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Your stake in the U.S. election


 

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On the United States' election day four years ago, at a cocktail party in Ottawa, I found myself standing beside an old and very wise Canadian civil servant. It was an American party with Canadian guests. All of us were hoping Adlai Stevenson would be the new president of the United States, and for an hour or two after the polls closed it was possible to think this had actually happened. The party in its early stages was a very jolly affair.

My sage old friend was not deceived. “These people are fooling themselves,” he said, waving a pale whisky and water at the merrymakers. “Eisenhower has won. The Republicans are in—and mark my words, it will be an unmitigated disaster."

By midnight, when the election result was known, this opinion had probably been echoed hundreds of times by more and less eminent Canadians. It was the normal opinion in the government service, here as in most capitals. From the point of view of the western allies the Republican Party's record had been one of almost unrelieved black for more than thirty years.

Republicans led the "little group of wilful men” in the United States Senate who thwarted Woodrow Wilson's dream and kept the U. S. out of the League of Nations. Republican President Calvin Coolidge made the immortal comment on the war debts that were driving Europe into bankruptcy: "They hired the money, didn't they?” Republican legislators—Fordney and McCumber, Hawley and Smoot—built the sky-high tariff walls around the United States which throttled international trade for years and deepened the Great Depression.

In 1952 the Republicans had Dwight Eisenhower, a man respected by all the world, but they had others of a different sort. The late Senator Robert A. Taft had fought against foreign aid, foreign trade and almost every instrument of international co-operation. Senator Joseph McCarthy, and his strange henchmen Cohn and Schine, were still approaching the height of their power to annul civil liberties. Men like Senator Eugene Millikin, of Colorado, and Congressman Dan Reed, of New York, had been clamoring for years for higher tariffs, and now were entering the Promised Land. It looked as if the return of the Republicans meant a return to isolation and reaction, to America First and the devil take the hindmost.

None of the predicted horrors came to pass. Far from returning to isolation the United States became even more active in the councils of nations. No corner of the free world was too remote to be visited by that mobile secretary of state, John Foster Dulles.

Congress, instead of repealing, re-enacted the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act that the Democrats had devised in 1935, and that empowers the president to cut tariffs as much as fifty percent without further reference to congress. Negotiations for tariff cuts went on—less vigorously, but they went on. The Customs Simplification Act, which the Democratic administration tried for years to put through congress, finally passed under President Eisenhower; it may well do more to stimulate imports into the United States than a great many tariff reductions, by eliminating red tape and bureaucratic obstruction.

Foreign aid was continued on a smaller but still generous scale. No country in need was refused American help—“neutralist" India has received five hundred and fifty millions altogether, mostly from the Republican regime.

After four years no foreign critic can call this administration an “unmitigated disaster.” But what about the next four years? What difference, if any, does it make to Canada and the world whether Republicans or Democrats win the election in November?

The question would be easier to answer if President Eisenhower's future were less uncertain. The uncertainty is only partly due to the president's health. Indeed the so-called "health issue" is far more dangerous for the Democrats than it appears to be, even when observed from such a short distance away as Canada.

Eisenhower in the flesh looks vastly better than Eisenhower on television. The TV image exaggerates his slight loss of weight (he’s about ten pounds below normal) and makes him look gaunt and pale. In fact his cheeks are rosy, his eyes bright, his voice firm and flexible. The Eisenhower smile has regained all its old radiance, and his whole demeanor is one of glowing health and self-confidence.

Probably this impression of vim and vigor is misleading. No man of sixty-five, so recently out of hospital after a major operation, could feel quite as well as Eisenhower looks. This doesn't matter. To the ordinary lay observer his looks are a convincing answer to the "health issue,” and thousands of American voters will get a good look at the real live Eisenhower during the campaign. Thereafter they will be likely to regard any reference to his illness as a vindictive political smear.

In San Francisco, where hundreds of people stood for hours to get a glimpse of him whenever he left his hotel, I asked a rank-and-file Republican voter whether he thought the president’s health would be a major issue.

