Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Attorney, Hughes, Hubbard & Ewing, New
York, New York, and predecessor firms, 1919-1947; Assistant Chairman of
the Democratic National Committee, 1940-42; Vice Chairman, 1942-47; Special
Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, 1942 and again in 1947; Acting
Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1946; Administrator of
the Federal Security Agency, 1947-53; and organizer and member of an unofficial
political policy group during the Truman administration, 1947-52.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 1, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Ewing Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened July 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Ewing Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 1, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Ewing, I'd like to ask you a little bit more about your policy
strategy board or political strategy board. Did you have a common term
that you applied to this little group that met on Monday nights in your
EWING: No. Various terms were used, "advisory group" and "strategy group,"
I think that's about the only two descriptions that I could recall.
FUCHS: Yes, well...
EWING: But we certainly had no formal name.
FUCHS: Yes. I was wondering if certain other individuals met with you,
such as Dave Bell?
FUCHS: George Elsey?
FUCHS: David Lloyd?
FUCHS: No other advisors that you could think of met with this group.
What about Oscar Chapman?
FUCHS: He never met with the board?
FUCHS: Who did you consider to be Mr. Truman's chief political advisors
before the formation of this strategy group?
EWING: Well, I'm sure Bob Hannegan was as long as he was active. John
Snyder, I'm sure that the President relied on him a great deal. Fred Vinson,
until he became Chief Justice, I don't know how much the President consulted
him after he became Chief Justice.
FUCHS: What about Tom Clark, do you think he had any political influence
with Mr. Truman?
EWING: Yes. Yes, I think he did, particularly with reference to Texas
and the Southern states.
FUCHS: What about George E. Allen?
EWING: I don't think George had any particular political influence. George
was a delightful companion and I think the President enjoyed being with
him, but I don't think the President looked to him for political advice.
FUCHS: David Noyes?
EWING: Well, towards the end Dave was in Washington often. I think in
the 1948 campaign he was around a good deal and did advise the President
on political matters and various other things. David had had very wide
experience in public relations and was, I'm sure, quite helpful to the
FUCHS: You were associated undoubtedly with Bill Boyle when you were
vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Do you think he was
a political influence on Mr. Truman?
EWING: Oh yes, in a way. I think--well, I don't know how much weight
the President gave to Bill Boyle's advice and I don't say that negatively,
I simply don't know. Bill, however, was more of a person to carry out
the President's desires than to be offering constructive
advice. But he
was very loyal to the President and in every way did the best he could.
FUCHS: Was there anyone that you would have considered to have been rather
a poor one to advise Mr. Truman, someone who was perhaps too conservative
or too liberal?
EWING: Well, it would be hard for me to say. I think some of his advisers
were much more conservative than I was, than our group was. I think, for
instance, John Snyder was, probably Charley Sawyer when he was in the
Cabinet. That, however, was an honest difference of opinion between our
group and the conservative members of the administration. The conservative
members of the administration were just as honest in their views as we
were in ours.
FUCHS: The conservatives, such as Snyder and later on Sawyer, didn't
attend any of your policy meetings I gather.
FUCHS: Did they know of your group?
EWING: Oh, I suppose they did.
FUCHS: You know of no similar group among the conservatives or any attempt
to organize such a group?
EWING: No. As far as I know it was individual contacts with the President
that they had. Nothing in the way of a group.
FUCHS: Mr. Boyle had been serving in Mr. Truman's office as secretary.
Do you know why he went over to the Democratic National Committee with
EWING: No, I do not.
FUCHS: Now, I believe you resigned your position as vice chairman when
you were appointed to be administrator of FSA.
EWING: Yes. Well, I think I resigned to become Special Assistant to the
Attorney General when I undertook the prosecution of Douglas Chandler
for treason. When that was finished I think I was reappointed vice chairman
of the committee. But that would be only for a short time.
FUCHS: I see.
EWING: I know I was not vice chairman at any time that I
was Federal Security Administrator.
FUCHS: Yes. What about Leslie Biffle, were you acquainted with him?
