FDR ran for a third term, a motion that some opposed, and won with a different V.P. pick: Henry Wallace, the man in the portrait above. We’ll return to him shortly.

Recap. The political climate in 2016 was tumultuous. Policies, characters, and words were intrusive. Voices were raised. Stakes were high. Champions ascended. Republicans and Democrats delivered their sets of values and priorities to the American electorate. As we all know, the conservatives found themselves (somehow) a leader in Donald Trump. The liberals nominated Hillary Clinton. The “far left” of the party, branding themselves as the true progressives, found their representative in Senator Bernie Sanders. Clinton found herself wedged between a rock and a hard and a hard place. She was taking hits from both sides of the aisle. Matters for the eventual Dem. nominee turned even worse when the Democratic National Committee was hacked by Russian operatives . The emails revealed that the DNC Chair (at the time), Debbie Wasserman Shultz, had been in constant contact with the Clinton campaign — favoring the game for the former first lady.

Clinton, Wasserman Schultz

Once the emails were unearthed, chaos followed. The right ate it up like lunch; Trump pounced on this and incessantly went on about a “rigged system.” The democratic establishment believed they could dust the mess from their shoulders. And they were terribly, ruefully wrong. The sore spot is one of the multiple reasons why Hillary lost the election. Bernie Sanders, and his vigorous and righteously indignant base, called foul. Loudly. The nomination wasn’t secured yet, as primaries were still to be held. Eventually, Clinton walked away with enough primary wins to secure the nomination. The start of the Democratic National Convention was a bumpy one. Sanders supporters swarmed the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Demonstrations were being held outside, some Sanders advocates calling for Clinton to end her political pursuits. The in-party turmoil and fallout were handled when Michelle Obama delivered her speech, probably the most effective oration at the convention.

In the days after the convention, most of the democratic base allowed the moment to sink in. And in hindsight, it was an incredible feat: A woman, for the first time in American politics, was given the top spot on the presidential ticket (by one of the two major political parties). The party drafted the most progressive agenda yet. All seemed well. Polls appeared favorable. The republican candidate was shooting himself in the foot, or so we all thought. He ended up winning the electoral college, therefore the presidency. The “Still Sanders” movement was correct on this: Bernie had a better chance at beating Trump. Why? Enthusiasm, voter turnout. Sanders gave life to a somewhat glum party. He managed to get thousands of young supporters on the same page with him, something both conservatives & liberals have struggled to do lately. Many of these staunch Sanders advocates, come election night were smug. “We told you so.” Even more scathing: “You all deserved it.” They would point to Debbie. They would throw blame on Donna Brazile, the interim chair following the Wasserman debacle. Brazile, a donor to both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, had fault in reportedly giving Clinton a question prior to a debate — a revelation so casually dropped by Wikileaks. How could the Democratic party play so dirty? How could the progressive branch of politics be so crooked?

Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont

When the DNC’s chair vacancy was filled, some liberals found themselves remarkably upset at the democratic party — again. Tom Perez, once a member of the Obama administration and a man with Biden’s endorsement, is now the chair (with Congressman Keith Ellison as the deputy chair). The hashtag #DemExit began trending on twitter and other social media platforms. Some on the left only saw Ellison as their guy.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Keith Ellison at the joint session of Congress

Some are still sore over the Clinton favorability within the democratic machine. Upon quick glance, the party does look divided and injured. Damage has been done — from the out-and-insides. History will show us, however, that this wasn’t the first time the Democratic party worked with mud.

Henry A. Wallace, 1944

The Scene: Chicago, 1944. July 19–21. Democratic National Convention.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for a fourth term. He secured the nomination from his party after little-to-no contest, winning 1, 086 delegates on a first ballot vote. Despite and throughout the overwhelming victory, Roosevelt was unable to attend the convention in Chicago — declining health and overseeing the Second World War being the reasons. The contest for the Vice Presidency was the highlight of the convention, although the events have been widely forgotten or ignored due to the eventual passing of Roosevelt and the end of the war in 1945.

