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James Burnham

Their Government

Roosevelt’s Third Term – Who Supports It?

(27 January 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 4, 27 January 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

National politics, in its narrower aspects, continues to be dominated by “the third term issue”, Roosevelt, as always, plays his cards shrewdly – close to his chest, as the gamblers say. By his careful silence, broken only by the smiling wisecracks, he has kept in domination of the whole field, in both parties. The entire struggle for the Presidency centers around him; every eager candidate is measured first and last against him, not against his fellow-hopefuls.

The best-informed opinion runs at present about as follows: Within the next month or two Roosevelt will issue a statement on his candidacy. In this he will give a Rooseveltian version of Coolidge’s famous 1928 “I do not choose to run”. Meanwhile, he will continue leaning toward Secretary of State Hull, following up the boost he gave in the annual message to Congress. Hull (who, in spite of his white hair and his innocent honest expression is well known as a hardened and skillful machine man) is acceptable to the right wing of the Democratic party, and looks right now like the ideal compromise between the New Deal and the Garner factions. Garner, according to this perspective, would withdraw his name, since he has entered the race chiefly to block a third term.

For Vice President, Roosevelt is supposed to be supporting his newly appointed Attorney-General, Robert H. Jackson, whom last year the Corcoran-Cohen group favored for Governor of New York. Jackson, however, would be stiffly fought by Garner and, probably, Farley.

To Run or Not to Run?

It should not be imagined, however, that the “I do not choose” statement (and the rumors expecting it are doubtless correct) will end the third term issue. The potential candidate who does not choose, can always be “drafted” – for, as it would be explained, the good of the Party and the country. Even if Roosevelt had actually reached an irrevocable decision not to run again, he would hardly say so with 100% clarity, since this would eliminate him not only as a candidate but as a factor in the party machine and at the convention.

But there is no reason to believe that Roosevelt has reached such an irrevocable decision. On the contrary, it seems fairly clear that Roosevelt is ready to run again if he thinks he can get away with it.

It is even clearer that most of the leaders in the national party machine do not want him to run. Some of them, like Garner and Glass, do really consider him dangerous politically. Others are afraid of the popular effect of a break from the anti-third term tradition. Many, like Farley, get disturbed by his often erratic and headstrong moves, and would like someone in office who would be more docile and “regular”.

Nevertheless, it is an indisputable fact that the overwhelming majority of the rank and file Democratic voters are in favor of Roosevelt’s running again; and that a decisive majority of the voters of all parties are still pro-Roosevelt. As a public personality, no candidate in either party comes within striking distance of Roosevelt. Party machines are very powerful, but they run a suicidal risk when they go headlong against popular sentiment.

The drawing appeal of the Presidential candidate is, as Attorney-General Jackson took recent occasion to point out, of particular importance to the Democratic party. Since the World War, the Republicans have always been able to count on at least 14,000,000 votes in a Presidential election; but the Democratic vote has varied from 8,000,000 to Roosevelt’s 27,000,000 in 1936. These figures show that the Democrats must be able to swing the unattached voters in order to win, and it is hard to see that a man so old, and so colorless as a public figure, as Hull could be safely counted on to do the trick.

It is of the greatest significance to observe that the firmest support for a third term (apart from the playboys in the Administration, who don’t count much when it comes to votes) is appearing from the hardened big-city bosses, like Hague in New Jersey and the Kelly-Nash gang in Chicago. Tammany, in New York, is reported ready to go along. The New Leader, which is also 100% third term, has embarrassing allies!

Will Roosevelt Run Again?

Roosevelt’s New Deal lives now only as a memory. In most respects he is to the right even of the current Congress. He has dropped all mention of the “Lend-Spend” program that he got so many headlines for last summer. He has proposed such drastic reductions in relief that Congress will probably increase them over his budget figures. He is ready, without resistance, to let the NLRB and the Wage- Hour Administration be altered further in favor of the bosses. He is backing the G-Men to the hilt in their drive against labor rights.

On the domestic front, Roosevelt’s program is a complete shambles. All that he has left is the war, toward which he is driving with such recklessness that Congress, feeling something of the pressure of the people, is compelled now and then to draw him back – as in attempts to cut down armament expenditures or to block an outright war loan to Finland.

But it is precisely his bold attitude toward the war that recommends Roosevelt to widening circles in Wall Street; and even the memory of the New Deal has more substance in the eyes of the people than any program that his opponents have brought forth.

Roosevelt is so strong because none of the other representatives of the bosses have anything at all to offer – except the war, and Roosevelt has monopolized first claim on the war; and because labor has failed to strike out on an independent road. If the only shelter to be seen is a pig-sty, then it will seem that we will have to remain in the pig-sty, even that we will try to pretend to ourselves that the pig-sty is a palace.

Since these things are so, it seems probable that the Democratic party will have to re-nominate Roosevelt, that it cannot risk losing that smile, those memories, and that ruthless hand on the reins of the war chariot. And if he runs, how can the New York cop, Dewey, or the Ohio platitude, Taft, or the Michigan vacuum, Vandenberg, expect to beat him?

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