EWING: Oh, very well. He was the Secretary of the Senate and was very
helpful to the President in any problems that the President had with the
Senate. Of course, Senator Barkley, first as the Democratic leader of
the Senate and later as Vice President, was very helpful to the President.
Mr. Biffle was often the liaison between the President and Senator Barkley
and other Democratic senators.
FUCHS: Did you feel that he exerted a strong influence on Mr. Truman?
EWING: I don't think so. The President always made up his own mind. I
can't say that anyone really had great influence with the President. If
some one had advice that the President thought was good, why, he'd take
it. But I don't believe anyone really could influence the President to
do anything that he didn't think was right and proper. He was his own man.
FUCHS: Well, I was thinking primarily of political advice. He is generally
credited, of course, as being an astute politician. What would your views
of that be?
EWING: Well, there's no doubt about that. His political judgment was,
in a way, unerring. I think that that was particularly true when he had
received, perhaps, a lot of different advice from different sources some
of it which was conflicting. He would unquestionably come out with the
right decision. Now, perhaps there were a few instances, none of which
I recall, where one side or the other had not had a chance to give him
their views before he had to act, he might have made an occasional faux
pas as any of us might do; but when the President had all the facts he
was unerring in his political instincts --judgments.
FUCHS: Of course, you've heard the charges that he had gathered a gang
of Missouri cronies around him. How would you view that?
EWING: Well, it is only natural that a President wants men around him
who are loyal to him. A President needs those above all things. You've
got to remember that President Truman was mighty loyal to his friends, as
he should have been. I think the matters in which some of his friends
perhaps took advantage of him were trivial matters that didn't affect
the public interest in any way.
FUCHS: Who do you have in mind?
EWING: Well, perhaps General Vaughan, I think the refrigerator episode
was not too smart. It wasn't anything like as important as the Republican
press tried to make it. That was simply a situation of where a manufacturer
had some refrigerators that were defective in some minor respect and he
didn't want to sell them, so he gave them away. I think General Vaughan
was the one who the manufacturer had contacted about it or--I don't remember
the details but I'm sure it was played out of all proportion by the Republican
FUCHS: Yes. Any other instances that you can think of?
EWING: No. Not offhand.
FUCHS: When it became necessary for President Truman to find a replacement
for Chief Justice Stone were you consulted on that?
EWING: No. No, I was not consulted. President Truman told me, however,
how he came to select Fred Vinson for Chief Justice. The President said
he requested former Chief Justice Hughes, whose resignation as Chief Justice
had opened the place for Justice Stone, to stop by the White House for
a talk. The President asked Mr. Hughes if he had any suggestions as to
who would make a good Chief Justice. Mr. Hughes immediately replied, "Why
you've got a man here in your own Cabinet who is eminently qualified for
the place, and that is Fred Vinson. He's been the Chief Judge of the District
Court of Appeals. He is a fine lawyer, and I wouldn't think that you had
to go any further." And so Mr. Truman took Judge Hughes' advice. I am
sure it was advice that he was happy to receive because the President
had a very high opinion of Judge Vinson.
FUCHS: Go back just a little bit. What were your thoughts when Roosevelt
died and Mr. Truman became his successor? At the time how did you feel
EWING: Well, I think we all were filled with intense grief over President
Roosevelt's death although I knew that he was a very sick man and I was
not completely unprepared
for his death. Then when the shock came and
Mr. Truman was sworn in as President, I thought his conduct was exemplary.
I had great confidence in his latent capacity to measure up to the job.
Many people did not. I remember one newspaper correspondent who talked
to me about it, and insisted that Mr. Truman was physically a little man
and mentally a little man. I tried to argue him out of it but he was very
insistent. But time proved that Truman's admirers were right rather than
FUCHS: Yes. At the time you were nominated for the Federal Security Administration
post a newspaper article I saw said that perhaps you were slated for something
larger in the long run other than staying in the FSA. Do you recall anything
of that and is there anything you know about that that it might have been
a truthful report?
