A Reviewer's Notebook - 1967/4
APRIL 01, 1967 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
Men can dream, can’t they? and, while they are about it, they might as well dream about a political future that would restore to us our individual dignity and freedom to own and act. We need parables to tell us that the libertarian philosophy has regenerative power, and that we aren’t necessarily destined to become a world of ants or bees, each of us assigned for life to our little place in a communistic heap or hive.
Two good men have dreamed recently about a forthcoming dramatic shift in American political behavior that will save us from the hive. One of them, Allen Drury, is an old hand at writing political fiction. His latest novel, Capable of Honor (Doubleday, $5.95), is the third installment of what has been projected as a tetralogy. Once again we meet old political and diplomatic heroes and villains who made Mr. Drury’s Advise and Consent and A Shade of Difference such memorable stories of crises in Washington, D.C., and in the outer world.
The other political dreamer is Holmes Alexander, one of our more lively conservative newspaper columnists. His novel, The Spirit of ’76 (Arlington House, $6.00), follows the same basic pattern that forms the groundwork of Mr. Drury’s Capable of Honor, for each story is built around the flummoxing of modern collectivist "liberals" by a strong president of libertarian bent who happens to be in the White House because of the death in office of a predecessor.
Like Mr. Drury, Mr. Alexander has written an installment in a series, for two characters who appeared in Alexander’s collection of short stories about Washington political life, The Equivocal Men, are with us again in The Spirit of ’76. One of the characters is Calvin Borton, the "liberal" scandal-mongering columnist; the other is his conservative opponent, Phil Obermeister, a decent fellow who has a hard time selling his stuff to an opinionated "liberal" press. Together these characters give the reader a running commentary in piquant counterpoint on what happens in Mr. Alexander’s spirited dream tale.
The Role of the Press
Of the two novels, Drury’s Capable of Honor has the more professional finish. Like its two predecessors in the projected tetralogy, it makes canny use of contemporary parallels, taking bits and pieces of living people and recombining them to form new, but instantly recognizable, human beings.
Everything that Mr. Drury writes is courageous, but Capable of Honor is the nerviest thing he has yet done, for this novel takes the whole mass communications industry in the United States for its collective villain. The leader who gives the signals to newspaper, magazine, radio, and TV in Capable of Honor is a portentous columnist named Walter Dobius, more familiarly known to his old colleagues as "Walter Wonderful." He is not basically an evil man, for he believes in what he is doing. But he does evil with an utterly humorless inadvertence, for he can’t conceive that there should be an elementary fairness even on the front pages in the presentation of news as such. Walter Dobius thinks there is only one side to any given story, and that side is the one that grows from his own "liberal" bias.
So, when "good old Harley Hudson," who has become President of the United States after seven frustrating years in the Vice-Presidency, actually stands up to the communists when they massacre American citizens and burn Standard Oil installations in far-off Gorotoland in Central Africa, Walter Dobius takes it as a personal affront. His advice would have been to let the UN "negotiate" with a bunch of bush communists who had illegally seized the power in Gorotoland with the undercover help of Soviet Russia and Mao Tse-tung’s Red China. And, when Moscow and Peking compound their mischief by touching off a seizure of the Panama Canal by "local patriots," thus putting the U.S. into two small wars some eight thousand miles apart, Walter Dobius considers it as a sign from the Deity that Harley Hudson must be punished for his refusal to give in to the communists in the first place.
Harley Hudson is a character that has been synthesized by taking a snippet of Harry Truman, a goodly portion of Lyndon Johnson, and large elements of Barry Goldwater, and whirling them all together. But the Hudson personality rings true for all of the oddity of the mixture, for it is the "old American" parts of Truman, Johnson, and Goldwater that are here. Hudson’s embattled Secretary of State, Orrin Knox of Illinois, is one part John Foster Dulles, one part Bob Taft, one part Paul Douglas, and one part Karl Mundt, which is to say that he is a man to be trusted when the old-fashioned honor of the United States is involved.
But the new word with Walter Wonderful and his crowd is peace. It is the old story of Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, told over again in American terms. But Walter Dobius and his TV friend, the Big TV Chain "anchor man," Mr. Frankly Unctuous, can’t see the Munich analogy in Gorotoland, or the partitioning-of-Poland parallel in the communist connivance to "share" the Panama Canal with a local stooge, Felix Labaiya, who has been Panamanian Ambassador to the United States.
