The Rowe/Webb Memo
September 18, 1947
Harry S. Truman's fight for re-election in 1948 remains one
of the most dramatic stories in American political history. Universally
regarded as an all but certified loser throughout the campaign, Truman scored
a shocking upset by defeating New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Several
of the key features of the campaign strategy that led Truman to win the
White House in his own right were mapped out in a memo prepared by Washington,
D.C., attorney James Rowe for the Budget Bureau Director James Webb. This
look at the memo begins with the letter of transmittal to Webb and ends
with an excerpt from Clark Clifford's memoir Counsel to the President
in which Clifford reflects on the acuity -- and blindspots -- of the memo's
The original memo--running 31 single-spaced pages--has been edited
for this assignment. A full text of the memo, along with supporting historical
documents, is available from the Kennedy School Case Program (The Rowe/Webb
Memo and the Election of 1948, Case No. C94-76-111).
- Letter of Transmittal
- The Memo
- A. The Probabilities.
- 1. The Republican challenger
2. Importance of Western states
3. The third party.
4. Key constituencies
5. Foreign policy issues
6. Domestic issues
B. The Course of Action.
- 1.The Political Level.
2. The Program Level.
C. The Mechanics for 1948
- Historical Perspective: Clark Clifford Reflects on The Memorandum
- Strom Thurmond's Fourth Party
- Key Groups and Issues
- Results of the 1948 Presidential Election
Rowe's Letter of Transmittal
to Budget Bureau Director James Webb
Here is the memo; the alert and astute Brother Neustadt [Prof. Richard E.
Neustadt, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Emeritus, at the Kennedy School and former Truman aide] has galloped off with the original to Clifford.
I apologize for the length, not that apologies do much good.
The memo is based on a great number of obvious things, as a reading will
show. What it does not show is the result of a large number of conversations
with labor leaders, professional politicians, newspaper men, etc. The conversations
were carried on by Rowe in a presumably idle fashion and were all in a social
setting, and "accidebtally" pushed into political channels. No
one knows that I am writing anything for anyone on politics. But it was
necessary to test ideas and get other ones.
There is nothing new; it is old-hat. I thinks it is objective--I have tried
to be so.
I do not know whether Mr. Truman would be elected if everything done in
this memo were done to perfection. But I do know that if no attempt is made
to do the major suggestions, us Democrats ain't got a chance in hell!
The Politics Of 1948
The aim of this memorandum is to suggest a course of political conduct for
the Administration to follow from September 1947 to the November 1948 elections.
(What suggestions there are on policy are based solely on an appraisal of
"the politically advantageous thing to do." In a democracy, what
is politically advisable may often accord with the merits of a particular
policy; often it does not. This memorandum makes no attempt to evaluate
the merits; that is a matter of conscience for the Administration. For working
purposes it is assumed here that the politically wise thing to do is also
the best policy for the United States.)
The basic premise of this memorandum--that the Democratic Party is an unhappy
alliance of Southern conservatives, Western progressives and Big City labor--is
very trite; but it is also very true. And it is equally true that the success
or failure of the Democratic leadership can be precisely measured by its
ability to lead enough members of these three misfit groups to the polls
on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
A. The Probabilities.
1. Governor Dewey will be the nominee of
the Republican Party.
This tentative conclusion is of course based on the usual factors. Among
these is the fact that, at least at the present time, a strong candidate
is required to defeat President Truman, as the recent Fortune Poll
shows. Just as a year ago the probability was that any Republican could
defeat him, so the swiftly fluctuating currents of American opinion may
again destroy his strong popularity a few months hence if "the breaks"--
such as an imminent European crisis which the American government fails
to handle smoothly--are against his administration. But as of September
1947 it takes a strong candidate to defeat him.
It should be assumed, therefore, that the candidate is Dewey (the only man
to lead the President in the Fortune Poll); and that, because of
his 1944 experience and because of the extremely efficient group of men
he has drawn around him, he will be a resourceful intelligent and highly
dangerous candidate, even more difficult to defeat than in 1944.
2. President Truman will be elected if the
Administration will successfully concentrate on the traditional Democratic
alliance between the South and the West.
It is inconceivable that any policies initiated by the Truman Administration
no matter how "liberal" could so alienate the South in the next
year that it would revolt. As always, the South can be considered safely
Democratic. And in formulating national policy it can be safely ignored.
