Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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The Campaign Train

Quakerism has been called a religion for disillusioned idealists, but it must have been called that by outsiders since somehow the description isn't quite right. Pragmatic, or practical, or realistic idealists would describe them better. And skeptical. Sceptical idealists.

It's hard to guess what political party they belong to. Adam Smith makes a lot of sense to most Quakers, and Ralph Nader doesn't. The Democrats seem to have a more social concern, seems to undermine self-reliance, is maybe the ultimate social concern.

So it didn't surprise me that Joe Nickolson was a Republican. But it certainly did seem surprising to hear he had been a speech-writer for Governor Thomas E. Dewey in the presidential campaign of 1948. Quiet approval of capitalistic approaches to problem-solving was one thing. Voting resignedly for one of the only two available choices was another. But to be a presidential speechwriter implied activism and partisanship beyond my imagination. After all, he was fifty years old at the time, and could not claim youthful impulse or personal political aspiration. How in the world did you become a speechwriter for Dewey?

"Well, I had written a few letters to the editor of the New York Times along the lines of advocating a repeal of price controls and other cumbersome regulation. And somebody in the campaign saw them and liked what I said. So they asked if I could write some campaign speeches. It's sort of flattering you know."

"Well, it certainly is. They didn't blame you for losing the election did they?" Somehow, there was a little anger in the quick reply, "No, they did that for themselves."

"We were riding all around the country in a train, with Dewey and his pals on the platform of the observations car. I was upfront writing speeches, and he a the Dulles boys was in the back giving them. John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen were always barging in with their advice. Jumping on the train at odd places with some wild new idea."

"As we were riding through Wisconsin, John Dulles got the bright idea that Dewey ought to give a speech denouncing price supports for milk. Now, this was in Wisconsin, mind you. As you know, my family had a big dairy operation in Camden, with its own wharf on the Cooper River. At one time, we had the largest milk route in New Jersey. South Jersey, anyway. So I told them I just wouldn't do such a crazy thing. If they wanted to tell the Wisconsin dairy farmers they were against milk supports, they would have to tell them so by themselves. I forgot now who did write that speech, but it was a total disaster. And the worst part was they didn't seem to realize that silence does not mean assent in Wisconsin, so he kept on giving the speech at every whistle stop. So the country got Truman, and sure enough, Truman got us into another war."

Originally published: Friday, September 28, 2018; most-recently modified: Thursday, June 06, 2019