When he succeeded to the Presidency through the death of his predecessor, Harley Hudson promised his old colleagues on Capitol Hill that he planned to step aside after completing his term. But when Walter Wonderful and his friends turn virtually the entire mass communications industry into a conspiracy to put Ted Jason, the Governor of California, into the White House, it is too much for "good old Harley" to take. Like other politicians before him, he argues himself into taking an "indispensable man" position and decides to become an active candidate to succeed himself.
Naturally, being the "head of the party" by virtue of his incumbency, he has certain built-in campaign advantages. But he barely succeeds in making it, and the closeness of the shave is what makes Capable of Honor the exciting fiction that it is. The day is saved only because one of Mr. Drury’s old "villains," the Bob Leffingwell who lied in an earlier Drury fictional panel about his youthful association with the communists, happens to turn "hero" at the eleventh hour, thus delivering crucial New York convention votes to the Harley Hudson column.
There is vast excitement in the way Mr. Drury manipulates everything, and there is much food for thought in it, too. The novel is particularly good in its portrayal of the effect which conniving with underworld violence and lawlessness has on politicians who would do anything to win. It is weakest in its failure to make allowance for the possibility that communism in Red China, in Soviet Russia, and in satellite eastern Europe is about to decay from within. But this possibility, which is currently hinted in a hundred dispatches from Hong Kong and Tokyo concerning events in mainland China, never occurs to Walter Wonderful and his gang. They want to temporize and shilly-shally with the rest of the West in the UN because they would in the last analysis rather be Red than dead.
A Principled Decision
Mr. Alexander’s story deals with a President, Jerry Chase, who actually does step down in order to keep his word to himself. But, unlike Drury’s Harley Hudson, Alexander’s mythical President has already succeeded in creating a "Chase cult" that is powerful enough to guarantee a victory for a good American conservative over a "liberal" American of the Finnegan clan.
Where Mr. Drury’s White House incumbent wins a victory for his side by using the great powers of his office, Mr. Alexander’s protagonist actually succeeds by relinquishing many of the overaggrandized perquisites of the modern chief executive. Thus, President Jerry Chase is more truly in the "old American" grain than President Harley Hudson. But Alexander’s "liberal" columnist,
Cal Borton, is far less of a menace to a good libertarian American future than is Drury’s Walter Dobius. In stooping to conquer, Harley Hudson does what he has to do.
Mr. Alexander’s novel is even more frankly a dream than is Mr. Drury’s, for it involves revulsions in the contemporary American character that are more instantaneous than those which Mr. Drury writes about. The world moves swiftly in Mr. Alexander’s happy prose where its tread is more hesitant in Mr. Drury’s vision of what is in the cards for the day after tomorrow. But both novels are good bracers for libertarians who are suffering from a loss of nerve.
THE PLAY WITHIN THE PLAY: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE U.N. by Hernane Tavares de Sa (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966) 309 pp., $5.95.
Reviewed by William Henry Chamberlin
An insider in a world organization naturally sees most of the game. Especially when the insider is as urbane, as sophisticated, and as free from propaganda clichés as the author of this book, a Brazilian former Undersecretary for Information at the East River headquarters of the United Nations. Mr. de Sa has quit the organization and distributes his bouquets and brickbats without fear or favor and with a pleasing absence of inhibitions.
One could hardly ask for a more readable guidebook on what makes the U.N. wheels revolve, on the hectic U.N. social life, with an average of two cocktail parties a day. The rules for these parties are outlined in lively fashion; the reader is initiated into methods of gathering diplomatic information, of unloading bores on wives, on observing such taboos as not creating mixes of Israeli and Arab delegates, or throwing a South African representative into close contact with representatives of black African states.
Some of Mr. de Sa’s observations are on the social column gossip side; but he can be quite serious when the situation demands. He strengthens the misgivings of many Americans about their country’s timid role when the Hungarians struck for freedom in 1956; in his opinion, the Soviet leadership was undecided about the advisability of all-out intervention to crush Hungary and a firmer American attitude, with some appropriate military gestures, might have tipped the scales in the right direction.
He is vigorous and forthright in his condemnation of U.N. action in using its expeditionary force to crush Moise Tshombe’s autonomous regime in the Congo, a stupid move in which the United States unfortunately cooperated and concurred. He notes that this venture had no justification under the Charter, brought the U.N. to the brink of insolvency, and made any future similar operation unthinkable, tartly summing up:
So the Congo episode might turn out, after all, to have been a useful lesson. Still, at ten million dollars a week (the sum the U.N. was spending on its military and civilian operations) Congo College charged the U.N. a stiff tuition for its education.
