Henry Wallace then, Bernie Sanders now: history repeated with small differences
Historian Peter Kuznick speaks to Paul Jay and The Real News about perhaps the most progressive Democrat ever, Henry Wallace, who served as Roosevelt's vice president from '41 to '45.
Despite that Wallace was very popular, the Democratic establishment cut his way to power through a very short coup when he was just about to become president. As Kuznick says characteristically, "That's how close we came to a dramatically different history. Five feet. Five feet and a few seconds."
Kuznick gives the details about these dramatic moments:
In '44 the support was for Wallace but Edwin Pauley, the party treasurer, ran what Pauley called Pauley's Coup, he proudly referred to it as, in conjunction with Bob Hannegan, the Democratic party chair. They run an operation. Roosevelt by '44 is very, very weak. It's clear to everybody that he's not going to last another term. He was the only one who was in denial really about that.
They went around saying, for the nomination for vice president they were saying, "We're not just nominating a vice president. We're nominating the next President of the United States." They made all the deals. They tried to keep the progressives, the Wallace supporters from ever getting access to Roosevelt. They cooked the convention basically. They stacked the convention with anti-Wallace delegates.
The problem was that Wallace was so popular. The night the convention starts, July 20th, Wallace makes the seconding speech for Roosevelt. Even though the party bosses had the convention already stacked and fixed in 1944, like they did in 2016. After Wallace's speech there's a spontaneous demonstration on the floor. It lasts for about an hour. Among the leaders are people like Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson.
In the midst of that, Senator Claude Pepper from Florida, nicknamed Red Pepper because of his progressive views, realized that if he could get to the microphone and get Wallace's name and nomination that night, Wallace will sweep the convention, get the nomination for vice president, defy the bosses, and be back on the ticket.
Pepper fights his way to the microphone. The party bosses see what's going on. You've got Mayor Kelly of Chicago, it was in Chicago, screaming, "It's my convention. This is a fire hazard. Adjourn immediately." Sam Jackson is chairing it. He said he had orders to not let Wallace get the nomination and he says, "I've got a motion to adjourn. All in favor, aye." Maybe 5% say aye. "All opposed, nay." The rest of the convention booms out nay. Jackson says, "Motion carried. Meeting adjourned."
Pepper was literally five feet from the microphone when that happened. Oliver Stone and I argue in the Untold History is that had Pepper gotten five more feet to the microphone and got Wallace's name in nomination, Wallace would be back on the ticket of vice president. He would become president on April 12th, 1945 when Roosevelt died, instead of Truman.
History would have been different. There definitely would have been no atomic bombings in World War Two. Wallace becomes the leading opponent of the atomic bomb. There almost certainly would have been no Cold War or if there was some contention it would never have taken the virulent form that it took between the United States and the Soviets starting in 1945, '46, '47. That's how close we came to a dramatically different history. Five feet. Five feet and a few seconds.
The story resembles today's coup by the Democratic establishment against Bernie Sanders. Yet, as revealed by the WikiLeaks and, eventually, Donna Brazile, the coup against Bernie was not just a fight of a few seconds. It was pre-designed and secretly organized by the Clinton/Obama wing, or the Corporate Democratic wing that has, eventually, took over the control of the party.