EWING: No. I never even heard of it. The Federal Security Agency was
a job that I welcomed. I know the President hoped to make it a Cabinet
position. He sent two reorganization plans up to Congress that would have
made the agency a department. Other than that I'm
quite sure President
Truman had nothing in mind for me. I think that had the Agency been made
a department during his term he would have nominated me for the secretaryship.
In fact, I'm quite sure of that, but as to anything outside of that I
never heard of it.
FUCHS: What are the chief reasons that you felt FSA did not achieve Cabinet
status, I believe it was to be called the Department of Health, Education,
and Security during Mr. Truman's time?
EWING: Oh, it was the opposition of the American Medical Association
unquestionably. Both times the reorganization plans were sent up to Congress
the AMA. staged campaigns to prevent the agency being made a department.
Their main argument was that they did not want me given a higher platform
from which to argue for national health insurance.
FUCHS: Did they base their attacks on you solely or largely on principles
EWING: No. You see, national health insurance had been proposed by President
Roosevelt in the very first social security bill introduced in Congress
back in 1934.
Later President Roosevelt dropped his support of national
health insurance. I think he did this largely because he thought that
including national health insurance in the bill might make it more difficult
to get the social security program through Congress and that it would
be better to take a step at a time, get what he could, and later try to
get the more controversial parts of his program, such as national health
FUCHS: How did Mrs. Roosevelt, who we know was greatly interested in
welfare type projects, feel about this earlier approach to health insurance?
EWING: I can say something about that that I learned from Arthur Altmeyer,
who was a member of the first Social Security Board, and later when the
Board was abolished, he became Social Security Administrator. I think
Arthur knew what he was talking about when he told me this. He said that
at the time the social security legislation was first introduced including
the provision for national health insurance, some doctor friend of Mrs.
Roosevelt had a talk with her and convinced her that it was very unwise
to push for national health insurance; and that she convinced the President
that it was unwise
and accordingly he withdrew his support for the proposal.
Later Mrs. Roosevelt changed her mind, apparently, because she became
an active member of the Committee for the Nation's Health which was very
strongly in favor of national health insurance. You see, even at that
time, the United States was the only civilized nation that didn't have
a national health insurance program in operation. National health insurance
was started by Bismarck in Germany back in the 1880s and similar programs
had been gradually adopted by other countries one after another. There
had been ample experience so that we who were pushing it could say that
it was a workable program that would fill a very great need.
FUCHS: Do you have any knowledge of how it worked in Germany, and was
it continued under the Hitler regime and is it still in?
EWING: Oh, yes. It's worked very well there. And the interesting part
of it is that, say from the 1880s on up until the American technology
caught up, it was out of Germany that came all of the great medical advances.
I wouldn't say that today nor would I say it of the time since World War
II, but German medical research
from the 1880s on was outstanding.
FUCHS: Was theirs linked with the social security type system?
EWING: I think it was. It is all part of a social insurance program.
FUCHS: Yes. Do you recall who the doctor was that exerted this influence
on Mrs. Roosevelt?
EWING: No, I never knew, and Mr. Altmeyer, I don't think he told me who
the doctor was. At least I don't remember.
FUCHS: Was the feeling on Mr. Altmeyer's part that the doctor had done
it because of medical interest or that it would be politically unwise?
EWING: Oh, it was medical interest. Completely. Someone suggested that
it might have been Doctor Cushing, the great brain surgeon of Boston.
Jimmy Roosevelt had married a daughter of Doctor Cushing. I'm quite sure
Dr. Cushing's name was not mentioned because I would have recognized it
and it would have stuck in my mind.
FUCHS: AMA was also opposed to the Government getting into medical research.
What were their principal arguments there?
EWING: Well, the American Medical Association wanted to be the exclusive
sovereign of medicine. They didn't want the Government to have a thing
to do with medicine. They opposed every bill that was introduced in Congress
that even remotely would involve Government in medicine. They had a very
powerful lobby. They were opposed to the Federal Government supporting
any kind of medical research. In order to stave off the Government giving
support to medical research, they proposed that the doctors would raise
ten million dollars a year for research. Well, they tried it and the first
year they raised about six hundred thousand dollars and that ended that.
