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tv   Political Career of Senator Burton K. Wheeler  CSPAN  August 19, 2019 11:13am-12:40pm EDT

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coverage includes author interviews with justice ruth bader ginsberg on her book "my own words." david treuer "the heartbeat of wounded knee." sharon robinson talks about her book "child of the dream." rick atkinson author of "the british are coming." and thomas malone founding director of mit discusses his book "super minds." live saturday august 31st at 10:00 a.m. eastern on book tv on c-span 2. next journalist marc johnson on the career of senator burton wheeler, a democrat from montana. senator wheeler was known for being the prosecutor in the 1920s teapot dome oil scandal, and initially supporting the new deal policies, then opposing president radios vet agencies attempt to add more justices to the supreme court. from the montana historical society in helena, this is about
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an hour and a half. >> it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker marc c. johnson, the author of the book "political hell-raiser." rod in our store would be more than happy to tell you one or ten copies after the talk and i'm pretty sure marc would also be happy to sign them for you. so marc c. johnson has worked as a broadcast journalist, a top aid to idaho's longest serving governor and as the communication and crisis management consultant. a journalism graduate of south dakota state university, johnson has chaired both the idaho humanities council and the fed operation of state humanities councils and has frequently served as a national endowment for the humanities site visitor. a student of political history, marc rights and speaks regularly on political history with particular focus on the new deal era, u.s. senate history and the
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american presidency. his writing on politics and history has appeared in numerous regional national publications including "the new york times," the california journal of politics and policy and most importantly, of course, montana the magazine of western history. his blog and podcast on history and politics is entitled "many things considered." welcome marc johnson. >> thank you, kirby. thanks. well, thank you, kirby, and thanks to the montana historical society for having me tonight to talk about this ancient history. i keep trying to figure out a way to begin these talks and i always am reminded that wheeler has been dead for 40 years, out of office for 70 years, was elected when warren harding was in the white house. so how to make that relevant to a 21st century audience. so i want to begin tonight to
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ask you to keep in mind as we unwind this story about burton k. wheeler a little history about the united states senate. keep in mind a couple of facts about the senate in our history and in our system of government. if you remember the senate is endowed with certain responsibilities, unique in our politics. senators, for one thing, have six-year terms, longer than any other federal official. the senate has the responsibility to ratify treaties and to advise and consent on appointments to the judiciary and other high government positions. unique responsibilities invested in the united states senate. so i want to quote -- rather than start with burton k. wheeler tonight i want to quote one of his couldn't raers, a guy
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named mansfield, mike mansfield. in 1963 mike mansfield was the senate majority leader and was preparing to deliver a response in the senate to some of the critics that he had had to encounter in the senate who were complaining about his leadership style. he was too laid back, they thought, not aggressive enough in pushing the democratic agenda in the united states senate and the kennedy administration. mansfield being mansfield listened to this all rather politely and then decided that he needed to respond to it. unfortunately he was scheduled to deliver that speech on the friday afternoon in november of 1963 when john kennedy was assasinated in dallas and he never gave the speech until many years later when he was invited back to speak in the old senate chamber to inaugurate a series of lectures about senate history. mike mansfield said something really profound about the responsibility of a united
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states senator. he said, in the end it is not the senators as individuals who are of fundamental importance. in the end it is the senate itself as one of the foundations of the constitution. it is the senate as one of the rocks of the republic. mike mansfield and b.k. wheeler probably didn't agree on much during their political careers, although they were both democrats, but they certainly agreed on that idea, that the senate as an institution has unique responsibilities in our government and a unique responsibility attains to every member of the united states senate to exercise those responsibilities. wheeler and mansfield were senate institutionalists and that's an idea i want you to keep in mind tonight because in my reading of senate history and particularly the history of burton k. wheeler you find somebody who has great reverence
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for the institution of the senate and believes that united states senators don't only represent their states, but they are indeed national legislators. i want to offer a couple of additional thank yous tonight in addition to kirby and the staff here and bruce at the montana historical society, it's really wonderful to be back here because when working on the research on the wheeler story i spent a lot of time upstairs in the archives and my research associate dr. pat johnson, my much better half, learned to operate the copy machine up there flawlessly. so it is really -- really great to be back after some years of working on this to actually have a chance to talk about senator wheeler in this place. additional thanks i want to acknowledge chuck rankin from the university of oklahoma press, the past etd for of montana the magazine of western
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history who was the acquisition editor for this book through the oklahoma -- university of oklahoma press. chuck because of the time he spent in montana and because of his abiding interest in american history sort of instantly embraced the idea that a biography of wheeler was worth doing and was enormously helpful to me and i want to just publicly acknowledge that tonight. chuck, thank you. and thank you for being here tonight. so how do we explain this political hell-raiser, a politician as controversial and as consequential as burton k. wheeler was? i would say between 1923 and 1947 when he served in the united states senate there was not much in the way of major public policy in washington, d.c. that in one way or another he didn't have his hands on. he was a politician so hated in his early life in montana that
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he had to take refuge in a boxcar down by dillon when he was assaulted, as he said, by a mob determined to assault him or perhaps even worse. a friendly farmer who was sympathetic to his politics stood guard with an armed rifle that night over that boxcar prompting his critics to label him boxcar burt. his opponents throughout his political career called him both a left wing bowl is that vic and a right wing reactionary. his views on civil liberties and opposition to war were shaped by, i believe, by what is still an unsolved murder in butte in the summer of 1917 and that, of course, was the murder of the iww organizer frank little in butte. this is a picture of little's funeral procession through the streets of butte. truth be told, burton k. wheeler's life and political
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career might well have been the stuff of a hollywood movie. in fact, when the famous film director frank capra premiered in 1939 his famous film "mr. smith goes to washington" wheeler and his wife lulu that's her leaning forward on the right-hand side of the screen sitting next to famous hollywood director frank capra, the wheelers were invited along with their daughter marion to be the guests of honor at that premiere at constitution hall in washington, d.c. wheeler never discouraged comparisons between him and that swashbuckling character played by jimmy stewart in the movie. he was such a threat to the attorney general of the united states, harry dougherty, in 1924 that dougherty had the bureau of
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investigation, we now call it the fbi and a little agency that's in the news once in awhile these days, the fbi under the attorney general's orders and at the instigation of a young fellow by the name of j. edgar hoover ascended on montana to look for dirt on wheeler. wheeler had run for election to the senate in 1922 on a platform that he was going to investigate alleged corruption at the justice department and corruption that extended in his view to the attorney general, harry dougherty. dougherty was, among other things, the personal attorney of president warren harding. he worked for about a year to get the senate to agree to a bipartisan joint committee, select committee to investigate the justice department's sensational hearings were held in 1924, a cast of characters that would be right out of central casting were paraded before wheeler's committee and eventually the attorney general was forced to resign.
