The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005
 

Clark Clifford verdict on the Truman loyalty order


I've mentioned before the inaccuracy involved in naming the post-war rolling Red Scare McCarthyism. Until his fateful speech in the West Virginia panhandle (Wheeling to be precise) in February 1950, Joseph McCarthy was best know as the hapless champion of German soldiers sentenced to death for killing American POWs at Malm├ędy [1] in 1994.

By rights the scare should have been called Trumanism - because it was by his Loyalty Program under Executive Order 9835 that the thing ceased to be merely a series of partisan GOP stunts and received - literally - the Presidential Seal of approval (piece on January 16, amongst others).

Reading the McCullough book, I see (p529) that Truman wrote to Mrs T on November 18 1946 (after the disastrous mid-terms):
I'm doing as I damn please for the next two years and to hell with all of them

And Truman's press secretary Charlie Ross was also in combative mood [2]:
"The real Truman administration," Ross told White House reporters, "began the day after the elections."

It rather sounds as if Truman thought his number was up, and that he would be able to vote his conscience without thought of re-election-driven pandering.

EO 9835 was made on March 21 1947. Between the midterms and then, the Greek crisis blew up [3] and the Truman Doctrine was devised and sold to the Taftite GOP-controlled Congress.

The loyalty scheme was supposedly meant, like cowpox on smallpox, to inoculate the body politic against the more virulent Red-baiting in Congress - HUAC under Parnell Thomas, most notably. If Thomas and friends saw the executive branch kicking the pinkoes in government, they would feel less inclined to turn their flame-throwers on them.

In the event, just 212 security risks were booted out of three million employees screened. And Parnell Thomas' fun was inhibited only when the Feds came to call on a matter of fraud.

Eminence grise par excellence, Clark Clifford confirmed the obvious to Carl Bernstein (p552):
It was a political problem...Truman was going to run in '48 and that was it...

My own feeling was that there was not a serious problem...We never had a serious discussion about a real loyalty problem...the President didn't attach much significance to the so-called Communist scare. He thought it was a lot of baloney. But political pressures were such that he had to recognize it...


Some time between November 18 1946 and March 21 1947, Truman had decided that he was indeed running for re-election, and that, accordingly, he needed to pander like billy-o.

In his autobiography, Truman put the best possible complexion on the loyalty business. But in private told friends that the scheme was terrible.

Now, compared with - oh, say, initiating an illegal war of aggression, Truman's little scheme doesn't really measure up. But, as I said, it gave the imprimatur that only the president's word can to to a whole lot of unpleasantness and misdirected energy. And boosted the GOP (even after they lost control of Congress).

The victory in 1948 was, indeed, something of a dead cat bounce.

  1. Eupen and Malmedy, spelling with or without accent allowed, apparently, once areas of Germany bordering Belgium, had previously had a bit part in international relations as having been granted the right in Article 34 of the Treaty of Versailles to a plebiscite on the question whether to 'secede' and join Belgium. Which obtained a 'yes' vote.

  2. Unlike the Truman quote, the Ross quote is not referenced in the notes, which are hardly satisfactory in format, certainly; and perhaps also in content. (What's wrong with ordinary footnotes? Or, if printing considerations prohibit their use, at least use ordinary-format endnotes.)


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