The Administration is, for practical purposes, politically free to concentrate
on the Winning of the West. If the Democrats carry the solid South and also
those Western States carried in 1944, they will have 216 of the required
266 votes. And if the Democratic Party is powerful enough to capture the
West it will almost certainly pick up enough of the doubtful Middlewestern
and Eastern states to get 50 more votes (e.g. Missouri's 14 votes). They
could lose New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts--all
the "big" states--and still win.
Therefore, political and program planning demands concentration upon the
West and its problems, including reclamation, floods, and agriculture. It
is the Number One Priority for the 1948 campaign. The Republican Congress
has already done its share to give the West to the Administration.
3. Henry Wallace will be the candidate of
the third party.
As of September 1947 the majority of informed opinion does not favor this
particular hypothesis. Nevertheless, the factors which impel Wallace toward
a third party clearly outweigh those which do not.
The casual comment by the professional politicians on third part talk is
that it is futile since a third party cannot get on enough state ballots.
This is dangerously unrealistic. Wallace is gambling for high stakes. He
hope to defeat President Truman by splitting the Democratic Party and then
inherit its leadership so he can be the candidate of 1952. If Wallace can
get on the ballots of only a few states and can then draw five or ten per
cent of the vote, that vote alone taken from the Democrats in a close election
is enough to give the Republicans the electoral vote of those states and
therefore national victory. And Wallace can get on the ballot of New York
(American Labor Party) and California and other states.
In a close election no votes can be ignored. The only safe working hypothesis
is to assume now that Wallace will run on a third party ticket. Every
effort must be made nowjointly and at one and the same time--although
of course by different groups--to dissuade him, and also to identify him
and isolate him in the public mind with the Communists.
4. The independent and progressive voter
will hold the balance of power in 1948; he will not actively support President
Truman unless a great effort is made.
The Democratic and Republican Parties each have a minimum, a residue, of
voters whose loyalty almost nothing can shake. The independent voter who
shifts on the issues comprises a group which today is probably larger than
The truth is that the old "party organization" control is gone
forever. Better education, the rise of the mass pressure group, the economic
depression of the 30's, the growth of government functions--all these have
contributed to the downfall of "the organization." They have been
supplanted in large measure by the pressure groups--and the support of these
must be wooed since they really control the 1948 election.
The Farmer. The farm vote is in most ways identical with the Winning
of the West--the Number One Priority. The farmer is at least at present,
favorable inclined toward the Truman Administration. His crops are good,
however the high prices may be affecting the rest of the people, they help
him more than they hurt him. Whether prosperity makes him the conservative
he usually becomes in good times remains to be seen--but, if it does, nothing
much can be done about it in terms of more political or economic favors
to woo him back to the Democratic Banner.
Labor. President Truman and the Democratic Party cannot win without
the active support of organized labor. It is dangerous to assume
that labor now has nowhere else to go in 1948. Labor can stay home.
The rank and file of the workers are not yet politically minded; they will
not, therefore, vote or work actively unless they are inspired to do so.
The "Liberals". Nor are the liberal and progressive leaders
overly enthusiastic about the Administration. This is particularly true
of such organizations as Americans for Democratic Action where most
of the Roosevelt New Dealers have found haven.
The liberals and progressives need to be fed idealism. They cannot,
for the most part, swallow the Wallace brand but they are not adverse to
the kind James Roosevelt, politically sensitive to the powerful California
"left," gave them on September 5th when he announced in a radio
speech he would introduce a limited "redistribution of wealth"
plank at the Democratic Convention.
The liberals are numerically small. But, similar to manufacturers and financiers
of the Republican Party, they are far more influential than mere numbers
entitle them to be.
The Negro Since 1932 when, after intensive work by President Roosevelt,
their leaders strung the Pennsylvania bloc into the Democratic column with
the classic remark, "Turn your picture of Abraham Lincoln to the wall--we
have paid that debt," the northern Negro has voted Democratic (with
the exception of 1946 in New York). A theory of many professional politicians
is that the northern Negro voter today holds the balance of the power in
Presidential elections for the simple arithmetical reason that the Negroes
not only vote in a bloc but are geographically concentrated in the pivotal,
large and closely contested electoral states such as New York, Illinois,
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. This theory may or may not be absolutely
true, but it is certainly close enough to the truth to be extremely arguable.