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he stood trial on the corruption charges sometime later and one of the 12 jurors in the corruption trial held out against a guilty verdict and he walked away a free man despite substantial amount of evidence that he had, indeed, misused his office along with several of his cronies at the justice department. as a result of that investigation harry dougherty set out, i think i document pretty well in the book, to frame wheeler. to find something on him that could be used against him politically. charges were trumped up against him here in montana, he was indicted by a grand jury in great falls, and stood trial and was acquitted. he would joke years later that the jury took two votes, with unto acquit him and the second to stay in session long enough that the government had to buy them dinner.
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it probably in my reading of american history was one of the great misuses of the justice department and the fbi to go after a political appointee and that experience not only catapulted wheeler to genuine national prominence at the age of 42 after only two years in the senate, but also gave him a healthy regard for an independent judiciary and the fact that a jury of his peers in his home state of montana acquitted him. the u.s. senate also conducted an investigation in 1924 led by idaho senator william bora and the senate committee concluded that wheeler had done nothing improper. he might have chosen to be a republican, he actually flirted with that prospect when he was considering whether to run for governor in 1920 which he eventually did, but he ran as a
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democrat. he identified throughout his career as a democrat, but was i think truly an independent. i had an opportunity to talk to senator mansfield about wheeler, he was not a big fan, but he did admit that wheeler was a true independent. he said b.k. was mostly a democrat, but he was always an independent. he went to the senate in 1922 despite being stung by allegations here in montana that he was a socialist or even a bowl is that school district, and then he immediately went to the soviet union on a fact-finding trip with his wife and came home and publicly advocated for the diplomatic recognition of the still then very new soviet government. he hoped to meet with len non, but did not have the opportunity when he was in moscow. his independence was such that in the middle of all of this turmoil about investigating the
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justice department, having charges of corruption brought against him in montana and even later in washington, d.c., he leaves the democratic party in 1924 and runs as the vice presidential candidate on the progressive party ticket in the election of 1924. lafallat was in many ways wheeler's political mentor, he had a life-long a affection for lafallat the senator and former governor of wisconsin, so much regard that wheelers named their youngest daughter marion which is after robert marion lafallat, her middle name was montana, marion montana wheeler. the progressive party still has relevance from that 1924 election because less than a decade later much of the platform that lafallat and
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wheeler advocated during that campaign came to be as a part of franklin roosevelt's new deal. the breaking up of the utility holding companies, the effort to regulate big banks and create what we know now as the securities and exchange commission, all of that had some of its seeds in the progressive movement in 1924. wheeler played a major role in securing the presidency for franklin roosevelt and then almost immediately began to spar with roosevelt. i will digress just a moment to talk about montana's importance in that 1932 presidential election. we now think of franklin roosevelt obviously as one of the great american presidents, most historians would place him in the same grouping with washington and lincoln in terms of their import in the history of america, but in 1932 it was far from a foregone conclusion that franklin roosevelt would actually win the democratic
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nomination let alone win the presidency. wheeler as early as 1930 publicly endorsed roosevelt for president. roosevelt hadn't even run for reelection as governor of new york at that point. roosevelt was -- or wheeler was on the roosevelt bandwagon very early, campaigned very aggressively for roosevelt in 1932, made speeches all over the western united states for the roosevelt ticket. played a very instrumental role at the democratic convention in 1932, probably most significantly wheeler had a friendship with louisiana senator huey long and wheeler convinced long to put his political leadership in the south behind roosevelt's candidacy and as a result the louisiana and mississippi and several other southern delegations fell in line behind roosevelt's candidacy. this gave wheeler, i think, a
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sense that he was going to have a real place at the table, be a key counselor to president roosevelt and he really never became that for reasons that are a little complicated. i venture the observation that i don't think franklin roosevelt feared many people in politics, but he had a certain wariness about wheeler, maybe because he was ago saggressive, he was independent, he wasn't a dyed in the wool democrat, he could be working across the political aisle with some regularity and roosevelt never really came to trust him and that feeling was certainly reciprocated. they did work together closely to break up the utility holding companies in 1935. a huge battle that was probably the defining legislative confrontation of roosevelt's
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first term and wheeler was the senate sponsor of what was the public utilities holding company act of 1935 that broke up 13 big utility holding companies that dominated the electric generation and distribution system in the situates. wheeler was so drawn to that issue because of his firm belief that bigness, as he called it, concentrated power, whether it was in the hands of wall street or big utilities or big banks, was bad for the country. so he worked with roosevelt very closely on getting that utilities holding company legislation passed, but in 1937 their break really became permanent when wheeler opposed roosevelt's plan to enlarge the supreme court. president roosevelt won a landslide reelection in 1936, brought with him 76 democrats into the senate. overwhelming majorities in both the house and the senate on the
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democratic side, and roosevelt who had seen the supreme court overturn a number of his initiatives prior to 1936 decides that he's going to deal with the supreme court with this big democratic majority. he proposes what is truly still an audacious plan. he's going to enlarge the supreme court by six justices in one fell swoop, take the court from 9 members to 15. of course, everybody knows that these are going to be liberal-leaning new deal supporting roosevelt beholding judges and wheeler not only opposes the president of his own party on that initiative, but he leads the opposition in the senate and works hand in glove with a number of republicans to create a bipartisan majority that eventually defeat roosevelt's court packing plan. roosevelt never after the court packing in 1937, which was hard
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to believe how consumed the country was by that debate in 1937, was literally a running debate every single day from february to -- through the summer of 1937, the country absolutely turning on every dot and tittle of his debate, but after 1937 franklin roosevelt never again demanded or was able to count on a working majority in the congress for his domestic agenda. he really broke his pick, if you will, over trying to enlarge the supreme court. might be a cautionary tale in that for some of the democratic presidential candidates who are running around today talking about enlarging the supreme court. franklin roosevelt if we can speak beyond the grave might say that would not be a terribly good idea. but it was an example of wheeler's independence, his courage, his willingness to put what he believed to be the good of the country ahead of the good of his party.
