The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
THE GREAT GAME OF POLITICS

Ez to my principles, I glory In hevin' nothin' o' the sort;
I aint a Whig, I aint a Tory,
I'm jest a canderdate, in short.

-- JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL, 1846


1

THE AMERICAN is a political animal. In the pre-Revolutionary era Benjamin Franklin observed that we are a nation of politicians, and from that day to this politics have been one of our greatest indoor and outdoor sports.

Politics unfortunately hamper an intelligent and far-visioned control of our foreign policy, although by any standard of logic and patriotism they should not. Nothing should be more nonpartisan than foreign affairs; what is good for the entire nation is good for both parties, because each major party represents roughly one half of our population. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge once declared in a memorable speech that politics stop at the three-mile line. Possibly he meant to say that politics should stop at the three-mile line, for during the League fight he gave a deplorable demonstration of how partisan advantage may be put above national welfare.

The brutal fact is that the supreme objective of the politician is to keep his party in power and himself in office. Macaulay made no original discovery when he noted in 1842 that the time-serving politicians "think much more about the security of their seats than about the security of their country." Some years ago a United States senator observed that unusual activity in the room of the Committee on Foreign Relations indicated that a presidential election was in the offing. The politician will of course vehemently attack Ambrose Bierce's definition of politics as "the conduct of public affairs for private advantage"; he pays liberal lip service to the welfare of the nation. But the true politician thinks nothing of insulting a friendly power if by so doing he can score a point for his party or himself in the political game.

Until 1913 the Republican legislature of California held back from passing an alien land law offensive to the Japanese, lest it embarrass the Republican administration in Washington. But as soon as Woodrow Wilson and his fellow Democrats took up the reins, the Sacramento legislature kicked over the apple cart and precipitated an international crisis with Tokyo. Four years later we were in the midst of a desperate war with Germany, but this emergency brought no complete "adjournment" of politics. The Toledo Blade complained: "Too many members of Congress are fighting to have the world made safe for reelection." During the postwar years, the demagogic Mayor (Big Bill) Thompson of Chicago insulted the British for the obvious purpose

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