Interview with Senator Karl E. Mundt
16 March 1951 , The Eleanor Roosevelt Show
[ER]: Good day, this is Eleanor Roosevelt speaking. It gives me great pleasure to visit with you as I do each day at this time, from my living room atop the Park Sheraton Hotel, overlooking Central Park. I am grateful for the many encouraging letters you send me and most happy that you find my guests both informative and entertaining, as I do. Now my son Elliott, who assists me on these programs, will speak to you.
[Elliott Roosevelt]: Thank you Mother. Competition is something we Americans like. We believe it has contributed to the development of our personal lives, our business lives, and even our political lives. We stand for a two party system, but when someone comes along with some ideas for modernizing our two-party system, well those ideas should sound like they might have interesting listening.
Mrs. Roosevelt's guest today is the Republican Senator from South Dakota, the honorable Karl E. Mundt, and his comments on the realignment of our two major political parties will be important to all of us.
Before we hear from Senator Mundt though, there's a letter in today's mail from a young woman who wonders how communism manages to inspire such loyalty among its followers. As soon as we've had a message from the sponsors who make this program possible, we'll come back to the letter.[Break]
[Elliott]: Today's question comes from Mrs. Laura Radcliff, of Levittown, Long Island, Mother, and her question reads as follows: "There is some doubt in my mind about a subject which you discussed on your program recently. It concerns what you said about the difference between communism and democracy. You said the communists make big promises, while the United States backs up their promises and tries to help certain countries to get back on their feet again. If that is the main reason, why is the Soviet Union feared so? As a very average citizen and young housewife, I can't understand why we should have to fight Russia. If they are living on promises alone, it seems to me they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. Why do they have friends in a country such as ours? And how can they get the Koreans to fight so fantastically for them?" There's the question.
[ER]: Well, I've, I think she doesn't understand the nature of, of communism very well. Well, I think that we would have to go back and say that they don't have a great many friends in a county such as ours. There is a limited number of communists in this country who actually believe that the communists' manner of governing, their economic system, their, even their political system is better than that of a democracy.
[ER]: Now those differences will appear in any country. I don't see any reason for being afraid of com, of the communists side, you see...
[Elliott]: You mean the communists in this country?
[ER]: In this country, because there are not many of them. I did not say that we were actually doing what this lady says, actually helping people to improve their conditions. I said that the democracies tried to do that, and would have to prove through action what they preached of freedom...
[ER]: ...and of aid. Because the communists, living in a closed country and being a police state, could live on promises, whereas we were forced, being an open country where everything could be watched, we were forced to show that we were actually doing something that made life more worth living for people.
[ER]: And I, I think that's true. I think democracy has to prove itself and this lady, living in Levittown is part of the democratic system, and she must prove, as every other citizen of a democracy must prove, that democracy actually is a better system than the communist system.
[Elliott]: Well now, let's just examine this for a second if we may. You have outlined the fact that if we as free nations are to win, we must win by example and by actual deeds, rather than by promises
[Elliott]: Which we don't back up. Do you feel that the free nations of the world are beginning to have a complete realization of this, the importance of this, and that they are moving toward making progress in that direction sufficiently that we can see ahead down the road a day come when communism will at least be contained?
[ER]: I think we began to do that when we entered into the United Nations, and the mere fact that our foreign policy supports the United Nations, and that Russia has been opposed to practically everything which was done collectively. For instance, she isn't a member of the Word Health Organization, which is a collective effort to help the health of the world. I think through Point Four, which is our plan to help underdeveloped areas of the world working with the UN, we have recognized our responsibility and we are beginning to go along the lines of action.
[ER]: And Russia has no part in any of this work. She does none of it. And she's not a member of UNESCO, she's not a member of any of the specialized agencies. And I think that there, the reason that we may have to fight Russia is not because we want to fight Russia, but because Russia has kept herself highly mobilized. She's let out at the end of the war her older people, but she has taken in under universal military service far greater number of eighteen year olds, and for that reason, she is highly mobilized. She's given a great deal of her production effort to military production, and therefore the reason that we have to be strong in a military way is because Russia is making herself constantly stronger and therefore is a threat to the free nations of the world.