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toward the end of the debate in the senate on expanding the supreme court roosevelt understanding that he was probably going to have to compromise or maybe lose this battle invites wheeler down to the white house, they have a very contentious meeting. wheeler tells him the supreme court is like a religion with many americans and you don't mess around with religion. he tells him that he's going to lose on this issue, loose velt i roosevelt implores him to step back from running the opposition, roosevelt believing if he can make this a partisan issue he would have a better chance of prevailing. wheeler would have none of it. he actually worked with the republican chief justice of the supreme court, charles evans hughes, to concoct pretty effective arguments against roosevelt's proposal and eventually leads the effort that
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results in the defeat of that proposal. wheeler himself flirted -- here is a picture from 1935 when they are signing -- this is one of the few pictures of roosevelt and wheeler together. he is second from the left there in this picture. standing to his immediate left is albin barkley, a senator from kentucky, who would later go on to be the senate majority leader and vice president in the truman administration. just over roosevelt's left shoulder there is sam rayburn, later the speaker of the house of representatives. rayburn at that time was the chairman of the house interstate commerce committee, wheeler the chairman of the senate committee. so they were counterparts in the house and senate who passed the big utility breakup legislation. the two smiling fellows on the right-hand side of the picture in the light suit is tommy corcoran who is one of fdr's top
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aides and next to him is benjamin cohen. these are two of the whiz kids that wrote a lot of the legislation -- so-called whiz kids that wrote a lot of the legislation that made up the new deal and worked closely with wheeler to pass that legislation in 1935. this is a happy moment. wheeler looks a little glum there, but it was a happy moment where they were actually on the same page together. by 1939 wheeler is flirting with running for president himself. roosevelt speculation of course is rampant that roosevelt is going to break with tradition dating back to george washington and seek a third -- unprecedented third team as president. roosevelt plays his cards very, very close to his vest and it's not until the time of the democratic convention during the summer of 1940 that it becomes
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obvious that roosevelt really does want to be renominated and seek a third term. so wheeler puts together at least the broad framework of a presidential campaign in 1939 and certainly in 1940. he is confounded a little bit by the fact that he has to run for reelection to the senate in montana in 1940. so he has to be careful not to get too cross wise with his democratic constituents in montana who are very much pro roosevelt. at this point he does create wheeler for president clubs around the west. he raises a modest amount of money to mount a presidential campaign. goes to the convention in chicago in the summer of 1940 and is prepared, assuming roosevelt decides at the last minute not to seek a third term, to actually run for president himself. he ultimately is not nominated
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for president and is reelected in a landslide in montana in 1942. his fourth term in the senate. he also created in this period i think the closest thing that montana has ever had to a true political machine and it was a bipartisan machine. a combination of wheeler on the democratic side, then governor sam ford on the republican side, jeannette rankin's brother wellington was part of that group, and they cooperated on all kinds of things. wheeler had some of his top lieutenants in key positions in the ford administration in montana, ford gave wheeler broad leeway to conduct himself in washington as he saw fit and wheeler returned the favor here in the state.
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he often feuded with fellow democrats in this period and often endorsed republicans, which did not endear himself to the kind of hard core democratic base in montana which was very much pro roosevelt. one of the people who became very antagonistic against wheeler in this period was a young assistant attorney general by the name of lee metcalf who went on to his own rather important career as a congressman and united states senator. metcalf was very critical of wheeler in 1940 for seeming to be positioning himself to challenge franklin roosevelt for president. in 1938 wheeler actually actively worked to defeat the crass tick congressman in the first district, jerry o'connell, and he quietly put together the
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machinery, the infrastructure, political infrastructure to support the republican candidate in that race, a rather wacky butte nudist camp owner, a medical doctor by the name of jacob thorkelson. he wins the election, beats jerry o'connell. one of the new things i think that i provide in the book is a little more of the back story about how that came about. o'connell was quite an interesting character, he grew up in butte, went to carol college here in helena, at a very young age was elected to the state legislature, still very young age was elected to the public service commission. at age 28 was elected to the congress for the first time. 1936 in that big democratic sweep that year. almost immediately he positions himself to the political left of wheeler and looks very much like
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he's going to be an adversary, a wheeler adversary within the democratic party. wheeler sees this coming and cuts it off at the pass, so to speak, in 1938 by helping orchestrate a republican campaign to beat o'connell. he had an interesting set of allies in that race, one was this guy right here, ed crany, broadcast pioneer, very close friend of wheeler's. crany basically managed thorkelson's campaign. in crany's papers in the archives are his rather detailed instructions to thorkelson about the kinds of issues he should stress during the campaign, who he needed to talk to, who he could approach for money, et cetera. so the other strange ally was the catholic church. o'connell was a catholic, he was a divorced and remarried
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catholic, which in 1938 was a bit of a problem for a public official. he had also gone to spain on an inspection tour, if you will, of the forces that were engaged in the spanish civil war in the late 1930s and he came back very much supporting the republican side in the spanish civil war while the catholic church was very much identified with the nationalist side, the franco side in the spanish civil war. so o'connell is not only cross-wise with the church because of his divorce and remarriage, but also because he's taken on a church, so to speak, in a high profile way with his position on the spanish republican movement. and he loses that election in 1938 in part because the bishop of helena instructs the catholic priests across the district on the sunday before the election
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to speak out against o'connell from the pulpit. i document in the book that wheeler had his own meeting with the bishop, i think, encouraging him to do just exactly what he did. so he could be a tough political operator for sure. as i said, wheeler had friends across the political spectrum. here he is with idaho's william bora who by the time wheeler comes to the senate in 1923 is a pretty senior member of the republican majority, later the senate foreign relations committee chairman. one of the great or a torse in senate history and wheeler become fast friends and associates, even though wheeler is a democrat, borah a republican, they shared opinions about hating monopoly, hating
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bigness, being opposed to an expansionist foreign policy and become associates to thwart roosevelt on that court packing plan. wheeler had friends all across the political spectrum. harry truman was one of his close ets friends in the senate. truman came to the senate in 1934, very inexperienced young united states senator and becomes a member of wheeler's committee. wheeler kind of takes him under his wing, befriends him, gives truman opportunities to chair hearings and be involved in major legislation and they become fast friends for the rest of their liefrs. i mentioned he was a close friend of huey long's. long was often a guest in wheeler's home for dinner and, of course, his relationship with robert lafallat and then young bob lafallat who replaced his father in 1925 in the senate and he and wheeler became as well
