April 16, 2016 by Barbara With
The rise of independents Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in this year’s presidential primary—both men are new to their respective parties—has created a dilemma for the party loyalists and their bosses. While the Republicans are frantically trying to hatch a plan to stop Trump, the Democrats have a device—superdelegates—specifically designed for just such an occasion.
Superdelegates were never meant to be representatives of the people. They were born out of the party bosses’ need to keep delegates from voting for candidates that the bosses did not want to see get the nomination.
Before 1972, there were no formal rules for how Democrats chose their presidential candidates. The turbulent 1968 Chicago convention saw party bosses Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and President Lyndon Johnson pull strings to ensure that Hubert H. Humphrey secured the nomination and would carry forward Johnson’s brutal pro-Vietnam war policies.
In 1972, the McGovern Fraser Commission wrote new rules that made it impossible for state party officials to handpick convention delegates and dictate to them who to vote for without consulting the voters. Much has been written about the 1980 convention and the bitter fight between Jimmy Carter and Edward Kennedy. Because of that, in 1982 the Hunt Commission created superdelegates to once and for all give party bosses to power to control the nomination. Superdelegates include Democrats elected as representatives to the U.S. House and Senate, as state governors, and party leaders. These officials originally represented 14% of the votes; today, they compose 20%.
But long before superdelegates were a factor in the nominating process, party bosses at the crucial 1944 Democratic Party convention showed how they could wield their power to install their candidate of choice. Henry Wallace, FDR’s nominee for Vice President and the overwhelming favorite of the people, was effectively removed from the running by a handful of party elite. The result was the election of Harry Truman, who opened a chilling chapter in American and world history that might have been prevented had the vote of the people prevailed.
The Great Depression
In 1933, the American economy was in shambles. The agriculture boom of the 1920s had been fading throughout the decade. As new technology led to overproduction and low prices, people migrated to cities looking for work. After the stock market crash of 1929, unemployment reached 24% and a record number of family farms were being foreclosed on. Rural farming communities shrank further as people left, only to find there was no work in the cities either. Homelessness, hunger, and hopelessness descended on the country like a plague.
Newly elected Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a “New Deal” based on what he called the “Three Rs”: relief for the poor and unemployed, recovery for the economy, and reform of the financial systems. One of those reforms became the Glass-Steagall Act, which placed restrictions on commercial and investment banks in order to prevent another crash.
FDR appointed Henry Wallace, a young Iowa farmer and newspaperman, to be Secretary of Agriculture. Wallace’s father was also a farmer, and their widely read family newspaper Wallaces’ Farmer shared new scientific farming techniques and reported on political issues that were affecting farmers’ lives. The paper endorsed Roosevelt in his presidential elections, helping him win the traditionally Republican state of Iowa.
Wallace’s father had served as agriculture secretary under Harding and Coolidge. But it was Henry’s mother, May, who nurtured his love of both plants and civil rights. She taught Henry at an early age how to crossbreed pansies, which led to his experiments to create a higher-yield corn. May also invited George Washington Carver to stay at their home while he was teaching at Iowa State University, as he was barred from the dorms because he was black. Young Henry learned much from Carver about the botany of the prairie as well as human and civil rights.
As secretary, Wallace’s experimental high-yield corn seed was revolutionizing the face of agriculture and helped stabilize the country. He crafted programs like the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), initiating crop and marketing control, and the Farm Credit Act, establishing the Farm Credit System to provide loans for farmers. Wallace’s visions guided the implementation of government assistance programs greatly needed to get the country up and running again.
The Rise of War
Throughout the 1930s, FDR kept the US out of the conflicts in Europe and Indochina. But the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Nazis triggered France and Britain to declare war on Germany. While the US could not officially participate because of the Neutrality Acts, FDR began programs to help England buy necessary nonmilitary supplies. World War II had officially begun.
As the 1940 convention drew near, Roosevelt wanted Wallace on the ticket for “assistant president.” But the conservative party bosses mistrusted Wallace. They saw him as representing everything they did not want: government regulations, unions, world peace, and aversion to capitalism. When the bosses refused to put Wallace on the ticket, Roosevelt announced he was turning down the nomination:
The Democratic Party has failed when it has fallen to the control of those who think in terms of dollars instead of human values. Until the Democratic Party shakes off all the shackles of control fastened upon it by the forces of conservative reaction and appeasement, it will not continue its march to victory. The Party cannot face in both directions at the same time. Therefore, I decline the honor of the nomination for the presidency.
His rationale was that the country already had one money-dominated, conservative party, and therefore the Democratic Party had to be the liberal, progressive party committed to social justice. If the Democrats were not going to stand up for those values, then Roosevelt felt he had to leave the party. The bosses relented, Wallace was allowed to run, winning the nomination with 59% of the vote. The FDR/Wallace ticket easily won the general election, winning 449 out of 531 electoral college votes.
