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January 22, 2010


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"So ... did it matter that Truman beat Dewey? If so, how?"

I think that it would matter a lot how Dewey hypothetically turns things around. Your linked article suggests three possibilities:

1. Truman screws up somehow, including deciding that the Dixiecrats have to be appeased, while Dewey runs as he did. (And Truman gets a little less boost from the economy also.) This opens up doors for either a more intelligent Progressive Party or for socially liberal Republicans, but doesn't guarantee either one will walk through them. If they don't we wind up in about the same place - although no Eisenhower presidency and possibly no Nixon presidency.

2. Dewey runs a more aggressive and policy-centered campaign, including reaching out to blacks. His administration makes some halfhearted gestures at civil rights but their hearts aren't in it, and black voters turn back to the Democrats at the next election.

3. The third possibility is implied in the Clifford memo quote, where Clifford says that the Democrats should work on new *economic* welfare programs to counteract Republican *civil rights* initiatives. Suppose Dewey had taken this idea and run with it, both literally and as policy after being elected? The Republicans could evolve into a socially liberally but economically conservative party that supported equal rights, low taxes, and freedom for everyone to get rich via the capitalist system. John Galt and Hugh Hefner.

The Democrats, in reaction, could become the party of the American Workingman, with higher taxes, more social spending, more management of the economy, and a not-well-hidden bias in favor of white males. Huey Long would be the crazy uncle in the attic.

Political parties in this universe wouldn't map very well to our ideas of Right and Left.

The Civil Rights movement would be...almost completely unpredictable, since not only the Supreme Court appointments but the rest of the federal judges would be different. Ditto the Federal Reserve. Ditto foreign and economic policies, so we would have had wars and recessions at different times.

But there is at least a possibility that this universe's version of the movement might be somewhat less violent than ours was. As long as the New Deal coalition was the Democratic Party's engine, there could be no more and no faster progress on racial matters than the southern Democrats could be coerced into tolerating. Real reform didn't happen until the Democratic leadership was willing to abandon the coalition.

In a universe where the New Deal coalition broke down earlier and the Democrats had to form a different coalition, reform might have started earlier and been more evolutionary.

Or not. But it's at least a possibility.

Hmmm. How about Eisenhower? Does he get elected in 1956 as Dewey's successor? How will Dewey handle military spending? One reason the USA did not go completely nuts on defense spending in the 1950s was that Ike said it was not needed, and being the Hero of the Great Crusade, he was believed. Could Dewey have restrained the armchair brigades? Can he end the Korean war as swiftly as Ike did without getting labled a commie sellout?

Gah. In the fifties the USA and USSR had leaders (Ike and Kruschev? who had direct experience with war. I feel in my bones that this had a lot to do with why the world did not get blown to hell in that time.

Sorry if this is a derailing but you are mashing my SHWI button pretty hard here, Noel.

You can just tweak California, Illinois, and Ohio less than a full percentage point to get them into Dewey's column. An optimistic read might put Stassen at State and Nathan Goldstein at Justice (crusading, anti-Klan, should be just the man for Civil Rights).

Neither Clark Nor Minton is named to the Court. Brownell and Tuttle are reasonable alternates, and if Dewey gets a second term, when Vinson dies, Harold Burton could be Chief Justice. That's still a court that's likely to be the same.

That said, I'm not particularly sanguine about the chances of a second term for Dewey, given that the economy's not in great shape, China falls, and Korea probably still happens. Which means that Governor Averill Harriman and Senator Estes Kefauver probably end up in the White House in January of 1953. You've also got to crush LBJ and Nixon before they get anywhere (because if LBJ gets power, he'll do Civil Rights, and Nixon will make Nixonland, and loves Red Baiting--but he'd lose in a 1950 midterm as the President's party, rather than not), while Joe Sr is still going to want the White House so bad, and even tweaking these things doesn't touch the NAACP and events in the South, which will be wild-cardier in the ATL, in addition to abaiting McCarthyism, which may advance the Civil Rights Movement.

If we get a second term, Dewey's affection for Israel should properly muck up the Suez Crisis, but he still has the Dulles brothers running the CIA, which, well, should be worse, rather than better.

I'm startled that this memo doesn't mention Truman's first-term record on civil rights -- which, remember, was strong enough to cause the Dixiecrats to jump ship.