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close associates. in fact, in i believe it was 1934 wheeler is engaged in his own reelection campaign here in montana and he leaves the campaign trail for several days to travel to wisconsin so he can campaign for a republican running for the united states senate, young bob lafallat, unheard of in our time. he was on a first-name basis with norman thomas, the six-time socialist party candidate for president of the united states. in fact, said that he voted for thomas for president in 1940 rather than vote for a third term for roosevelt. the journalist alan drury who won a pulitzer prize for his book "advice and consent." covered the senate in the 1940s and knew wheeler well, wrote a bit about him and said he was the most likeable man he encountered in the senate. wheeler was not a passivist in
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the sense that jeannette rankin was, but he was certainly anti-war and he was an anti-imperialist. this is a picture from 1941 where he's speaking to an anti-war rally. he vowed during that 1934 election campaign that he would never vote to send an american boy to fight in a foreign war and he never did. he was absent from the senate on december 8th, 1941 when congress voted to declare war on japan after the attack on pearl harbor. he was in montana when the attack occurred, was en route to washington while the vote was taken. he said that he would have voted for the declaration of war against japan, but as a practical matter he never cast a vote to send an american boy to fight in a foreign war. wheeler's entire career to the
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extent that it has been remembered up to this point has basically been remembered for his foreign policy stands prior to pearl harbor. many of the positions that he took i think remain legitimately the subject of intense controversy and debate. even condemnation in a way. here he is holding a newspaper, i think it's dated december 8th, 1941 or maybe december 9th, 1941, right after pearl harbor, with the obviously incorrect headline that the japanese -- japanese airplanes were flying over california. he's got his ever present robert burns cigar there in his hand as well. so while it's easy to look back and reflect on this period 1940 and '41 when the world is, again, being caught up in a
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world war, france has capitulated to the nazis, the blitz is on in the uk, london and other british cities being bombed on a nightly basis, it's easy to look back on that period and say, you know, this guy's foreign policy views were really out of touch with reality. yet if you believe that the decision to commit the country to war and to put soldiers, sailors and air men in harm's way is about the most important decision that any political person can make, then it must be also acknowledged that wheeler stimulated the last major foreign policy debate we had -- have had in this country about the broad direction of foreign policy since the beginning of world war ii. he was very much a believer that
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the united states should not create an empire around the world. he was very critical of the british empire. often invoked sort of bad connotations to the british empire and british rule in india and elsewhere in the world during this period. did not want to see the united states mimic the british empire or become a policeman for the world. did not want to see american military installations around the globe. and he did, i believe, in this period do a valuable service to the country in 1940 and '41 of stimulating what some historians have called the greatest debate about american foreign policy ever, which has basically become the consensus in american policy since world war ii that the united states is going to have a global role, that we are going to have military installations around the world and at least we
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give -- i give credit to wheeler for helping stimulate that debate even if his positions at the time were controversial and remain controversial controversial today. he was also among the most effective members of the senate during this period insisting that the legislative branch has a role equal to the president's in the making of foreign pol ic he did not believe congress should acquiesce to a president in making foreign policy and particularly not acquiesce as to when military force is utilized. his dissent against that would become the prevailing direction of american foreign policy really has seen him branded as an appeaser, a trader, a nazi sympathizer. certainly because of his
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association with america first committee in 1941 as antisemitic. i don't believe he was any of those things. he certainly was, as i said, anti-war. he was an opponent of the american empire. now, at the same time i have to acknowledge that i think he was naive. that's the best you can say about him. he was naive about the objectives of fascist germany, nazi germany. he was less concerned than he might have been about hitler's ambition to dpominate western europe and perhaps the globe. he took a rather benign view of the influence of nazi germany in europe. had his positions prevailed, i think we have to say, it's entirely possible the british
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empire would not have hung on to come through that war the way they did and entirely possible hitler and nazis would have dominated europe for many years to come. having said all that, two major takeaways from wheeler's career that i think are important today. two principle characteristics, both relevant today -- as relevant today as they were when he generated headlines from 1920s to 1950s. this, by the way, was a caricature from a book "a son of the wild jackass." it's chapter length vin yes, it is about various maverick political figures from that period and wheeler was prominently featured in the book with this caricature of him
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bearing a cowboy's bandana. the first cashingistic of wheel was his independence. he never flinched from the supporti supporting someone from his own party. before that all but disappeared from politics called that bipartisanship. his independence was both a source of his political popularity and ultimately a cause of his undoing. he became, in the parlance of today's politics, he alienated his base in the montana democratic party in the mid-40s and it did contribute to his undoing. still, who would not say in our polarized and hyper partisan politics today, we would not enjoy embracing a politician who seemed to always be his own man, who was independent, candid,
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maybe candid to a fault sometimes. he was particularly a favorite of reporters, journalists, because he was always so accessible and so quotable. and he had that ability that too often seems to be missing today in our politics of putting his country before his party. as mike mansfield told me when we talked about b.k., always a democrat but an independent. the second wheeler attribute was that opposition to concentrated power. he always opposed too much power concentrated in too few hands, whether it was centered on wall street with big banks, with utility companies, or even in the oval office. he hated bigness. american greatness, he believed, would be brought about by
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strengthening small business owners, by doing right by farmers and miners in butte and ranchers on the highline. his idea was a decentralized, almost old-fashioned jeffersonian democracy and american economy. running for re-election in 1928, wheeler did something i'm not sure i've ever, ever known any other politician to do. he had been elected for the first time in the senate in 1922 so he's running for re-election the first time, seeking a second term in the senate. he said to his montana constituents during the campaign, i've been in the senate long enough right now, six years, that i've really come to understand national and international issues confronting the country.