When I left the Federal Security Agency, the Government was giving the
Public Health Service and other areas of medical research about a hundred
million dollars a year. Today they are giving them well over a billion
dollars a year and that money has done more for the advance of medicine
than any other single factor.
FUCHS: Did the doctors propose to raise this through their individual
contributions or by solicitation of the general public?
EWING: I think they had in mind probably tapping the pharmaceutical manufacturers
for a large part of it. They also had in mind raising part of this fund
by their own contributions and a public appeal, too. Anything to keep
Government out of it. They raised the awful specter of Government control.
As a matter of fact Government didn't want control, I know, because I
was in the driver's seat at that time. We had plenty to do without wanting
to control medical research. We wanted to help it. We wanted to encourage
it and we wanted to furnish money for it, but we had plenty to do besides
controlling the medical profession.
FUCHS: Do you know when they first tagged it "socialized medicine" and
how that came about?
EWING: I'm not sure but I think that what I will now say is correct.
In California, Governor Warren back in the early 1940s had proposed a
program of health insurance for the residents of California and he had
legislation for it introduced into the California legislature. The California
Medical Association staged a campaign in opposition. They spent a great
deal of money for billboards, newspaper advertising, radios, etc. Their
opposition was directed by a public relations firm in San Francisco known
as Whitaker Baxter. That was a husband and wife team. Clem Whitaker was
the head of it and his wife, whose maiden name was Baxter, was the other
partner. That fight took place before I was Federal Security Administrator,
before I even got interested in national health insurance. Until I became
Administrator the problem was one that I had had no reason to consider.
After I became Administrator, I realized that President Truman was strongly
in favor of national health insurance. It was, of course, my job to push
any program that he wanted pushed. Then I soon came to realize that health
insurance was an important subject and that I should know more about it
and the country should know more about it. Accordingly, at the request
of the President, I called a conference to consider the health problems
of the country, not merely national health insurance but every phase of
health problems that
faced this country.
FUCHS: What year was that?
EWING: The conference was held in May of 1948 and covered the whole spectrum
of medical problems.
FUCHS: Whose idea was it to call this conference?
EWING: Well, it originated in my office. I think it was Don Kingsley,
my assistant administrator, who first suggested it. It's very hard to
remember just who suggested an idea to you, but I know Don was very much
The question you asked me is how the term socialized medicine came to
be used and I was trying to give you a little background about that. It
was sometime in early 1948 that I began publicly advocating national health
insurance and it was becoming a controversial issue all over the country.
This story that I am now telling you was told me much later. It was about
this time that a friend of mine, Mike Gorman, was working on a paper in
Oklahoma City, and he wrote an article for his paper that was quite favorable
to the idea of national health insurance. The next morning he was called in by his
publisher and fired. Mike's family lived in Los Angeles, so
he returned there. He had been there only a few days when he received
a telephone call from Clem Whitaker in San Francisco. Clem told him that
the firm of Whitaker & Baxter had just been employed by the American
Medical Association to conduct a hard-hitting fight against national health
insurance and he would like Mike to join his staff and help in the fight.
Mike replied, "Clem, I'm not sure. I don't think you can beat it. I'm
convinced that it's the right thing to do and such a program will eventually
be adopted and you can't stop it."
"Oh," Whitaker said, "that's easy. We've been through this fight with
Governor Warren's proposal for a state health insurance program and it's
a cinch to beat it. In order to do so, there are only two things that
you have to have. First you have to give the program a bad name and we're
going to call it 'socialized medicine' because the idea of socialism is
very unpopular in the United States. We'll give it this bad name. No one
wants to be, or at least very few want to have the tag socialist attached
to them. Then the second thing you have to have is a devil. You have to have a devil
in the picture to paint him in all his horns and we've got
that man chosen. We first thought we would center the attack on President
Truman, but we've decided he is too popular; but we've got a perfect devil
in this man Ewing and we're going to give him the works."
