Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened May, 1967
Oral History Interview with
December 7, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Brightman, would you for the record, give me a little of your personal background, where were you born, where were you educated, and what positions did you hold prior to your services on the Democratic National Committee?
BRIGHTMAN: I am a native of Missouri. I was born in Lancaster, Missouri. I went to public schools in Columbia, Missouri, and St. Louis, Missouri; to Washington University and to the University of Missouri. I worked on the St. Louis Star-Times, the Cincinnati Post, Station KSD in St. Louis, and on the Louisville Courier-Journal before I went into the service in
World War II. After World War II, I worked in the Government with the Surplus Property Administration, and the veterans emergency housing program; returned to journalism with the Louisville Courier-Journal, and, then, came in 1947 to work with the Democratic National Committee. I worked for them for eighteen years. I now have my own public relations operation -- which deals in the area of public affairs and political counseling.
HESS: Regarding your early years in Missouri, sir, do you recall anything about Mr. Truman during that time?
BRIGHTMAN: I knew who Mr. Truman was. I never met Mr. Truman until he was a United States Senator, and I was the Washington correspondent of the Louisville Courier-Journal. I had no close association with him then, but I was covering the Truman Committee, which was investigating
the war effort before I left Washington to enter the service myself.
HESS: Do you recall anything in particular about that meeting?
BRIGHTMAN: No. I saw Mr. Truman during my military service at the time of the Potsdam conference, but I did not talk with him. I was not on duty at the area where the "Big Three" meeting was held, but back at the press area dealing with the news media.
HESS: How are you selected for the Democratic National Committee? How did you come to be on the staff?
BRIGHTMAN: I came here because Jack Redding, who had worked closely, as I had, with Charlie Ross during the Potsdam conference, was recommended by Charlie to become the publicity director of the Democratic National Committee. Mr.
Truman and Chairman Hannegan accepted his recommendation, and when Jack Redding became publicity director, he called me at the Louisville Courier-Journal and asked me to come back to Washington and become associate director of publicity, which I did.
HESS: That was in 1947?
BRIGHTMAN: That was in 1947.
HESS: What were your first tasks when you came up here?
BRIGHTMAN: Combination of writing and handling telephone contacts. I eventually wrote most of the publication, "Capital Comment," a newsletter that the Democratic National Committee was putting out. I wrote a good deal of news releases, and, of course, later on I got into the planning of the convention and the campaign materials. Also, when I first returned to
Washington, the fact that I had a wide acquaintanceship among the Washington reporters, which Jack Redding did not have, meant that a good many of them called me with inquiries involving the Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee.
HESS: When in 1947 was it that you came to town? The first of the year or the last of the year, roughly.
BRIGHTMAN: I came in in the spring. I would have to check back to see the date. As a matter of fact, I came in during the period when the fight over passage of the Taft-Hartley Act over President Truman's veto was a very hot issue, and I was very deeply involved in that fight from the moment I returned to Washington from Louisville.
HESS: On that subject, how important was that to Mr. Truman's subsequent election in '48? Just
how important was his veto of the Taft-Hartley bill?
BRIGHTMAN: I think it was very important, and I think the fact that Gael Sullivan, who was then executive director of the Democratic National Committee, Jack Redding, myself, not only did everything we could to sustain the veto, although we failed, but the fact that the labor unions who had been somewhat disenchanted with Mr. Truman's reaction to the railroad strike, were aware of what we were doing, knew that we were really trying to sustain his veto. I think this was an important factor in the support which Mr. Truman received in the '48 election. For example, Mr. [Alexander F.] Whitney -- now dead -- who was president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, felt understandably bitter about Mr. Truman's actions during the railroad strike but later came around and supported Mr. Truman fully, and I think that the activity of the Democratic National Committee,
his knowledge of it, in fighting to sustain the President's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act, was a very major factor in that support.
HESS: In Mr. Redding's book, Inside the Democratic Party, he goes into that episode quite a little bit and tells about trying to get Senator [Elbert] Thomas back from Switzerland, and Senator [Robert] Wagner, who was then on his deathbed, to come from New York.