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some of these big problems. if you send me back to the senate, i'm going to concentrate my time on those big issues. then he said if montana voters wanted what he called an errand boy in the senate, then they should vote for somebody else. he said i'm out of the business of being an errand boy. he won re-election over former republican governor and senator joseph dixon, a tough very skilled opponent and another great character in montana political history. he won re-election with 53% of the vote after telling his constituents basically, you know, i'm not going to just concentrate on montana issues. i'm going to be a national legislator and not be in the business of bringing home the bacon for montana, if you will. of course, he never really did get out of the business of looking out for montana. i argue that no one deserves a greater credit for bringing
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about the construction of fort peck dam or buffalo rapids construction project. three major rail lines crossed montana, and he was a fierce defender of the railroad unions. believed that the railroads had to be operated to the benefit of montana farmers and shippers. he personally lobbied the army air corps chief of staff hap arnold in 1942 to construct what is today malstrom air force base at great falls. so he never really got out of the business of being an errand boy for montana but he believed that his responsibility was on a broader national and even international scale. i think you see some of the personality of wheeler in this photo, obviously enjoying a cigar, which he always did. he was reprimanded in 1923, the very first day he walked on the floor of the senate he had a lit cigar in his hand.
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somebody had to remind him that was against the rules to smoke a cigar in the floor of the senate. you could smoke in committee rooms but you couldn't smoke on the floor of the senate. in writing his biography, i tried to respect two views that i do respect. one is that don't set out to lionize your subject. you can be sympathetic but still be critical. that's what i've tried to do. the second admonition comes from a british historian i have a lot of regard for, a fellow by the name of julian jackson. he's written biography of, among others, charles de gaulle. he would biographers should guard against too much consistency on their subjects. so one of the things that has confounded historians for years about wheeler, and i have to admit confound me a bit, too,
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was his apparent inconsistencies from time to time. i do believe he was consistent to his basic core beliefs about being opposed to concentrated power, believing in political independence, and certainly believing in the institution of the senate as having a particularly important place in our system of government. i recognize his mistakes, and there were many. all politicians with the exception of bob brown, have feet of clay. they all make mistakes. wheeler could hold a grudge. he could savage fellow democrats like senator jim murray, who he served in the senate with from 1934 to 1947. murray and wheeler, both democrats, both from butte, which caused no end of problems. when they were both on the ballot in the weird 1934 election, one of the handful of
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times in american history when one state has had both senators elected in the same cycle, so murray is on the ballot as is wheeler. they are campaigning kind of together, but kind of wary of each other at the same time. i lost my train of thought there. he holds this grudge with murray, and murray returns the favor throughout all the time they served together in the senate proving the adage, one of the truisms of american politics, that there is no relationship stranger or more fraught with anxiety than that between senators from the same state regardless of their politics. so wheeler has a celebrated feud with jim murray all through their time in the senate together. there was actually a rumor in montana in 1942 when murray is running for re-election, and wheeler is out on the stump
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saying send me somebody that i can work with back there, without ever mentioning murray by name, he's criticizing his fellow democratic senator. he said send me somebody i can work with back there. and murray wins that election very narrowly in 1942, a republican year. he somehow held on to win very narrowly and he kind of decides at that point he's going to get even and he's going to lay in wait and try to even the score with wheeler in 1946, which he had more -- he was more effective in doing than wheeler was against him. one quick little anecdote that says a lot about wheeler, also says a lot about murray, and says even more about harry truman. wheeler had been out of office for some years. this is why wheeler was still president. he gives a speech out here in montana where he says -- where he's very critical of truman's
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foreign policy, even though they were close personal friends. wheeler shows up in the white house visitor logs during truman administration many more times than he did during roosevelt administration. he's down at the white house all the time. he comes out to montana, i believe in lewistown, and he criticizes truman's foreign policy. murray sees a newspaper clipping of this and sends it to one of truman's aides in the white house saying you really ought to call this article to the attention of the president. i hope he doesn't ever listen to burton k. wheeler on anything. dutifully the aide sjostroman the newspaper clipping and the letter from senator murray. truman writes his own letter immediately back to murray and said you have to understand while i don't agree with senator wheeler on anything when it comes to foreign policy, when i
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was a young senator he took me under his wing, befriended me, gave me opportunities nobody else gave me and he'll be a friend of mine until the day i die. that says a lot about harry truman, wheeler, murray. as i said, i think wheeler had these friends in both political parties. he was good humored. his son, edward, loved to tell the story that his father could look any person in the eye with a smile on his face and tell them to go directly to hell, and they would enjoy the trip. so in our age -- i'm getting ahead of myself here. in our age when we're searching what political pundits call authenticity in our political leaders, we really didn't have to search for authenticity when it comes to burton k. wheeler. he was willing, in fact, seemed unable to resist taking
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positions that demanded real political courage even in the face of opposition from his constituents back home. he was a genuine original, i think, a true political maverick, and he had a lifelong willingness to buck the trends, to buck his own party, to buck the president of his own party and to be truly courageous. you have to think long and hard, i think, to find his type in politics today, in the senate today. that is both a shame and maybe ultimately senator wheeler's real legacy. i'd be tldelighted to respond t any questions that any of you have tonight with the admonition from kirby that we make sure we get the microphone to you before you start speaking. so thank you very mulch. [ applause ]
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on the off chance nobody asks me about mrs. wheeler, i do want to say a word or two about her, because she was an extremely important part of his political life. she was much more conservative, i think, politically than he was, but she was a real partner in everything he did. so you know, we've had some great political partnerships in american political history. theirs was one of the better ones, i think, in terms of her being a real adviser and counselor to the senator. so much so that franklin roosevelt came to believe that he always seemed to be searching for a way to describe wheeler. he grew up in massachusetts, moved out to montana. i don't think he's a real progressive. he may be secretly a calvin coolidge massachusetts republican. he's always struggling to explain wheeler to himself. he says to jim farley, his top
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political aide, this postmaster general of the united states, chairman of the democratic national committee, they are talking one time. roosevelt says i think it's his wife. she's the power behind the throne. roosevelt referred to lulu wheeler as lady macbeth, the manipulator bin the senator. farley sort of tongue in cheek says to roosevelt pretty hard to explain political marriages. obviously a reference to franklin and eleanor roosevelt. so she's a real power behind the throne. she keeps the home fires burning. she is very involved in the america first committee. wheeler is a speaker for america first. he travels all over the country is 1941 speaking to these big rallies, speaking at madison square garden on two different occasions to capacity crowds.