[Elliott]: Well as a threat, she is not at the present time employing Russian troops in any part of the world.
[ER]: No, she keeps them in reserve very cleverly and makes her satellites quite thorough.
[Elliott]: All right, now that brings us to the last part of this lady's question, in which she says, "How can they get Koreans to fight so fantastically for them on their side, and in for their beliefs?"
[ER]: It's quite easy because the peoples in this part of the world, in many parts of the world, have lived in dire misery. In misery such as you and I have great difficulty in comprehending even. And when Russia comes in, and it is a question with these people not of freedom, but of bread, and when she comes in and offers them a communist system of economy, under which every man has a job, under which the government takes over seeing that he has a job, to people who have never had freedom, and to whom this would mean bread, it is a wonderful promise, a marvelous promise and they are willing and at first they will get a certain amount. Russia doesn't move in on her whole plan immediately. She doesn't say for instance, I'm sure to the Chinese: "Every one of you little land owners who have owned half an acre" by the way, in China to own an acre of land is ...
[Elliott]: Really big landowner.
[ER]: ... really quite an achievement. She doesn't say, "You will collectivize your whole holdings tomorrow." I'm pretty sure she's left them all alone so far. Because to a Chinese farmer that little tiny bit of land has meant all of his work all of his life.
[ER]: And she probably has left that part for the future. She probably has started to help them develop industries. And it uh it isn't sensibly and, and wisely done.
[ER]: And with a good deal of, of finesse at the start. That's why I believe North Koreans are willing to fight and that's why the Chinese have been won over.
[Elliott]: Well does the—
[ER]: In time it will change. It takes time.
[Elliott]: Well does this system of theirs so by the very nature of its, of its promises to the people, once it provides bread, once it starts to provide education, as it has in the Soviet Union, and certain betterment but not too great of betterment of the people.
[ER]: I think it carries the seeds of its own defeat.
[Elliott]: It does?
[ER]: I think so. But, in the meantime, there might be a world war.
[Elliott]: I see. Then during that world war ...
[ER]: Everybody would be destroyed.
[Elliott]: ... the people would rally behind the, the people that are in power, operating this communist system, and fight just as, as frantically as the Kor- North Koreans have been fighting, fighting the UN Forces?
[ER]: Probably, but of course a world war now would mean destruction for victor and vanquished.
[Elliott]: Well that very factor-do you think that the Soviet High Command really has taken into account that factor?
[ER]: Well, I think it probably the only reason that it hasn't declared a war, or if it thought it could win without being destroyed, it probably would already have made the effort. But it probably is weighing the fact of whether there will be anything left.
[Elliott]: In other words, the Soviet government at the present time are trying to win by skirmishing and by propaganda and they have not made up their mind definitely that...
[ER]: That would be my idea.
[Elliott]: But you think that if they felt we were sufficiently unprepared ...
[ER]: They would then, without ...
[Elliott]: They would not hesitate to move in?
[ER]: Yes. I would feel that way.
[Elliott]: I see, well...
[ER]: Because I don't think it would be any sense to keep the amount of armed forces they do otherwise.
[Elliott]: I see. All right, well I think that answers the question from Mrs. Laura Radcliff, and now I see that it's time for us to go on to another part of the program.[Break]
[ER]: I feel that the better informed all of us are about our government and the men guiding it, the more able we are to think out issues for ourselves. I'm therefore very happy that a recent trip to Washington enabled me wit-, enabled me to have one of our most able Senators as my guest. I'm pleased to introduce to you, the Republican Senator from South Dakota, Mr. Karl E. Mundt. I understand Senator, that recently before the Union League Club of New York City you discussed the possibility of bringing about a political realignment of our major American political parties. Is that correct?
[Senator Mundt]: Yes it is Mrs. Roosevelt, but let me say first of all it's good to be on the program with you again. I remember when we were last together down on Constitution Hall and you're looking fine, and I'm mighty happy about that. Yes, I did discuss before that rather conservative Republican group known as the Union League Club of New York the possibility that the time might be here again in American history when we should have a new alignment of our political parties so that we can bring about party alignments which actually mean more than they apparently do today.
[ER]: You and I are not often in agreement but I made a suggestion somewhat similar to that also some time ago.