“Not in my state it won't,” he said. “I think the Democrats know the American people don’t go for foul play.”

So to question the fitness, for one of the most strenuous jobs in the world, of an elderly man with an impaired heart and a sutured bowel has become “foul play.” Political beatification could scarcely go farther.

However, people are more easily led to venerate a saint than to do as he says. The sainted Eisenhower has learned by bitter trial that Republicans are no exception to this rule.

Four years ago Republicans thought Eisenhower a dangerous radical, little better than a New Dealer. Since then the 1954 congressional elections have proved that Republicans without Eisenhower are likely to lose, while the Gallup Poll still indicates that Republicans with Eisenhower are likely to win. This lesson has sunk deep in the Republican soul. Doubters, if any, are silenced; all bow down with equal reverence at the Eisenhower shrine. But nothing has yet happened to show that the worshippers really share Eisenhower's beliefs.

Adlai Stevenson, again the Democrats' nominee for president, said recently that “President Eisenhower, cynically coveted as a candidate but ignored as a leader, is largely indebted to Democrats in Congress for what accomplishments he can show.”

The charge is true. In his first two years, when Republicans had a majority in congress, Eisenhower was so thwarted and frustrated by his supposed followers that he seriously considered forming a new third party of his own. Working with a Democratic majority since 1954 he has had far more sympathy for his program and a higher fraction of it passed. When he has been defeated in congress the adverse majority has always included a large bloc of Republican votes.

Would his party heed Ike again?

As long as they are depending on Eisenhower's popularity to get them into office. Republicans of all shades vie with each other in magnifying his name. Once elected, though, they need look to him no longer— he can do nothing more for them or to them. By a recent amendment to the U. S. Constitution the president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms, even if he is young enough and well enough to do so. As soon as the 1956 election is over, therefore, Eisenhower's strength will begin to wane.

This will be true even if he remains alive and well. If his health fails and Richard Nixon takes over, we can expect an even greater change in the Republican administration. Nixon is a party man, and the party is still well to the right of Dwight Eisenhower.

Canadians are afraid that one change for the worse would be in trade and tariff policy.

No matter which party wins, the American climate seems to have cooled a good deal in this field. The Democrats are traditionally the party of free trade, but this time their protectionists have been much in evidence. A delegation from the deep south tried hard to get a paragraph into the Democratic platform that would condemn the Republicans for letting so many imports into the country, and by a stenographic error this paragraph was actually included in one draft of the Democrats' foreign-policy plank, and released to the press. It caused an immediate howl, until the mistake was discovered and explained.

Even as finally adopted the Democratic platform contains small cheer for a trading nation like Canada. It has two paragraphs on international trade. One promises “vigorous support” of the reciprocal-trade program begun by Cordell Hull twenty-one years ago. The other, of equal length, pledges more concern for the "recognized equities” of American labor, industry and agriculture.

But if the Democrats hint at tariff protection, the Republicans boast of it. They "proudly point out" that the escape clauses and other protective devices in the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act are Republican handiwork, and they promise that these devices will be fully employed.

Eight times since the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) went into effect, the United States has used the escape clauses or other means to withdraw tariff concessions made to other countries under GATT. Three of these cases occurred under Democratic rule, and they were the least important. Five, including the only two that affect Canada directly, have taken place since the Republicans came to power.

One of these, it's only fair to say, was an Act of Congress at a time when the Democrats had regained a majority in both houses; it raised the duty on fish sticks, to the dismay of Canadian exporters among others. The other four retreats from GATT's tariff concessions were recommendations of the United States Tariff Commission, accepted by President Eisenhower.

The president doesn’t have to accept recommendations of the Tariff Commission. He often refuses them, in the interests of world trade. But it’s hard to avoid the impression that President Eisenhower is almost the only Republican who wants to remove trade barriers; that the party as a whole is protectionist, or would be if it had its own way.

At the present time the U. S. Tariff Commission is conducting an enquiry of great importance to Canada, into a request for higher tariffs on fish fillets. The commission has held several investigations already, and on one previous occasion recommended that the increase be granted, but the president turned them down. Canadian exporters are waiting with considerable anxiety to see whether the recommendation will be renewed and, if so, whether the president will again reject it.

