The crowning example of White’s sophistry, in the liberal view, was his behavior during the presidential campaign of 1940. England stood alone against a seemingly invincible Hitler. A powerful minority of isolationists, including most Republican members of Congress, was doing its level best to slow America’s rearmament, prevent American aid to Britain, and, in effect, appease Hitler. White, acutely aware that U.S. survival as a free society was at stake (“… a free country and a free people … [cannot] live beside Hitler’s world enslaved,” he editorialized), had stepped entirely out of character to accept the chairmanship of the national Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, which engaged in a battle for public opinion against an isolationist America First Committee. The aid-Britain committee gained immensely in prestige and persuasiveness from White’s heading of it. He deserved and received profoundly grateful appreciation from FDR and others at the time; and his contribution continues to loom large in historical perspective. It was, however, a sadly flawed contribution.
Obviously of first importance to the committee’s aims was the defeat of those incumbent isolationist senators and congressmen running for re-election in 1940. Most committee members took it for granted, therefore, that the organization would publicize the voting records of these men and work actively against them in the campaign in favor of candidates supporting the committee’s cause. But White refused to permit this. Doing so would destroy the nonpartisan character of the committee, he argued; it would mean that the committee opposed virtually every Republican up for re-election! Nor did White stop there. He actually worked for the re-election of these men. He editorially urged Kansas independents to vote the straight Republican ticket “because, taken by and large, man for man, from top to bottom, the men running for office on the Republican ticket in the nation, in this state and this county are men of high character and superior ability.” He even sent a letter to the arch-reactionary, Roosevelt-hating Representative Hamilton Fish, Jr., of New York, expressly for Fish’s campaign use, saying: “However you and I may disagree about some issues of the campaign, I hope as Republicans we are united in our support of the Republican ticket from top to bottom in every district and every state.” He was soon forced by committee outrage virtually to retract this endorsement, but the harm was by then done: Fish was re-elected, along with other isolationists whom active committee opposition might have defeated.
Seven weeks after the election, a tired and confused White, nearing his seventy-third birthday, his health not good and Sallie actually ill, was warned that the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain was about to launch an attack upon him and the committee as warmongers. He promptly dashed off to Roy Howard, head of Scripps-Howard, a typical White epistle and, without consulting other committee officers, gave Howard permission to publish it. “Look now, Roy,” he wrote, “you and I have been buddies. … The only reason in God’s world I am in this organization is to keep this country out of war. … The story is floating around that I and our outfit are in favor of sending convoys with British ships or our own ships, a silly thing, for convoys unless you shoot are confetti and its not time to shoot now or ever.… If I were making a motto for the Committee … it would be ‘The Yanks Are Not Coming.’ ” A violent storm broke at once around White’s weary head. For by then it was obvious to leading members of the committee that even the furnishing of armed convoys for ships bearing aid to Britain would not be enough—that the crushing of the Axis and the survival of the free world required full and immediate U.S. participation in the war.
On January 1, 1941, White resigned his committee chairmanship.