Henry Wallace was from Orient, Iowa. His political career began in 1933, when he was selected to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture. This spot carried with it some big boots to fill, as a quarter of the American population was still living on farms. This appointment was scrutinized and greeted with some suspicion right off the bat. Henry Wallace was a Republican. This affiliation changed, come 1936. And in 1940, Roosevelt named Wallace as a running mate. When the announcement was made at the 1940 Convention, boos echoed through the hall. Wallace was an ambitious visionary — a New Dealer, someone who the old party heads (primarily southerners) didn’t trust. The delegates were seething; howls of dissent shook the arena. FDR, dissatisfied with the reaction, threatened to decline the nomination. Eleanor Roosevelt took to the podium and delivered a conciliatory speech, in a successful move to settle the rattled crowd. In November, the democrats swept the floor with 449 electoral college votes (opposition raking in 89).

The subject of the president’s health was a topic at the end of his third term. In 1921, he was diagnosed with polio. This left him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life, his paralysis hid from the public at the time. And what a fascinating truth: the leader of the free world could not stand on his own two feet while spearheading the U.S. into a world war. Roosevelt was a chain-smoker throughout his adulthood. At a feeble 62 years of age, he underwent health examinations which found him to have high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure. The man was visibly weathered.

Despite all those who called it wrong or unwise, Roosevelt sought a fourth term. Again, the stakes were high. Members of the democratic party who were close to the president and his administration knew that it was imperative to select a V.P. candidate that would be ready to inherit the office and the war. Henry Wallace was sent on a Latin American tour on behalf of the president. Wallace successfully convinced twelve nations to declare war against Germany. When he returned home, a Gallup poll found that 57% of the electorate favored Wallace to succeed FDR. Soon after, the behind-the-scenes political games began.

Wallace didn’t have a real chance at getting his name back on the ticket, although Roosevelt at one point told him, “I hope it will be the same old team.” Henry drew disdain from several directions. He was viewed as “too liberal” by the conservative liberals of the time; the man was a New Dealer. Although a Christian, he studied different religions and explored spiritualism. In the 1930s, Wallace exchanged notes with a Russian emigre — Nicholas Roerich.

Nicholas Roerich

A painter and writer, Roerich garnered international attention through his lobbying for the protection of the world’s cultural, scientific, and artistic monuments from the devastation of war. The notes exchanged between Wallace and Roerich were later dubbed as “The Guru Letters” by those who distrusted Henry.

It was publicly known that Wallace detested the British Empire, a most valuable ally in WWII. At one time, Winston Churchill sent agents of Great Britain to spy on Wallace — suspecting Henry to be too accepting of communism.

Aside from all his shortcomings, Wallace was the favorite for the V.P. slot at the 1944 Democratic National Convention. Roosevelt, unable to fight for and support his pick, was left in the dark for what followed. The Anti-Wallace movement was born. They were to find a neutral candidate, someone that appealed to the New Dealers and the “conservative” liberals from the South.

The prominent men behind the Anti-Wallace movement included:

  1. Robert Hannegan, Democratic National Chairman
  2. Edwin W. Pauley, Treasurer of the DNC
  3. Frank C. Walker, Postmaster General
  4. George E. Allen, Democratic Party Secretary
  5. Edward J. Kelly, Mayor of Chicago
1944 DNC

The Anti-Wallace movement quickly sought an alternative to the sitting Vice President. Candidates included James F. Byrnes, a former Supreme Court Justice and the Director of the Office of War Mobilization. Members of Congress and the press nicknamed Byrnes the “Assistant President.” He was viewed poorly in the South, however. William O. Douglas was an option, another Associate Justice from the highest court in the land. The other option was a Senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman.

Truman was elected to the United States Senate in 1935, on the financial coattails of Kansas City and Jackson County political mogul — Tom Pendergast.