BRIGHTMAN: We had planes on call to bring Senator Elbert Thomas back from Geneva; we had arrangements with Bob Wagner to bring his father down, we had special private cars on call to bring him down by train, if it turned out that his vote would be crucial.
HESS: As I understand it they needed thirty votes, and they only got twenty-five. At one time they thought they were going to get all thirty, do you remember who backed out?
BRIGHTMAN: I have forgotten the exact count. My recollection is that there were several votes and I would not be able to identify them by name. But there were several senators who would have voted to sustain the veto if it was demonstrably possible to do this. That the actual count came within one or two votes of upholding the veto but when it was impossible to get the extra votes, then the people who would be damaged very seriously by casting this vote were released from their commitments, so that they would not be damaged back home. That's what made the vote slide back down, and this is a fairly normal procedure on the Hill on many pieces of legislation, and in both parties.
HESS: In June of 1948, the President took his trip, his preliminary campaign trip, more or less, and went out to the west coast. What part did the Democratic National Committee play in that
BRIGHTMAN: We were playing the normal role of trying to see that he went to places where he would have the greatest effectiveness, to see that the political people were not excluded from seeing him on this nonpolitical trip and to make suggestions as to nonpolitical comments which might be usefully made in these various areas.
HESS: Did the Democratic National Committee help on any of the speeches, or was it just mainly itinerary and who to see in the different areas?
BRIGHTMAN: The national committee made suggestions. The final speech drafts were completed at the White House. Mr. Truman was not a man to take something handed to him and read it verbatim without impressing his own personality and thoughts on the document.
HESS: During the course of that particular trip was when Senator Taft mentioned about the whistlestops, and in Mr. Redding's book he states: "It was an opening too good to miss. The Democratic National Committee announced with sober face: 'Mayors and Chambers of Commerce of thriving, patriotic, modern, civic-minded attractive and prosperous American municipalities recently described by Senator Robert A. Taft (Rep. Ohio) as "whistlestops" are being polled to determine whether they agree with Taft's unflattering description of their homes?"' Whose idea was that?
BRIGHTMAN: That was my brainstorm. We had a lot of fun with it. In retrospect I would say that we did not gain any substantial amount of votes out of this, except I think we did throw the Republicans and Senator Taft off balance a little bit by responding with humor to his charge that Mr. Truman had blackguarded the Republican Congress
at every whistlestop in the United States. Of all of the responses we received to the telegram mentioned in Jack Redding's book, only one refused to say, "We're a fine progressive city and not a whistlestop." One individual, and I have forgotten now, whether he was the mayor or president of the Chamber of Commerce wired back, "I am not going to fall into your Democratic trap."
I feel that humor is a very slippery thing to work with in politics, but the situation we were in in '47 and '48, we were in a sense, similar to a quarterback who is way behind and can try any offbeat play; throw the bomb as often as he wants, without worrying about adverse effects. I do think that we did use humor several times in the 1948 campaign. I think it may have thrown the Republicans off balance, and I think some of the humor we used later against Mr. Dewey may have helped to reinforce the
feeling that he was rather a pompous man who, rightly or wrongly, many of the voters suspected of wanting to be President so he could tell the people what was good for them. He was vulnerable to humor; we used it on some of his speeches and, I think, Secretary [Harold L.] Ickes did some programs in which he referred to Governor Dewey as a "candidate with sneakers." The actual facts are that the polls had persuaded Governor Dewey that he should not conduct a vigorous campaign on the issues, that he was so far ahead that all he needed to do was to utter the proper platitude and everything would come out well, and it was a rather vacuous campaign on the Republicans side. I can remember correspondents had been out with Governor Warren, who made one unnewsworthy speech every place he went, complaining about the fact that he wasn't really campaigning. On the other hand, Senator Barkley was campaigning quite vigorously and hitting
the issues. Now, there is a feeling in some circles these days that Mr. Truman's whistlestop campaign was composed of "give 'em hell" rhetoric. If you actually go back and read those speeches, you will find that although they were sometimes not given in elegant language, that they were hitting at real issues. They were factual, they were saying things about the Republican party, that the Republican party did not choose to answer because they thought they were so far ahead they didn't need to, but Mr. Truman was not conducting a campaign of epithet and noise, and in his whistlestop tours, he was citing the record, chapter and verse, and if you reread those speeches you will find that there was a great deal of fact in each one of them which the Republicans chose not to reply to, and which proved to be damaging. Basically, what Mr. Truman was saying was that the Republican Congress, the so-called
"do-nothing Congress," had demonstrated that it was out of touch with the wishes, the aspirations, the needs, and the problems of the average American family.
