Election 1940: Clapper's Column (10-31-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 31, 1940)


Early’s ‘Knee Punch’ May Hurt Roosevelt

That and Many Other Local ‘Incidents’ Likely to Swing States’ Votes

By Raymond Clapper

New York –
On what issues is this historic election turning? What questions decided the attitude of the voters and turn states either to Roosevelt or Willkie? I wonder.

The big issue in New York today is the fact that Stephen T. Early, White House secretary, put his knee in the stomach of a Negro policeman who tried to keep him from boarding the presidential train in New York a few nights ago. It’s going to mean a lot of votes for Mr. Willkie in Harlem, they say. So if New York is close that may tip the balance. And so on.

This knee punch, executed squarely amidships of a Negro policeman by a Virginia Democrat who works for Mr. Roosevelt, is supposed to offset the recent promotion of a Negro to be a general in the Army.

Oh, that isn’t the only issue. There are a lot of them. Both sides have them. Mr. Willkie is the candidate of Hitler. The Democrats had that issue up again today. Ambassador Joe Kennedy came back from London to plug for Mr. Roosevelt. He’s going to head up the Defense Commission; that was the deal, sop the political talk runs. And don’t you know why John L. Lewis came out for Mr. Willkie? Shame on you. First it is part of a secret plot by the Communists who control Mr. Lewis to get rid of Mr. Roosevelt. They used to like Mr. Roosevelt until they discovered he didn’t like Hitler. Then they put John L. Lewis to work. Well, that wasn’t the only reason. Mr. Lewis also supported Mr. Willkie because he would get a place in the Willkie cabinet, so Mr. Lewis had to deny that one.

Elliott Proves Issue

Recently a reader from the Middle West wrote in and said:

You newspaper birds may know what you are writing about but I want to tell you that you are dealing in fine distinctions that don’t mean a thing to us. You write about high-flown questions. You are doing a lot of fancy figure-skating and nobody is watching you.

I suspect he may be right. In Illinois, the Republicans told me the Elliott Roosevelt affair was their best issue. Democrats and that if they lost Illinois it would be because of that.

The Roosevelt family is supposed to have cleaned up a fortune in this way and that. An employer is supposed to have put slips in his pay envelopes warning his employees that they could expect no more raises for five year if Mr. Roosevelt was re-elected. The Republican National Committee is issuing daily instruction sheets to its workers telling them how to answer whispering campaigns. Time and again these anticipated whispering attacks by two or three days.

Strong Stuff Necessary

I asked one party publicity director why they put out certain things which don’t stand up under facts. He said the answer was obvious. If they issued only mild attacks nobody would pay any attention. Only by rough stuff could they get into print.

It does make me cynical. After reporting politics for tewnmty6 years one is prepared to encounter anything. But it does discourage one to see such counterfeit political coin passing around at the height of such an important campaign. Democracy is supposed to be the form of government which requires the highest level of public intelligence. When one looks back over political history and sees the trivial issues which have played such an important part in elections, the surprising thing is that we have been able to make such good decisions. They say God works in mysterious way His wonders to perform. It must be the same with democracy.

Result May Save Day

Wise decisions often result from poor reasons. Someone said about Mr. Roosevelt that although his motives might be in question, although his sincerity might be in doubt, he has a knack of getting on the right side of questions. Perhaps that is true of our politics generally, and perhaps out of this muck of rumor that is being churned up in both political parties, a result is taking shape that will rise far above the motives which are bringing it about.