So, apparently that is where the large scale use of the term "socialized
medicine" all started.
FUCHS: Why did they feel that they had a perfect devil in you? Have you
EWING: Well, I think they had to center their attack on someone who was
close to the program and was prominent in promoting it and since they
had decided not to attack the President, my being second in the line,
caught the fire.
FUCHS: When did you become acquainted with Mike Gorman?
EWING: It was some time after this episode when he came to Washington
and told me about it. I did not know him at the time it happened. It was
perhaps a year or so afterwards that he told me.
FUCHS: The thing that strikes me as rather odd is that there
is a man
who has just been cashiered from his paper because he wrote in favor of
national health insurance and a public relations firm which was going
to oppose national health insurance wanted him to work for them.
EWING: Well, Mike was a very competent person and if he could be enlisted
in any cause he would do a good job.
FUCHS: Why were the pharmaceutical manufacturers so against national
EWING: The reason for that is quite simple. In the original draft of
the bill, which has been prepared in the Federal Security Agency, largely
under the immediate direction of Dr. Isadore Falk, there had been included
a provision to the effect that if the price of drugs became excessive
the Government could step in and fix prices. That was a perfect anathema
to the Pharmaceutical manufacturers, and I think it was unfortunate that
it was put in. I say this because it instantly created a solid opposition
from the pharmaceutical manufacturers and it wasn't necessary at that
time. What should have been done was to make no mention of price control,
get the program adopted and then if the manufacturers began charging
prices, that would be the time to consider legislation to control the
situation. Later, I remember making a talk to the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers
Association and I told them I thought they were very foolish to oppose
the bill because it would mean a great deal more widespread distribution
of health services and that would necessarily mean a much greater market
for their products; that they would have dollars instead of dimes running
through their cash registers. Actually I think that argument proved quite
effective because shortly afterwards the pharmaceutical manufacturers,
who had been the chief financial supporters of a so-called "National Physicians
Committee for the Extension of Medical Service," withdrew their support.
The National Physicians Committee was really the propaganda arm of the
American Medical Association. You see, under the tax laws, contributions
to an organization that uses its money for the purpose of influencing
legislation cannot be considered a charitable deduction. The Physicians
Committee had been set up because the American Medical Association didn't
want to impair a ruling it had obtained to the effect that gifts to it
were charitable gifts and therefore
tax deductible. Actually, I think
the AMA would have lost its tax-free gift status had they kept operating
the Physicians Committee, because it was doing nothing but carrying on
propaganda to influence legislation. Dr. Fishbein, the Executive Director
of the AMA., was on the board of directors of the National Physicians
Committee and there were other interlocking officers and directors.
FUCHS: Was he the principal man in the National Physicians Committee?
EWING: No. Dr. Morris Fishbein had been for many years the AMA's principal
mouthpiece. He was a very .vocal man and really brilliant.
FUCHS: Who do you recall as being the leaders of the National Physicians
EWING: I really don't recall a single name. It was disbanded shortly
after I made that talk. Whether my talk influenced it or not, I don't
know, but I know the pharmaceutical manufacturers withdrew their support.
FUCHS: About what year was this?
EWING: I would think it was probably in 1948 or 1949.
FUCHS: The implication is that when the manufacturers withdrew their
financial support from the NPC then the committee folded?
EWING: Oh, absolutely. The pharmaceutical manufacturers then organized
the Health Information Foundation. It was an organization to which they
made contributions that previously had gone to the Physicians Committee.
The Foundation did statistical work, furnishing information on the general
economics of medicine and all that, and in no way attempting to influence
legislation. They did very valuable work in producing various statistical
FUCHS: The Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill in 1943, which did contain, in
addition to many other provisions, one for setting up a system of national
health insurance. Would you care to comment about that? It was before
your time, I realize, in the Federal Security Agency. Then, as you know,
there was a later bill somewhat modified that Wagner, Murray, and Dingell
introduced in 1945 under Mr. Truman.
