“He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and factsfigures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.”
It Can’t Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis.
Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values.
After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a pIutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS.
The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.
“Those who have never been on the inside in the Councils of State can never realize that with really high class Statesmen, their chief quality is not political canniness, but a big, rich, overflowing Love for all sorts and conditions of people and for the whole land. That Love and that Patriotism have been my sole guiding principles in Politics. My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth, and second, to realize that whatever apparent differences there may be among us, in wealth, knowledge, skill, ancestry or strength, though, of course, all this does not apply to people who are racially different from us, we are all brothers, bound together in the great and wonderful bond of National Unity, for which we should all be very glad. And I think we ought to for this be willing to sacrifice any individual gains at all.”
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
Berzelius Windrip, of whom in late summer and early autumn of 1936 there were so many published photographs, showing him popping into cars and out of aeroplanes, dedicating bridges, eating corn pone and side, meat with Southerners and clam chowder and bran with Northerners, addressing the American Legion, the Liberty League, the Y.M.H.A., the Young People’s Socialist League, the Elks, the Bartenders’ and Waiters’ Union, the Anti-Saloon League, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Afghanistan, showing him kissing lady centenarians and shaking hands with ladies called Madame, but never the opposite, showing him in Savile Row riding, clothes on Long Island and in overalls and a khaki shirt in the Ozarks, this Buzz Windrip was almost a dwarf, yet with an enormous head, a bloodhound head, of huge ears, pendulous cheeks, mournful eyes. He had a luminous, ungrudging smile which (declared the Washington correspondents) he turned on and off deliberately, like an electric light, but which could make his ugliness more attractive than the simpers of any pretty man.
His hair was so coarse and black and straight, and worn so long in the back, that it hinted of Indian blood. In the Senate he preferred clothes that suggested the competent insurance salesman, but when farmer constituents were in Washington he appeared in an historic ten-gallon hat with a mussy gray “cutaway” which somehow you erroneously remembered as a black “Prince Albert.”
In that costume, he looked like a sawed-off museum model of a medicine-show “doctor,” and indeed it was rumored that during one law-school vacation Buzz Windrip had played the banjo and done card tricks and handed down medicine bottles and managed the shell game for no less scientific an expedition than Old Dr. Alagash’s Traveling Laboratory, which specialized in the Choctaw Cancer Cure, the Chinook Consumption Soother, and the Oriental Remedy for Piles and Rheumatism Prepared from a World-old Secret Formula by the Gipsy Princess, Queen Peshawara. The company, ardently assisted by Buzz, killed off quite a number of persons who, but for their confidence in Dr. Alagash’s bottles of water, coloring matter, tobacco juice, and raw corn whisky, might have gone early enough to doctors. But since then, Windrip had redeemed himself, no doubt, by ascending from the vulgar fraud of selling bogus medicine, standing in front of a megaphone, to the dignity of selling bogus economics, standing on an indoor platform under mercury-vapor lights in front of a microphone.
He was in stature but a small man, yet remember that so were Napoleon, Lord Beaverbrook, Stephen A. Douglas, Frederick the Great, and the Dr. Goebbels who is privily known throughout Germany as “Wotan’s Mickey Mouse.”
Doremus Jessup, so inconspicuous an observer, watching Senator Windrip from so humble a Boeotia, could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.
Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only wings of a windmill. Seven years before his present credo, derived from Lee Sarason, Hitler, Gottfried Feder, Rocco, and probably the revue Of Thee I Sing, little Buzz, back home, had advocated nothing more revolutionary than better beef stew in the county poor-farms, and plenty of graft for loyal machine politicians, with jobs for their brothers-in-law, nephews, law partners, and creditors.
Doremus had never heard Windrip during one of his orgasms of oratory, but he had been told by political reporters that under the spell you thought Windrip was Plato, but that on the way home you could not remember anything he had said.
There were two things, they told Doremus, that distinguished this prairie Demosthenes. He was an actor of genius. There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and factsfigures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.
But below this surface stagecraft was his uncommon natural ability to be authentically excited by and with his audience, and they by and with him. He could dramatize his assertion that he was neither a Nazi nor a Fascist but a Democrat, a homespun Jeffersonian, Lincolnian, Clevelandian, Wilsonian Democrat, and (sans scenery and costume) make you see him veritably defending the Capitol against barbarian hordes, the while he innocently presented as his own warm-hearted Democratic inventions, every anti-libertarian, anti-Semitic madness of Europe.
Aside from his dramatic glory, Buzz Windrip was a Professional Common Man.
Oh, he was common enough. He had every prejudice and aspiration of every American Common Man. He believed in the desirability and therefore the sanctity of thick buckwheat cakes with adulterated maple syrup, in rubber trays for the ice cubes in his electric refrigerator, in the especial nobility of dogs, all dogs, in the oracles of S. Parkes Cadman, in being chummy with all waitresses at all junction lunch rooms, and in Henry Ford (when he became President, he exulted, maybe he could get Mr. Ford to come to supper at the White House), and the superiority of anyone who possessed a million dollars. He regarded spats, walking sticks, caviar, titles, tea-drinking, poetry not daily syndicated in newspapers and all foreigners, possibly excepting the British, as degenerate.
But he was the Common Man twenty-times-magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose, which was exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.
In the greatest of all native American arts (next to the talkies, and those Spirituals in which Negroes express their desire to go to heaven, to St. Louis, or almost any place distant from the romantic old plantations), namely, in the art of Publicity, Lee Sarason was in no way inferior even to such acknowledged masters as Edward Bernays, the late Theodore Roosevelt, Jack Dempsey, and Upton Sinclair.
Sarason had, as it was scientifically called, been “building up” Senator Windrip for seven years before his nomination as President. Where other Senators were encouraged by their secretaries and wives (no potential dictator ought ever to have a visible wife, and none ever has had, except Napoleon) to expand from village backslapping to noble, rotund, Ciceronian gestures, Sarason had encouraged Windrip to keep up in the Great World all of the clownishness which (along with considerable legal shrewdness and the endurance to make ten speeches a day) had endeared him to his simple-hearted constituents in his native state.
Windrip danced a hornpipe before an alarmed academic audience when he got his first honorary degree; he kissed Miss Flandreau at the South Dakota beauty contest; he entertained the Senate, or at least the Senate galleries, with detailed accounts of how to catch catfish, from the bait, digging to the ultimate effects of the jug of corn whisky; he challenged the venerable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to a duel with sling-shots.
Though she was not visible, Windrip did have a wife, Sarason had none, nor was likely to; and Walt Trowbridge was a widower. Buzz’s lady stayed back home, raising spinach and chickens and telling the neighbors that she expected to go to Washington next year, the while Windrip was informing the press that his “Frau” was so edifyingly devoted to their two small children and to Bible study that she simply could not be coaxed to come East.
