Monday, February 24, 2020

Fact Checking The Truman Socialism Meme

This post follows up yesterday's on Bernie Sanders.  I saw this poster the other day:

I had two immediate thoughts:

  1. Socialism has been a Republican scare word for a long time
  2. Did Truman really say this?

A quick google search found that both Snopes and Professor Buzzkill say yes, it's really from Truman.  But Buzzkill also tells us he's relying on Snopes.

So I went to the Harry S Truman library (online) and found an itinerary of his train trip in New York which puts him in Syracuse on October 11, 1952.  (It's always a good sign to have a place and date with a quote.)

 I found another  page called:
The Old President as Campaigner, 1952-1972
The speeches listed were for much of Truman's whistle-stop train campaign for Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson for president in 1952 against General Eisenhower.  But mostly in the west, then back to Ohio.  Even to Buffalo, New York.  But nothing on Syracuse.  So I looked at a couple of the other speeches to see if maybe he had repeated this thought on the trip and found this one that had the theme of Republicans calling public dams socialism.

From the Harry S Truman library, document called Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks in Oregon and California
October 3, 1952
All over the West, now, we are checking floods and turning water into storage places, where it can be used to make power and to irrigate the land. That is what we are doing here at Shasta. That's what will be done soon at Folsom Dam. We are doing the same thing at Bonneville and Grand Coulee, at Hungry Horse Dam in Montana where I stopped the other day, at the Tennessee Valley dams back East, and at Boulder Dam in the Southwest.
I call it Boulder Dam, but the Republicans prefer the title Hoover Dam. They changed the name, back in the 80th Congress--and that's the only contribution to the power field that the 80th Congress made.
You know the Republicans puzzle me sometimes. They are always saying that when we build these dams to produce public power, that's socialism. But they still wanted to name that dam for President Hoover. So there it stands on the Colorado River, a magnificent monument to "creeping socialism," and the name of it is Hoover Dam. Now, I think that's kind of funny.  (emphasis added)
The Syracuse Speech wasn't on the page of rear platform remarks.

So I put Syracuse October 10, 1952 into the Truman Library website's search.  And pulled up Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks New York.    It matches the itinerary above and starts in Buffalo with the first stop in Batavia, New York at 10:35am, then goes to Rochester, New York at 11:30am.  Next is what I was looking for - Syracuse, New York at 1:25pm.  And it continues for the rest of the day this way.  The rain stops, he gives a speech, then train heads off to the next stop.  And the speeches aren't the same.  Even though there were no social media to catch candidates making the same speech everywhere.

Here's the whole Syracuse speech from that page: (I've added emphasis to get to the issue of socialism as a favorite Republican slur.)

"[3.] SYRACUSE, NEW YORK (Near station, 1:25 p.m.)
I am happy to be here today again. You gave me a wonderful reception 4 years ago, even if it was raining cats and dogs all the time I was here.
This year, I am not campaigning for myself. I am out working for a new man on the Democratic ticket, my good friend Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. Adlai Stevenson has an outstanding record of public service. He is a man the people can trust.
I understand that you people here are really to be congratulated. I am told that Thomas Corcoran is the first Democratic mayor your city has had in 24 years, and I congratulate you on it.
Now this year you have a chance to follow that excellent example by sending Arthur McGuire to the House, and John Cashmore to the Senate to really represent you in the Congress as you should be.
I have been traveling for 2 weeks now, through about 20 States. I have seen a lot of this country, and I can tell you this great Nation of ours is in good shape. Never has there been as much growth or so much activity as there is today. That is true up and down this land of ours, just as it is here in this great State of New York.
Private enterprise is confident of the future. Large and small businesses are enjoying good profits. Their customers have money, because we have good farm prices and good wages, and steady jobs for all who want them.
We have almost forgotten that there can be such things as mass unemployment, bank failures, dollar-a-day wages, and 30-cent wheat. Those things have long been banished, along with the Republicans who brought them upon us.
Now, what is the reason for this confidence and this prosperity? It is very, very simple. The programs of the Federal Government in the past 20 years have made America a land of individual security, and at the same time a land of tremendous opportunity.
In these 20 years the Democratic Party has shown that individual security and opportunity go together. They must be worked for together, and the Democrats know how to do it.
The Republican Party in Congress has opposed almost all our programs to help the economic life of the country. The Republican Party has blindly turned its back on the tradition of public action for the public good.
I wonder why they have done that? Well, it is because the Republican Party has become a collection of special interest groups. A special interest group, by definition, can never see beyond the limits of its own greed for the almighty dollar.

The insurance companies, back in 1935 and 1936, couldn't see anything in social security beyond the fact they would not be writing the insurance policies. So they were against it--and they got the Republican Party against it.
The utility companies couldn't see anything in our great public power projects beyond the fact that private companies would not make a profit on the power. So they were against these projects, and automatically the Republican Party came out against them, too. Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt taught you people all about that, many years ago.
The real estate lobby couldn't see anything in low-cost public housing beyond the fact that houses were going to be built and their members would not make any money out of them. So they were against public housing, and automatically the Republican Party came out against public housing.
And so it goes, down through the whole list. The policies of the Republican Party are the total of all the negative attitudes of all the special groups that put money into and pull the strings for the Republican Party.
Now, this year, the special interest groups that are in the Republican Party have as their candidate a man who has been in the Army and out of civilian life for over 40 years. Until last June, he had lived the specialized life of the soldier, under orders all the time.
The great issues that mean bread and butter to a lot of us, have passed him by completely. He has had the cares of an Army officer, but not those of a civilian trying to make a living. He has never met a payroll in his life, nor carried a precinct--and he doesn't know a special interest lobby when he sees one.
Now this is just the kind of man the special interests can move in on, and take over. And that is exactly what they have been doing. The General told the Republican Convention in July that he would lead them on a "great crusade." But he did not tell them what the crusade was going to be about.
Like all good generals, he was waiting for his objective to be set by higher authority. He was ready to lead the troops, but he didn't know what the campaign was for. That was a problem that he as a military man had never had to decide for himself before, so the Republican Old Guard moved in and wrote his orders for him.
The directive was drafted by Senator Taft at that famous breakfast in New York City a few weeks ago. Senator Taft left that meeting and told the press what the General stands for. Taft explained that the great issue in this campaign is "creeping socialism." Now that is the patented trademark of the special interest lobbies. Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.
Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security.
Socialism is what they called farm price supports.
Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance.
Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations.
Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
When the Republican candidate inscribes the slogan "Down With Socialism" on the banner of his "great crusade," that is really not what he means at all.
What he really means is, "Down with Progress--down with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal," and "down with Harry Truman's fair Deal." That is what he means.