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she's actually on the national committee first. she's the treasurer of the washington, d.c., chapter. she really takes this anti-war movement extremely seriously, volunteers her time to work on it. her connection to montana more than anything, i think, in addition to be living in butte for a while was that they had this cabin up at glacier national park. wheeler buys a piece of property in what eventually becomes glacier park. he has an inholding inside the national park and it was their summer vacation retreat for years and years. she had a big vegetable garden up there and really ruled the roost on lake mcdonald. so questions. >> i'm wondering if you could comment most importantly on glass siegel and secondly on teapot dome and tomas -- thomas
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walsh. >> glass-steagall was passed in 1933 to provide regulatory framework for financial services industry in the country as it existed at that time and basically separated investment banking from retail banking. the belief being that by com bypassing those two different kinds of financial transactions that you were courting disaster and that that, in fact, had been a contributing factor to the great depression. so they act passed in 1933, maybe '34 and really begins to provide some regulatory framework for the financial services industry. same time the securities and exchange committee is created in this wave of new deal reform legislation. it really creates the regulatory structure that we still have largely in place as it relates
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to the national economy. the second part of your question was teapot dome and senator walsh. yeah, i start the book by saying one of the reasons i was attracted to wheeler's story was because i had read winter bates biography of senator walsh. wheeler shows up over and over in the walsh biography and i think i've got to read about this guy wheeler. so i go looking for the wheeler biography, and of course it doesn't exist. i read his memoir, which is pretty good, yankee from the west, published in 1962 after he had been out of the senate for a long time. as political memoirs go, it's pretty good. he doesn't spend time trying to settle scores in the book. but to senator walsh. so i'm attracted to wheeler because i want to know how these two senators from montana in the minority party, both democrats, wind up leading two of the most
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high profile corruption investigations in american political history. so almost simultaneously walsh is leading the senate investigation into the corruption that we now call teapot dome, to refresh your memory involved secretary of interior albert fall improperly leasing federal oil reserves in wyoming and california and getting kickbacks in exchange for making those leases to big oil companies. albert fall remains -- this may change, who knows, remains the only member of a president's cabinet to go to jail for malfeasance while he was in office. almost simultaneously, then, wheeler launches the investigate of the justice department because he believes this guy dougherty that i showed you earlier somehow has to be implicated in teapot dome. he makes the allegation publicly
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he's certain there's some connection between dougherty and teapot dome. he's never been able to prove it conclusively although there's a lot of circumstantial evidence that he knew what fall was doing, chief financial officer of the country, doesn't lift a finger to deal with it. walsh leads an impressive investigation driven by documents and research, called witnesses and lays out that the elaborate scheme to defraud of oil reserves and ultimately leads to fall's conviction. at the same time wheeler is conducting justice department investigation, admittedly in a more slipshod manner. his investigation is more about producing documents and following the money and the paper trail than it is about calling some sensational witnesses who make some really
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outlandish claims while they are under oath in front of the senate committee. but it's a remarkable fact of american political life that montana's two senators literally in the same year in the minority are leading the investigations of these two high-profile corruption incidents. tom walsh was a fascinating guy. would have been attorney general in the roosevelt administration had he not died under stem somewhat mysterious circumstances right on the eve of him becoming attorney general of the united states. he had been a widower for a number of years, very successful in helena before he went to the senate. had been widowed and remarried quite late in life. i think walsh was 71 or 72 years old when he marries quite a younger woman. of course this leads to speculation about what brought
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on his heart attack. [ laughter ] this is a montana crowd, i knew you guys would go right there. >> you mentioned the committee as anti-war. in preparing to interview this morning i was doing some research and i was surprised at the scale stand scope and growth and range of political spectrum it represented. could you comment on all those, please? >> sure. the america first committees created in the summer and early fall of 1940. again, just to set the context, france has fallen to the nazis, the united states has imposed the first peace time draft in american history. wheeler opposed that draft as being coercive, democratic, thought taking young men from the farm and out of the mines to go serve in the military was an un-american thing to do.
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the america first committee starts on college campuses, mostly the yale college campus. a young fellow by the name of douglas stewart, an heir to a big family fortune, is committed passivist, anti-war activist. he starts mobilizing young college students across the country to enlist in this america first movement. and it kind of snowballs in short order. the movement enlists the leadership of robert wood, a brigadier general in the united states army during the first world war, quartermaster general of the army during world war i. he is the president of the sears, roebuck company in chicago and he volunteers his time to be the chairman of the america first committee. they form a national board that
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lulu wheeler serves on, and they begin sending out mailings and holding massive rallies around the country. for most of 1941, wheeler spends literally weeks on end traveling the country under auspices of america first committee preaching anti-war message, essentially accusing president roosevelt of misleading the country about his true intentions with regard to an eventual u.s. involvement in world war ii. but by the end of the effective life of the america first committee, which really kind of began to sputter to a halt with charles lindbergh's notorious speech in des moines in september of 1941 where he seems to equate the pro war, pro interventionist movement with
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the american jewish community and is broadly accused of being antisemit antisemitic. the america first committee refuses to repudiate lindbergh at that point. that is the absolute high watermark of the america first movement. by the time of lindbergh's speech, 850,000 americans were, if you will, card carrying members of america first. they had chapters all over the country. interestingly only two chapters in montana, one in butte, another in billings. i'm a little critical in the book of wheeler for lneglecting his home state interest, he may have mobilized a greater anti-war sentiment in montana if he paid more attention to the home country. he did not for whatever reason. possibly because he was traveling as this national spokesman for america first. so it was clearly the movement was infiltrated by nazi
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sympathizers, by people who were antisemitic. the leadership of america first in my judgment did too lazy to separate itself from those elements. that image has tainted the movement to this very day. when you hear the current president of america first, if you're a student of american history, you sort of think about this period in 1941 when you had this real controversial grassroots movement that did seem to many americans as being sort of out of touch with what was happening in the world at that point. >> conspiracy, thank you for your presentation. i've been curious about him for a number of years. i'm not sure if i got this right but i thought in the '70s when i was at bozeman college, we had a professor talking about b.k.