But when it came to assembling a political machine, Windrip had no need of counsel from Lee Sarason.
Where Buzz was, there were the vultures also. His hotel suite, in the capital city of his home state, in Washington, in New York, or in Kansas City, was like, well, Frank Sullivan once suggested that it resembled the office of a tabloid newspaper upon the impossible occasion of Bishop Cannon’s setting fire to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, kidnaping the Dionne quintuplets, and eloping with Greta Garbo in a stolen tank.
In the “parlor” of any of these suites, Buzz Windrip sat in the middle of the room, a telephone on the floor beside him, and for hours he shrieked at the instrument, “Hello-yuh-speaking,” or at the door, “Come in, come in!” and “Sit down ‘n’ take a load off your feet!” All day, all night till dawn, he would be bellowing, “Tell him he can take his bill and go climb a tree,” or “Why certainly, old man, tickled to death to support it, utility corporations cer’nly been getting a raw deal,” and “You tell the Governor I want Kippy elected sheriff and I want the indictment against him quashed and I want it damn quick!” Usually, squatted there cross legged, he would be wearing a smart belted camel’s-hair coat with an atrocious checked cap.
In a fury, as he was at least every quarter hour, he would leap up, peel off the overcoat (showing either a white boiled shirt and clerical black bow, or a canaryyellow silk shirt with a scarlet tie), fling it on the floor, and put it on again with slow dignity, while he bellowed his anger like Jeremiah cursing Jerusalem, or like a sick cow mourning its kidnaped young.
There came to him stookbrokers, labor leaders, distillers, anti-vivisectionists, vegetarians, disbarred shyster lawyers, missionaries to China, lobbyists for oil and electricity, advocates of war and of war against war. “Gaw! Every guy in the country with a bad case of the gimmes comes to see me!” he growled to Sarason. He promised to further their causes, to get an appointment to West Point for the nephew who had just lost his job in the creamery. He promised fellow politicians to support their bills if they would support his. He gave interviews upon subsistence farming, backless bathing suits, and the secret strategy of the Ethiopian army. He grinned and kneepatted and back-slapped; and few of his visitors, once they had talked with him, failed to look upon him as their Little Father and to support him forever. . . . The few who did fail, most of them newspapermen, disliked the smell of him more than before they had met him. . . . Even they, by the unusual spiritedness and color of their attacks upon him, kept his name alive in every column. . . . By the time he had been a Senator for one year, his machine was as complete and smooth-running, and as hidden away from ordinary passengers, as the engines of a liner.
On the beds in any of his suites there would, at the same time, repose three top-hats, two clerical hats, a green object with a feather, a brown derby, a taxi-driver’s cap, and nine ordinary, Christian brown felts.
Once, within twenty-seven minutes, he talked on the telephone from Chicago to Palo Alto, Washington, Buenos Aires, Wilmette, and Oklahoma City. Once, in half a day, he received sixteen calls from clergymen asking him to condemn the dirty burlesque show, and seven from theatrical promoters and real-estate owners asking him to praise it. He called the clergymen “Doctor” or “Brother” or both; he called the promoters “Buddy” and “Pal”; he gave equally ringing promises to both; and for both he loyally did nothing whatever.
Normally, he would not have thought of cultivating foreign alliances, though he never doubted that some day, as President, he would be leader of the world orchestra. Lee Sarason insisted that Buzz look into a few international fundamentals, such as the relationship of sterling to the lira, the proper way in which to address a baronet, the chances of the Archduke Otto, the London oyster bars and the brothels near the Boulevard de Sebastopol best to recommend to junketing Representatives.
But the actual cultivation of foreign diplomats resident in Washington he left to Sarason, who entertained them on terrapin and canvasback duck with black-currant jelly, in his apartment that was considerably more tapestried than Buzz’s own ostentatiously simple Washington quarters. . . . However, in Sarason’s place, a room with a large silk-hung Empire double bed was reserved for Buzz.
It was Sarason who had persuaded Windrip to let him write Zero Hour, based on Windrip’s own dictated notes, and who had beguiled millions into reading, and even thousands into buying, that Bible of Economic Justice; Sarason who had perceived there was now such a spate of private political weeklies and monthlies that it was a distinction not to publish one; Sarason who had the inspiration for Buzz’s emergency radio address at 3 AM. upon the occasion of the Supreme Court’s throttling the N.R.A., in May, 1935. . . .Though not many adherents, including Buzz himself, were quite certain as to whether he was pleased or disappointed; though not many actually heard the broadcast itself, everyone in the country except sheep-herders and Professor Albert Einstein heard about it and was impressed.
Yet it was Buzz who all by himself thought of first offending the Duke of York by refusing to appear at the Embassy dinner for him in December, 1935, thus gaining, in all farm kitchens and parsonages and barrooms, a splendid reputation for Homespun Democracy; and of later mollifying His Highness by calling on him with a touching little home bouquet of geraniums (from the hothouse of the Japanese ambassador), which endeared him, if not necessarily to Royalty yet certainly to the D.A.R., the English-Speaking Union, and all motherly hearts who thought the pudgy little bunch of geraniums too sweet for anything.
By the newspapermen Buzz was credited with having insisted on the nomination of Perley Beecroft for vicepresident at the Democratic convention, after Doremus Jessup had freneticaiiy ceased listening. Beecroft was a Southern tobacco pianter and storekeeper, an ex-Governor of his state, married to an ex-schoolteacher from Maine who was sufficiently scented with salt spray and potato blossoms to win any Yankee. But it was not his geographical superiority which made Mr. Beecroft the perfect running mate for Buzz Windrip but that he was malaria yellowed and laxly mustached, where Buzz’s horsey face was ruddy and smooth; while Beecroft’s oratory had a vacuity, a profundity of slowly enunciated nonsense, which beguiled such solemn deacons as were irritated by Buzz’s cataract of slang.
Nor could Sarason ever have convinced the wealthy that the more Buzz denounced them and promised to distribute their millions to the poor, the more they could trust his “common sense” and finance his campaign. But with a hint, a grin, a wink, a handshake, Buzz could convince them, and their contributions came in by the hundred thousand, often disguised as assessments on imaginary business partnerships.
It had been the peculiar genius of Berzelius Windrip not to wait until he should be nominated for this office or that to begin shanghaiing his band of buccaneers. He had been coaxing in supporters ever since the day when, at the age of four, he had captivated a neighborhood comrade by giving him an ammonia pistol which later he thriftily stole back from the comrade’s pocket. Buzz might not have learned, perhaps could not have learned, much from sociologists Charles Beard and John Dewey, but they could have learned a great deal from Buzz.
And it was Buzz’s, not Sarason’s, master stroke that, as warmly as he advocated everyone’s getting rich by just voting to be rich, he denounced all “Fascism” and “Naziism,” so that most of the Republicans who were afraid of Democratic Fascism, and all the Democrats who were afraid of Republican Fascism, were ready to vote for him.
