The Radio Priest

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Your first direct involvement in domestic politics occurred in October, 1931, when you denounced the Depression policies of the Hoover administration—is that correct?

That’s right, I had come to realize, and I was dismayed by this knowledge, that according to the laws of the United States at that time, the government was empowered to spend thousands of dollars on the pigs in Alabama and Georgia but not one cent for the relief of the people of those states. I tried to tell that to my congregation, and I used to say to them, how terribly unkind the American people are and how unskilled they are in the practical knowledge of running a country. I told them it was unfair to blame Mr. Hoover; after all, I used to say, he’s only the Executive. Let me say this about Mr. Hoover. There never was a finer, more stalwart American gentleman than he was. He was also one of the best-educated Presidents we’ve ever had, with the possible exception of Woodrow Wilson, who had the education but lacked the judgment of Mr. Hoover. Well, President Hoover was probably the most harnessed Executive we’ve ever had, at a time when we needed one with more elasticity in his actions. Later on, years later, when he was living in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria, I went over to tender my heartfelt sympathies and apologies for anything I might have said while he was President, and he said, “Young man, I don’t blame you. I was the symbol of our nation, and the nation needed castigation. As you know now, it wasn’t my fault, but I would have been a cad"—that is the word he used—"if I had said, don’t blame me, blame Congress.” That was quite a heroic statement.

Then, early in /952, you became an enthusiastic supporter of New Tork’s Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt for President.

I liked Mr. Roosevelt, and I think he liked me, up to a point. He was the governor, and we had a mutual friend, Jimmy Walker, who was mayor of New York City. Jimmy had a flair for appointing competent people, who loved money, to the management of the city’s affairs. Well, the investigation of the Walker administration by Judge [Samuel] Seabury was becoming embarrassing to Mr. Roosevelt, so one day the governor said to me, “You’re on the air. I wouldn’t mind a little bit of help, to tell the truth.” I reminded him that Jimmy was a friend, and he said, “Hell, he’s friends with everybody. He’s friends with you, he’s friends with the pope, he’s friends with Antichrist.”

Did you consider yourself an active Roosevelt supporter?

I would say that my “impromptu” speech at the 1932 Democratic convention in Chicago swung a lot of votes to his candidacy. In fact, I think I was the last speaker before the nominations began. It was supposed to be extemporaneous and all that. “Hi there, Father. Why don’t you come on up to the microphone and say a few words,” but it was all, you know, carefully staged.

And Governor Roosevelt asked for your help in the Walker case?

He made it clear to me that he had to get rid of James, one way or the other. Seabury had finally submitted the charges against Walker to the governor, and Mr. Roosevelt had announced that he was going to give the mayor a personal hearing, so he invited me to come to Albany and sit in. The governor was concerned about the reaction of Catholic voters to his handling of the Walker case. So I sat in on the Albany hearing. It was a masterful performance by the governor, during which Mayor Walker embarrassed himself right out of office, and after it was over I came out, and Mr. Roosevelt was gesticulating to me, and I was smiling back, and the reporters could see that I was on his side.

And afterward Mayor Walker resigned and left the country. But before the Albany hearing you had said at a Communion breakfast in New York that the charges against Walker were part of a Communist plot to undermine respect for government. Were you shocked when these charges turned out to be true?

I said the accusations were too preposterous to believe. When they turned out to be true, I was shocked to death. I think most Americans were.

President Roosevelt appointed your friend Mayor Frank Murphy, of Detroit, to the governor-generalship of the Philippines. Some people have claimed that the appointment was a direct result of your support, while others, including Mrs. Roosevelt and Postmaster General James A. Parley, have denied it. What did happen?