“It’s not only what they actually do,” said a Canadian trade official. “It’s what we’re afraid they might do, too, that bothers exporters to the United States.”

The same tendency to cry before we are hurt can be found in other fields. Among the foreign offices of the Western world, it’s not so much what John Foster Dulles actually does that keeps diplomats awake nights, weeping into each other’s beer; it is the apprehension of what he might do, an apprehension that Dulles manages to renew whenever it shows any sign of falling off.

So far, all of his bombshells have been verbal. When he said the United States might have to make an “agonizing reappraisal” of its foreign-aid policy if the French didn’t do as they were told, the French were furious and the other allies sympathized. But in fact the French didn’t do as they were told, and no agonizing reappraisal took place.

“Massive retaliation” was another of Dulles's vivid phrases. It conjured up nightmares of American H-bombs being showered on Russia or China, and their fall-out on innocent bystanders, whenever Dulles became sufficiently annoyed with Communist policy. In fact, of course, no retaliation has taken place. Dulles’s most prominent and most useful recent activity has been to soothe the British and French and persuade them not to retaliate, massively or otherwise, for Colonel Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal.

So it has gone, right round the world. Allies fluttered and fussed at the “unleashing” of Chiang Kai-shek, and there was much talk of war in and around the Formosa Strait. All that actually happened was that Chiang’s forces evacuated one of the three islands they held off the coast of China, and stopped launching attacks on China from the other two. The U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were said to be in favor of armed intervention against the Communists in French Indo-China two years ago. but Eisenhower, Dulles and even the violently anti-Communist Senator William Knowland all opposed it, and nothing happened.

Undoubtedly it would be easier on the nerves of foreign diplomats if the U. S. secretary of state had less talent for pungent phrasing, or more inhibitions about using it. Whether a change would bring any real advantage to their various countries is less certain.

After four years it is now obvious that there is no fundamental difference between Republican and Democratic foreign policy. In 1952 the Republicans campaigned against the Democratic record abroad as well as at home, accused the Democrats of being soft on Communism and of betraying American interests as well as giving away American wealth to ungrateful and unworthy recipients. For a while after they took office—eighteen months at most—the Republicans made occasional gestures to indicate that they had really changed the nature and direction of U. S. foreign policy. None of these gestures meant much.

In the main, the broad lines of Republican policy have been those laid down by Dean Acheson (who was under-secretary of state before he became secretary, and thus an architect of policy far longer than he appeared to be) in the years between 1945 and 1952. Massive foreign aid, which Acheson had first launched with the Marshall Plan, continued under the Republicans. Foreign alliances like NATO were maintained and extended— perhaps overextended in some places, but at least there was no change of direction.

Now, ironically, it is the Democrats who are calling in their platform for “a realistic reappraisal of the American foreign-aid program.” The crowning irony came when Governor Averell Harriman, of New York, presenting himself to the Democratic convention as an extreme radical, berated President Eisenhower for having been soft on Communism at Geneva.

How to be popular at home

But this kind of talk from the Democrats is unlikely to make much impression either at home or abroad. Everybody regards the Democrats not only as the originators but as the most steadfast backers of international co-operation, foreign aid and all the rest of it. But perhaps for this very reason it may be to the advantage of the rest of the world if the Republicans are returned to office.

Dean Acheson led the U. S, to the rescue of the free world with that most generous and enlightened of all acts of statesmanship, the Marshall Plan, but Acheson had one disability that in the end proved fatal to his career: he did not have the confidence of congress. Partly the trouble was personal, but partly it grew out of congress’ suspicion that Acheson put the interests of other countries ahead of the interests of the United States. Thus his very popularity abroad contributed to his unpopularity at home.

Dulles is much less popular abroad than his predecessors—gets, in fact, a good deal of abuse in the foreign press. It may be no mere coincidence that he is more popular at home, and on better terms with congress, than any U. S. secretary of state since the early days of Cordell Hull, some twenty years ago.