In great Measure this explains the assiduous and continuous cultivation
of the New York Negro vote by Governor Dewey and his insistence that his
controllable legislature pass a state anti-discrimination act.
To counteract this trend, the Democratic Party can point only to the obvious--that
the really great improvement in the economic lot of the Negro of the North
has come in the last sixteen years only because of the sympathy and policies
of a Democratic Administration. The trouble is that this has worn a bit
thin with the passage of the years. Unless the Administration makes a determined
campaign to help the Negro (and everybody else) on the problems of high
prices and housing--and capitalizes politically on its efforts--the Negro
vote is already lost.
The Jew. The Jewish vote, insofar as it can be thought of as a bloc,
is important only in New York. But (except for Wilson in 1916) no candidate
since 1876 has lost New York and won the Presidency, and its 47 votes are
naturally the first prize in any election. Centered in New York City, that
vote is normally Democratic and, if large enough, is sufficient to counteract
the upstate vote and deliver the state to Truman. Today the Jewish bloc
is interested primarily in Palestine and somewhat critical of the Truman
Administration on the ground. The bungling of the British in the Exodus
case is sure to intensify these already complicated and irrational resentments.
Unless the Palestine matter is boldly and favorably handles there is bound
to be some defection on their part to the alert Dewey. It should not be
overlooked, either, that much of this Jewish vote is also the "left"
vote and will go to Wallace.
The Catholic.The Catholic vote is traditionally Democratic. But there
have been disturbingly consistent and fairly well documented rumors that
the Catholic fear of Communism is grown so great that it is actively distrustful
and suspicious today of any group which gives even an appearance of neutrality
towards foreign or domestic Communists. This particular bloc need very careful
watching; the liaisons existing during the Roosevelt Administrations with
the Catholic Church must be rebuilt is there are none today.
The Italian. The Italian vote--which has weight in New York, Rhode
Island, Massachusetts, California and several minor states because it almost
always votes as a solid bloc--is notoriously volatile, swinging easily from
party to party. Today the Italian racial leaders are again somewhat unhappy--this
time because they regard the peace treaty for Italy as unnecessarily harsh.
They were not made any happier by the casual "brush off" by the
Administration of their protests (the State Department being the chief offender).
The Alien Group. As of today, the Administration enjoys good standing
with the Harrison group interested in expanded immigration quotas. The immigration
leaders today lean to the belief the Democrats are more sympathetic, but
they maintain a flexible position.
5.The foreign policy issues of the 1948 campaign
will be our relations with the USSR and the Administration's handling of
foreign reconstruction and relief. The probability that the foreign
affairs of the United States will remain on a basis of "bi-partisan
cooperation" is unfortunately remote. The stakes in a Presidential
contest are so high that the temptation to make an issue of anything on
which there is any segment or group of dissatisfied voters is too irresistible.
There is considerable political advantage to the Administration in its battle
with the Kremlin. The best guess today is that our poor relations with Russia
will intensify--and will be clarified at the forthcoming meeting of the
United Nations in New York.
In a flank attack tied up with foreign policy, the Republicans are trying
to identify the Administration with the domestic Communists. If the third
party effort [of Henry Wallace} fizzles, it is quite possible the Communists
will try to deliver the unions they dominate to the Republicans. The shoe
may conceivably be on the Republican foot by election time--and it will
be the Democrats' turn to emphasize the red lining on the opposition banner.
6. The domestic issues of the campaign will
be high prices and housing.
The High Cost of Living will be the most controversial issue of the 1948
campaign--indeed the only domestic issue. Whichever Party is adjudged guilty
of causing it will lose the election. For that reason the presentation of
its case by the Democratic Party--the manner, the substance and the effectiveness
of its evidence--is of crucial importance.