As Vice President, Wallace was disturbed by the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe and addressed fascism head on. In his most famous speech, given in May 1942, he called for a peaceful people’s revolution, but also assured listeners that if “the rights of the American people are transgressed … the American people will fight with a relentless fury which will drive the ancient Teutonic gods back cowering into their caves.” It was this speech that inspired Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man:
The march of freedom of the past 150 years has been a long, drawn-out people’s revolution. In this great revolution of the people, there were the American Revolution of 1775, the French Revolution of 1792, the Latin American revolutions of the Bolivian era, the German Revolution of 1848, and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Each spoke for the common man in terms of blood on the battlefield. Some went to excess. But the significant thing is that the people groped their way to the light. More of them learned to think and work together.
In April 1944 the New York Times published his editorial “The Danger of Fascism.” In it, Wallace describes in detail the profile of an American Fascist:
A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.
The obvious types of American fascists are dealt with on the air and in the press … Dangerous as these people may be … the really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.
Wallace defined fascism not as a political party or dogma, but as a condition that could be present in any human, no matter what party or religion they belonged to. Fascism becomes a behavior—a state of greed that causes people to be willing to lie and bring harm to others in order to remain in power.
Roosevelt’s postwar progressive vision was that of ridding the world of colonialism and continuing on with the peace alliance he had established with the Soviet Union. Wallace also had a vision for a world of peace. His ideas about ending world hunger through improved agriculture and standing up for the rights of international farmers and workers were revolutionary. While popular with the “common man” who needed a revolution, he became increasingly unpopular with the party bosses, who were crafting a much different vision behind Harry Truman and what eventually became the Truman Doctrine, a doctrine of endless war.
Another Chicago Convention
Wallace was the second-most popular man in America, following only FDR. At the start of the 1944 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Gallup released a poll that said 65% of potential voters polled supported Wallace for Vice President, and only 2% supported Truman. Nonetheless, the party bosses worked to convince FDR that Wallace was a detriment to the party. Roosevelt, too ill to fight for Wallace, weakly agreed to support Truman.
That night at the convention, Wallace gave a passionate seconding speech for Roosevelt’s nomination. The crowd went wild. Florida Senator Claude Pepper realized that if he could get Wallace nominated that night, he could defy the party bosses. Pepper was making his way to the microphone to move the nomination and was only five feet from the stage when convention chair Samuel Jackson called for adjournment. Despite the overwhelming cry of “nay,” Jackson adjourned the convention for the night, against the will of the people.
Working all night, the party bosses were said to have contacted every delegate, and by the following day when the vote was taken, Truman won.
In a few moments and with an act of defiance toward the voice of the people, history was altered. Had Wallace been nominated in those moments, there is no doubt that he would have won. Jackson later admitted he had strict instructions from the party bosses not to allow Wallace to get the nomination.
The majority of the delegates wanted Wallace. Wall Street hated him. He had the support of the farmers and trade unions. He was a leading spokesman for civil and women’s rights. He embodied the heart and values of the Democratic Party. That night the soul of the party was wrenched apart by the bosses.
Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, not even three months after inauguration. Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan only four months later. Had Pepper been five seconds faster, some speculate it is very likely that the bombs never would have been dropped or the US policy of endless war begun.
2016 and Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders, the Henry Wallace of our generation, is running for the Democratic nomination without the support of corporate Super PAC money. Funded by more than 6 million individual donations at an average of $27 a piece, Sanders is wildly popular with the people, filling stadiums and arenas with tens of thousands of supporters. He recently drew 40,000 people to a rally at Washington Square in New York City, one of the largest political rallies in US history.
The Democratic National Committee bosses—big banks, the fossil fuel industry, Wall Street hedge fund managers, defense contractors, and those who promote the Truman Doctrine of endless war—have made up their mind for Hillary Clinton. This right-wing faction of the party is using party loyalty to convince party members to abandon their progressive values and stand with her, despite her massive corporate affiliations and prowar agenda. The stakes are high, as the party bosses can’t risk losing their unrestrained access to the governance process they have bought through the patronage networks developed by the Clintons and the New Democrats since the early 1990s.
Sanders supporters understand that this is the fascism of which Wallace spoke and are fighting to make sure the true Democrat will actually win the nomination. And if the party is not going to recognize how far off course they have gone, then many of them will, like Roosevelt, decide to leave the party.
The people who support Sanders want the Democratic party return to its true progressive party platform, one of social justice of the People, by the People and for the People:
This country belongs to the people who inhabit it … It is time to set the public welfare in the first place.
Sanders supporters understand that, much like 1944, the fate of the entire planet lies in the balance. But unlike the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, they know that this time around, we will not recover from another rigged election.