Election 1940: Dorothy Thompson — The Presidency (10-9-40)

Reading Eagle (October 9, 1940)



The Presidency

It is fair enough to ask a commentator and critic of public affairs what her stand is in the forthcoming election. I have been reluctant to state mine. I have wanted to be absolutely sure that it was mine – without any shadow of wavering. I think I reached a quick decision before this campaign began, back in May, in France, when I saw two-thirds of the French Republic folding over the other third and knew that the great crisis was coming to a head. In that moment, I think, I knew that Roosevelt must stay in office and see this thing through. I indicated my feeling about this in a cable from Paris at that time.

This column, in the five years in which it has appeared, has often criticized the Roosevelt administration, and sometimes very sharply. On the issue of the Supreme Court bill, the manner of the spending program, on the silver policy and the production versus purchasing power theory, and on some of the tax measures and the arguments and means used for enforcing them, this column has not seen eye to eye with the administration. If I look back over those criticisms, there is not a great deal which I would rescind today, although I would modify some of my criticisms. I know better now, than when I started to write, the difficulties of achieving perfection, the innumerable unsatisfactory compromises that have to be accepted in the adjustments between interest and ideas in a democracy.

But here we are, and the year is 1940. We have behind us eight terrible years of a crisis we have shared with all countries. Here we are, and our basic institutions are still intact, our people relatively prosperous, and most important of all, our society relatively affectionate. No rift has made an unbridgeable schism between us. The working classes are not clamoring for Mr. Browder and the industrialists are not clamoring a man on horseback. No country in the world is so well off.

The very election campaign, a campaign which this column dreaded, fearing that in the fight we would present a spectacle of disunity and division to hawk-eyed aggression, has demonstrated a deep, internal, spiritual health. The readers of this column may expect no virulent attack on Mr. Willkie. It has no acrimonious words for him. I have known him for several years. He is a very good human being. The things he loves and believes in are the things most of us love and believe in. He has courage and idealism and sincerity and spiritual grace.

Whatever the outcome, he has rendered his country a service which it should remember forever with gratitude. With a stubbornness reminiscent of the President himself, he has refused to throw into this campaign the issue of peace or war, knowing what a distortion such a campaign would make of the real issues in foreign policy, knowing how dangerous such a campaign would be to our world position.

They do this country no service whatsoever who try to make this campaign a fight between Roosevelt and Hitler or between Willkie and Stalin. Only in our quadrennial orgies of overheated partisanship could such preposterous ideas be rife. The truth is that if Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie were to sit down in the same room together and tell each other what they really think, there would be more agreement between them than difference and the difference would be due to temperament and a variety of experience rather than philosophy.

But I shall support the President because I think he has assets on his side that nobody can match – assets for this nation in this time.

The President knows the world. He knows it, in the most particular minutiae, better than any other living democratic head of a state or former head of a state. The range and precision of his knowledge – military, naval, political; his understanding of conflicting social forces, his grasp of programs – all these impress every person whose life has been spent in foreign affairs with whom he talks.

No new President could acquire this knowledge in weeks or in months or in four years. It antedates the Presidency. Mr. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1917. His passionate interest in the Navy, and through it, in world affairs, has never relaxed.

The President is a man of peace. No one who saw and talked with him, as I did, after the outbreak of the war, and in June, in the midst of the collapse of France, and saw how the war had stricken that naturally insouciant personality, marking his face with suffering, could ever dare to say that he is a warmonger.

While others talked of unity, the President moved swiftly to make unity real. He reorganized the Cabinet. He changed the most controversial figures in it. Mr. Hopkins gave place to Mr. Jesse Jones, about whom, in the circles hostile to Roosevelt, there is no controversy whatsoever. Miss Perkins plays a minor role today. The most important labor figure is Sidney Hillman, the representative of labor on the Defense Board, and no one who knows the labor bureaucracy is likely to challenge the statement that he is the most enlightened and statesmanlike labor leader in the country.

