Back in theÂ 1970s when I was working for Alger Hiss, helping him read through someÂ 40,000 pages of FBI files to put together a new legal appeal of his 1950 perjury conviction that sent him to jail for 44 months , I was constantly amazed at the frightening garbage that J. Edgar Hoover subscribed to. I’m not talking about the Police Gazette or Photoplay, but rather extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic propaganda that we regularly found among the documents. It was clear he wasn’t gathering evidence against the purveyors of this material. Rather, he seemed to enjoy their publications as evidenced by the occasional positive reviews he’d append to the cover or back page. All the while, (and we saw this in the documents), he had his agents compile lists of left-wingers to be picked up and placed in detention camps in the event of a national emergency. If he compiled lists of right-wingers it was only for dinner invitations.
While going through the documents, I pulled a few of the most ridiculous and made copies of them. Two or three of them still survive. To fully appreciate this material though, it’s important to understand the kind of virulent attacks against Roosevelt that occurred on a nearly daily basis. Apologies for the following history lecture (excerpted from a book I’m writing), but some of this is actually pretty interesting
To Rooseveltâ€™s opponents, extremism in defense of capitalism was no vice. Rumors were spread that polio had rendered the him insane, or worse, that he was secretly Jewish. His Brain Trust, according to one Senator was under the influence of â€œHitler, Mussolini, and Lenin.â€Â Chicago newspaper publisher Frank Knox said the New Deal legislation was in effect a â€œrape of democracy.â€ The President of the National Association of Manufacturers declared â€œindustry is now in politics or â€œbe destroyedâ€¦by economic crack-pots, social reformers, labor demagogues and political racketeers.â€
Instead of just complaining, Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors, Edward Hutton or General Foods and other leading industrialists opened their wallets to anyone opposed to FDR. They bankrolled the Liberty League with unlimited funds to destroy the New Deal via a propaganda campaign that, according to George Wolfskill and John A. Hudson â€œpictured the United States on the brink of chaos, threatened by bankruptcy, socialism, dictatorship and tyranny.â€ If that didnâ€™t go far enough, a cabal of businessmen plotted a coup against Roosevelt.
Ironically, the New Deal didnâ€™t do nearly as much for Americaâ€™s poor as it did for big business. Negro tenant farmers, for example, continued to suffer terribly despite the New Dealâ€™s Agricultural Adjustment Act. As Harry L. Mitchell wrote in The Nation in June 1935, a year after the billâ€™s passage, â€œThe human consequences of an economy of scarcity have become more clear. The complete failure of the â€œNew Dealâ€ to benefit the men and women who do the work in the fields has been disclosed.â€
While sharecroppers continued to live in substandard conditions, Sloanâ€™s General Motors rebounded strongly in 1934 with sales showing an increase of nearly 50 percent over 1933. Despite the complaints of the Chamber of Commerce, retail sales rose 13 percent and while the National Association of Manufacturers was lambasting FDRâ€™s policies as communistic, industrial profits surged some 70 percent in 1934. The number of bank failures in 1934, dropped precipitously to 56, while deposits were on the rise.
The President â€œreally had saved capitalism,â€ said Harold Ickes.
As I said, a lot of the propaganda was anti-Semitic. The extremists liked to refer to the administration as “The Jew Deal,” because of a number of FDR’s closest advisers were Jewish. The sad part is though, was FDR’s basically gutless response to the name-calling. I’ve read several learned histories which talk about the president’s timid response to the Holocaust was partly as a result of not wanting to appear to be too sympathetic to the Jews, lest it hurt him politically. This, of course, had enormously tragic results. When Hitler basically offered his Jewish population to the West, the US and Europe closed its doors to them (see Arthur Morse’s “While Six Million Died.”). When in the last days of the war, Eichmann sped up the trains carrying thousands and thousands of Hungarian Jews to their deaths, FDR easily could have ordered the bombing of the train tracks but didn’t. By the way, Hiss was in the State Department then. One of his buddies was a fellow southerner named Breckenridge Long, who single-handedly bottled up the passports of thousands of German Jews trying to flee German in the late 1930s. If you don’t believe me, pick up Long’s diary of the period, in which he essentially brags about keeping the Jews out of the US. This was also during the period when Whittaker Chambers was accusing Alger of having Communist sympathies. If only.
So here’s a copy of one of the more popular anti-Roosevelt propaganda pieces. In a small sense this kind of shit is funny, but in a much larger sense it really pisses me off (Click on it to read it in all it’s glory. Extra credit to anyone who can identify all the names without resorting to Wikipedia):