Now, it is a sad thing to see this man led around by those of little faith and no vision. It is a sad thing to see this man betraying his principles, deserting his friends, all for the sake of the votes he hopes to gain from Taft and Jennet and McCarthy.
This campaign has already demonstrated that a military man should stick to his profession. We do not need any additional proof.
I can think of no worse combination in the White House than a military man, ignorant of all our problems, surrounded and controlled by the most backward-looking politicians in our national life.
My friends, don't turn the country over to that Republican combination. Look out for your own interests. You are the Government. The Constitution of the United States says the power of the Government in this great Nation of ours shall rest in the people. And when you exercise that power, you can only do it by votes.
When you go to the polls on the 4th of November and exercise the power of government-which is in you--you must look out for your own interests, you must look out for the interests of this great Nation, you must look out for the interests of the world as a whole--the free countries as a whole, for which we are now responsible.
I urge you--study the issues. Read the record. Read the record of both parties-the Republicans in the Congress and the Democrats in the Congress--because they are the ones that make the policy. It is not made on the stump.
The record I am pointing to is a record that has been in your interest. The record these gentlemen are talking about doesn't exist--for they haven't any record, except what is bad for the people.
Go to the polls now and exercise your authority as the power in the Government. Send Adlai Stevenson to the White House, and we will have 4 more years of good government.
Thank you very much."
So there it is.  From the Truman Library itself.  (By 2024 are people going to create fake websites to archive fake speeches?  Maybe, but I'm fairly confident this is the real thing.)

I'd note that at the stop at Utica (all the speeches are at the same link) he talks about a graduate of Utica's Hamilton College, Ambassador Jessup:
While Ambassador Jessup was on an overseas assignment aimed at curbing Soviet expansion, he was viciously attacked by Senator McCarthy. That was in 1950--which was not a presidential election year. In that year, the president of Columbia University, who is now the Republican candidate for President of the United States, sprang to Jessup's defense. This is what he wrote in 1950 to Philip Jessup, a member of his own faculty who was being unjustly attacked-and I quote from the General's letter:
"No one . . ."--this is a quotation from General Eisenhower's letter--"No one who has known you can for a moment question the depth or sincerity of your devotion to the principles of Americanism." That is the end of the quote.
Now the president of Columbia University knew in 1950 that McCarthy's attack was false and without foundation, just as McCarthy's attacks on other loyal public servants have been. If he needed any further proof of the kind of man McCarthy is, he certainly found it in the vile attack McCarthy made on Gen. George C. Marshall. . .
The Republican candidate knows, or he ought to know, how completely dishonest Joe McCarthy is. He ought to despise McCarthy, just as I expected him to--and just as I do.
Now, in his bid for votes, he has endorsed Joe McCarthy for reelection--and humbly thanked him for riding on his train.
Not unlike the change among current Republican Senators who vilified Trump before the nomination and now are his most loyal supporters.

I also noticed this discussion of immigration that is still very topical today.

 In Buffalo, New York, October 9, 1952
". . . This National Origin Quota System is a Republican invention. It was conceived and written into law under a Republican President and a Republican Congress in the 1920's. It is based on a discredited and un-American theory of racial superiority. That theory considers the so-called Nordics from England and Northern Europe to be superior to persons born in Italy, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Poland, or any other country of Southern or Eastern Europe. It's all wrong.
Now the Republicans took full credit for this discriminatory policy. They boasted of it, as one of their achievements, in their 1932 platform.
It is, of course, necessary to regulate the flow of immigration and to have some kind of limitation on numbers. It is also necessary to exclude undesirable individuals. But I think it is un-American to exclude a qualified, worthy individual just because he comes from Poland or Italy or Hungary. And that is exactly what happens under this Republican law.
The policies of the Republican Party haven't changed very much since they wrote this law in 1924. Let me prove that to you.
After the Second World War, I wanted to do something to help the millions of uprooted and homeless persons in Europe. At my urging, the 80th Congress adopted the Displaced Persons Act. That was necessary to get around the restrictions of the National Origin Quota System, and let a substantial number of those people in. But the 80th Congress [Republican] wrote in to the Displaced Persons Act provisions that deliberately discriminated against Catholics and Jews. "

You can listen to the whole speech here.  This quote starts about 12:15 on the audio.   An interesting contrast to speeches today.


  1. The more things change, the more wingnuts sound the same as far back as I can remember.

    Thanks to you for all the research and hard work you put in this blog. I don't get here often enough, but am never disappointed with the content.

  2. Impressive, Steve
    And like Mike from Iowa says-- it seems like it could be spoken today with no loss of context.


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