The President gave two of the most critical Cabinet posts – War and Navy – to two great patriots and two Republicans, one of them the man who, as vice presidential candidate four years ago, made the sharpest attacks upon his policies. Not since that titanic conservative, Alexander Hamilton, handed the election of 1800 to his hated rival, the liberal Jefferson, to save and unite the nation in a time of crisis, has a political leader of America made a more magnanimous and wholehearted gesture. Those who say he did it for political considerations have dry hearts and limited imaginations. The President knows that more than his career or his party is at stake.

He unified the defense with Canada, making a military and political move of first-class statesmanship and importance.

He made a deal on air bases which is worth billions for the defense of these shores. I this he was conspicuously aided by Mr. Willkie, for the destroyer deal would perhaps have been too daring without the support of the contender. For this, Mr. Willkie shares the orchids.

The President gathered to the defense counsel representatives of the great steel industry and of the great motor industry – neither of them his partisans – and in dealing with the industrialists in matters of defense production, he has been generous in the extreme. Short of handing them Capitol Hill, he has compiled with every reasonable demand.

He possesses the greatest single asset that any leader of a democratic state can have in a crisis like this: the confidence of the rank and file of workers that he will not use conscription and defense to betray democracy itself and destroy their freedom.

Mr. Willkie might also in time come to have that confidence. I think he would. But he does not have it now. He would have to win it, and in winning it some of his supporters would be the greatest liability. Roosevelt has it, and time is of the essence.

Finally, the prestige of the President throughout the democratic world, what is left of it, free, and what still hopes and believes and struggles under tyranny, is immense.

These are assets that we have here and now; they are the result of accumulation; they are already on the ledger. Besides them, it seems to me, the question of a third term and a thousand other considerations become very minor indeed. Democracy is destroyed from within by the destruction of its content, not by its viability under new forms. The third term is a tradition. It is not a constitutional matter.

These are briefly the reasons why this column will support the President.


This sounds like vintage Dorothy Thompson, but I’m surprised she doesn’t mention the two-term tradition being broken here. She’s basically saying FDR’s experience is best for National security.


The press saw the third term not so much as a breach of tradition, not an attempt to break a rule, but an attempt to break a record.

Even as early as the 1880 Republican National Convention, the two-term tradition had come to be seen as merely an achievement that no politician yet had accomplished.

In the nation’s formative years, President Washington and his immediate successors had just come out of a revolution against a king, and kings hold office for life; they wanted to show that the post of POTUS was not an attempt to establish a lifetime executive, and thus repel any tendency toward the Presidency having elements of royalty. But that concern was long gone by 1880, more so in 1940.

Though I do admit to finding this statement from her…

… laughable, if not, (in my opinion) downright awkward.

Poll here:


Ah, the old “Experience v. Change” debate in our presidential elections. Some things never change.


What does change is which party preaches experience & which one preaches change.


The first presidential election I voted in (1996), a vote for experience was a vote for Dole (R-KS), whom I voted for. 20 years later, a vote for experience was a vote for Clinton (D-NY).


Funny thing about that one was Bob Dole was criticized for his age(he was 73 on Election Day) & now going into 2020, the incumbent & the three highest polling people running to replace him are all in their 70’s.:rofl:


At least Dole had some fun with the age issue.

The Brooklyn Dodgers had a no-hitter last night

This still makes me laugh 23 years later. :joy:


That reminds me of one Christmas were one of the things I got was a new World Atlas. Later that day, I showed it off to my great-grandmother(the one who’s husband served in the Panama Canal & who’s brothers served all over Europe & the Pacific during WWII). When we got to the part about Eastern Europe, she said “I don’t want to visit any of those communist countries!” This was the Christmas of 2006.:face_with_raised_eyebrow:


Eastern Europe? Ouch.

OK, maybe she was referring to Vietnam, Cuba or North Korea. Maybe she hated communists so much that she would have taken in socialist countries into her “don’t go” list.


Sure, lets go with that explanation.