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White Backs Hoover, Landon, And New Deal; Sees No Contradiction

July 2024
2min read

Of course White did support his personal friend Herbert Hoover against the only too urban Al Smith in 1928—though, again, the Democratic platform (aside from the Prohibition issue) was in far closer accord with White’s basic views than was the Republican. Subsequently, White expressed editorial displeasure over Hoover’s support of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, his veto of the Muscle Shoals bill, his failure to act on relief problems that grew huge in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash—three matters on which the Democratic candidate in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt, took the stands White favored. But it was still Hoover whom White supported that year.

The same story, with variations, was repeated in 1936. By then White had publicly proclaimed that “by and large, I am for the New Deal.” (“Much of it is necessary,” he told a college audience in 1934. “All of it is human. And most of it is long past due.”) He was hostile to the Liberty League of big businessmen who conducted a virulent campaign against the New Deal and FDR personally. He editorialized for the re-election of Nebraska’s Senator George Norris, who supported FDR that year. He admitted privately that the Republican presidential candidate, Kansas Governor AIf M. Landon, was in his opinion far less fit for the White House than its present occupant.

Yet his support of Landon’s candidacy was not limited to public endorsement: he contributed propaganda, composed in his own inimitable style, for Landon’s campaign use. (On the other hand, it should be noted that he had no illusions about Landon’s chances. When the North American Newspaper Alliance wired him a few days before the election asking him to write a by-line story for release if Landon won, White replied: “You have a quaint sense of humor. If Landon is elected I’ll write you a book about him, bind it in platinum, illustrate it with apples of gold and pictures of silver, and won’t charge you a cent.”)

It was during this campaign that FDR publicly embarrassed White by summoning the reluctant editor to the rear platform of the Democratic presidential campaign train when it paused in Emporia and there hailing him, before a large crowd, as “Bill White, who is for me three and a half out of every four years!” The crowd roared with a laughter not wholly devoid of derision (even overwhelmingly Republican Kansas went for Roosevelt that year). White retaliated by marching directly to his office, where he sat down and hammered out an ill-tempered editorial attacking the “waste” and “extravagance” of the Roosevelt administration and referring to FDR as “Mr. Smoothie … the old American smiler.”

White, of course, had a rationalization for this self-contradictory behavior. It was that his election-year party regularity gave him a decisive leverage within the GOP: it enabled him to exercise, in favor of what he really believed in, an influence he would have lost had he merely changed his party affiliation. This convenient rationalization, unconvincing to liberals across the land, was flatly rejected, and with at least as much anger as sorrow, by Kansans of liberal persuasion. These last saw not the slightest evidence that White had a liberalizing influence upon the Republican party. Instead, they saw abundant evidence of the value to the GOP of what they deemed his sophistry—his talent for making the dull seem interesting, for cloaking with sympathetic attractiveness what was nakedly repulsive, for (in general) making the worse seem the better cause. They concluded that he was the kind of “liberal” whose function is to focus upon himself popular energies that might be organized for fundamental change, this in order to dissipate them at the only times and places (notably polling booths in election years) at which they could become truly effective.

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