Both parties will do a great deal of talking about inflation but neither
will really do anything about it. Politics will make it impossible in 1948
to touch the farmers; yet farm price support and large food exports abroad
are the main reasons for high food prices. In an election year the farmer
is everybody's friend. Certainly the Administration is committed to the
Marshall Plan which, whatever it means, at the very least means the export
of materials and food during the crucial months of the campaign. The resulting
smaller supply to meet domestic demand means the other inevitable
rise in the price level--just at the worst time from the political point
The big political question is who will be blamed? The Republicans because
they remove the OPA controls and refused to subsidize housing? Or the Democrats
because of farm prices, labor "coddling" and "restrictive"
tax policies? There is a third possibility--that the public won't "give
a damn" who caused it. By November 1948 it may again be in that irritable
and irrational mood it found itself in during the Congressional Election
of 1946--and vote the "ins" out and the "outs" in. If
so, "ins" should be translated to read "the Democratic President"--since
the nature of American elections means the spotlight concentrated on the
How the Administration dramatizes the High Cost of Living, how effective
it is in presenting its story to the people--beginning now--can determine
the next incumbent of the White House.
B. The Course of Action.
If the "Probabilities" (as discussed above), or most of them,
are correct, there remain the twin problems of how to take advantage of
those which are favorable and how to effect changes in those unfavorable.
The action require to achieve this should take place on two levels--the
political level and what can be called "the program" level.
1.The Political Level.
"The Party Organization." The one particular upon which
all politicians agree is that the leadership of the Democratic organization
is moribund. It is hardly important on this late day whether this is anyone's
fault. The blunt facts seem to be that the Party has been so long in power
it is fat, tired and even a bit senile. Those alert party machines which,
beginning with 1932, turned out such huge majorities in the big cities for
the Democratic ticket have all through the years of their victories been
steadily deteriorating underneath--until in 1944 the Democratic organization
found itself rivaled , in terms of money and workers, and exceeded in alertness
and enthusiasm by the PAC.
The one essential is to have a new Chairman as soon as possible--working
to rebuild the Party organization from the ground up and trying to harmonize
such appalling feuds as that in California. The practice of today's Democratic
organization in spending almost all its time in raising money and doing
favors for "the faithful" may be useful but it does little to
rebuild the Democratic Party--and that is what it needs.
Liaisons with Labor and Independents.Just as vital to eventual political
success is the renewal of the Administration's working relationship with
progressive and labor leaders. Whatever may be the reasons, these seem to
have entirely ceased except on a perfunctory basis in the past year. No
moment will ever be better for the President to make political capital out
of the present frustration of the labor movement.
The leaders of labor must be given the impression that they are once more
welcome in the councils of the Administration.
The insulation of Henry Wallace. Wallace should be put under attack
whenever the moment is psychologically correct. If it is clear that organizational
work is being undertaken by his men in the West either for a third party
or for delegates to the Democratic Convention--and that work seems to be
taking effect--the Administration must persuade prominent liberals and progressives--and
no one else--to move publicly into the fray. They must point out that
the core of the Wallace backing is made up of Communists and the fellow-travelers.
At the same time some lines should be kept out so that if the unpredictable
Henry finally sees the light and can be talked into supporting the Administration,
he will have handy rope to climb back on the bandwagon--if he is wanted.
And here is the strong weapon of the President's arsenal--his appointing
power. Politicians, like most other people, think of issues in terms of
men, not statistics. When the President moves "left" in his appointments
he is putting political money in his bank.
The Wallace plan is simplicity itself. It should be--because it has been
used before. He merely borrowed it from Fighting Bob LaFollette who received
five million votes in 1924 by attacking Coolidge and John W. Davis as "Tweedledum
and Tweedledee, the messenger boys of Wall Street." And the significance
of the LaFollette third party was not its total vote but that the Progressives
ran ahead of the Democrats in eleven Western States. The combined
Democratic-Progressive vote was larger than the Republican vote in thirteen
states, including President's Truman's own state of Missouri.
Democrats who voted for Davis would have voted for any Democrat and the
LaFollette Progressive would have voted for any liberal Democrat. In effect,
then, this was a present of 86 electoral votes to the Republicans, not enough
to change the 1924 election (382 minus 86 equals 292 votes; 136 plus 86
equals 222); but is more than enough to raise havoc for a close election.
Henry Wallace may be fuzzy-minded on many matters, but his mathematics is
Truman must carry the West to win. To carry the West he must be "liberal";
he cannot afford to be shackled with the Wall Street label by any so-called
progressive movement. And Wallace recalls only too well that the spiritual
father of the New Deal was not John W. Davis but Bob LaFollette, andthat
the New Deal came only eight years later.
