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Robert Reich: When I Sat On The Lap Of America’s Most Leftie Vice President – OpEd

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His name was Henry Wallace. Few Americans remember him today, but they should. He had been Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president during FDR’s third term, from 1941 to 1945. He was a champion of civil rights, workers’ rights, and women’s rights. He wanted to end the national security state. And he was one of America’s most outspoken environmentalists — writing presciently in 1936 that “the most damaging indictment that can be made of the capitalistic system is the way in which its emphasis on unfettered individualism results in exploitation of natural resources in a manner to destroy the physical foundations of national longevity.”

But the party bosses didn’t like Wallace. They couldn’t control him and viewed him as too far to the left. So they forced FDR to drop him from the ticket in 1944 in favor of a little-known Missouri senator and former haberdasher named Harry Truman.

Still, Wallace remained enormously popular, and came close to defeating Truman for the presidential nomination at the Democratic Convention of 1948. When his bid failed, Wallace launched a rancorous third-party presidential campaign under the banner of the Progressive Party — calling for the desegregation of public schools, racial and gender equality, national health insurance, and sharp cuts in military spending.

In the end, he retired to a farm in South Salem, New York — the same town my family lived in.

One day, when I was about four years old, my then young and attractive mother recognized him in the post office and got up the courage to introduce herself and her little boy. In response, he invited us to tea on his large porch. All I remember is a kind old man with a bright white shock of hair, who pulled me up onto his lap and then spent what seemed interminable hours talking to my mom. She was thrilled. I was bored to tears.

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PS: One of Wallace’s most prescient speeches was “The Danger of American Fascism,” which he delivered in 1944. You can read it here: https://www.cbsd.org/cms/lib/PA01916442/Centricity/Domain/1864/Henry%20Wallace_The%20Danger%20of%20American%20Fascism.pdf

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Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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