“While I hate befogging my pages with scientific technicalities and even neologies, I feel constrained to say here that the most elementary perusal of the Economy of Abundance would convince any intelligent student that the Cassandras who miscall the much needed increase in the fluidity of our currential circulation ”Inflation,” erroneously basing their parallel upon the inflationary misfortunes of certain European nations in the era 1919-1923, fallaciously and perhaps inexcusably fail to comprehend the different monetary status in America, inherent in our vastly greater reservoir of Natural Resources.”
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
Most of the mortgaged farmers. Most of the white-collar workers who had been unemployed these three years and four and five.
Most of the people on relief rolls who wanted more relief.
Most of the suburbanites who could not meet the installment payments on the electric washing machine.
Such large sections of the American Legion as believed that only Senator Windrip would secure for them, and perhaps increase, the bonus.
Such popular Myrtle Boulevard or Elm Avenue preachers as, spurred by the examples of Bishop Prang and Father Coughlin, believed they could get useful publicity out of supporting a slightly queer program that promised prosperity without anyone’s having to work for it.
The remnants of the Kuklux Klan, and such leaders of the American Federation of Labor as felt they had been inadequately courted and bepromised by the old-line politicians, and the non-unionized common laborers who felt they had been inadequately courted by the same A.F. of L.
Back-street and over-the-garage lawyers who had never yet wangled governmental jobs.
The Lost Legion of the Anti-Saloon League, since it was known that, though he drank a lot, Senator Windrip also praised teetotalism a lot, while his rival, Walt Trowbridge, though he drank but little, said nothing at all in support of the Messiahs of Prohibition. These messiahs had not found professional morality profitable of late, with the Rockefellers and Wanamakers no longer praying with them nor paying.
Besides these necessitous petitioners, a goodish number of burghers who, while they were millionaires, yet maintained that their prosperity had been sorely checked by the fiendishness of the bankers in limiting their credit.
These were the supporters who looked to Berzelius Windrip to play the divine raven and feed them handsomely when he should become President, and from such came most of the fervid elocutionists who campaigned for him through September and October.
Pushing in among this mob of camp followers who identified political virtue with money for their rent came a flying squad who suffered not from hunger but from congested idealism: Intellectuals and Reformers and even Rugged Individualists, who saw in Windrip, for all his clownish swindlerism, a free vigor which promised a rejuvenation of the crippled and senile capitalistic system.
Upton Sinclair wrote about Buzz and spoke for him just as in 1917, unyielding pacifist though he was, Mr. Sinclair had advocated America’s whole-hearted prosecution of the Great War, foreseeing that it would unquestionably exterminate German militarism and thus forever end all wars. Most of the Morgan partners, though they may have shuddered a little at association with Upton Sinclair, saw that, however much income they themselves might have to sacrifice, only Windrip could start the Business Recovery; while Bishop Manning of New York City pointed out that Windrip always spoke reverently of the church and its shepherds, whereas Walt Trowbridge went horseback riding every Sabbath morning and had never been known to telegraph any female relative on Mother’s Day.
On the other hand, the Saturday Evening Post enraged the small shopkeepers by calling Windrip a demagogue, and the New York Times, once Independent Democrat, was anti-Windrip. But most of the religious periodicals announced that with a saint like Bishop Prang for backer, Windrip must have been called of God.
Even Europe joined in.
With the most modest friendliness, explaining that they wished not to intrude on American domestic politics but only to express personal admiration for that great Western advocate of peace and prosperity, Berzelius Windrip, there came representatives of certain foreign powers, lecturing throughout the land: General Balbo, so popular here because of his leadership of the flight from Italy to Chicago in 1933; a scholar who, though he now lived in Germany and was an inspiration to all patriotic leaders of German Recovery, yet had graduated from Harvard University and had been the most popular piano player in his class-namely, Dr. Ernst (Putzi) Hanfstangl; and Great Britain’s lion of diplomacy, the Gladstone of the 1930’s, the handsome and gracious Lord Lossiemouth who, as Prime Minister, had been known as the Rt. Hon. Ramsay MacDonald, P.C.
All three of them were expensively entertained by the wives of manufacturers, and they persuaded many millionaires who, in the refinement of wealth, had considered Buzz vulgar, that actually he was the world’s one hope of efficient international commerce.
Father Coughlin took one look at all the candidates and indignantly retired to his cell.
Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch, who would surely have written to the friends she had made at the Rotary Club Dinner in Fort Beulah if she could only have remembered the name of the town, was a considerable figure in the campaign. She explained to women voters how kind it was of Senator Windrip to let them go on voting, so far; and she sang “Berzelius Windrip’s gone to Wash.” an average of eleven times a day.
Buzz himself, Bishop Prang, Senator Porkwood (the fearless Liberal and friend of labor and the farmers), and Colonel Osceola Luthorne, the editor, though their prime task was reaching millions by radio, also, in a forty day tram trip, traveled over 27,000 miles, through every state in the Union, on the scarlet-and-silver, ebony-paneled, silk-upholstered, streamlined, Diesel-engined, rubber-padded, air-conditioned, aluminum Forgotten Men Special.
It had a private bar that was forgotten by none save the Bishop.
The train fares were the generous gift of the combined railways.
Over six hundred speeches were discharged, ranging from eight-minute hallos delivered to the crowds gathered at stations, to two-hour fulminations in auditoriums and fairgrounds. Buzz was present at every speech, usually starring, but sometimes so hoarse that he could only wave his hand and croak, “Howdy, folks!” while he was spelled by Prang, Porkwood, Colonel Luthorne, or such volunteers from his regiment of secretaries, doctoral consulting specialists in history and economics, cooks, bartenders, and barbers, as could be lured away from playing craps with the accompanying reporters, photographers, sound-recorders, and broadcasters. Tieffer of the United Press has estimated that Buzz thus appeared personally before more than two million persons.
Meanwhile, almost daily hurtling by aeroplane between Washington and Buzz’s home, Lee Sarason supervised dozens of telephone girls and scores of girl stenographers, who answered thousands of daily telephone calls and letters and telegrams and cables, and boxes containing poisoned candy. . . . Buzz himself had made the rule that all these girls must be pretty, reasonable, thoroughly skilled, and related to people with political influence.
For Sarason it must be said that in this bedlam of “public relations” he never once used contact as a transitive verb.
The Hon. Perley Beecroft, vice-presidential candidate, specialized on the conventions of fraternal orders, religious denominations, insurance agents, and traveling men.