HESS: Why did Mr. Truman attack the 80th Congress so much of the time, and not Mr. Dewey? I know he did attack Dewey and he did come out against Dewey, but the major thing in the campaign was the 80th Congress, why was that?
BRIGHTMAN: Because the 80th Congress was there. It was for real. It was an example. They said the farmer didn't want storage bins so he could get crop loans on his grains. They said the family didn't want better social security coverage. They said that the average family didn't want price controls to protect him against gouging during a period of shortage. That was the record of this Congress and that was what they said, and the Congress was the Republican party. Now, '48 was, in my opinion, a test of
the basic strength of the party, party philosophy, and party performance. Either party might have nominated a more glamorous personality by today's TV standards. But the question was the record of the two parties, their interest in your family and its welfare, and its security. And there was the record, and that was what Mr. Truman kept talking about. It was in terms you could understand. If your grocery bill had gone up, if your social security payments were inadequate, if you weren't covered by social security or the minimum wage, if you were a farmer who wanted to get a loan on your crop and there was no place to store your wheat or corn so you could get a loan, these were things you could understand, and these were things where the party record was clear. My own opinion, without meaning to detract from Mr. Truman, because I think he conducted a marvelous campaign -- I think that this was much more of a test of party strength than '52, '56 or
'64. Mr. Truman wasn't just saying Mr. Truman wants to do better for the farmer, or Mr. Truman wants to spend more on educating your children, Mr. Truman wants to see that your social security payments will keep you living in decent self-respect. He was saying the Democratic Party wants to do this, and the Republican Party proved by its action in this do-nothing Congress that it would not recognize these problems and deal with them.
HESS: Do you think the refusal of the 80th Congress to appropriate that money to the CCC -- the Commodity Credit Corporation -- for grain storage bins was important in the Midwest?
BRIGHTMAN: Tremendously important, of course.
HESS: Now the Democrats took Iowa that year, which was an unusual thing.
BRIGHTMAN: I can remember the phone calls before
election in which the Democrats in Iowa said that they were going to carry the state for Mr. Truman, and I can remember that we wanted to believe this, and we knew there was this tremendous discontent with the Republicans in the Midwest, yet we could not help but ask ourselves, are they guilty of the same wishful thinking we are. Can they really carry it?
HESS: Mr. Truman spoke at Dexter, Iowa at the National Plowing Contest on September 18th.
BRIGHTMAN: I think there is a sidelight there on the farm issue. One, we let it be known that Mr. Dewey's farming interests were solely to get cheaper grain to feed his dairy cattle; two, anyone in a small town, or farm in Iowa, had only to look and listen to Mr. Truman, and then look and listen to Mr. Dewey, to find out which candidate had some idea of how he lived, what his interest and problems were.
HESS: And, Mr. Truman at the National Plowing Contest did mention the Commodity Credit Corporation problem. So, he mentioned an important thing in an important speech to the farmers at the plowing contest.
BRIGHTMAN: That's right. And he did in many other places in the Midwest, and the plains, dry farming areas.
HESS: On the subject of the 80th Congress. Jack Redding states that you wrote an account of the reaction in the country to the President's backfire on Congress. Do you recall anything in particular on that account that you wrote at that time?
