When I was a kid . . .
Go play, children. Grandpa is reminiscing again.
I remember 1940, when I first realized how exciting politics could be. Especially presidential politics.
Over glasses of Hudepohl, the men of Herbert Avenue would gather at the Glenmore Tavern to argue the merits of Wendell Willke, the republican nominee, and the incumbent Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Hudephol cost a dime. They drove cars that cost $800. They used 733 gallons of gas per year, which cost them about $140. Less than two cents of their federal tax dollar was spent on guns, bullets and the armed forces.
America was at peace; had been for more than two decades. A formidable bloc of citizens wanted to keep it that way, despite rising calls for the United States to enter the war against the so-called Axis powers abroad.
Dad was a Willke man. Mom, the daughter of a devoted union electrician, considered F.D.R. to be a saint. She listened to her man’s campaign speeches on the small radio in their bedroom. Dad listened to Willke on the big set in the living room. Each side accused the other of “mudslinging,” accusations that my parents dutifully repeated. In fact, neither side disclosed the worst “dirt” it had on the other. The secret of Willke’s illicit love affair, for example, was safe.
At the Glenmore, Dad’s greatest ire was the TVA. Willke had been president of the big utility, Commonwealth and Southern Corp., which provided electricity to 11 states. Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority, a government agency that promised to bring flood control and cheap electricity to impoverished rural areas, became a direct competitor of Willke’s company. Willkie testified against the TVA in Congress, saying that it would be unconstitutional for the government to enter the utility business. In 1939, Commonwealth & Southern was forced to sell its property in the Tennessee Valley to the TVA.
Roosevelt’s New Deal, Dad would thunder at the Glenmore, was “an abomination against honest American business.” Many Roosevelt partisans there agreed that the government “had an unfair advantage” against private businesses and should not be allowed to compete against them. But, they would argue, even Willke supported New Deal programs that dealt with problems that could not be solved better by private enterprise, including Social Security, the pro-union Wagner Act and the Security and Exchange commission to guard against another depression.
On the war issue, the good folk at the Glenmore were about equally divided for and against intervention, but pacifism rather than isolationism seemed to drive many of them. Dad, a Red Cross non-combatant in the First World War, talked about some of the terrible wounds he’d seen and agreed with Willke: "no man has the right to use the great powers of the Presidency to lead the people, indirectly, into war." Frank, the barman and co-owner of the Glenmore, decreed that Vendell Villke — he used the phony accent that an animated cartoon character had made into a national catch-phrase — was a good and decent man but he was not Franklin D. Roosevelt and where would this nation be without FDR?
Within a week of Roosevelt’s re-election, the men of the Glenmore faced the war issue with new concern: where would the Reds get ballplayers if Lombardi, the McCormicks, Bucky Walters and others had to go off to fight The Hun? Didn’t we already win “the war to end all wars?”
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Back then your Grandpa was but a lad himself, children. The country was the United States of America, and it was still a democratic republic.