Colonel Dewey Haik, who had nominated Buzz at Cleveland, had an assignment unique in campaigning, one of Sarason’s slickest inventions. Haik spoke for Windrip not in the most frequented, most obvious places, but at places so unusual that his appearance there made news, and Sarason and Haik saw to it that there were nimble chroniclers present to get that news. Flying in his own plane, covering a thousand miles a day, he spoke to nine astonished miners whom he caught in a copper mine a mile below the surface, while thirty-nine photographers snapped the nine; he spoke from a motorboat to a stilled fishing fleet during a fog in Gloucester harbor; he spoke from the steps of the Sub-Treasury at noon on Wall Street; he spoke to the aviators and ground crew at Shushan Airport, New Orleans, and even the flyers were ribald only for the first five minutes, till he had described Buzz Windrip’s gallant but ludicrous efforts to learn to fly; he spoke to state policemen, to stamp-collectors, players of chess in secret clubs, and steeplejacks at work; he spoke in breweries, hospitals, magazine offices, cathedrals, crossroad churches forty-by-thirty, prisons, lunatic asylums, night clubs, till the art editors began to send photographers the memo: “For Pete’s sake, no more fotos Kunnel Haik spieling in sporting houses and hoosegow.”
Yet went on using the pictures.
For Colonel Dewey Haik was a figure as sharp-lighted, almost, as Buzz Windrip himself. Son of a decayed Tennessee family, with one Confederate general grandfather and one a Dewey of Vermont, he had picked cotton, become a youthful telegraph operator, worked his way through the University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri law school, settled as a lawyer in a Wyoming village and then in Oregon, and during the war (he was in 1936 but forty-four years old) served in France as captain of infantry, with credit. Returned to America, he had been elected to Congress, and become a colonel in the militia. He studied military history; he learned to fly, to box, to fence; he was a ramrod-like figure yet had a fairly amiable smile; he was liked equally by disciplinary army officers of high rank, and by such roughnecks as Mr. Shad Ledue, the Caliban of Doremus Jessup.
Haik brought to Buzz’s fold the very picaroons who had most snickered at Bishop Prang’s solemnity.
All this while, Hector Macgoblin, the cultured doctor and burly boxing fan, co-author with Sarason of the campaign anthem, “Bring Out the Old-time Musket,” was specializing in the inspiration of college professors, associations of high-school teachers, professional baseball teams, training-camps of pugilists, medical meetings, summer schools in which we’ll known authors taught the art of writing to earnest aspirants who could never learn to write, golf tournaments, and all such cultural congresses.
But the pugilistic Dr. Macgoblin came nearer to danger than any other campaigner. During a meeting in Alabama, where he had satisfactorily proved that no Negro with less than 25 per cent “white blood” can ever rise to the cultural level of a patent-medicine salesman, the meeting was raided, the costly residence section of the whites was raided, by a band of colored people headed by a Negro who had been a corporal on the Western Front in 1918. Macgoblin and the town were saved by the eloquence of a colored clergyman.
Truly, as Bishop Prang said, the apostles of Senator Windrip were now preaching his Message unto all manner of men, even unto the Heathen.
But what Doremus Jessup said, to Buck Titus and Father Perefixe, was: “This is Revolution in terms of Rotary.”
“When I was a kid, one time I had an old-maid teacher that used to tell me, ”Buzz, you’re the thickest-headed dunce in school.” But I noticed that she told me this a whole lot oftener than she used to tell the other kids how smart they were, and I came to be the most talked-about scholar in the whole township. The United States Senate isn’t so different, and I want to thank a lot of stuffed shirts for their remarks about Yours Truly.”
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
But there were certain of the Heathen who did not heed those heralds, Prang and Windrip and Haik and Dr. Macgoblin.
Walt Trowbridge conducted his campaign as placidly as though he were certain to win. He did not spare himself, but he did not moan over the Forgotten Men (he’d been one himself, as a youngster, and didn’t think it was so bad!) nor become hysterical at a private bar in a scarlet-and-silver special tram. Quietly, steadfastly, speaking on the radio and in a few great halls, he explained that he did advocate an enormously improved distribution of wealth, but that it must be achieved by steady digging and not by dynamite that would destroy more than it excavated. He wasn’t particularly thrilling. Economics rarely are, except when they have been dramatized by a Bishop, staged and lighted by a Sarason, and passionately played by a Buzz Windrip with rapier and blue satin tights.
For the campaign the Communists had brightly brought out their sacrificial candidates, in fact, all seven of the current Communist parties had. Since, if they all stuck together, they might entice 900,000 votes, they had avoided such bourgeois grossness by enthusiastic schisms, and their creeds now included: The Party, the Majority Party, the Leftist Party, the Trotzky Party, the Christian Communist Party, the Workers’ Party, and, less baldly named, something called the American Nationalist Patriotic Cooperative Fabian Post-Marxian Communist Party, it sounded like the names of royalty but was otherwise dissimilar.
But these radical excursions were not very significant compared with the new Jeffersonian Party, suddenly fathered by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Forty-eight hours after the nomination of Windrip at Cleveland, President Roosevelt had issued his defiance.
Senator Windrip, he asserted, had been chosen “not by the brains and hearts of genuine Democrats but by their temporarily crazed emotions.” He would no more support Windrip because he claimed to be a Democrat than he would support Jimmy Walker.
Yet, he said, he could not vote for the Republican Party, the “party of intrenched special privilege,” however much, in the past three years, he had appreciated the loyalty, the honesty, the intelligence of Senator Walt Trowbridge.
Roosevelt made it clear that his Jeffersonian or True Democratic faction was not a “third party” in the sense that it was to be permanent. It was to vanish as soon as honest and coolly thinking men got control again of the old organization. Buzz Windrip aroused mirth by dubbing it the “Bull Mouse Party,” but President Roosevelt was joined by almost all the liberal members of Congress, Democratic or Republican, who had not followed Walt Trowbridge; by Norman Thomas and the Socialists who had not turned Communist; by Governors Floyd Olson and Olin Johnston; and by Mayor La Guardia.
The conspicuous fault of the Jeffersonian Party, like the personal fault of Senator Trowbridge, was that it represented integrity and reason, in a year when the electorate hungered for frisky emotions, for the peppery sensations associated, usually, not with monetary systems and taxation rates but with baptism by immersion in the creek, young love under the elms, straight whisky, angelic orchestras heard soaring down from the full moon, fear of death when an automobile teeters above a canyon, thirst in a desert and quenching it with spring water, all the primitive sensations which they thought they found in the screaming of Buzz Windrip.
Far from the hot-lighted ballrooms where all these crimson-tuniced bandmasters shrillsquabbled as to which should lead for the moment the tremendous spiritual jazz, far off in the cool hills a little man named Doremus Jessup, who wasn’t even a bass drummer but only a citizen editor, wondered in confusion what he should do to be saved.
He wanted to follow Roosevelt and the Jeffersonian Party, partly for admiration of the man; partly for the pleasure of shocking the ingrown Republicanism of Vermont. But he could not believe that the Jeffersonians would have a chance; he did believe that, for all the mothball odor of many of his associates, Walt Trowbridge was a valiant and competent man; and night and day Doremus bounced up and down Beulah Valley campaigning for Trowbridge.