[Senator Mundt]: Well I...
[ER]: The Democrats and Republicans have mentioned this...
[Senator Mundt]: very much...
[ER]: But I did not do it I think with as much poise as you did. Where as your New York City speech, the first time since the last presidential election that you've suggested exploring the possibilities of bringing about such a political realignment?
[Senator Mundt]: No, Mrs. Roosevelt, as a matter of fact since the fall of 1949 I have been discussing this possibility before various American audiences. In the fall of 1949, Mrs. Mundt and I made a motor trip out to the West Coast, and on that trip I spoke ten or twelve times discussing in that area the possibility of political realignment. And then last year, uh last fall of nineteen-forty fifty, I did the same thing down in the South, so that I, I have discussed this in about thirty states now including all of the states south of the Mason-Dixon line, except Mississippi, where I was not fortunate enough to get an invitation to speak. [Clears throat]
[ER]: Well, I'd like to inquire, what are the reasons why you believe the time may again be ripe in this country for developing new political groupings?
[Senator Mundt]: Well, primarily Mrs. Roosevelt because as you and I know, we have changed our political groupings in this country several times before. And I think each time we have done it, it has had a wholesome effect upon the country. It has served as a tonic. We have expanded and progressed more rapidly, and it seems to me that some great changes have come about in the political thinking of America, a great many of which incidentally are attributable to your husband when he was the president, because he gave us the New Deal, which gradually took on the shape and the formation in large part of a somewhat different political concept of almost a new political party.
And I think that something rather important happened in this country at the Democratic Nation Convention of 1936, because at that time a change in the rules of democratic conventions was brought about, whereby instead of having the unit rule and the two-thirds majority, which used to be required for the nomination of a president, the Democratic National Convention went over to the strict majority rule. And I think that has had an impact on both parties. It meant that no longer did the Democratic Party cater to the voters of the South, or the sentiment of the South, and it meant consequently that they began to pay more attention to the problems of labor unions, and the people in the cities, and the larger groups. And as they did that, naturally the Republican Party followed suit, and as a consequence, those in the South, who had been in control of the Democratic Party for so long, ever since what they like to call The War Between the States, sort of were cast in the shadow, and no longer were the predominant force. That developed in turn in what we all recognize now as a sort of an informal coalition in Congress between so-called Conservative, or Southern, or Jeffersonian Democrats, and a great many of the Republicans, especially Republicans living primarily between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians.
[ER]: I always liked the Conservative and Jeffersonian being put together because there was a time I think when some of Jefferson's ideas were not considered quite as
[Senator Mundt]: [clears throat]
[ER]: ... conservative as they are today!
[Senator Mundt]: That's right.
[ER]: Would it be your idea sir, to change our traditional bi-party system to something resembling some of the multi-party political systems now operating in Europe, or do you envision a continuation of our two party system, with two new political parties, with new names, and symbols eventually emerging from the realignment?
[Senator Mundt]: Actually Mrs. Roosevelt, I envision the latter. I think that out of this political realignment, should it take place, would eventually come two great American political parties. And certainly, I am completely dedicated to the two-party system, as I know you are because it's basic in our whole American tradition. But it seems to me if we could have two new political parties with new names, and new symbols, and new sets of standards and policies, that it would then be possible to divide the voters and divide the people of America into those two parties, with an honest, and open, and understandable set of standards and statements for each party, so that there would be a clear cut cleavage and definite and understandable differences of opinion.
[ER]: Well I'm very glad that you believe strongly in the two party system because I have watched so often the situation in many of the European countries, where they have so many political parties and I do not consider that it's an efficient system. [Laughs and clears throat]
[Senator Mundt]: I don't either. I think that either too many parties or too few, that is one fewer than two, would be too few. [Laughs]
[ER]: Yes, one fewer than two. Too few! [Laughs]
[Senator Mundt]: Too few.
[ER]: I agree with you completely on that!
[Senator Mundt]: Thank you. [Laughs]
[ER]: Well as I understand it Senator Mundt, you feel that the present political parties have lost their significance and meaning and no longer actually divide voters into groups with important differences of opinion. Now is that correct?