Political boss, Tom Pandergast

Pendergast used his large network of friends and family to help elect politicians. In some cases, this help included voter fraud. He was a man addicted to gambling, leading to a colossal accumulation of personal debt. In 1939, Pendergast was convicted of income tax evasion. He served 15 months in federal prison. Because of Tom’s reputation, Truman was called “The Senator from Pendergast” by political critics and colleagues on the other side of the aisle. In his second term in the Senate, Truman faced an uphill climb in earning respect from his fellow co-workers. And in 1944, Hannegan — also from Missouri — pointed to Truman as another V.P. option for the ticket.

Among those who vehemently disliked Wallace, Harry Truman was the ideal pick. Although supporting the Roosevelt administration on most issues, Truman opposed FDR’s third term. This was pleasing to the democrats who felt the same. Furthermore, Harry Truman was viewed well by the unions.

On the opening day of the 1944 convention, a Gallup poll showed that 65% of the democrats wanted Wallace on the ticket. Byrnes stood at 3%, and Truman was at 2% (which was 8th, last, place among the candidates seeking the vice presidential nomination). Wallace supporters packed the hall. He took to the podium and proclaimed, “The future must bring equal wages for equal work, regardless of sex or race.” The Iowa Corn Song blared on the loudspeakers over the applause, Wallace’s campaign song. Before voting commenced, the Anti-Wallace forces demanded that the session chair (Samuel D. Jackson) adjourn. Jackson called the vote for adjournment. The overwhelming majority cried “nay.” However, Jackson called for adjournment. He later said he had no choice. Jackson followed strict instructions from Robert Hannegan to disallow the Vice President to be nominated again.

Overnight, the Anti-Wallace force rolled up their sleeves. The team phoned every state’s chairman to inform the delegates that President Roosevelt wanted Truman on the ticket. Deals were made to sway delegates’ allegiances from Wallace to Truman. To some degree, every man has his price. Ambassadorships were promised, along with post master positions. Cash payouts were gifted. And the following day, voting started.

Enthusiasm for Henry Wallace lingered. The first ballot tally showed him with 429 votes. Truman received 319. The second vote began immediately after the first. Therefore, no new convention tickets would be honored. Mayor Kelly’s Chicago police force barred thousands of Wallace supporters from the hall. Slowly but surely, the democrats abandoned Wallace. Harry S. Truman won the nomination on a second ballot vote of 1,031 to 105. And as they say, the rest is history.

FDR, Vice President-Elect Truman, Henry A. Wallace

When FDR passed away on April 12, 1945, Harry Truman took the oath of office and became our nation’s 33rd president. He oversaw the atomic bombing of Japan and the end of the Second World War. He was reelected in a “come-from-behind” election in 1948 — beating candidates of the Republican (Thomas E. Dewey), Dixiecrat (Strom Thurmond) , and Progressive Parties (Henry A. Wallace). Yes, Wallace ran in ’48 — a campaign Albert Einstein got behind. Wallace ran on a platform that included: universal healthcare, ending the nascent Cold War, full voting rights for black Americans, and bringing an end to segregation. He campaigned alongside black and white men; Wallace refused to appear before segregated crowds, and refused to eat at segregated restaurants. The campaign traveled through the segregated South, where they were greeted with hurled eggs and tomatoes. Henry Wallace came in fourth place, only winning 2.4% of the popular vote.

His place in history is often neglected. His 1944 candidacy in the vice presidential contest beckons dozens of hypothetical questions. What would’ve a Wallace presidency amounted to? Would he have ordered the United States to drop two bombs on Japan? How would our nation, our world, look today? We’ll never know for certain.

Truman showing off the misprint on the Chicago Tribune
Portrait of Henry Wallace

It is important to admit a problem before solving it. Back then, and now, the Democratic Party had/has its flaws. They’ve cheated in the past. They played dirty last year, and have the wounds to show for it. As bad as the in-party disagreement may seem, at least the turbulence and relationship stays within the party. It’s important to note that the democrats never won the White House at the benefit of a foreign power influencing the election.

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Hugo is a political junkie, a singer, a traveler, and a fan of too many things to list. Purchase his two fiction novels when they’re on the shelves, yeah? Follow him on twitter at: @hugosaysgo for funny nonsense and odd observations.

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