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wheeler appearing before the supreme court as a witness. at that point the nine justices stood for him? >> i'm not familiar with that story. i do know that he argued a number of cases before the supreme court after he was out of the senate. he and his son edward wheeler formed a law practice in washington, d.c., wheeler and wheeler. quite successful law practice. they represented a whole range of clients mostly in the areas that wheeler had concentrated on as chairman of the senate interstate commerce committee, telecommunications, transportation, railroads. they represented the zenith company in a big patent and trademark dispute with rca over who had the rights to develop colored television basically. so he represented a lot of broadcast entities around the
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country. he was probably in the days before lobbying was as regulated as supposedly it is today, he probably did do some lobbying but most of it was before federal agencies like the federal communications commission, interstate commerce commission. i know he did argue cases before the supreme court. i don't know about the specifics of your story. >> thank you for a wonderful talk and wonderful lecture. i've learned a lot of things from listening to you. >> thank you, bob. >> i've got more of a comment than a question. i met wheeler and visited with him at some plenlength when i w kid in the navy back during the war and in washington, d.c. i had dinner with him in his home in a suburb there of washington, d.c., fox hole road or something. >> that's right. >> we were served by house house
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servant, simeon, who he called simi. this was after mrs. wheeler died. >> yes. >> his eyesight was so poor he had a goose neck lamp, the college kids call it, over his plate so he could see what he was eating. i had several impressions. one, he intentionally disliked senator murray. >> no doubt about that. and the feeling was reciprocated. >> he said when fdr came to montana he tried to give the impression he was responsible for the dam. he said murray didn't give credit or help anybody that was a boot liquor. he had has heavy new england accent. during that period he said a lot of projects taking place during the new deal. he said if you wanted to accomplish something with wheeler, you needed to be tough -- or with fdr, you needed to be tough and forceful with him. >> exactly, yeah. >> he didn't just give things
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away. he allowed perhaps even though they get along with each other well, fdr probably respected wheeler. i think that was the case. one more thing, he was mildly critical of mansfield. he said he didn't think mansfield was a very strong leader in the u.s. senate. he said what's the point of holding an important public office if you don't stand up strongly for the things you personally believe in. i had indicated to him i was kind of interested in getting interest politics. he emphasized to me, there's no point in doing it if all you're trying to do is get re-elected. if you're going to do it, people give you an opportunity to help make policy, follow your best judgment and do it. >> stand for something. yeah. you mentioned a couple of things there i'll touch on briefly. in 1927, senator and mrs. wheel wheeler, and i believe their three older children made this
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incredible trip to the orient. they went to philippines, japan, korea, china. this is a time when, you know, the senate was out of session for months on end, so members could travel extensively. unlike a lot of other people in this period, wheeler traveled extensively around the world. so this was one of the big trips that he takes. they are in the philippines, and they meet this young fellow, simeon abre ola is his name. he's a house boy for this family they are having dinner with. he's waiting table and taking care of dinner arrangements. they come back there manila and here is simeon with his suit case. he said, i'm going with you to the united states. he said, i want to be your
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servant. mrs. wheeler thought this was a pretty good idea because she had six children at home. he said, well, we can't bring you as a slave. we have to pay you something. so he became their live in house boy, basically, their servant for the rest of his days. he became very close to mrs. wheeler. i heard the story, one of the things she loved to do when they were up at lake mcdonald, she would make these enormous batches of cinnamon rolls, roll them out on the kitchen table and invite neighbor ladies over to play bridge or have a coffee clache and have cinnamon rolls. he helped make those cinnamon rolls. he won clay court, was an excellent tennis player, new
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batting averages of all the baseball players. it was a weird story about this young filipino guy who hitches on with this united states senator and literally becomes a member of the family for the rest of his life. >> i know malstrom became such an important part of world war ii. do you think he used leverage with america first movement to try to get that going? >> actually, i think what happened with regard to the air base at great falls was that the land lease program had been put into place early 1941. so the united states is shipping military supplies to first the united kingdom, mostly on convoys, across the north atlantic.
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then by the time nazi germany invades the soviet union in 1941, it's expanded to provide military assistance to stalin's russia, which is a very controversial thing. wheeler often said, we ought to let the dictators fight it out, let stalin and hitler square off and stay out of it. the united states did not stay out of it. we expanded to aid the soviet union. we needed to transport fighter planes and bombers and all kinds of things across alaska to siberia. great falls, now malstrom, became a transfer for a lot of those lease supplies after 1942. so what i think really was happening was wheeler was bringing home the bacon. he figures if we're going to need an air base someplace in
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the pacific northwest to bring these supplies to the russians, what better place to have it than western montana. he had a very good relationship with general hap arnold, the army air corps chief of staff, who i believe was involved in leaking the war plan. a chapter in the book about this celebrated leak of this war plan that wheeler believed vindicated him and other interventionists that roosevelt was systematically maneuvering the united states into involvement in world war ii. but arnold motive, if, in fact, he was involved in that leak, his motive was he believed that the united states air force at that point, part of the army, army air corps, was not prepared for war and needed more time to
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get the planes and air crews trained and all that sort of thing. he did not want to see united states go to war in 1941 or '42, unprepared as he saw it to fight an air war. he actually had a close relationship with wheeler despite wheeler's anti-interventionist policy views. so i think he lobbied the general and said great falls would be a great place to put that air force base. >> wheeler new him in the world war i years and served in washington, how did they regard each other? were they allies? think alike on anything? >> i think they were allies, chuck, to the extent they certainly saw eye to eye on american foreign policy issues. i don't character wheeler as rankin of being a passivist. i think she was in her heart of
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hearts opposed to war. he was opposed to not having in his view a military strong enough to defend the united states in the western hemisphere. there was a little divergence with their point of view. wheeler's family with rankin family, was closer with jeanette's brother, a close political ally of wheeler all through wheeler's career. so when rankin runs against murray in 1942, not very hard for wheel to decide to support rankin. he never really did it publicly so he doesn't get tagged with endorsing a republican against a democrat but he very much maneuvered behind the scenes, tried to make sure rankin was stressing the right kinds of
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issues and that sort of thing and really wanted rankin to win and was quite decides pointed he didn't. certainly mrs. wheeler was disappointed murray prevailed in 1942. so the rankin connection was stronger through the brother than sister but they certainly knew each other and had compatibility on those issues. >> comment on election 1946. >> election of 1946, yes. wheeler is running for what would be his fifth term. he's created this essentially bipartisan coalition with the republican governor at the time, ford. i think that served to do one important thing. it started to the alienate him from his political base. so he falls out of favor with sort of the rank and file