Out of his very confusion there came into his writing a desperate sureness which surprised accustomed readers of the Informer. For once he was not amused and tolerant. Though he never said anything worse of the Jeffersonian Party than that it was ahead of its times, in both editorials and news stories he went after Buzz Windrip and his gang with whips, turpentine, and scandal.
In person, he was into and out of shops and houses all morning long, arguing with voters, getting miniature interviews.
He had expected that traditionally Republican Vermont would give him too drearily easy a task in preaching Trowbridge. What he found was a dismaying preference for the theoretically Democratic Buzz Windrip. And that preference, Doremus perceived, wasn’t even a pathetic trust in Windrip’s promises of Utopian bliss for everyone in general. It was a trust in increased cash for the voter himself, and for his family, very much in particular.
Most of them had, among all the factors in the campaign, noticed only what they regarded as Windrip’s humor, and three planks in his platform: Five, which promised to increase taxes on the rich; Ten, which condemned the Negro’s, since nothing so elevates a dispossessed farmer or a factory worker on relief as to have some race, any race, on which he can look down; and, especially, Eleven, which announced, or seemed to announce, that the average toiler would immediately receive $5000 a year. (And ever-so-many railway-station debaters explained that it would really be $10,000. Why, they were going to have every cent offered by Dr. Townsend, plus everything planned by the late Huey Long, Upton Sinclair, and the Utopians, all put together!)
So beatifically did hundreds of old people in Beulah Valley believe this that they smilingly trotted into Raymond Pridewell’s hardware store, to order new kitchen stoves and aluminum sauce pans and complete bathroom furnishings, to be paid for on the day after inauguration. Mr. Pridewell, a cobwebbed old Henry Cabot Lodge Republican, lost half his trade by chasing out these happy heirs to fabulous estates, but they went on dreaming, and Doremus, nagging at them, discovered that mere figures are defenseless against a dream . . . even a dream of new Plymouths and unlimited cans of sausages and motion-picture cameras and the prospect of never having to arise till 7:30 AM.
Thus answered Alfred Tizra, “Snake” Tizra, friend to Doremus’s handyman, Shad Ledue. Snake was a steeltough truck-driver and taxi-owner who had served sentences for assault and for transporting bootleg liquor. He had once made a living catching rattlesnakes and copperheads in southern New England. Under President Windrip, Snake jeeringly assured Doremus, he would have enough money to start a chain of roadhouses in all the dry communities in Vermont.
Ed Howland, one of the lesser Fort Beulah grocers, and Charley Betts, furniture and undertaking, while they were dead against anyone getting groceries, furniture, or even undertaking on Windrip credit, were all for the population’s having credit on other wares.
Aras Dilley, a squatter dairy farmer living with a toothless wife and seven slattern children in a tilted and unscrubbed cabin way up on Mount Terror, snarled at Doremus, who had often taken food baskets and boxes of shotgun shells and masses of cigarettes to Aras -“Well, want to tell you, when Mr. Windrip gets in, we farmers are going to fix our own prices on our crops, and not you smart city fellows!”
Doremus could not blame him. While Buck Titus, at fifty, looked thirty-odd, Aras, at thirty-four, looked fifty.
Lorinda Pike’s singularly unpleasant partner in the Beulah Valley Tavern, one Mr. Nipper, whom she hoped soon to lose, combined boasting how rich he was with gloating how much more he was going to get under Windrip. “Professor” Staubmeyer quoted nice things Windrip had said about higher pay for teachers. Louis Rotenstern, to prove that his heart, at least, was not Jewish, became more lyric than any of them. And even Frank Tasbrough of the quarries, Medary Cole of the grist mill and realestate holdings, R. C. Crowley of the bank, who presumably were not tickled by projects of higher income taxes, smiled pussy-cattishly and hinted that Windrip was a “lot sounder fellow” than people knew.
But no one in Fort Beulah was a more active crusader for Buzz Windrip than Shad Ledue.
Doremus had known that Shad possessed talent for argument and for display; that he had once persuaded old Mr. Pridewell to trust him for a .22 rifle, value twenty three dollars; that, removed from the sphere of coal bins and grass-stained overalls, he had once sung “Rollicky Bill the Sailor” at a smoker of the Ancient and Independent Order of Rams; and that he had enough memory to be able to quote, as his own profound opinions, the editorials in the Hearst newspapers. Yet even knowing all this equipment for a political career, an equipment not much short of Buzz Windrip’s, Doremus was surprised to find Shad soap-boxing for Windrip among the quarryworkers, then actually as chairman of a rally in Oddfellows’ Hall. Shad spoke little, but with brutal taunting of the believers in Trowbridge and Roosevelt.
At meetings where he did not speak, Shad was an incomparable bouncer, and in that valued capacity he was summoned to Windrip rallies as far away as Burlington. It was he who, in a militia uniform, handsomely riding a large white plow-horse, led the final Windrip parade in Rutland . . . and substantial men of affairs, even drygoods jobbers, fondly called him “Shad.”
Doremus was amazed, felt a little apologetic over his failure to have appreciated this new-found paragon, as he sat in American Legion Hall and heard Shad bellowing: “I don’t pretend to be anything but a plain working stiff, but there’s forty million workers like me, and we know that Senator Windrip is the first statesman in years that thinks of what guys like us need before he thinks one doggone thing about politics. Come on, you bozos! The swell folks tell you to not be selfish! Walt Trowbridge tells you to not be selfish! Well, be selfish, and vote for the one man that’s willing to give you something, give you something, and not just grab off every cent and every hour of work that he can get!”
Doremus groaned inwardly, “Oh, my Shad! And you’re doing most of this on my time!” Sissy Jessup sat on the running board of her coupe (hers by squatter’s right), with Julian Falok, up from Amherst for the weekend, and Malcolm Tasbrough wedged in on either side of her. “Oh nuts, let’s quit talking politics. Windrip’s going to be elected, so why waste time yodeling when we could drive down to the river and have a swim,” complained Malcolm. “He’s not going to win without our putting up a tough scrap against him. I’m going to talk to the high-school alumni this evening, about how they got to tell their parents to vote for either Trowbridge or Roosevelt,” snapped Julian Falck. “Haa, haa, haa! And of course the parents will be tickled to death to do whatever you tell ‘em, Yulian! You college men certainly are the goods! Besides, want to be serious about this fool business?” Malcolm had the insolent seIf-assurance of beef, slick black hair, and a large car of his own; he was the perfect leader of Black Shirts, and he looked contemptuously on Julian who, though a year older, was pale and thinnish. “Matter of fact, it’ll be a good thing to have Buzz. He’ll put a damn quick stop to all this radicalism, all this free speech and libel of our most fundamental institutions-”
“Boston American; last Tuesday; page eight,” murmured Sissy.