As a general rule, with one important exception, the Brazilian ex-official of the U.N. displays a refreshing and often humorous quality of hard-boiled realism in distinguishing the men from the boys, the few genuine powers from the many phonies. He seems to go astray, however, in suggesting that the U.N. serves the interests of United States foreign policy. Just the reverse is the case.
This is most clearly illustrated by the way in which America’s representatives at the U.N. have let themselves be dragged along by African states into provocative positions toward Rhodesia and South Africa, two countries with which the United States has no ground for hostility whatever. Were there no U.N., it is scarcely conceivable that the United States Government would have participated in sanctions against Rhodesia, which, unlike some recipients of American bounty, has never insulted the American flag, burned down United States installations, and made life unsafe for United States diplomatic personnel. Or that it would have struck a crusading pose on such an issue as the South African mandate over Southwest Africa, or apartheid in general.
But, this one blind spot aside, the author gives a spirited and highly readable account of the way in which the passengers in the East River Noah’s Ark fight and play and generally behave themselves.
THE FIRST NEW DEAL by Raymond Moley, with the assistance of Elliot A. Rosen (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966), 577 pp., $12.50.
Reviewed by Mary Jean Bennett
For an insight into the New Deal — and if the past is prologue, an outlook for the Great Society —one could scarcely do better than read Raymond Moley’s masterful The First New Deal. Moley, now a columnist for Newsweek, was the Columbia law professor who gathered together in 1932 and for a number of years directed the famous "Brain Trust." This was an early think tank that included such figures as Rexford Guy Tug-well and Adolf A. Berle, Jr., and that funneled policies and speeches to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and helped frame the social revolution known as the New Deal.
To Moley, schooled on the Progressive Movement, on "progressives" like Henry George and Charles Beard, the Great Depression called for pragmatism — bold approaches to solve the cruel problems of industrial stagnation: bank failures by the thousands, unemployment in the millions, factories operating at a fraction of their capacity, home and farm mortgages being foreclosed at a rate never before witnessed in the country.
Moley was attracted to the New York governor by FDR’s "pragmatic optimism," which was "marvelously effective because it was so contagious." Again, FDR’s "activism was a correlative of his optimism and his love of experimentation." In one of his first assignments as a speech-writer, Moley inserted the phrase, "the forgotten man," into an early FDR 1932 campaign address. The phrase was lifted from William Graham Sumner’s famous essay of that title. But Moley and FDR used it in an entirely different sense. The phrase caught on; Moley was in.
He witnessed history—and helped make it. He gives inside accounts of the sweeping 100 Days beginning in March, 1933, and of the London Economic Conference beginning in July, 1933. But slowly disillusion set in; the vision of economic recovery in a free society receded; desperation and radicalism gained ascendancy. FDR’s acceptance speech to the 1936 Democratic Convention triggered Moley’s break with FDR.
Moley had a hand in the speech draft and in fact supplied the phrase, "rendezvous with destiny," but he was dismayed by the excesses that crept into the draft via other "ghosts": denunciations of "economic royalists," "new mercenaries," "concentration of control," "privileged princes," and "economic dynasties thirsting for power." This was not the FDR of 1932 and earlier; this was not the man who had accepted the Democratic nomination for President in 1932 with the words:
We must eliminate unnecessary functions of Government–functions, in fact, that are not definitely essential to the continuance of Government. We must merge, we must consolidate subdivisions of Government, and, like the private citizen, give up luxuries which we can no longer afford.
Nor was this the man who had run on the 1932 Democratic Party plank:
An immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus and eliminating extravagance, to accomplish a saving of not less than 25 per cent in the cost of Federal Government, and we call upon the Democratic Party in the States to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.
In short, by 1936 Moley was fed up and soon submitted his resignation. In 1939 he published his critical memoirs, After Seven Years. The metamorphosis was pretty complete. His teacher, Charles Beard, apparently went through the same cycle and Moley writes that "Beard and I had many conversations in his later days, in the 1940′s, and perhaps he and I both went through a change in which we re-examined all of our earlier preconceptions."
So it came to be that Moley, a champion of reform, found that centralization can lead to excess, that there was truth in Acton’s thesis on the corruptibility of power, that he felt more at home in the Republican Party for whose Presidential candidates he worked long and hard, from Wendell Willkie to Barry Goldwater.