President at a Crossroads

Dorothy Thompson

Times Dispatch/November 8, 1936

One’s first reaction to the Tuesday election is that it brings about an unhealthy state of affairs. Mr. Roosevelt came within eight votes of winning 100 percent of the electoral votes, and he got around 60 percent of the popular votes of the country, and the entire nation showed approximately the same picture. 

This is a personal victory, and an acknowledgment of personal leadership unique in our history for over 100 years and unique in modern times for all countries. Even Adolph Hitler, in the last free election in Germany in which other parties could contend for recognition, received only 42 percent of the popular ballot—and this followed the Reichstag fire and widespread fear of a Communist rising. The same election which has so unmistakably registered the popular faith in the President has returned a largely Democratic Congress, so that the President has a stronger congressional following than ever. 

Furthermore, the election was not a party victory. The victory was for Roosevelt, not for the Democratic Party since the voters who elected him are not by any means all Democrats.

Nevertheless, some 17,000,000 American citizens voted against Mr. Roosevelt. I say against Mr. Roosevelt, because Mr. Roosevelt and not Mr. Landon, was the issue in the campaign. They voted against personal leadership, against extension of Federal control, against increased regulation of business, for retrenchment in public spending and for a more cautious and traditional policy altogether. There are not 17,000,000 “Economic Royalists.” And that they lost is not so important as is the fact that this minority, still a very large part of the people, is definitely not represented today. And regardless of any estimate of the President, be he pure as Parsifal, gallant as Lancelot and wise as Socrates, this is not the best possible condition in a democracy. 

On the other hand, the vote enormously clarifies things. It registers in a manner that none can possibly evade the overwhelming desire of the American people to continue a new way of life better suited, they apparently are certain, to the realities of the times in which we live. The vote shows that that desire outs through all classes, through all sections, and is alive on the plains of Kansas in the groves of California, in the cotton fields of the South, and on the sidewalks of New York. It is impossible to describe as a “class vote” anything so overwhelming. Every voter on relief, and every voter who is a member of any trade union, could be eliminated, and still Mr. Roosevelt would have been re-elected. We have heard the voice of a nation speak. Only twice before in the history of our country has it spoken so unmistakably, when the Federalist Party died, leaving Monroe practically uncontested, and at the nation’s birth. 

This election also has wiped out the lunatic fringe and the extremists of either the Right or the Left. The American people did not vote for Communism, which in New York State failed even to hold its place on the ballot, or for Lemkeism, or for Townsendism, or for Socialism. Nor did they indicate that they wish the New Deal to proceed in any of these directions. Not one-tenth of Mr. Roosevelt’s voters in New York State supported him, as they had the opportunity to do, under the banner of the American Labor Party. The same election which swept in Roosevelt brought in the progressive New York charter, and in rock-ribbed Republican Massachusetts, Mr. Roosevelt came in while Mr. Curley, for whom Rooseveltism, in the voters’ mind, had become a racket, went down before the impeccable Republican, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Curleyism and Coughlinism were as decisively defeated in this election as was the Old Deal. 

These facts invest the President not only with every possible power short of the limitations imposed by the fundamental law, but with a fearful responsibility. For he must represent not a party, not a class, not this pressure group or that, but the progressive will of an entire nation. That nation has chosen him as its leader and indicated a direction, and the President and his Congress must find the way best to express and incorporate the nation’s will to peace, to progress, to greater security, to more stable and universal prosperity inside the tradition of Liberal Democracy. Invested with a confidence tendered him by every conceivable sort of group, the President will have the lofty duty to harmonize specific interests in the frame of the total welfare. It is a duty and a task which at the first impact must engender in him elation, and on deeper thought evoke humility. 

But the election calls for a renewed sense of responsibility not only in the President, but in all of us. For it is no longer a question for any of us whether, or how far we are prepared to collaborate with the President, but whether and how far we are prepared to collaborate with the national will. It ought to mean that business and industry will face the challenge of formulating programs of collaboration with Government for the good of the nation, to satisfy the desire of the nation, for more security, more stability, for better homes and steadier wages, and that, given such an effort, it will be met by the President without malice and without suspicion. The President, in his first informal talk after the election, recognized the fact of the support of businessmen throughout the country who shared his concept of the new social order.

It ought to mean that conscious of the weakened position of the minority, the President will be the more sensitive to honest criticism and the more willing dispassionately to discuss means and methods for arriving at objectives so universally desired.

Yesterday the United States stood at the crossroads. But today the President stands at the crossroads. He can choose struggle, mobilizing toward coercion, or backed by his tremendous majority, he can choose the widest possible measure of conciliation and collaboration in the liberal temper which exudes light.

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