BRIGHTMAN: That particular piece, I don't recall. Basically, we wrote and wrote and wrote the areas which this group, that group, the other group, were neglected or ignored by the Republican Congress. The 80th Congress was quite a good
Congress on foreign affairs, but it was -- I still say -- a very bad Congress on domestic affairs. The House Agriculture Committee wrote a report which said, in effect, that the American farmer was insulted by any Government help -- that he would rather go it alone. Not going into details, there are very many particular problems the farmer has. He is not like an automobile manufacturer who can tailor his product to the demand. He cannot do as happens legally or illegally where a group of manufacturers get together to determine his price or his product. He has to take what he is offered. If the price goes down, his reaction is as an individual who doesn't work as a group, cannot make the corporate decision to lay off so many people when they cut back car production or what have you. His gut reaction is, I'll try to grow more bushels to make up for the drop in the price per bushel. And this, of
course, compounds his trouble through the law of supply and demand. Nobody has solved this problem, I think, to the satisfaction of the farmer, or the person who is a friend of the farmer, or the Government, or anyone, but, at least Mr. Truman was not telling these people that you have no problem, and everything will be fine if you're just left alone to shift for yourself without any Government help.
HESS: One point you've already hit on, but I'll bring it up again is, the fact that some authors like to bring up the fact that a few of the things the 80th Congress did for Mr. Truman, so to speak, are what he will be remembered for -- the Marshall plan, the Greek-Turkish Aid Bill -- but, are campaigns usually run on domestic matters more than foreign affairs?
BRIGHTMAN: I think, normally, domestic issues are more important. There is no question that the
Korean war hurt the Democratic Party in the 1950 midterm elections, and there is no question that the Korean war was a very strong factor in the size of Mr. Eisenhower's majority in 1952, although, I happen to hold the personal belief that he would have won comfortably even if there had been no Korean war. I, also, think that he settled the Korean war on terms that would have brought forth a national uproar and threats of appeasement if Mr. Truman had settled the Korean war on the same terms. When I say this, I am not criticizing the settlement which Mr. Eisenhower made in Korea. I would, also, say there is nothing that I have more admiration for Mr. Truman for than his decision to remove General MacArthur from his command when General MacArthur was attempting to go beyond his military actions which Mr. Truman felt would have the gravest repercussions. I happen to agree with him. The hardest thing on earth -- as Mr. Johnson is finding out right now -- is to stop
aggression by any kind of totalitarian force without accelerating aggression to the point where we have devastating military conflict, which no one wants. This applies, obviously, much more now with the type of nuclear weapons we have, but it was still true in the Korean war where you had the possibility of intercontinental warfare occurring between Russia and the United States. I should, also, say that although the Republican 80th Congress was quite good on things like the Truman program, the Marshall plan, the beginning of McCarthyism was in the '48 campaign. It was not effective for the Republicans, but they were playing with the "soft on communism" issue in the '48 campaign.
HESS: When did that first come up? Over what issue? Where did they think they'd found any justification for such a charge?
BRIGHTMAN: Well, we had some evidence that people on
the far left had been in the Government during World War II. We had a whole series of events which caused Mr. Truman to discharge Henry Wallace, and for Henry Wallace to run as a third party candidate. It is difficult for me to believe that all of the resources that were thrown behind Mr. Wallace were completely domestic, and were just domestic liberalism. I think Mr. Wallace was an honorable and patriotic man, but I think that some of the people who were involved with him did not have complete allegiance to our own country. I think there were some bad apples in the Government during World War II. I think Mr. Truman showed as much courage in facing up to the situation of Henry Wallace, as he did facing up later on to the McCarthy problem. One, the American people have a tendency to like to think there is some kind of a plot or conspiracy or something if anything goes wrong, I guess people in every country do;
two, the noisiest people in that area are the superpatriots, the people who say, "Let's blow North and South Korea off the face of the globe even if we wind up blowing the United States off the face of the globe."
It takes a lot of courage to be strong, to commit people to die without getting spectacular victories in return. I think Mr. Truman had that courage. And, as we all know, he has been criticized for not using our atomic weaponry in Korea, and he's also been criticized from the other side of the spectrum for using our primitive atomic weapon on Hiroshima.
HESS: In Mr. Redding's book, he says that you and he attended the Republican National Convention in 1948. Can you tell me what you remember about that episode? Anything in particular -- anything stand out?
BRIGHTMAN: Not really. Basically, I was attending
as a technician, to look at their arrangements, some of which we improved on when we took over the hall. It was interesting to watch the Dewey Republicans exercise their control over the party at the convention, which they did not have over the congressional wing of their party. In both parties, the convention party is a different party than the congressional party. Basically, I was looking at it as a technician. How can we have a better convention than they have?