To oversimplify, the postwar Democrats were ever more torn between a liberal wing that took an interest in civil rights, and the Dixiecrats. The party contained both the most ardent crusaders and the most reactionary racists. The Republicans, on the other hand, were the party of Wishing The Whole Thing Would Go Away. This was consistent across half a century or so, even as the party was changing dramatically in other ways. So I think it would take more than just a civil-rights-friendly President to change that.

Also, LBJ. If only Nixon could go to China, maybe only LBJ could pass civil rights. And even so, it required both Kennedy's martyrdom and the landslide of '64 to make it possible.

As the years go by, I'm starting to think that (1) the US got the Civil Rights Act just in time, and (2) it was a damn'd close thing that could have gone otherwise. IOW, I have no trouble imagining a world where there's no effective CRA until well into the 1970s. And this would have sucked in all sorts of ways that go far beyond civil rights... but that's a story for another time.

Anyway, to bring it back: to claim the black vote for long, Dewey would have to /do something/ for blacks. What are you thinking that something would be?

Doug M.

I've been crediting Lyndon Johnson as the Third Best President Ever (TM) for quite some time on the country-saving tip. In fact, you and I had a debate about that one time in Washington.

I'm not so sure about David's argument that a more civil-rights-friendly Dewey would short-circuit the urban riots of the 1960s. Those uprisings had some very deep causes. The sense that the federal government wasn't taking sides kept them from devolving into something much much worse ... I can imagine the situation going off the rails in multiple ways, but I'm not sure how you wind up with a more peaceful outcome than the one we got.

I don't think we can end up with a more peaceful civil rights struggle. I agree that it happened damned near too late as it was.

Doug, further to your point, the New Deal Coalition had done a lot to pull blacks away from the GOP--not enough to undo the alliance to the party of Lincoln, but enough that the Eleanor Clubs and all that were at the very least a serious shift, combined the Great Migration and so on making other political arrangements possible.

As for something to do, well. Dewey's AG, Nathan Goldstein, went after the Klan in New York the way that Dewey had gone after the gangs. If he takes over DoJ at a national level (which, given that he's a Jew and it's 1948 is a stretch) might mean that he goes after the Klan nationally, which probably causes ripples out to Birmingham and Selma, but also re-cements black allegiance to the GOP, at least until Dewey goes down to Harriman in '52. Even with a two-term Dewey Administration, Brown and Little Rock might be harder to cope with if the President is a mustachioed New Yorker, rather than the American that liberated Europe. But if Dewey gives way to a Warren Administration, we might be off and running.

The underlying problem that Doug points to is key--though there liberal Republicans, even liberal on race, none of national stature committed to civil rights the way that Humphrey did in '48. Fixing that may require going back to Harding's interest in a 'real' anti-lynching law.

To Noel--even if we set up Dewey from '48-'56, and perhaps Warren thereafter, LBJ is going to be damned hard to keep down. (If we let Coke Stevenson beat him in '48, he'll run for governor and then take Tom Connally's seat when he retires in '52), so he may be President eventually, anyway. But perhaps too late.

By 1948, the Klan was not the problem. It was in decline (as was lynching). An anti-Klan AG would be seen as necessary but not sufficient; what blacks really wanted was a civil rights act with teeth in it and an end to segregation. I just don't see how Dewey makes more than some very modest gestures towards either of those.

Doug M.

Also, I'm inclined to think that with a point of departure after WWII, what we got was close to the best possible outcome. I can't see full legal equality arriving much faster than it did; I can most certainly see it coming slower, with vastly bad knock-ons.

Doug M.

Well, no, the Klan wasn't the problem in 1948, but an optimistic reading of that might sound something like this: getting a Jewish AG and making a public push against racism might be helpful in 1) appearing activist to black voters and 2) making moves on Civil Rights a political possibility in the future.

The ultimate problem, I think, with Noel's conception is that Dewey is going to face a hostile Congress, at least during his first term; I doubt he'd do much to fix economic conditions and if he survived into a second term, he'd be hostage to an even more Democratic Congress, perhaps led by LBJ.

While I broadly agree with your second post, I think that perhaps the Dewey-Harriman fifties and then the Kefauver-whomever sixties might land a little smoother, but otherwise, that we'd need to work much harder, if we want to keep an approximation of the outline of the 20th century.

Perhaps Roosevelt doesn't pick Taft, or successfully defeats him for the Republican nomination, fusing the Bull-Moose Progressivism into the GOP, including all those wacky ideas by Jane Addams and others to give women the vote and treat blacks as people. So, perhaps a 19th amendment before WWI is over?