[Senator Mundt]: Yes, that's exactly correct, because-real easy, Democratic party for years and years in America was considered the party of state's rights, and the Republican party was considered the party which believed in a strong centralized government. And of course, Alexander Hamilton, that early disciple of Republican concepts, was a great advocate of strong centralized government. Well now it seems to me that situation has almost been completely reversed! The Democratic Party is represented by its administration and I think that's the proper way to designate and define a political party. The Democratic Party believes in a strong centralized government and having the federal government do things in the social and economic field because of its power and its authority and its responsibility. Whereas the Republican Party, by in large, believes in retaining in the hands of the local communities and the states additional authority, additional responsibilities, so that really, almost one might say the position of the parties have been reversed, although the labels on the bottles still remain the same.
[ER]: I see. Well now would you detail for us a step by step procedure by which you believe it might be possible to bring about such a political realignment as you have in mind for the next presidential election?
[Senator Mundt]: Yes, I'll be happy to do that, and of course this is purely formative thinking in my part. My main desire is to try to stimulate the best political brains in America and both our major political parties to thinking about this situation to see whether we can't bring about a realignment in which the differences shape up more vigorously and more openly and so that Mr. John American, the average voter, can go to the polls and vote for one set of principles or another, recognizing he has a clear decision to make.
Now I have felt that this is at least one way in which this political realignment might get under way. That would be for the Republican Party, the party to which I belong, to hold its national convention after the Democratic National Convention instead of before it. I think you'd have to admit Mrs. Roosevelt that wouldn't be a very great gamble for us Republicans to take, because we've been holding our convention first now for more than twenty years and haven't been too successful, so that we're actually, you might say, betting nothing in the hopes of something. But in all events, I think that we should hold our convention after the Democratic National Convention.
Now the reason I believe that is this: it seems to me that any political realist today who looks at the situation and the record of the two parties is going to recognize that the next Democratic National Convention will either re-nominate Mr. Truman for another term, or if it does not re-nominate Mr. Truman because he declines to run, or decides not to run, or because of any other reason, I think it's a pretty fair and accurate prophecy to make that the Democratic National Convention will then nominate somebody who probably believes even more firmly in the strong centralized concept of government than does Mr. Truman. Somebody in other words, who might be a stronger advocate of socialized medicine should we say, or some kind of federal health program, some kind of federal education program, socialized housing or federalized housing, somebody who believes even more strongly should we say in a national compulsorily FEPC.
So if instead of nominating Mr. Truman, someone is nominated who actively and avidly believes in those concepts or principles, or if Mr. Truman himself is re-nominated and the national convention does what it inevitably must, and puts back in the planks which advocate those policies, I presume there'll be a great many unhappy Democratic representatives to the convention, just as there were at the last Democratic Convention. And I would suggest if that develops as I think it will, that those fine, Southern Democrats who understandably will be unhappy with some of those provisions, again leave the convention.
But that this time, instead of going back home as they did and organizing a splinter party and trying to have a third party, which is ineffective, which is just a sort of glorified way of pouting actually because it doesn't achieve anything, that they go back home and send some emissaries to the Republican National Convention. And we hold our convention, and they'll probably say to us about this, they'll say: no, look, you people are black Republicans, and we've been brought up through our families to be against black Republicans, and we're Democrats, and you're gonna stay Republicans, and we're gonna stay Democrats. But you know, we're just about the most unhappy Democrats in the world. We're unhappy about the national administration's program. Our representatives and congressmen have been fighting it in the legislative halls. We're unhappy about the platform, we're unhappy about the choice of candidates, which we have been compelled to accept. So we've come up to see you with this hope: that if you would be willing to nominate as your candidates for president and vice president two men from a panel that uh that we're going to submit to you. This panel includes some outstanding Democrats from the South; it uh includes some outstanding Republicans. We're not so much concerned who you nominate for president or vice president just so you take two of them out of this panel and then adopt a national platform which will not contain any of the planks which are understandably repugnant to the people of the South, which tend to insult them or tend to drive them into political oblivion. If you'll refrain from putting those things in your party platform that the Democrats have in theirs and that we don't like. Then we'll go back home, we'll hold a convention like we did four years ago but in instead of having a Dixiecrat party and instead of separate candidates, we will try to nominate as our candidates for president as democratic candidates for president in the South exactly the same two men that you have nominated as candidates for president and vice president in the North.
