Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Presidential Elections? 60 years ago...

Even here in wee Northern Ireland, the US Presidential elections are getting pretty heavy news coverage. Obama or Clinton or McCain?*

I'm no expert on US politics (I'm sure John Killian can keep me right), but I've been interested over the past year or so in a former candidate - Henry Wallace (1888 - 1965) - who ran for the "Progressive Party" in 1948. He had been Vice President during WW2. His post-war position was to feed the world, not to destroy it. He wanted to build up the ordinary American farmer by encouraging new agricultural practices and methods that would both rebuild the economy and feed people who needed it.

Wallace's father, or maybe his grandfather (they were BOTH also called Henry Wallace!) was a big hitter in the early days of The Scotch-Irish Society of the USA, and he wrote a lengthy article in their 1892 "Proceedings" called "The Scotch-Irish of Iowa". In it he wrote:

...Wherever you find the (Scotch-Irish) race there you find the Sabbath, and a plain and simple worship that deals with the highest themes, and an industry and thrift that needs no fawning to secure its rewards. These are the racial characteristics that will abide with us as long as we teach our children the Catechism; so long as we preserve the Scotch-Irish Sabbath, and retain our conviction that the great supreme Power that is behind and over all is the rewarder of the righteous and the foe of every form of oppression.

So long as this moral environment is maintained the Scotch-Irishman will be found battling for civil and religious liberty, as he has done in all his past history. He will ever be striving, whether North or South, in America or Europe, to realize an ideal state and an ideal home. He may be masterful and dominating, ill to force, unjust sometimes, but only when the truth and the just cause has not been pleaded at the bar of his conscience.

He is now just beginning to recognize the value of his achievements on this continent... it is only in free America, modeled in its political institutions, on the principles of the Scotch Presbytery, that the Scotch-Irish character can reach its highest development....

Rousing stuff indeed! A while back my late friend Brian Richmond loaned me a CD by a now-defunct band called The Hangdogs. They recorded one of Henry Wallace's campaign songs on their 2003 album "Wallace 48". Some of the lyrics and songs on the cd are what we Ulster folk would call coooooorse, but "Wallace 48" is a real standout, and worth bearing in mind when we look a Presidential elections today. Sounds very familiar...

Brother have you heard the news?
There's another war a-brewin'
With 60 million still warm in the ground...
Republican or Democrat,
The bosses call the shots
Big business, war and empire intertwined...
"No more hunger, fear or A-bombs
Across the world and across the land!"
Cries the uncommon champion
Of the common man...
That quiet Iowa farmer
Henry Wallace is his name...

(the line "Big business, war and empire intertwined..." sounds a lot like what Eisenhower famously called "the military-industrial complex" in his ominous farewell speech of 1961. Watch it on Youtube below)

*ps - what little reading I've done about the current US Presidential election leads me to prefer many of the policies of Ron Paul. But, ultimately, as Henry Wallace wrote, "...the great supreme Power that is behind and over all is the rewarder of the righteous and the foe of every form of oppression..."