It is imperative that the President make some top level appointments from
the ranks of the progressives--in foreign as well as domestic affairs.
Portrait of the President. A crucial--but easy--step forward to November
1949 is to create in the public mind a vote-getting picture of President
Truman. The men around the President, naturally the most devoted of his
followers, are inevitably so immersed in the details and execution of his
day-to-day orders that they do not "see him whole." They cannot
see the forest for the tress. Possibly it is helpful if the impress President
Truman makes on the public is summarize from a more distant, and therefore
more objective, perspective.
The press mustprint news of the President; so he controls his
publicity by is own whim. One or two non-political personages a week should
be the target. The need for conferences with labor leaders has already been
emphasized for other reasons. This technique of summons to the White House
has the added virtue, besides publicity, of building good will. An organization
is flattered that its leader is considered important enough to be consulted.
This takes that most important commodities--Presidential Time--but it is
well worth its expenditure. It is worth it because of the American's inordinate
curiosity--he will watch that lunch with a new interest, even a sense of
personal participation, if the other participant is someone other that a
Government administrator or Congressman.
2. The Program Level.
The suggestions made on the political level go almost wholly to "form",
the manner and method with which things that need doing are to be done.
But it is the things that are to be done--the "substance"--that
determines the outcome of elections.
The issues are there for anyone to see. What remains is only the decision
how and when they are to be handled, so their advantages are politically
exploited to the utmost, their disadvantages politically minimized as much
How does the opposition plan to handle them? It is hardly a secret.
Having performed yeoman service for those interest (e.g. the "Real
Estate Lobby") which provides the financial sinews for political warfare,
the Republican strategists proclaimed their intentions to swing "left"
in the next session.
Senator Taft, their leader on domestic policy, has three strings to his
bow: Housing, Education (relief for teachers) and Health. The people, including
the veterans, are stirred up about Housing and rents, and the teachers have
votes. The Republicans plan to raise the minimum wage level, do what they
can for the DP's and five the Negro his FEPC and civil rights legislation,
or try to.
All this means they are chasing votes in earnest. And it emphasizes the
only tenable Democratic strategy, which is to swing further "left"
that they do.
Housing. In the four months before Congress returns the Administration has
time to devise its own housing bill. This Bill can be worked out in all
its detail by housing experts in and out of the Government; probably it
should be designed particularly for the unhoused group just below the buyers
and tenants who are getting what little is being built today.
High Prices Something must be done. As time does on this cry for action
from the salaried people and from labor (no better off than in "real"
"take-home pay" than in 1939 according to BLS statistics), who
feel the squeeze more and more, will rise to a roar. It may well be as vital
an issue in the 1948 campaign as were the irritations caused by OPA controls
which, ironically enough today, were the major contribution to the crushing
Democratic defeat in 1946.
To say "something must be done" is much easier than to do it.
The only real solutionis to go back to the OPA controls system--and
there is no way of dodging that conclusion. But despite the howls of anguish,
the nation is far from educated for such drastic steps. It should be educated,
as fast as possible because they are inevitable.
The President--after a long and careful study by the technicians--should
ask the Congress anyway for price control, and possibly rationing.
Foreign Reconstruction--The Marshall Plan. If the European nations can agree
on a program after revision and suggestion by the State Department, it will
probably be accepted by the Congress after much public debate and a long
At that stage, the President becomes responsible for its efficient administration.
The relevance of the Marshall Plan here is that if this planning now is
not of a higher quality than any seen in Washington during the war years,
its poor execution can and, may well be, the hottest political issue for
1948 that the Republicans can have.
The West and "America's Needs and Resources."
In the land of Electoral Votes, the West is the "Number one Priority"
for the Democrats. Its people are more liberal because they need the economic
help of government and in the years of the New Deal have come to understand
how it functions. Even the Chambers of Commerce or the West rarely prate
of governmental economy; they learned better long ago.
There is no need for an extended discussion here about what should be done
politically for the Western States. They know their needs--less discrimination
in freight rates, reclamation projects and lots of them, better roads (their
road system suffered from lack of maintenance in the war years), public
power, help in the development and protection of their resources, and so
forth. Their needs are not hard to understand. The Administration, which
in the last year or two has at least budget wise not shown much sympathy
(although far more than Republicans), must display a constant and increasing
interest in these Western needs.