EWING: I am not too familiar with the legislative history of the various
Wagner-Murray-Dingell bills but I am under the impression that the first
one was introduced shortly after President Roosevelt's death. He died
April 12, 1945. I think the first Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill to be introduced
in Congress was in the latter part of May 1945. I understand that a little
while afterwards Arthur Altmeyer, Wilbur Cohen and some others from the
Agency went to the new President and urged him to consider backing the
bill. They gave all the arguments and in a few days sent them an answer
saying that he would support the program, but until the war with Japan
was finally terminated he didn't want anything to divert him from his
concentration on that job. When the VJ Day came and a few months had passed
President Truman sent a special message to Congress in November 1945 recommending
legislation to provide for national health insurance.
FUCHS: Why do you think he separated this from the Wagner-Murray-Dingell
EWING: I do not know. Possibly, he wanted something different from what
that bill provided.
FUCHS: Yes. Well, in his Memoirs, he indicated that he thought
that the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill was too comprehensive; and he did
introduce his proposal for a separate national health plan in his speech.
EWING: Well, that might be. That was before my time.
FUCHS: Yes. Of course, the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill didn't do too good.
It was eventually killed by the 79th Congress. The National Health Assembly
resulted in what?
EWING: Well, we divided the work of the Assembly among the various committees
in such a way that each segment of the health problems of the country
would be given specific consideration by a specific committee. Each committee
made its report to the full Assembly and on the basis of these reports
I prepared a full report to the President. I might say that those recommendations
were all unanimously adopted except the recommendation of the section
that dealt with national health insurance; and I think, as I recall, they
endorsed the insurance principle for meeting medical expenses, hospital
expenses. The committee of the
Assembly that dealt with medical care made
absolutely no recommendation regarding the health insurance program.
FUCHS: These representatives were selected at, I assume, a lower level
but have you any knowledge of how representation was decided upon for
this National Health Assembly in 1948?
EWING: Yes. We tried to make the Assembly as representative as we could,
and I'm sure we did because we were complimented by the American Medical
Association on the conference itself. I got a telegram from Dr. Fishbein
saying it was the best conference that had ever been held in this country
on health problems. We had, as I recall, around eight hundred people brought
in to represent every interest that could be involved in the. health problems
of the country. There were representatives of medical schools, representatives
of the hospitals, public health, labor unions, etc. Then we had a smaller
executive committee composed of some of the most distinguished people
in the health field. We left out no one if we could help. We had representatives
of the insurance companies, state health officers, the National
We had the General Federation of Women's Clubs represented. We made it
as broad as we possibly could.
FUCHS: Were the doctors of osteopathy invited?
EWING: They probably were but I don't recall specifically.
FUCHS: I saw a letter in the files--I'm trying to remember whether it
was related to this Assembly or some other commission, but I thought it
was to this Assembly in which an osteopath wondered why they weren't represented,
and the answer from the White House was, as I recall it, that although
they had tried to get representation from every group there were so many
groups that were connected with medicine in one way or the other that
it couldn't be accomplished. My reaction was that doctors of osteopathy
are a pretty large group compared to some of the others that might have
been represented. Now, I just wondered if you had a recollection on that
and I may be connecting it with the wrong conference but I do think
it was the National Health Assembly.
EWING: I have a feeling that it might have been--I think the question
of the osteopaths did come up but I cannot for the life of me remember
FUCHS: Yes, sir. Do you have any anecdotes or other reminiscences about
this assembly, the dinner for it, which I believe Mr. Truman attended,
or anything else in connection with it that comes to mind?
EWING: The only somewhat dramatic incident that I remember occurred in
our final session of the assembly when we were adopting the various committee
reports. Dr. Fishbein had asked for the floor--I was presiding--and he
got up and made quite a vigorous talk against national health insurance.
Nelson Cruikshank, who was a delegate, asked for the floor to answer Dr.
Fishbein. I tried to persuade Mr. Cruikshank not to press his request
to be heard because the conference had really had no friction and had
gone so smoothly that I was hoping that it could be left in that way.
