Election 1940: Clapper's Column (10-7-40)

Attempt To ‘Smear’ Willkie Inexcusable

Roosevelt Guilty of ‘Cruel Misrepresentation’ In Affixing Fake Pro-Hitler Tag

By Raymond Clapper

Washington –
By all indications President Roosevelt is far in the lead in the presidential campaign. That makes it all the more puzzling and the less excusable that he should go out of his way to try to plaster a pro-Hitler label on Wendell Willkie.

It isn’t true that Mr. Willkie is pro-Hitler. He has supported Mr. Roosevelt in urging aid for Britain. He has said it not once but over and over. He has not said it in a weasel-worded whisper but has shouted it from one end of the country to the other. He has said it in the face of Republican politicians who wanted him to make a political football of Mr. Roosevelt’s foreign policy. To the anguish of vote-hunting Republicans, he publicly repudiated the support of Father Coughlin. Whatever history may say about Mr. Willkie, it will be grossly unfair if it does not give him credit for frankly and boldly placing the nation’s interest above party politics.

’Smear’ Tactics

Instead of giving credit where credit is due, Mr. Roosevelt, who thought he would have no time for politics, utilizes a leading question at his press conference to smear his opponent. A reporter asked whether the President had any reason to believe the Germans and Italians were working for his defeat. Mr. Roosevelt thereupon picked up a copy of The New York Times and read a paragraph from that newspaper’s Rome correspondent who stated on his own that the Axis was out to beat Mr. Roosevelt.

The President is no amateur in politics. He knows all the tricks. He knew when he read this quotation at his press conference that the resulting news dispatches would paste a pro-Hitler tag on Mr. Willkie. The incident followed up Henry Wallace’s acceptance speech, which was largely devoted to the idea that Hitler was trying to elect Mr. Willkie. Governor Lehman of New York put in his oar to the same effect.

The record shows that some Republicans are against Mr. Roosevelt’s foreign policy. But they do not dictate Mr. Willkie’s stand and they should have no more effect on him as President than Senator Bennett Clark and other isolationist Democrats have had on Mr. Roosevelt.

Mr. Willkie has stated his belief in aid for Britain so positively and so often that it is a cruel misrepresentation for the President of the United States to use the enormous publicity power of the White House press conference to try to make it appear that Mr. Willkie is sympathetic to Hitler.

Long Way From Unity

Because Mr. Roosevelt is near victory it becomes all the more desirable that he took beyond election day. He said the crisis was so great that he had to lay aside his personal desire to retire and submit to the draft. It would seem equally imperative therefore to forego playing politics with the crisis and to be concentrating on what we shall face after the election.

First we shall face the need for national unity. We are a long way from having it. I have been traveling around and I find no softening of hostility toward Mr. Roosevelt among the businessmen. They still distrust him. They fear him. Mr. Roosevelt appears to be winning this election with mostly the same people who elected him before. He has not won over the others. They are numerically small but they are economically powerful, and our system will limp on missing cylinders until their hearts go into the Roosevelt defense program. They want defense but they are afraid of Mr. Roosevelt’s defense.

Mr. Roosevelt was vindictive after his 1932 victory. He was vindictive after 1936. Some of those who believe most strongly in the essentials of his program, as I do, are fearful that after another victory this tendency will show itself again and prolong the internal civil division in an hour when we can ill afford it.

Wounds Still Open

Throughout these recent years of crisis, Mr. Roosevelt has been far ahead of his critics in understanding our needs. But he has made little progress towards healing the internal wounds that must be healed if we are to rise to our full national efficiency in this decisive test.

Mr. Roosevelt could well, on the day after election if he wins, invite Mr. Willkie to take a conspicuous part in the defense program, Mr. Willkie has talents that would be invaluable to the nation in such a role. Nothing would do more toward inspiring the national unity and confidence so sorely needed and so grievously absent. But Mr. Roosevelt will make any such move impossible if he succeeds in affixing to Mr. Willkie a fake pro-Hitler tag.