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democratic base in the montana democratic party. the most roosevelt base of the democratic party. they start by 1944 and '45, they are seeing wheeler as being this constant critic of roosevelt and truman foreign policy. acting more like a republican than he is a democrat, making common cause with the republican governor. he's not really one of us anymore. i think one of the new things i show in the book is how close mike mansfield came to running against wheeler in 1946. in mansfield's papers, university of montana, tells you how diligent mansfield was about keeping records, he wrote out in his own hand a long list of democratic leaders around montana, early 1946. he systematically calls these people and talks to them about what are my chances running in
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the democratic primary against wheeler, will i have any money? will you support me? what issues should i be running on? what do you think my chances are? he's got the same set of five or six questions he asks party chairman in different parties around the state, prominent democrats. almost to a person they say, you're the guy to run against wheeler. we're tired of this guy. time to get him out of there. you're the guy who can beat him. i go and look at these papers and then talk to mike mansfield. i said, senator, why did you decide to run against wheeler in 1946, typical mansfield. he says, didn't think i could win. that's all he said. didn't think i could win. he steps aside at the last minute, wheeler says, and i quote him in the book as saying, i had a call from congressman mansfield today. he's not going to run, which is good news, because now i think there won't be serious
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opposition in the democratic party. so the combination of him alienating himself from the democratic base, being identified too often with republicans, one of his aides writes him a letter and says, senator, if we can get you through the democratic primary, i'm sure you'll win the general election because you'll get all this republican support but he could not get through the democratic primary. he's eventually challenged by a guy name leif erickson and ran againstford in 1944, lost the governorship. he comes back and he and mansfield are running against each other in 1946, who is going to run against wheeler. they know if they both run wheeler will for sure win. one or the other has got to run. mansfield steps aside in favor of erickson. he tells him i'm going to run a
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tough campaign. the only way to go after this guy, you have to really go after him. it turned out to be a bloody, nasty campaign. wheeler is vilified for failing to support the u.s. military during the war, for his foreign policy positions prior to the war. he's deemed to be out of touch with montana. the missouri valley project, sort of modelled on the tennessee valley authority, which was subject of some contention in montana becomes a big issue in the race. erickson supports mva, wheeler much more reluctant to endorse it but he eventually loses. one of the major reasons he loses, he loses the support of organized labor in butte and great falls anaconda and some of the places organized labor had always been in his pocket, so to speak, politically, turns against him in 1946 and he
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loses. the campaign featured some scurrilous charges. a book was published called the plot against america, which is what phillip roth took the title from that book for his novel and mentions wheeler, has wheeler as one of the characters. scurrilous book that accuses wheeler of everything from being a nazi to, you know, un-american, unpatriotic, having clandestine romances with all kinds of women, really scurrilous stuff. but he does lose that election as a result i think of his foreign policy position catches up with him and the fact he had not attended enough to the democratic party in montana. >> one final question. >> you've already addressed to some extent my original
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question, which was concerning great falls base. i would just like to know, though, you had mentioned that early 1940s was a time when there was a great debate about the role of the united states worldwide after he was involved in that debate, did he eventually change his mind in order to cooperate more with the operations or great falls base? >> well, he certainly supported, you know montana having a role in military preparedness and supporting the war effort, but he did not fundamentally change his views about foreign policy in the 40s, even during the war. he was very critical, for example, of various aspects of the draft during the war. he thought that young fathers shouldn't be drafted. if they had young children at
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home, he didn't think they should be drafted. he made quite a stand on that. he was opposed to the germany first strategy of defeat nazi germany first. he believed japan had attacked the united states at pearl harbor and we ought to concentrate militarily on defeating japan before we worried about defeating germany in europe. he was crossways. he disagreed with unconditional surrender policy that roosevelt advanced during 1943 believing that would inevitably would lead the german government to fight to the very end. there would be no negotiated end to world war ii. so he opposed a number of foreign policy positions of that period. by 1945, i think with an eye toward his re-election campaign looming, he actually does
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support creation of united nations even after speaking out against it might involve united nations and providing a police force for the world, something he was add manipulatorly opposed to. he did ultimately vote in favor of the resolution authorizing u.s. membership in the united nations. maybe in part because harry truman is president at this time, and he may have done it because he figured truman would do a better job of managing u.s. involvement with the united nations than franklin roosevelt would have done. fundamentally he never really backtracked on his foreign policy views. in the 1960s he was speaking out against the war in vietnam. he called president eisenhower's chief of staff in the late 1950s to praise eisenhower for not using american military intervention in the suez crisis
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when egypt took over suez canal and great britain sent troops to wrest it back. he applauded eisenhower for not getting involved. he was very consistent about not using u.s. military force in that way, something that needless to say has become pretty commonplace every since. >> i hate to cut the discussion off. i think we could go on for quite a while. i want to give marc time to sign books out in the lobby. say thank you one more time for an excellent talk. >> thank you. thank you so much. >> tonight millennial journalists in their 20s and 30s on the future of their profession. a buzzfeed reporter talks about
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what it's like to be the first to break news in today's immediate news cycle. >> we move really fast, which it can be an asset. but on the flip side it can be detrimental. like we don't have what abc news has. there's no one he fact checking our stories. we have an editor, copy editor and it's out. with the parkland scooting, we in one story when it was moving very quickly, we misidentified the shooter. a kid's mom, based on what teaches told us, oh, it's that kid in that track and field photo. that looks like, okay, like six people told us this. it was not that kid. so that was something i've learned especially in breaking news and the rush to be first to sit back and take a deep breath and question and ask and verify
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more, especially now with the pace of news. it's more important than ever, yeah. >> millennial journalists also talk about industry changes and fake news. can you watch the entire program tonight at 9:00 p.m. on c-span. >> matthew green explained how members of congress choose their party leaders. he looked at past elections and voting patterns and the key factors that swung votes. he's the co-author of choosing the leader, leadership elections in the u.s. house of representatives. the u.s. capital historical society hosted this talk. >> right now it's about matt greene, who is an friend of ours. you might remember him speaking last year, who is an friend of . you might remember him speaking last year at the lecture


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