“-and no wonder you’re scared of him, Yulian! He sure will drag some of your favorite Amherst anarchist profs off to the hoosegow, and maybe you too, Comrade!” The two young men looked at each other with slow fury. Sissy quieted them by raging, “Freavensake! Will you two heels quit scrapping? . . . Oh, my clears, this beastly election! Beastly! Seems as if it’s breaking up every town, every home. . . . My poor Dad! Doremus is just about all in!”
“I shall not be content till this country can produce every single thing we need, even coffee, cocoa, and rubber, and so keep all our dollars at home. If we can do this and at the same time work up tourist traffic so that foreigners will come from every part of the world to see such remarkable wonders as the Grand Canyon, Glacier and Yellowstone etc. parks, the fine hotels of Chicago, & etc., thus leaving their money here, we shall have such a balance of trade as will go far to carry out my often, criticized yet completely sound idea of from $3000 to $5000 per year for every single family, that is, I mean every real American family. Such an aspiring vision is what we want, and not all this nonsense of wasting our time at Geneva and talky-talk at Lugano, wherever that is.”
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
Election day would fall on Tuesday, November third, and on Sunday evening of the first, Senator Windrip played the finale of his campaign at a mass meeting in Madison Square Garden, in New York. The Garden would hold, with seats and standing room, about 19,000, and a week before the meeting every ticket had been sold, at from fifty cents to five dollars, and then by speculators resold and resold, at from one dollar to twenty.
Doremus had been able to get one single ticket from an acquaintance on one of the Hearst dailies, which, alone among the New York papers, were supporting Windrip, and on the afternoon of November first he traveled the three hundred miles to New York for his first visit in three years.
It had been cold in Vermont, with early snow, but the white drifts lay to the earth so quietly, in unstained air, that the world seemed a silver painted carnival, left to silence. Even on a moonless night, a pale radiance came from the snow, from the earth itself, and the stars were drops of quicksilver.
But, following the redcap carrying his shabby Gladstone bag, Doremus came out of the Grand Central, at six o’clock, into a gray trickle of cold dishwater from heaven’s kitchen sink. The renowned towers which he expected to see on Forty-second Street were dead in their mummy cloths of ragged fog. And as to the mob that, with cruel disinterest, galloped past him, a new and heedless smear of faces every second, the man from Fort Beulah could think only that New York must be holding its county fair in this clammy drizzle, or else that there was a big fire somewhere.
He had sensibly planned to save money by using the subway, the substantial village burgher is so poor in the city of the Babylonian Gardens, and he even remembered that there were still to be found in Manhattan five cent trolley cars, in which a rustic might divert himself by looking at sailors and poets and shawled women from the steppes of Kazakstan. To the redcap he had piped with what he conceived to be traveled urbanity, “Guess ‘ll take a trolley, jus’ few blocks.” But deafened and dizzied and elbow-jabbed by the crowd, soaked and depressed, he took refuge in a taxi, then wished he hadn’t, as he saw the slippery rubber-colored pavement, and as his taxi got wedged among other cars stinking of carbonmonoxide and frenziedly tooting for release from the jam, a huddle of robot sheep bleating their terror with mechanical lungs of a hundred horsepower.
He painfully hesitated before going out again from his small hotel in the West Forties, and when he did, when he muddily crept among the shrill shopgirls, the weary chorus girls, the hard cigar-clamping gamblers, and the pretty young men on Broadway, he felt himself, with the rubbers and umbrella which Emma had forced upon him, a very Caspar Milquetoast.
He most noticed a number of stray imitation soldiers, without side-arms or rifles, but in a uniform like that of an American cavalryman in 1870: slant-topped blue forage caps, dark blue tunics, light blue trousers, with yellow stripes at the seam, tucked into leggings of black rubberoid for what appeared to be the privates, and boots of sleek black leather for officers. Each of them had on the right side of his collar the letters “MM.” and on the left, a five-pointed star. There were so many of them; they swaggered so brazenly, shouldering civilians out of the way; and upon insignificances like Doremus they looked with frigid insolence.
He suddenly understood.
These young condottieri were the “Minute Men”: the private troops of Berzelius Windrip, about which Doremus had been publishing uneasy news reports. He was thrilled and a little dismayed to see them now, the printed words made brutal flesh.
Three weeks ago Windrip had announced that Colonel Dewey Haik had founded, just for the campaign, a nationwide league of Windrip marching clubs, to be called the Minute Men. It was probable that they had been in formation for months, since already they had three or four hundred thousand members. Doremus was afraid the M.M.’s might become a permanent organization, more menacing than the Kuklux Klan.
Their uniform suggested the pioneer America of Cold Harbor and of the Indian fighters under Miles and Custer. Their emblem, their swastika (here Doremus saw the cunning and mysticism of Lee Sarason), was a fivepointed star, because the star on the American flag was five-pointed, whereas the stars of both the Soviet banner and the Jews-the seal of Solomon-were six-pointed.
The fact that the Soviet star, actually, was also fivepointed, no one noticed, during these excited days of regeneration. Anyway, it was a nice idea to have this star simultaneously challenge the Jews and the Bolsheviks, the M.M.’s had good intentions, even if their symbolism did slip a little.
Yet the craftiest thing about the M.M.’s was that they wore no colored shirts, but only plain white when on parade, and light khaki when on outpost duty, so that Buzz Windrip could thunder, and frequently, “Black shirts? Brown shirts? Red shirts? Yes, and maybe cowbrindle shirts! All these degenerate European uniforms of tyranny! No sir! The Minute Men are not Fascist or Communist or anything at all but plain Democratic-the knight-champions of the rights of the Forgotten Men, the shock troops of Freedom!”
Doremus dined on Chinese food, his invariable self-indulgence when he was in a large city without Emma, who stated that chow mein was nothing but fried excelsior with flour-paste gravy. He forgot the leering M.M. troopers a little; he was happy in glancing at the gilded woodcarvings, at the octagonal lanterns painted with doll-like Chinese peasants crossing arched bridges, at a quartette of guests, two male and two female, who looked like Public Enemies and who all through dinner quarreled with restrained viciousness.
When he headed toward Madison Square Garden and the culminating Windrip rally, he was plunged into a maelstrom. A whole nation seemed querulously to be headed the same way. He could not get a taxicab, and walking through the dreary storm some fourteen blocks to Madison Square Garden he was aware of the murderous temper of the crowd.
Eighth Avenue, lined with cheapjack shops, was packed with drab, discouraged people who yet, tonight, were tipsy with the hashish of hope. They filled the side walks, nearly filled the pavement, while irritable motors squeezed tediously through them, and angry policemen were pushed and whirled about and, if they tried to be haughty, got jeered at by lively shopgirls.
