The Washington Merry-Go-Round (10-24-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 24, 1941)

The Washington Merry-Go-Round

By Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen

Washington –
One of the Merry-Go-Rounders has spent the past two weeks taking a quick turn through the Midwest from Ohio to Missouri, generally considered the cradle of isolation and the areas which President Roosevelt has to swing if he wants a unified nation behind his foreign policies.

For years, that area has been much more interested in Mississippi barges than battleships and felt just as safe from invasion as the Russian peasants along the Volga River. Foreign policy was something they remembered only from the days when they recited in school George Washington’s farewell message on entangling alliances.

But today, as far as this observer can ascertain, the Midwest is not isolationist. Nor is it sold on Mr. Roosevelt’s policies. It is in a confused condition, fumbling betwixt and between.

For this first time in the history of the Midwest, its people are awakening to the fact that they cannot remain isolationist, that the airplane and modern science have narrowed the Atlantic to the 1914 width of the English Channel. They know that the chain of new defense arsenals and factories from St. Paul to Tulsa and Houston, down the backbone of America instead of along the Atlantic seaboard, mean a revolutionary change in the defense of the country. And they are about ready to believe that if Hitler wins, this nation might even be invaded.

What is Roosevelt’s policy?

Important and astounding as is this new thinking, people are a long way yet from going along with Mr. Roosevelt’s policies. This is chiefly true because people do not seem to know whether Mr. Roosevelt has any clear-cut foreign policy.

They would like to know, and a great number would be willing to follow the President – even into war – if they trusted him. A surprising number even think that entrance into the war may be necessary and that it would be better to get it over soon rather than drag it out indefinitely. But they are confused by the failure of the President to chart the course.

Also they distrust all the conflicting information they get from Washington.

For instance, they remember that Mr. Roosevelt announced in the most categoric terms that the destroyer Greer was attacked first by a Nazi submarine. But later, they know, Secretary of the Navy Knox sent a report to the Senate that a British airplane first attacked the Nazi U-boat, and that the Greer was actually bearing down on the submarine when it turned back and fired.

So when the Kearny was torpedoed, the average Midwesterner was skeptical as to what really happened.

Navy censorship

Again, the average Main Streeter had no idea that the U.S. Navy was putting guns on Panama’s ships until a couple of them were sunk and Panama objected to the guns. Most Midwesterners didn’t care very much if U.S. guns were on Panama ships, and a lot approved. But they would like to have known about it in advance, instead of having it leak out by accident.

Result is that they now wonder what else has been going on that they don’t know about.

Also, the Navy’s censorship has given rise to a lot of wild rumors about shooting matches on the high seas, plus far more suspicion than is justified about secret international moves made by the White House.

Result: the biggest complaint you hear in the Midwest is:

If the President would only tell us what he’s doing! We’re not children! We know we have to help Russia even if the communists don’t believe in religion. But why does the President have to make such a queer announcement about the Russians bringing back religion? Is he trying to fool us?

That’s about what it boils down to. Folks in that part of the country feel they are out of knee-breeches. They don’t get much kick out of slight-of-hand in these serious times. And while they don’t want war, they might be willing to go to war if they were lead, not blindfolded, but with their eyes open.

FDR’s bogging details

Almost one year ago, shortly after Mr. Roosevelt was re-elected for a third term, Russell Leffingwell, a partner of the mighty house of J. P. Morgan, called at the White House. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Leffingwell have been on the opposite sides of many fights, but despite that, they enjoy an old friendship dating back to the days of Woodrow Wilson when FDR was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Mr. Leffingwell was Under Secretary of the Treasury.

So Mr. Leffingwell volunteered to his old friend this frank piece of advice:

You have two big jobs, Mr. President. One is to be President, the other to lead the nation. And as I look back on it, that was the one great thing Woodrow Wilson forgot. That was why he lost the country after the war.

He got snarled up in the details of administration and forgot the broader problem of leadership. And that was why Herbert Hoover could never lift up the country and lead it on the road out of the Depression. He got bogged down with administration details. He forgot to lead the nation.

Mr. Leffingwell has not been to the White House lately. But if he had, he could point out very truthfully that Mr. Roosevelt, as never before, is out of touch with the people. For eight years, he made periodic trips across the country.

But today, Mr. Roosevelt’s time is taken up with admirals, war strategists, diplomats and the details of defense. He had his nose to the grindstone as never before. He sees no more of the country, gets no more feel of the people than he can snatch from the train window between Washington and Hyde Park.

And in the Midwest, at least, the people miss his leadership.