The appeal of Wallace to the young voters during his western swing several
months ago was because he dared to talk in an idealistic strain. No other
American figure (not even Stassen, who leads Truman almost 2-1 among the
independent and western voters, according to the Fortune poll) has
had the imagination to "pitch" his arguments at that level.
Yet it is just that level, other things being equal, that has always had
more appeal to the American people than any other. A planning program for
the United States, set 1960 as the target-date, may well have that kind
of political glamour. It might catch on.
C. The Mechanics for 1948
This memorandum has made two points--(A) It is "probable" certain
things will happen in 1948; and (B) A certain "course of action"
must be followed to shape those probabilities to bring about the President's
The question remains how to create the necessary machinery.
What kind of mechanism will work?
Some sort of a small "working committee" (or "think"
group) should set up. Its function would be to coordinate the political
program in and out of the Administration.( This does not mean it would run
all over the departments; indeed, if it works right, no one in any of the
agencies will ever hear of it.)
The members of such a committee would be imaginative men with understanding
of and experience in government, and with some knowledge, even if only a
theoretical one of the folkways, the give and take of politics. To put it
bluntly (although it is poor semantics to do so) they would be the counterpart
of Roosevelt's "Brain Trust" and "The Team" of Dewey.
They would be closed mouthed (the hardest requisite of all!)
What sort of work would "working committee" do?
It would, even at this early date, start the preparation of memoranda looking
toward the drafting of the 1948 platform.
It would begin assembling material for approximately ten major political
speeches--the campaign speeches after the Convention. As part of this project
it would draw up tentative plans for the campaign itinerary, including folders
on the cities and towns to be visited, information on the industries, personages,
their occupations and the past voting habits of the inhabitants.
It would create a functioning political intelligence.
It would do research on the "availability" and the disadvantages
of the numerous Vice-Presidential candidates.
It would present to the President a "Monthly Estimate of the Situation"
(somewhat similar to this memorandum, but scientifically based on reports
and statistics and polls), informing him of recent political trends, the
rise or fall of the leading Republican candidates, the disaffection or conciliation
of any large social group or potent political or fraternal organization,
the weakness in certain geographical areas, and so forth.
It would do research on the various personalities to be involved in the
campaign. The White House leader of this group would be in charge of "riding
herd" on the Administration programs on housing, prices, taxes and
The "working committees" would set up its won private polling
system similar to one used with some success in the 1940 campaign.
Another badly neglected function the "working committee" would
take on is preparing answers to Republican charges. Its performance must
be efficient enough so the answer will be carried in newspaper stories the
same day, and not on the back pages a week or so later.
These are illustrative of what a good "working committee" can
do. Someone must do these if there is to be success in 1948. The Presidential
election is being determined now by the day-to-day events of 1947.
In national politics the American people normally make up their minds irrevocably
about the two Presidential candidates by the end of July.
If the program discussed here can be properly executed it may be of help
in getting them to make up their minds the right way.
James Rowe, Jr.
September 18, 1947
Clark Clifford Reflects on
Excerpted from Counsel to the President by Clark
Clifford (New York: Random House, 1991)
My role in the 1948 campaign really began in November 1947, with a memorandum
that has been praised by some historians for its foresight in laying out
how events would evolve. It grew, in part, from discussion at our Monday
By the summer of 1947, we knew we were heading into difficult and uncharted
waters. We lacked any plan or overall strategy for the campaign. As we talked
over our steak dinners at Jack Ewing's apartment, I felt the need for a
comprehensive approach to the election. But no one in our little group had
the time to write it. Enter James Rowe, one of the most brilliant political
thinkers of the New Deal era. Rowe had been an administrative assistant
to Roosevelt, and was devoted to his memory. He had left the government
in 1945 to become a partner in the law firm headed by the legendary Roosevelt
aide, Thomas Corcoran.
Rowe's close association with "Tommy the Cork," as Corcoran was
universally known, was a major liability in the Truman White House. President
Truman disliked Tommy the Cork intensely.
