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Obamacare tax confusion a warning sign: the peril of playing it safe.
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But why? There was an answer.
Films about FDR always love to show a clip of FDR laughingly talking about his famous dog Fala. But they never give the context that involved Dewey — and in fact it was an incident that was directly responsible for Dewey’s decision to play it safe in 1948.
By 1944, FDR’s ill-health was apparent to many. With no television in the day and only newsreels and still photos, carefully protected by the press, be that as it may rumors about his health had begun to gain traction. He was, purported one tale, in a Miami sanitarium. Another version had him in a Chicago hospital. Dewey himself believed FDR had suffered a stroke at the South Carolina plantation of philanthropist Bernard Baruch.
The task for FDR was plain. Get back in front of the newsreel cameras and the still cameras — not to mention the radio microphones — and hit Dewey hard. He did. On September 23, 1944, sitting while delivering a speech to a group of labor activists, Roosevelt began to un-spool the Fala story.
Minnesota’s Republican Congressman Harold Knutson had charged that on the return from a trip to Hawaii to review the status of the war in the Pacific, Roosevelt, “accompanied by a flotilla of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers that should have been out in the far Pacific fighting the Japs,” had mistakenly left Fala behind on the Aleutians. Fala’s absence was not discovered until the presidential party arrived in Seattle, and, according to Knutson, a U.S. destroyer was sent “a thousand miles” to retrieve the dog and re-unite him with his presidential master.
FDR took the Fala story, which was false, and spun it out into the famous clip of how the GOP was attacking “my little dog Fala.”
What’s not realized is that the speech FDR was there to give was a fiery rebuttal to Dewey’s charge that Democrats were responsible for the Great Depression and a lack of war preparedness. And while the Fala clip doesn’t show it, in fact after he said it, the audience cheering, FDR leaned over to CIO boss William Green and observed: “They liked that, didn’t they?”
Indeed, “they” — his audience of labor leaders — loved it. So the President plunged in, whipping up the crowd. At one point the President even compared what he called Republican “propaganda techniques” to Hitler’s infamous book Mein Kampf. As noted by Dewey’s biographer Smith, one audience member “beat a silver bread tray with a soup ladle” while another “smashed glasses with wine bottles” each time FDR hit a punch line. The speech was FDR unleashed.
And learning of it, Tom Dewey decided not to play it safe. Secluding himself with his speechwriter he would take the opportunity of a speech in Oklahoma City to dish it right back to FDR.
And so he did. Word was out and the local GOP, fired up, filled the local Municipal Auditorium to overflowing. Stomping and cheering they shouted “Tom, Tom.” Dewey let loose. He went after FDR in no uncertain terms for “mudslinging, ridicule and wisecracks.” The Fala speech had “plumbed the depths of demagoguery by dragging into this campaign the names of Hitler and Goebbels.” Because of this, Dewey said, he was being forced to leave the highroad — briefly — to “set the record straight.” The crowd was in a frenzy of excitement as Dewey said: “He has made the charges. He has asked for it. Here it is.”
What followed was a fiery campaign speech in which Dewey discussed his policies across the board, from the economy to the war. Shouts arose from the audience yelling “Pour it on.”
The Dewey speech was judged by a poll of 48 journalists on his train — a group not considered “Dewey partisans” — to have been a rousing success, with the majority giving the edge to Dewey in his exchange with FDR. Headlines across the country hailed Dewey, his crowds swelled.
There was one problem. Dewey.
The nominee confided to his campaign manager that the Oklahoma speech was “the worst damned speech I ever made.” He never did it again, although in fairness the odds were long that Dewey or anyone else could have defeated FDR under the circumstances.
But by 1948, the Oklahoma City speech still rankled Dewey. He was not going to conduct his campaign against Truman on anything other than what Dewey considered to be the “high road.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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