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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dirty Politics, 1940

FDR recorded some of his White House conversations.  In August 1940, he spoke to aide Lowell Mellet about his campaign against Republican Wendell Willkie.  He raised the possibility of launching a whispering campaign about Willkie's illicit affair.  Democrats never executed the plan, in part because Willkie ran a generally clean campaign and in part because FDR had his own vulnerabilities on that subject.
FDR : Uh, Lowell, on this … ah … thing. I don’t know if you remember, we were talking about the story… and so forth and so on. There was a fellow once upon a time who was named Daugherty, and he helped to run Harding’s campaign against the Democrats. He was slick as hell. He went down through an agent to a Methodist minister in Marion, the town where Harding’s mother and grandmother came from. This friend of Daugherty’s got hold of the Methodist minister and told him the story about Harding’s mother having a Negro mother. In other words, Daugherty planted it on the Methodist minister, who was a Democrat, and showed him certain papers … that proved the case. The Methodist minister, who was a Democrat, got all upset and he started the story all over the place. The press took it up, and it was the most terrific boomerang against us .
Now I agree with you that there is… so far as the Old Man [presumably F.D.R. himself] goes, we can’t use it…. [Here the tape becomes momentarily—and maddeningly—unintelligible.]
[We can] spread it as a word-of-mouth thing, or by some people way, way down the line . We can’t have any of our principal speakers refer to it, but the people down the line can get it out [he rapped on his desk]. I mean the Congress speakers, and state speakers, and so forth. They can use the raw material…. Now, now , if they want to play dirty politics in the end, we’ve got our own people…. Now, you’d be amazed at how this story about the gal is spreading around the country….
MELLETT : It’s Out….
FDR : Awful nice gal, writes for the magazine and so forth and so on, a book reviewer. But nevertheless, there is the fact . And one very good way of bringing it out is by calling attention to the parallel in conversation…. Jimmy Walker, once upon a time, was living openly with this gal all over New York, including the house across the street from me…. She was an extremely attractive little tart…. Jimmy and his wife had separated—for all intents and purposes they had separated. And it came to my trial—before me was Jimmy Walker, nineteen hundred and thirty-two, and Jimmy goes and hires his former wife, for ten thousand dollars, to come up to Albany on a Saturday—Jimmy was a good Catholic and he hadn’t been to church in five whole years—and he paid his wife ten thousand dollars to go up there, to Albany, on a Friday afternoon, after my trial had finished for the week—we were to go on on Monday. Jimmy had never spent a Sunday in Albany in his life, but Mrs. Walker comes up to Albany, lives with him ostensibly in the same suite in the hotel, and on Sunday the two of them go to Mass at the Albany Cathedral together. Price? Ten thousand dollars ….
Now, now Mrs. Willkie may not have been hired , but in effect she’s been hired to return to Wendell and smile and make this campaign with him. Now, whether there was a money price behind it, I don’t know , but it’s the same idea….
FDR's overt campaign was rough enough.  Here is what he said in Brooklyn on November 1, 1940:
Something evil is happening in this country when a full page advertisement against this Administration, paid for by Republican supporters, appears—where, of all places?— in the Daily Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party.
Something evil is happening in this country when vast quantities of Republican campaign literature are distributed by organizations that make no secret of their admiration for the dictatorship form of government.
Those forces hate democracy and Christianity as two phases of the same civilization. They oppose democracy because it is Christian. They oppose Christianity because it preaches democracy.