No matter what party is in power, congress is always highly sensitive to the ebb and flow of public opinion in the United States. It was a Democratic congress that lately cut about a billion dollars out of President Eisenhower’s foreign-aid program. Both party platforms show an awareness that the American taxpayer is running out of patience with foreign countries that take his money while assuring him that they don't like him. It may well be that Dulles, just because he talks so bluntly to allied nations and gets their backs up so often, is better able to prop up the interlocking structure of American alliances than a man whom the allies themselves might find more congenial.

The same cold comfort can be found in another Washington department that has caused a lot of worry to the allies in general and to Canada in particular. No recent American policy has caused more headaches in Ottawa than the surplus-disposal program of Ezra Taft Benson, the secretary of agriculture. For a while some Canadians were afraid that American “giveaways” — outright gifts, sales for local currency, or sales on long and easy credit—would destroy the world market for Canadian exports such as wheat.

So far, at least, no such catastrophe has happened. Canada has lost some customers because of U. S. disposal of surplus wheat, but most of them have been poor countries receiving direct economic help from Washington. We could hardly insist that the Americans keep on supplying our customers with dollars so that they could go on paying us cash for wheat. Prosperous countries, in the main, have preferred to buy hard Canadian milling wheat instead of the poorer grades that they could have got from Washington on easier terms.

But in any case the United States has a price-support program that seems to create surpluses. The Republicans’ Secretary Benson is trying to cut them down, not only by disposal abroad, but by flexible price supports at home that will discourage farmers from producing vastly more than the market can absorb. The Democrats denounce this policy more loudly than any other, and pledge a return to the high, rigid support prices that created the surpluses in the first place. Presumably the surpluses will have to be disposed of eventually, somewhere, somehow.

At the moment, and assuming President Eisenhower’s health remains good, most observers would probably rank the three possible results of the U. S. election in the following order of probability:

1. Re-election of President Eisenhower with a Republican congress. His personal popularity will give his party a boost, and may bring in some wobbly senators and representatives on Eisenhower’s coattails.

2. Re-election of Eisenhower with a Democratic congress, which would continue the situation as it has existed since 1954. Republicans admit the Democrats have a better chance to win congress than they have to beat Eisenhower for the presidency.

3. Election of Adlai Stevenson with a Democratic congress.

The fourth theoretical possibility, the election of Stevenson with a Republican congress, is so wildly improbable as to be out of the question altogether.

If Canadians had a vote in the American election, and if they showed the same majority opinion as Canadian officials in Ottawa, they would probably reverse this order—put Stevenson first, Eisenhower with a Democratic congress second, and a Republican sweep last. Memories of Smoot and Hawley, McCarthy and MacArthur, are still strong. In the main Canadians, in Ottawa at least, are still Democrats.

But although this is the majority opinion among Canadian officials, it’s no longer unanimous. There’s a minority—and it includes officials who actually live in the United States and deal with the United States government day by day— that maintains that a Republican victory would be better for Canada and the world than a return of the Democrats.

“You underestimate what Eisenhower has done and is still doing to the Republican Party,” said one. “You’re quite right that a second-term president will be less powerful than a first-term president, but Eisenhower is different. He has been transforming his party for the last four years—or maybe I should say the last three years—and although he hasn’t finished the job he will be able to finish it if he’s re-elected.

"At San Francisco the Republicans looked like a one-man party, I know, but they really aren’t. They're still divided, but they're getting over it. Eisenhower men are edging the Old Guard out of the positions of power, and if they have four more years to do it in, they’ll have changed and refreshed and renewed the party out of all recognition—really brought it into the twentieth century. On the other hand if they are defeated now, the Old Guard will be back in the saddle and the party will go back to McKinley.”

As I say, that’s a minority view among Canadians. But even the most hardened Democrats among them, and few harder can be found north of the Mason-Dixon line, would probably agree now with a statement none of them would have accepted four years ago:

Never has it mattered less, to the rest of the free world, which of two candidates is elected president of the United States. ★

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