Now, we will do that in those states where we can, and put them on as the regular organizational Democratic candidates, as we succeeded in doing once or twice in two- four years ago. Some places we're not gonna be able to do that, so where we can't, where the regular organization Democrats instead uh put on the ballot as their candidates the people nominated at the Democratic National Convention, then down in the South, we will put these same two men whom the Republicans have nominated as their candidates for president and vice president, we will put them on the ballot as Southern Democratic candidates, as Jeffersonian Democratic candidates, Coalition candidates, Dixiecrats, State's Righters, whatever you want to call them.
[ER]: Well that's very clear sir and I think we now must let our announcer have a word, and then we'll come right back to this interesting discussion.
[Senator Mundt]: Surely. [Clears throat][Break]
[ER]: Now, I'm very happy to be able to resume this talk with the Republican Senator from South Dakota, Mr. Karl E. Mundt. And the very next question I'm going to ask you sir is in the event that the North-South coalition that you speak of should succeed in winning the majority vote in the Electoral College, how would the Congress be organized? Would it be Republican or Democrat, or whatever the labels were?
[Senator Mundt]: Yes, well that's truly a very practical question Mrs. Roosevelt, but before answering it, may I pick up where we left off just to say that after the Southern Democrats had nominated in one way or another these two candidates that the Republicans had nominated...
[Senator Mundt]: ... my proposal is then that the candidates run as Republicans in the North; that they run in as Democrats in the states where the can be on the Democratic ballot in the South, as Dixiecrats, or State Righters, or Jeffersonian Democrats in other states. And then, at the Electoral College that we marry all these votes together...
[ER]: Well could they possibly?
[Senator Mundt]: because in my opinion, then that there would be a majority perhaps for that set of candidates.
[ER]: Well what, what interests me, is simply would it be possible for a splinter party to run as Democrats where the regular Democratic Convention had made nominations?
[Senator Mundt]: Would depend entirely of course, each state would be up to answer that for its self. In some states...
[ER]: I see.[Senator Mundt]: ... the regular Democrats might be unhappy you see, with the National Democratic Party.
[ER]: I see.
[Senator Mundt]: Now, getting to your very practical question about how to handle this matter of reorganization of Congress at that time, I would simply do that on this basis: I would add to the regularly Republican elected members of the Senate and the House, all of the Democratic congressmen and senators from the states that had voted for this coalition set of candidates, and gear their seniority, setting it right in among the Republicans so that the committees of the Senate and the House would be organized with the Republicans plus the Democrats from the states that voted for this ticket, each person maintaining his own seniority.
Let me show how that would work out for example on the Senate Committee on Finance. It would mean that Senator George would still be Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, because he has more seniority than any Republican member of that committee. And so it would work on that basis, and that would be my thought in getting the thing started in Congress.
[ER]: I see. Well then how would the rather important matter of federal patronage be handled?
[Senator Mundt]: That is a difficult question; I've thought about that a great deal. I think the best thing to do to begin with would be to handle it about the same as we do the political assignments in Congress. In other words, that it would be handled through the Republicans in states where a Republican in the North it would be handled through the Democrat and coalitionists of the South, who had contributed their electoral votes in the Electoral College to this pool which would have theoretically then elected this new set of candidates.
But I suggest this Mrs. Roosevelt that shortly after such a set of candidates would be elected by a coalition effort of the people in the South and the North that an off year national convention then be held, because we would have if this came to pass, a president, and a vice president, and a Congress all of one general political mind, all believing in the same set of principle, but we wouldn't have any name for the party, we wouldn't have any policy platform and we wouldn't have any symbols. So I would suggest that a convention then be held and we say, "Well here we are, we're in control, let's work out some platform planks on which we can agree, a chart for the government to take, let's adopt a name, let's call this the Freedom Party for example, let's have a symbol, I suggest maybe the Statue of Liberty would be all right for that," and set that up and then go about the very business-like business of going to the sheriffs and the auditors and the treasurers and county officials in a state like South Dakota for example, where a Republican nomination almost is equivalent to election, the same way with the Democratic county officials in the Deep South, where a Democratic nomination is equivalent to election, say "Here, don't you want to join the winning team? We've got the patronage now, this is this new party." And I think between then and the next presidential election, the county and state officials would be happy to merge from Democrats and Republicans into this new party, which would be in control, and that would of course mean that the people not in control, in opposition, would in turn form their new party.