In the interest of learning more from people who know more than I:

"I'm not so sure about David's argument that a more civil-rights-friendly Dewey would short-circuit the urban riots of the 1960s."

COULD short circuit the urban riots! Or maybe even just make them slightly less destructive. Nothing more than that, and not a done deal by any means.

Broadly speaking, my impression is that while the late Forties and Fifties were the best time to be a white middle class male, they were a period of relative regression for women and probably for blacks. Reduce the relative regression and the Sixties are perhaps somewhat less explosive.

So. In the late Forties:

1) Republicans observe that race is a Democratic structural weakness. How to exploit it?

2) Civil rights matters, at a specifically legal level, have the least pocketbook effect on Midwestern Republicans for the most national Democratic distress.

3) So the Republicans come up with some specifically legal reforms, and generally wrap themselves in the mantle of the Great Emancipator. Sometimes these narratives can be activated for the occasion and then put away when over, but sometimes they take on a life of their own...

4) In this 1952, we assume that Dewey has done well enough to be re-nominated, so the Republicans can't fall back on "elect the war hero". More reforms, more Great Emanicipator rhetoric.

Of course, this assumes that these programs can be put through Congress, which is a whole 'nother story.

Let's see: we still get Rosa Parks, and the rise of King.

Brown v. Board of Education. But the court is different by three members, and -- crucially -- Earl Warren is not Chief Justice. That means we don't have a month of horse-trading and arm-twisting to make it unanimous. Would a 7-2 Brown decision really make that much difference? Not sure.

Doug M.

"Would a 7-2 Brown decision really make that much difference? Not sure."

Why would it? IANALawyer, obviously, but it seems to me that the dissents will only get cited in the course of strong challenges if and when the zeitgeist shifts.

No, it goes a little further than that. A clever dissent can give lower courts wiggle room by pointing out soft spots in the majority's argument. Politically, it can give opponents of the decision the chance to complain that it was politics rather than law. And if it's well reasoned or forcefully argued, it can give ideological or intellectual shelter to those opponents for a long time.

Frex, in the particular case of Miranda, there's always been a strain of jurisprudence claiming that the minority was right. (For the record, I think this is both bad law and bad policy, and I view Miranda as second only to Brown as the Warren Court's masterwork. Just sayin'.) That strain of thinking has stayed firmly in the minority for nearly 50 years now, but it has never died, and it has at least one ardent defender (Scalia) on the Supreme Court today. It is IMO unlikely, but not crazy impossible, that Miranda could be overturned. And if it is, that will be in part because it was a 5-4 decision to begin with.

Doug M.

I'm less certain that Brown would come down 7-2 in the ATL. It's a quibble, I suppose, though. Are we operating in a one or two Dewey universe?

If he's a two term-president, he'll get FIVE appointments to the court (two from Truman and three from Ike's first term OTL)
I'd suspect the three person difference gets us Burton as CJ, with Brownell as an AJ. The third AJ's probably John Marshall Harlan II (hinging on him being nominated to the Second Circuit in time). After that, I'm torn. Elbert Tuttle would be a great choice to maximize the Civil Rights umph of the Court, and he's Southern, of a sort.

Probably no Brennan, though. hmmm.

At a broader level, if the Dewey presidency mutes McCarthyite/Nixonite Red-Baiting, some of the further roots of the Civil Rights Movement may enter the fifties in better shape; the Walker School in Tennessee where Rosa Parks trained, that sort of thing. Civil Rights will still be accused of being a communist plot, but it may be possible for it to have respectable fellow travelers and white supporters somewhat sooner. That's one of those odd intangibles that I'm somewhat reluctant to hang my hat on though.

A couple of thoughts, David

1) I don’t think that this statement is exactly true. In the South, blacks don’t vote at all (or only in token numbers that don’t impact the outcome). In the North, efforts by FDR and his allies had caused a switch of the Black Establishment from Republican in 1932 to Democratic by 1936 (plus, the Black Cabinet, as well as efforts to secure federal aid to blacks against hostile state governments), which was cemented by 1948. The Democratic coalition is a bizarre patchwork of ethnic whites, blacks, and upper crust intellectuals.