Through the welter, before Doremus’s eyes, jabbed a flying wedge of Minute Men, led by what he was later to recognize as a comet of M.M.’s. They were not on duty, and they were not belligerent; they were cheering, and singing “Berzelius Windrip went to Wash.,” reminding Doremus of a slightly drunken knot of students from an inferior college after a football victory. He was to remember them so afterward, months afterward, when the enemies of the M.M.’s all through the country derisively called them “Mickey Mouses” and “Minnies.”
An old man, shabbily neat, stood blocking them and yelled, “To hell with Buzz! Three cheers for F.D.R.!”
The M.M.’s burst into hoodlum wrath. The comet in command, a bruiser uglier even than Shad Ledue, hit the old man on the jaw, and he sloped down, sickeningly. Then, from nowhere, facing the comet, there was a chief petty officer of the navy, big, smiling, reckless. The C.P.O. bellowed, in a voice tuned to hurricanes, “Swell bunch 0’ tin soldiers! Nine 0’ yuh to one grandpappy! Just about even.”
The cornet socked him; he laid out the comet with one foul to the belly; instantly the other eight M.M.’s were on the C.P.O., like sparrows after a hawk, and he crashed, his face, suddenly veal-white, laced with rivulets of blood. The eight kicked him in the head with their thick marching,shoes. They were still kicking him when Doremus wriggled away, very sick, altogether helpless.
He had not turned away quickly enough to avoid seeing an M.M. trooper, girlish-faced, crimson-lipped, fawneyed, throw himself on the fallen cornet and, whimpering, stroke that roustabout’s roast-beef cheeks with shy gardenia-petal fingers.
There were many arguments, a few private fist fights, and one more battle, before Doremus reached the auditorium.
A block from it some thirty M.M.’s, headed by a battalion leader, something between a captain and a major, started raiding a street meeting of Communists. A Jewish girl in khaki, her bare head soaked with rain, was beseeching from the elevation of a wheelbarrow, “Fellow travelers! Don’t just chew the rag and ‘sympathize’! Join us! Now! It’s life and death!” Twenty feet from the Communists, a middle-aged man who looked like a social worker was explaining the Jeffersonian Party, recalling the record of President Roosevelt, and reviling the Communists next door as word-drunk un-American cranks. Half his audience were people who might be competent voters; half of them, like half of any group on this evening of tragic fiesta, were cigarette sniping boys in hand-me-downs.
The thirty M.M.’s cheerfully smashed into the Communists. The battalion leader reached up, slapped the girl speaker, dragged her down from the wheelbarrow. His followers casually waded in with fists and blackjacks. Doremus, more nauseated, feeling more helpless than ever, heard the smack of a blackjack on the temple of a scrawny Jewish intellectual.
Amazingly, then, the voice of the rival Jeffersonian leader spiraled up into a scream: “Come on, you! Going to let those hellhounds attack our Communist friend now, by God!” With which the mild bookworm leaped into the air, came down squarely upon a fat Mickey Mouse, capsized him, seized his blackjack, took time to kick another M.M.’s shins before arising from the wreck, sprang up, and waded into the raiders as, Doremus guessed, he would have waded into a table of statistics on the proportion of butter fat in loose milk in 97.7 per cent of shops on Avenue B.
Till then, only haIf-a-dozen Communist Party members had been facing the M.M.’s, their backs to a garage wall. Fifty of their own, fifty Jeffersonians besides, now joined them, and with bricks and umbrellas and deadly volumes of sociology they drove off the enraged M.M.’s, partisans of Bela Kun side by side with the partisans of Professor John Dewey, until a riot squad of policemen battered their way in to protect the M.M.’s by arresting the girl Communist speaker and the Jeffersonian.
Doremus had often “headed up” sports stories about “Madison Square Garden Prize Fights,” but he did know that the place had nothing to do with Madison Square, from which it was a day’s journey by bus, that it was decidedly not a garden, that the fighters there did not fight for “prizes” but for fixed partnership shares in the business, and that a good many of them did not fight at all.
The mammoth building, as in exhaustion Doremus crawled up to it, was entirely ringed with M.M.’s, elbow to elbow, all carrying heavy canes, and at every entrance, along every aisle, the M.M.’s were rigidly in line, with their officers galloping about, whispering orders, and bearing uneasy rumors like scared calves in a dipping-pen.
These past weeks hungry miners, dispossessed farmers, Carolina mill hands had greeted Senator Windrip with a flutter of worn hands beneath gasoline torches. Now he was to face, not the unemployed, for they could not afford fifty-cent tickets, but the small, scared sidestreet traders of New York, who considered themselves altogether superior to clodhoppers and mine-creepers, yet were as desperate as they. The swelling mass that Doremus saw, proud in seats or standing chin-to-nape in the aisles, in a reek of dampened clothes, was not romantic; they were people concerned with the tailor’s goose, the tray of potato salad, the card of hooks-and-eyes, the leech like mortgage on the owner-driven taxi, with, at home, the baby’s diapers, the dull safety-razor blade, the awful rise in the cost of rump steak and kosher chicken. And a few, and very proud, civiI-service clerks and letter carriers and superintendents of small apartment houses, curiously fashionable in seventeen-dollar ready-made suits and feebly stitched foulard ties, who boasted, “I don’t know why all these bums go on relief. I may not be such a wiz, but let me tell you, even since 1929, I’ve never made less than two thousand dollars a year!”
Manhattan peasants. Kind people, industrious people, generous to their aged, eager to find any desperate cure for the sickness of worry over losing the job.
Most facile material for any rabel-rouser.
The historic rally opened with extreme dullness. A regimental band played the Tales from Hoffman barcarole with no apparent significance and not much more liveliness. The Reverend Dr. Hendrik Van Lollop of St. Apologue’s Lutheran Church offered prayer, but one felt that probably it had not been accepted. Senator Porkwood provided a dissertation on Senator Windrip which was composed in equal parts of apostolic adoration of Buzz and of the uh-uh-uh’s with which Hon. Porkwood always interspersed his words.
And Windrip wasn’t yet even in sight.
Colonel Dewey Haik, nominator of Buzz at the Cleveland convention, was considerably better. He told three jokes, and an anecdote about a faithful carrier pigeon in the Great War which had seemed to understand, really better than many of the human soldiers, just why it was that the Americans were over there fighting for France against Germany. The connection of this ornithological hero with the virtues of Senator Windrip did not seem evident, but, after having sat under Senator Porkwood, the audience enjoyed the note of military gallantry.
Doremus felt that Colonel Haik was not merely rambling but pounding on toward something definite. His voice became more insistent. He began to talk about Windrip: “my friend, the one man who dares beard the monetary lion, the man who in his great and simple heart cherishes the woe of every common man as once did the brooding tenderness of Abraham Lincoln.” Then, wildly waving toward a side entrance, he shrieked, “And here he comes! My friends, Buzz Windrip!”
