As my mother remembers it, in the 1932 US Presidential Election, my
Grandfather was a strong supporter of Gov. LaFollette of the Progressive Party, whom my 88 year old mother grudgingly admits could be likened to today’s Ralph Nader. For those of us who are indifferent or slovenly scholars of US electoral history, LaFollette was the potential spoiler in Roosevelts campaign for President in what was then widely seen as “The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime”, the Presidential election of 1932. I have to credit CounterPunch with piquing my interest in LaFollette and the subsequent discourse with a first hand observor of the matter, my mother, who was then 16 years old and often noted by my dad as quite a go-er in her day.
Remember now, at the onset of the Presidential Election campaign in 1932,
the Great Depression had yet to hit bottom and millions of people in the US were finding themselves in the ranks of the unemployed, homeless and starving. The threat of the Red Menace, of Bolshevism, Anarchy and Revolution lay upon the land as the popularity of Joe Stalin and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics grew by the day.
To counter the demands of the proletariat, the “persons of no property”, and their demands for a dictatorship of the oppressed, the liberals of their day, such as my Grandfather, cast about for an alternative. The Democratic Party, with its history of support for slavery and American Apartheid, came up with Franklin Roosevelt and a platform so timid as to be of little use in holding back the tide of revolution. Into this breach jumped the Progressive Party candidate Gov. LaFollette from Wisconsin and his nearly subversive and un-American platform calling for unemployment insurance, government old age pensions and that most accursed demand, legalization of the right of labor to form unions. Full employment, the 8 hour day and other such radical ideas were not excluded from the discussion within the ranks of the Progressive Party when it came to what alternatives there were to the chaos and anarchy of the world wide Great Depression.
My mother pointed out to me that my grandfather matriculated at the University of Wisconsin and had seen Gov. LaFollette in action, much as many of us who spent time in the environmental trenches in the 60’s and early 70’s witnessed Ralph Nader’s leadership in what was then seen by many as little more than fearmongering, tiny bands of kooks and radicals. In 1932, it was difficult for liberals to not admire LaFollette, just as today it is hard for liberals, the honest ones at least, to not admire Ralph Nader.
Apparently, the Democratic Party in 1932 was seriously worried that
LaFollette’s bid under the Progressive Party banner could draw so much support from Roosevelt that even the widely hated, incumbant Republican Party migh squeek through to victory.
Deja Vu, 1932? We even have the spectacal of that most respected of
liberals, Noam Chomsky, touting the Democratic candidate, gag reflex and
all. The historical blinders have become so pervasive that even The Boss,
Bruce Springsteen himself, is urging us to hold our noses and vote, if that
is what is takes to oust the evil Republicans. The mantra of “This is the
most important election of our lifetime” followed in cadence by the chant of
“anybodybutbush” ringings in the air, such that even my die hard, bleeding
heart liberal, Unitarian church founding, life long Nation magazine
subscribing mother has gotten tired of it all.
In 1932, LaFollette was able to force Roosevelt and the Apartheid regime
Democratic Party of his day to adopt, or should I say co-opt, much of his
platform and my grandfather apparently, to the best of my mothers
recollection, sucumbed to his fears and voted for Roosevelt. I wish I had
remembered all this when my maternal cousin was ranting and raving about how dangerous Ralph Nader was. Ralph Nader dangerous? The champion of reform over revolution, dangerous? I guess if you remain indifferent or slovenly in your knowledge of US electoral history you may not be familiar with Deja Vu, 1932. LaFollette, Nader, “The most important election of our liftetime”?
Come on now, lighten up a bit and take a deep breath. This election has come and gone and the ship of US Imperialism continues under the direction of the masses of hidden boogie men and women hidden from our view in the bowels of the National Security Council, the State Department and any number of other faceless functionaries whose jobs remain the same no matter who is the latest mouth piece in the White House. So until the next dog and pony show in four years, remember 1932, Deja Vu? And so much for “The most important election in our lifetime”.
THOMAS C. MOUNTAIN is a mamber of the Hawaii Black History Committee He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org