Race isn’t a problem for the Democrats. Race only becomes a problem if Southern blacks started to vote Republican, or if Northern blacks leave the New Deal Coalition. The Republicans have been out of power since 1932; they don’t hold majorities in the House or the Senate, or even the governorships. Unlike post 1960 party organization, the RNC, the RSCC and the RCCC don’t represent a centralized party leadership, or much in the way of year round organization, so collective decision-making isn’t really in the offing. Further, the isolationist, Midwestern, reactionary wing of the party isn’t going to be thrilled with what the Eastern Establishment Arm wants to do. Especially if what it wants to do is the expansion of Federal Power (which one would need) in order to ‘break’ the Solid South and to try to capture the votes of a bunch of unregistered voters, while upsetting a large chunk of their own party.

2) Civil Rights are going to have a fairly large impact on Republicans, even before we get to pocketbooks. Even if we skip over fair housing, it would be a radical expansion of the power of the Federal government to give DoJ or the FBI the power to intervene in a meaningful way. You’d be hard pressed to find the votes in the party, let alone the votes in Congress, to pass the relevant bills. You could try for some resolutions from statehouses, but a majority of Americans don’t think that Jews or Catholics are White, so that’s going to be pretty interesting. There were pro-Civil Rights Republicans, but fewer than Civil Rights Democrats, and not enough to really matter.

3) Realistically, what are you thinking that the GOP could do here that won’t turn off their voters, be unpassable in the legislature, or radioactive some other way?

4) Or the economy, the loss of China, and the Korean War sink Dewey in his attempt to get reelected, and Gov. Harriman becomes President. (The Dulles brothers being in charge when China goes should be…funny. Dewey wasn’t going to spend a dime on Chiang, but the opportunities for inept and ill-planned CIA activities are numerous).

So, I think we’re back to killing FDR.

"No, it goes a little further than that. A clever dissent can give lower courts wiggle room by pointing out soft spots in the majority's argument. Politically, it can give opponents of the decision the chance to complain that it was politics rather than law. And if it's well reasoned or forcefully argued, it can give ideological or intellectual shelter to those opponents for a long time."

Hrmm. On the other hand, if there's a dissent in Brown v. Board of Ed, do we still get Brown II, and its language about "all deliberate speed?" ISTM That gave opponents of desegregation a much stronger platform than a dissent could have.

"A couple of thoughts, David."

I have to argue this one both ways. OTOH, I think Doug is right: Truman and his people were much stronger on civil rights than that Wikipedia article said and nothing Dewey did on the subject would have been a game-changer. Clifford was simply reaching very deep for arguments in a debate he was losing.

OTO...I think that you are not looking at the Republican Party of the 1940s with an unprejudiced eye? I can imagine the following bits being completely acceptable in an alt-1940s Lincoln Day speech.

"And yet the great work that Lincoln did is not complete. Today we see the descendants of slaves, free in name, but still oppressed by the descendants of those who enslaved them, subject to brutal violence if they dare to exercise the rights they are guaranteed as citizens, living in fear of cowards who haven't the courage to show their faces in daylight. Or, in what should be our great cities, they are entrapped by corrupt machines that suck the wealth from law-abiding citizens and divert it into the pockets of the the bosses.

"We must finish the work that Lincoln and our forebearers began. We must vow no quarter to crime and corruption wherever they are. We must do whatever is necessary to see that criminals go to jail, not to courts or statehouses to give instructions to judges and lawmakers who have betrayed their sacred trusts. Twenty years ago, the G-men tracked down bank robbers who thumbed their noses at police whose authority stopped at state lines. Today, the G-men must be sent against criminals who hide from local law behind barriers of corrupt wealth and power.

"Likewise, we must fully commit the Department of Justice to use all necessary resources to see that the thugs and crimninals who oppress the Negro are exposed and brought to justice, whether they wear sheets over their faces at night or prevent Negroes from voting in daylight."

In other words, frame it as a matter of law enforcement directed at OTHER people, to be somewhat cynical.

What could the GOP do here "that won’t turn off their voters, be unpassable in the legislature, or radioactive some other way"? I don't really know and haven't time for even cursory research. But here are some guesses just to expose my ignorance: various committees, commissions, and hearings; laws making violence or conspiracy to use violence to violate civil rights Federal crimes (if they weren't already), maybe "One man, one vote"?

These would be baby steps or token measures, depending on your point of view. But ISTM they would put increasing stress on the Democrats, who would either have to match them or risk becoming the default party of white racists.

"So, I think we’re back to killing FDR."

So when do you want to do it?

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