We'd be back with two new parties, but you would have parties, which actually were divided along a specific political, economic, and social issues so that the voter, and that's the important thing, has an honest choice when it comes his time to cast a ballot in the polling place.
[ER]: Do you believe that all northern Republicans and all southern Democrats would cooperate and join up in such coalition efforts?
[Senator Mundt]: No, I think that would be asking too much. I imagine there'd be some Republicans in the North, who'd be very unhappy about a thing like that perhaps, and there would be some regular organization Democrats in the South who'd be very unhappy, but those would be some of the growing pains one has to have if you're trying to develop a new political realignment.
[ER]: Well, I, I wondered that little because I think in the South there is a division now, which did not always exist, and possibly you might find that your, your states were, were splitting up in the South as they haven't before.
[Senator Mundt]: I think that could happen, I have felt that perhaps we might pick up at the beginning eight of the so-called the twelve southern states. We certainly wouldn't get them all.
[ER]: Well I, I agree with you when you say that our present political parties confuse people. You also say I think that they cover up the issues and fail to give the individual voter a clear-cut choice in his vote for president. Now can you give me an example of... ?
[Senator Mundt]: Yes, may I illustrate that, I'll think that one very clear-cut and fair illustration is the rather vexatious issue, which comes before the Senate and the Congress every year about the compulsory FEPC. I think a great many Democratic voters in the North vote for a Democratic ticket in the feeling that is the way to procure a federal FEPC, in which they believe, and the Democratic National platform has suggested that it would provide that.
I think by the same token, a lot of Democratic voters in the South vote for their candidates for Congress and the Senate on the theory that that's the way to vote against an FEPC, and their people come up against it, so that you have people within the same party, voting for the same ticket, half of them saying that's the way to get an FEPC, the other half saying that's the way to stop it. Now that's what I mean by confusing and covering up an issue.
[ER]: I see. Well, I think the same thing that you're complaining about here, has happened in the United Kingdom. For instance, I know that the Liberal Party has almost lost any point at all, or any meaning. So we could draw some comparisons or some experience from them.
[Senator Mundt]: I think that's right. As a matter of fact I've made quite a study of that Mrs. Roosevelt, and have discovered that if the Liberal vote in the last British general election, which has been voting with the Conservative party in the House of Commons, had the people who voted for Liberal candidates who lost voted for Conservatives instead, the Conservatives would have gained seventy-one additional seats in Parliament, and would be in control of the House of Commons today, and consequently national socialism would have been voted out by the people, except for the semantics involved and the confusion of labels.
[ER]: National socialism, I understand, you feel practically Hitlerism and what's going on in Great Britain is the same. [Laughs]
[Senator Mundt]: Well I have said that I really believe that what the British have today is a sort of English Nazism because after all, it's putting one man in control or one group in control of the economy and, and I just don't like that. I think that's bad.
[ER]: That's very interesting to me, because I think it would shock the British! [Laughs]
[Senator Mundt]: I know it would!
[ER]: A greater deal than it shocks you even! [Laughing]
[Senator Mundt]: [Laughing] I'm sure that's true Mrs. Roosevelt, yes.
[ER]: It's uh, it is interesting to me from the point of the view of the one thing I was thinking about which was the difficulty of getting definitions in this. I think that's where you find your greatest difficulty, when you get down to saying what you really are going to have each party stand for, it's going to be awfully hard.
[Senator Mundt]: That's right. But I'm sure you agree that the voter is entitled to that...
[ER]: I think he is entitled to the vote
[Senator Mundt]: ... because he has just one day in court, yes, and he should know what he's voting for.
[ER]: Well I want to thank you so much for being with me today, and tell you I think you were most kind to come.
[Senator Mundt]: Thank you very much.
[ER]: I hope it's very helpful to the people.
[Senator Mundt]: Thank you.