HESS: What did you see there that you could improve upon? Can you recall anything in particular?
BRIGHTMAN: We did a few improvements on things like lighting and camera positions, and if you go back and reread the proceedings we were pretty longwinded, but not as longwinded, and not as dull and repetitious as the Republicans were in that convention.
HESS: You were looking at it from a technical viewpoint -- how to improve the convention.
Mr. Redding mentions that he saw A. F. Whitney there. Were you with him when he talked to A. F. Whitney?
HESS: Mr. Redding mentions something about Senator Vandenberg, who had been mentioned as a candidate, but someone had started a smear campaign against him. Do you remember what that was?
BRIGHTMAN: My recollection was that it was not a smear campaign, but a blackmail campaign against him because of some activities of his son. This is a subject I don't have full recollection of, and I'm not sure I should have mentioned this, but that is my recollection.
HESS: Awhile ago you mentioned that there were several times during the campaign that the Democratic National Committee used humor
against the Republicans. You mentioned a couple of those, about the whistlestop, and so forth. Do you remember any more?
BRIGHTMAN: Oh, one time Governor Dewey made a speech in which about the only specific thing he had to say about conservation was he was in favor of fish ladders. We said, "Gee whiz, the Communist world is looking at us for signs of disunity, can't we all agree that we are in favor of fish ladders, and get this divisive issue out of the campaign."
We had a little bit of fun with Mr. Dewey when he lost his temper and used rather rude language about an engineer who got the wrong signal and went backwards towards a crowd when he should have gone forward. This didn't happen very often. The Dewey campaign was quite efficient. "Scotty" [James B.] Reston did a column about the efficiency of the Dewey operation with Jim Hagerty, as against the happy-go-lucky
atmosphere in the Democratic campaign -- Mr. Truman and Charlie Ross. He described the stop of the Dewey train, the efficiency of releases, everything was done on schedule, the two-minute whistle blew, and so on, and finally Mr. Hagerty gave the final warning to the photographers to scramble aboard. Mr. Reston wrote: "The final whistle blows and the Dewey train pulls out with a jerk." Mr. Reston was counting on the copy desk to take out that last sentence, but it appeared in the papers, and somehow Mr. Dewey got the idea that this sentence referred to him, and he was unhappy about it. After Mr. Dewey had his unkind words about the engineer, every time the train changed engineers and train crews, Mr. Truman got out of his car, shook hands with all of them, thanked them for the fine way they were running the train. Freight cars all over the country were chalked with signs by railroad workers against Mr. Dewey. I'm not sure how
many votes were involved there, but I suspect it was not a situation that caused Mr. Dewey any great happiness.
In all this, that again is part of this basic thing. Which party cares about the average guy? Now, Mr. Truman can understand how a guy could make a mistake. He can understand how a family might need a couple of extra dollars for grandfather's social security to keep him going. Whether he understood it or not, Mr. Dewey managed to give the impression of a fellow who thought -- engineers are not human, they are just people who are supposed to do things; people aren't human, they are statistics. This is very important in that campaign.
HESS: How did J. Howard McGrath come to be chosen as chairman of the Democratic National Committee for 1948?
BRIGHTMAN: Well, we had this long tradition of
Catholic chairmen -- Howard was a Catholic -- he was a very popular senator; he had been a Governor of Rhode Island; he was an astute politician; he was not up that year; he was a chairman who could be chosen without any intra-party struggle; he was acceptable to liberals; he was not at the time of his selection offensive to the southerners, although later on he stood up quite firmly to them. I sat in his office when he, in very gentle and polite terms, told the delegation of southern governors that there would not be any retreat on the civil rights issue.
HESS: Before the convention?
BRIGHTMAN: Before the convention, yes. But, Mr. Truman was from the Midwest. There was no great Democratic power base in the populous Western states at that time, so even though Rhode Island was a small state, a Catholic chairman from the East was recognition to the
East. As I say, Mr. Truman was from the Midwest, his chairman had been Bob Hannegan, from the state. Of course, Hannegan was chairman when Mr. Truman became Vice President.
HESS: In 1944.
Did J. Howard McGrath make a good chairman?