The band hammered out “The Campbells Are Coming.” A squadron of Minute Men, smart as Horse Guards, carrying long lances with starred pennants, clicked into the gigantic bowl of the auditorium, and after them, shabby in an old blue-serge suit, nervously twisting a sweatstained slouch hat, stooped and tired, limped Berzelius Windrip. The audience leaped up, thrusting one another aside to have a look at the deliverer, cheering like artillery at dawn.
Windrip started prosaically enough. You felt rather sorry for him, so awkwardly did he lumber up the steps to the platform, across to the center of the stage. He stopped; stared owlishly. Then he quacked monotonously:
“The first time I ever came to New York I was a greenhorn, no, don’t laugh, mebbe I still am! But I had already been elected a United States Senator, and back home, the way they’d serenaded me, I thought I was some punkins. I thought my name was just about as familiar to everybody as Al Capone’s or Camel Cigarettes or Castoria, Babies Cry For It. But I come to New York on my way to Washington, and say, I sat in my hotel lobby here for three days, and the only fellow ever spoke to me was the hotel detective! And when he did come up and address me, I was tickled to death, I thought he was going to tell me the whole burg was pleased by my condescending to visit ‘em. But all he wanted to know was, was I a guest of the hotel and did I have any right to be holding down a lobby chair permanently that way! And tonight, friends, I’m pretty near as scared of Old Gotham as I was then!”
The laughter, the hand-clapping, were fair enough, but the proud electors were disappointed by his drawl, his weary humility.
Doremus quivered hopefully, “Maybe he isn’t going to get elected!”
Windrip outlined his too-familiar platform, Doremus was interested only in observing that Windrip misquoted his own figures regarding the limitation of fortunes, in Point Five.
He slid into a rhapsody of general ideas, a mishmash of polite regards to Justice, Freedom, Equality, Order, Prosperity, Patriotism, and any number of other noble but slippery abstractions.
Doremus thought he was being bored, until he discovered that, at some moment which he had not noticed, he had become absorbed and excited.
Something in the intensity with which Windrip looked at his audience, looked at all of them, his glance slowly taking them in from the highest-perched seat to the nearest, convinced them that he was talking to each individual, directly and solely; that he wanted to take each of them into his heart; that he was telling them the truths, the imperious and dangerous facts, that had been hidden from them.
“They say I want money, power! Say, I’ve turned down offers from law firms right here in New York of three times the money I’ll get as President! And power, why, the President is the servant of every citizen in the country, and not just of the considerate folks, but also of every crank that comes pestering him by telegram and phone and letter. And yet, it’s true, it’s absolutely true I do want power, great, big, imperial power, but not for myself, no, for you, the power of your permission to smash the Jew financiers who’ve enslaved you, who’re working you to death to pay the interest on their bonds; the grasping bankers, and not all of ‘em Jews by a darn sight!, the crooked labor-leaders just as much as the crooked bosses, and, most of all, the sneaking spies of Moscow that want you to lick the boots of their self-appointed tyrants that rule not by love and loyalty, like I want to, but by the horrible power of the whip, the dark cell, the automatic pistol!”
He pictured, then, a paradise of democracy in which, with the old political machines destroyed, every humblest worker would be king and ruler, dominating representatives elected from among his own kind of people, and these representatives not growing indifferent, as hitherto they had done, once they were far off in Washington, but kept alert to the public interest by the supervision of a strengthened Executive.
It sounded almost reasonable, for a while.
The supreme actor, Buzz Windrip, was passionate yet never grotesquely wild. He did not gesture too extravagantly; only, like Gene Debs of old, he reached out a bony forefinger which seemed to jab into each of them and hook out each heart. It was his mad eyes, big staring tragic eyes, that startled them, and his voice, now thundering, now humbly pleading, that soothed them.
He was so obviously an honest and merciful leader; a man of sorrows and acquaint with woe.
Doremus marveled, “I’ll be hanged! Why, he’s a darn good sort when you come to meet him! And warmhearted. He makes me feel as if I’d been having a good evening with Buck and Steve Perefixe. What if Buzz is right? What if, in spite of all the demagogic pap that, I suppose, he has got to feed out to the boobs, he’s right in claiming that it’s only he, and not Trowbridge or Roosevelt, that can break the hold of the absentee owners? And these Minute Men, his followers, oh, they were pretty nasty, what I saw out on the street, but still, most of ‘em are mighty nice, clean-cut young fellows. Seeing Buzz and then listening to what he actually says does kind of surprise you, kind of make you think!”
But what Mr. Windrip actually had said, Doremus could not remember an hour later, when he had come out of the trance.
He was so convinced then that Windrip would win that, on Tuesday evening, he did not remain at the Informer office until the returns were all in. But if he did not stay for the evidences of the election, they came to him. Past his house, after midnight, through muddy snow tramped a triumphant and reasonably drunken parade, carrying torches and bellowing to the air of “Yankee Doodle” new words revealed just that week by Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch:
“The snakes disloyul to our Buzz We’re riding on a rail,
They’ll wish to God they never was, When we get them in jail!
“Buzz and buzz and keep it up To victory he’s floated. You were a most ungrateful pup, Unless for Buzz you voted.
”Every M.M. gets a whip To use upon some traitor, And every Antibuzz we skip Today, we’ll tend to later.”
”Antibuzz,” a word credited to Mrs. Gimmitch but more probably invented by Dr. Hector Macgoblin, was to be extensively used by lady patriots as a term expressing such vicious disloyalty to the State as might call for the firing squad. Yet, like Mrs. Gimmitch’s splendid synthesis “Unkies,” for soldiers of the A.E.F., it never really caught on. Among the winter-coated paraders Doremus and Sissy thought they could make out Shad Ledue, Aras Dilley, that philoprogenitive squatter from Mount Terror, Charley Betts, the furniture dealer, and Tony Mogliani, the fruit-seller, most ardent expounder of Italian Fascism in central Vermont.
And, though he could not be sure of it in the dimness behind the torches, Doremus rather thought that the lone large motorcar following the procession was that of his neighbor, Francis Tasbrough.
Next morning, at the Informer office, Doremus did not learn of so very much damage wrought by the triumphant Nordics, they had merely upset a couple of privies, torn down and burned the tailor-shop sign of Louis Rotenstern, and somewhat badly beaten Clifford Little, the jeweler, a slight, curly-headed young man whom Shad Ledue despised because he organized theatricals and played the organ in Mr. Falck’s church.
That night Doremus found, on his front porch, a notice in red chalk upon butcher’s paper:
You will get yrs Dorey sweethart unles you get rite down on yr belly and crawl in front of the MM and the League and the Chief and I
It was the first time that Doremus had heard of “the Chief,” a sound American variant of “the Leader” or “the Head of the Government,” as a popular title for Mr. Windrip. It was soon to be made official.
Doremus burned the red warning without telling his family. But he often woke to remember it, not very laughingly.
To follow in part 4