But Nelson insisted and he made quite a vigorous answer to Dr. Fishbein.
It was the only time during the conference that any sparks really flew.
FUCHS: Who was Nelson Cruikshank?
EWING: Nelson Cruikshank was a representative of the CIO at that time
and until quite recently he has been head of social work for AFL-CIO.
He reached retirement age,
certainly within the last year, and has now
been elected president of the Senior Citizens Council of America. He took
the place of Mr. John Edelman who had been the president for some years.
FUCHS: What are the dimensions of the Senior Citizen's Council? What
is their particular thrust for?
EWING: They were organized along in 1956. It may have been 19 5 4 , I'm
not sure. But, with the end of the Truman administration also came the
end of any really active pressures for national health insurance. Mrs.
Hobby, who succeeded me as Federal Security Administrator, and later became
the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, she had proposed
one or two different plans, none of which caught hold. The truth of the
matter was that the doctors in the American Medical Association were highly
and efficiently organized and could exert great pressure on Congress.
Naturally a Congressman is interested in votes because if he can't get
re-elected he can't be very effective in any way. The fight that the American
Medical Association had put up against President Truman's proposal for
national health insurance had been very effective. Their main appeal
to tell about how much political influence the country doctor had with
I had realized that if we were ever going to get any program through,
Medicare or anything of the like, there had to be support of an organization
that had real political power. It was with this thought in mind that I
toyed with the idea of organizing the American Patients Association. But
when I dropped that in 1953 the opposing forces rested until along in
1954 or 1956 when Congressman Aimee Forand of Rhode Island and some others
organized this Senior Citizen's Council. They took up the cause of Medicare,
of the bill that I had had introduced in early 1952, which they had reintroduced
in Congress with certain modifications. It was undoubtedly better than
the bill I had had introduced, because they had had four or five years
experience in between from which they could profit.
FUCHS: What year did you conceive, if you recall, of the American Patients
Association and why did you drop that?
EWING: Well, I realize that something had to be done to organize a public
support for national health insurance
or even for medicare; and as my
term as Federal Security Administrator was coming to an end, I played
with the idea of organizing the American Patients Association which I
discussed with some of my friends. I knew the chief financial support
would probably have to come from the labor groups.
FUCHS: Do you recall any of these friends?
EWING: I know the one with whom I discussed it most was Jacob Potofsky.
He was head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. I talked with
Mr. Potofsky about a Patients Association and he said that labor would
support such an organization. They would make contributions and support
the program, but he added, "Oscar, you've got to remember that we might
get tired and if we did you might find yourself in a situation where you'd
have to assume personally all expenses." Naturally, that didn't encourage
me. Then I talked to another friend and he thought if I had anything to
do with such an organization that, because I had become such a controversial
figure, I would hurt the program.
FUCHS: Who was that?
EWING: I'll have to furnish the name.
FUCHS: Well, fine. What was your next step then? Did he convince you
to drop it then?
EWING: Well, he didn't convince me. It was taking all these considerations
together that convinced me that I had better lay low for awhile. Then
in '54 or '56 Congressman Forand came along with the Council of Senior
Citizens. I asked him if I could give them any help and he answered, "No,
not at present." I think that he felt that I would be a liability instead
of an asset, and again I didn't want to be a hindrance so I just bowed
out. I have been a member of the Senior Citizens Council and have made
my yearly contributions, but otherwise I have not been active.
FUCHS: This bill that you had introduced in ' 52 , what was the title
of that and how did that differ from Mr. Truman's earlier insurance proposal?
EWING: Well, it simply covered the over sixty-five group. Mr. Truman's
earlier proposal involved everyone from cradle to grave.
FUCHS: Could you discuss that a little bit? This was an
attempt to get something instead of nothing?
EWING: Yes. Because I knew they had us licked on the big program for
national health insurance. But I find as of today there is a great deal
of support for extending Medicare to everyone. Governor Rockefeller has
come out for that program within the last few months.
FUCHS: In '52 , they didn't use the term Medicare at that time