BRIGHTMAN: I think so. We hadn't reached the development when a chairman really needs to be a full-time, full day, three hundred sixty-five days a year chairman. He understood politics, he got along well with politicians, he delegated authority, he used the party machinery, I believe, effectively to get as much of the Democratic Party strength behind Mr. Truman as could be done with the Wallace and Thurmond candidacies gnawing at our flanks on both sides.
HESS: How big a problem were those two gentlemen and their respective followers?
BRIGHTMAN: They were a problem to the extent that they took votes. I think Mr. Truman would have carried New York without the Wallace candidacy. I'm not sure that the Thurmond thing was that devastating in the South. In a sense, all this was a blessing in that it gave Mr. Truman a freedom that he would not have had if he had been elected solely by populated urban areas or if the segregationists in the South had been his margin of victory. As it was, he came in without really anyone having any due bills on him.
HESS: Was there anything in particular that was done to try to prevent the Wallacites and the Thurmond group from cutting in so much on the votes? Were they countered in any measure?
BRIGHTMAN: On the national level the general line was, in the East and North our position was liberal on domestic issues, we were for
enlightened foreign policy, we were firm against communism. Somebody thought we ought to be softer in our dealings with Communist nations, and said, "forget 'em", but there wasn't any way we could forget them.
In regard to the South, some of the most rabid segregationists were some of the most liberal people on domestic issues, public power, REA, aid to farmers, social security. All we had to tell the South was that Democratic programs had benefited the South. We did give the southern states, and the speakers in southern areas, information to show how the South in the Roosevelt-Truman administration had advanced socially and economically much faster than the rest of the country. They had farther up to go, but under the party that the segregationists were damning, they had actually made really spectacular social and economic gains.
HESS: Now, the Wallace margin of victory in New
York really kept Mr. Truman from winning the state. What more could have been done in New York to counter the Wallace movement from taking New York away from the Truman column?
BRIGHTMAN: I don't think anything could have been done. I think if there might have been a little stronger organizational effort in New York; if some of the people who decided in the last two weeks that it was possible to carry New York, and started working frantically, had said two months before election, "There is a chance to carry New York" and had done it, we might have carried it. There were some people who just read the opinion polls and the newspapers, some of them never lifted a finger, others in the last two or three weeks decided that there was a chance and went to work, but I think the Wallace vote was there and there wasn't anything that could have been done to cut it. The answer was in getting other people who just sat it out, who
decided it was a waste of time to go vote for Mr. Truman, and they didn't want to vote for Dewey or Wallace, so they just sat it out, and we didn't have the manpower in some areas to tell these people, "There is a chance; go vote."
HESS: What was his special appeal in New York?
BRIGHTMAN: He got these ultras ranging from Communists to just ultra liberals, and we have people now who I don't think have a Communist bone in their body, but they think that it is our fault that there is a war in Vietnam. The same people thought we could have had better relations with Russia in 1948. I don't agree with them.
HESS: Did Wallace have a special appeal to the Negro voters?
BRIGHTMAN: I don't think so. I was at a rally in Harlem and I have never seen anything like the turnout Mr. Truman had. I don't recall what Wallace's Negro vote was, but I do not think it was very large.
HESS: You just mentioned the Harlem rally, that was on October 29th of '48. Would you tell me about that -- what you recall about Mr. Truman's visit to Harlem?
BRIGHTMAN: There was a tremendous crowd and very responsive. There was a sea of faces there. We had a very good crowd reaction in the whole New York area, and had a tremendous reaction in the garment district, which was supposed to be infiltrated with Wallace voters, and a lot of the press were so hypnotized by the opinion polls that they just under-read and under-evaluated the size of the crowds -- they said, they are just people to admire him for a spunky fight; they
are out to see him, but they are not going to vote for him, and that sort of thing.
HESS: What seemed to be the general mood of the crowd there?
BRIGHTMAN: Friendly, enthusiastic. My guess is that he did just as well as Mr. Roosevelt with the Negroes, and basically we're talking about the middle class Jewish vote when we talk about the garment district, and I think he did very, very well with them. I do have the feeling, without having the figures at hand that document it, that overall it was the Democratic vote that could have been brought out if the organization had had a