When Harry Truman disliked someone, he would often extend that hostility,
in the spirit of old Missouri feuds, toward his enemy's associates--and
that most definitely included Tommy the Cork's partner, Jim Rowe. As for
Rowe, although he had no great affection or respect for Harry Truman, he
desperately wanted the Democrats to extend their hold on the White House
for another four years. This could be done, he decided, only if President
Truman ran as a liberal, reassembling the key elements of Franklin Roosevelt's
New Deal coalition.
That summer, Rowe told James Webb, the Director of the Bureau of The Budget,
he had some thoughts on the 1948 election. Webb suggested Rowe write a memorandum,
which Webb said he would give to President Truman. But when, late in the
summer, Webb offered it to the President and identified it as the work of
Jim Rowe, President Truman waved it aside and told Webb to "give it
to Clifford." Webb asked a trusted aide, Richard E. Neustadt, to hand-carry
Rowe's memorandum to me with a note that said simply, "The President
asked me to give this to you for the appropriate action."
After rewriting the memorandum and reviewing it once more with the Monday-Night
Group, I handed it to the President. What arrived on the President's desk
on November 19, 1947, was a forty-three page memorandum, offering seven
major predictions about the coming campaign and suggesting a strategy for
victory In the light of history, phrases in this document that seemed unexceptional
in 1948 take on a different ring, with suggestions that foreshadowed sea
changes in American politics cropping up casually. I am struck now by both
what we got right-and what we got wrong. Our predictions were, as these
things go, surprisingly accurate: six out of seven right, enough on which
to base a winning strategy. We foresaw Dewey's nomination over his rivals-a
fairly easy prediction. More important, the memorandum forecast Henry Wallace's
Strom Thurmond's Fourth Party
Our most serious error was taking the South for granted. We did not anticipate
the Southern revolt that would lead to Strom Thurmond's fourth-party candidacy.
I can only smile ruefully when I reread my assessment of the South: "As
always, the South can be considered safely Democratic. And in formulating
national policy, it can be safely ignored."
Since Reconstruction, black Americans had favored the "party of Lincoln,"
but FDR had broken the Republican lock on the black vote, and it was up
for grabs in 1948.
What a sense of the passage of time these words evoke! In recent times,
it has been the black vote that the Democrats have taken for granted, while
white voters in the South have usually voted overwhelmingly Republican in
Presidential campaigns. We did not realize how quickly Southern whites would
abandon the President if he supported equal civil rights for all Americans.
With that important exception, the memorandum was surprisingly accurate.
We called "the Winning of the West" our "Number One Priority,"
and planned a special campaign targeted at farmers. This turned out to be
a critical decision: it was President Truman's success in the farm belt
that provided him with the cushion he needed to withstand the shock of the
loss of the South.
Key Groups and Issues
The memorandum identified several groups, in addition to farmers who would
require special appeals. These included independents, progressives, labor
union members, Catholics, Italians, Jews, and "liberals."
But the major issue of the 1948 election, we predicted, would be the high
cost of living, heightened by the continuing housing shortage. This led
to the most important recommendation of the memorandum.
The Administration should select the issues upon which there
will be conflict with the majority in Congress. It can assume it will get
no major part of its own program approved. Its tactics must, therefore,
be entirely different than if there were any real point to bargaining and
compromise. Its recommendations-in the State of the Union Message and elsewhere-must
be tailored for the voter, not the Congressman; they must display a label
which reads "no compromises. "
In this brief and blunt passage the glimmerings of a strategy for the campaign
first emerged. The President would run not against his opponent, but against
the Republican Party's record in Congress. It was to prove the most important
strategic decision of the entire campaign. While he agreed with most of
our conclusions, he vehemently rejected the idea that he call in labor leaders
or people (names like Albert Einstein and Henry Ford were put forward) for
publicized "nonpolitical" meetings. "It's phony," he
said, "and anyway, I especially don't want to spend any more time with
those labor leaders than I have to." However, he was willing to test
our suggestion for an early "nonpolitical campaign trip."
In conclusion, I wrote, "The campaign of 1948 will be a tough, bitterly
fought struggle." Of this I had no doubt. Things did not seem as bleak,
however, in November of 1947 as they were to become by the middle of 1948,
and as I gave him the memorandum, I had no idea of how tough and bitter
the campaign would in fact become. The President liked the memorandum, and
kept it in his desk drawer throughout the campaign for handy reference.
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