Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 22

The Citizens’ Conference on Constitutional Crises in the Commonwealth was known in Washington as the “Cizkon.”

It had none of the fuzziness of purpose that had bothered Dr. Gideon Planish, the new Assistant General Manager of the Cizkon, at the Heskett Foundation. Its offices filled two floors of an official-looking old red brick building. During the depression of the early 1930’s, it was richer in funds than ever, because it was then that the large industrialists and merchants most feared revolution, and they were skillfully coached by Mr. Sanderson–Smith and Dr. Planish to believe that the Cizkon was insurance against their losing control of the country.

Any seedling notions about liberalizing the Cizkon that the good Doctor might have cultivated were frozen quickly in that icy competence.

On the surface, the Cizkon was so idealistic that it dripped, and this was the department to which Dr. Planish was particularly assigned. In lectures and pamphlets and newspaper stories which it manufactured or affectionately influenced, it shouted the best battle cries: “The traditional American right to work unhampered by labor racketeers,” and “The menace to fundamental American institutions, by foreign atheism and Jewish international socialism,” and “The Founding Fathers’ ideals of Free Enterprise, an Economy of Abundance, and Free Competition unchecked by sumptuary laws, so that the Poorest Citizen may have his chance in the race for fame and fortune against the wealthiest corporation or the most aristocratic and highly educated individual,” and “The Cross and the Stars and Stripes — or the Assassin’s Dagger and the Crossed Hammer and Sickle — WHICH?”

And, in those days, “Mussolini makes the trains run on time.”

All that Dr. Planish had to do was to take the slogans he had believed in and turn them inside out. He was still in the Ideals and Public Improvement business, even if he had gone over to a competing firm, and his salary was now a comfortable $4,500 a year. They had a thin tall house in Georgetown and they entertained senators — perhaps twice — and he and Peony and Carrie were happy — anyway, Peony was happy — anyway, Peony said she was happy.

The Cizkon’s chief operative, Mr. H. Sanderson Sanderson–Smith, was an esthete. He had written a pamphlet on surrealism, he had been a theosophist, a nudist, a spiritualist, a Bahaist and a Douglas Planner; and he was enviously rumored to be a secret drunkard on benedictine spiced with pepper and maple sugar. But he was an excellent Organizational Engineer — his own phrase.

If the sort of beefy, Hamilton–Frisby, football-squad, Skull-and-Bones, Meadowbrook–Club millionaires who always intimidated Dr. Planish also despised Sanderson–Smith, in revenge he knew how to make them tremble with his inside news about Jewish, Communist, and Scandinavian–Irish-farmer-labor conspiracies against them, and radicals now known to be manufacturing sub-machine guns in a cellar near St. Sebastian, North Dakota. He panicked them into giving him funds with which, as he caressingly put it, he would “put Bibles instead of tommy-guns into the horny hands of these sons of — well — of toil!”

The Cizkon issued a magazine called Flag or Lag? illustrated with pictures of strikers beating policemen, of Lenin and Stalin attending an orthodox synagogue, and of George Washington crossing the Delaware, with a caption hinting that if he did so today, it would be to spend a week-end with the du Ponts.

In fact the Cizkon magazine assaulted the Communists with all the accuracy and tender tolerance with which the Communists assaulted their opponents. It was well padded with the advertisements of banks, insurance companies and utility companies. The theory was that it circulated among the Common Workers, persuading them to leap out of their red cells and exchange their unions for the Union League. And at least it did reach the desks of all the fine old gentlemen in Massachusetts who owned textile mills.

The Cizkon also published, in pamphlet form, addresses which would certainly have been delivered on the floor of the House if any other congressmen could have been persuaded to stay and listen. These addresses stated that the author had had a good mother and a pretty fair father, and that all labor leaders were terrible.

Less directly, the Cizkon influenced many published writings. It encouraged local school boards to throw out text-books that alleged that Abraham Lincoln was an agnostic. It arranged with factory-owners to welcome journalists who wanted to do little pieces about the glories of modern machinery and the miracles of distribution. And it warned editors, by letters ostensibly from indignant subscribers, that Liberals were essentially more dangerous than Communists — which was probably true.

It assisted right-thinking professors to get lecture-engagements, and it got out clip-sheets with refrigerated editorials protesting that President Harding had been a great man, after all, that H. G. Wells had but rarely written anything about Bishop James Cannon, Jr., of the Southern Methodist Church, and that honest workers do not watch the clock.

But the Cizkon was not merely literary. In an emergency it would send expert lobbyists to State Legislatures, to choke the vile hydra of compulsory washrooms in factories. Once, Dr. Gideon Planish thus journeyed out West, to appear before a legislative committee as an economics expert and a disinterested tax-payer.

Beyond all other virtues of the Cizkon was its personal duty of collecting just as many contributions from the jittery captains of industry as it could cajole or frighten out of them. It annually got out a financial report which showed the gratified contributors “just where every red cent of your generous donations has gone,” with lovely figures, down to the second decimal, about Office Expense, Salaries, Traveling Expenses, Postage, Publication and dozens of others. Still, Mr. Sanderson–Smith did live in the former residence of an ambassador, and did send three very charming and handsome young men through college.

He gracefully entertained here, and sometimes he invited the Planishes. So Peony met poets and actors and rather astonishing old men who tickled. She was in the pool of provincial hobohemia up to her neck, and so soaked with Celebrity that occasionally she wanted to go back to Kinnikinick for a rest.

But within the hour she would assure her husband that she didn’t mean it; that she was as happy here as a Lark, as a Grig, as the day is long. She began to spend just a little too much for evening dresses, and she developed a way of confiding to newcomers in Washington, “I happened to be sitting next to a man who knows the Secretary of the Navy intimately, and he told me, but don’t repeat it now —”

She admired the smoothness of Sanderson–Smith, even though she did refer to him privately as “Sneaky Sandy.” She repeated often a dinner quip of Sanderson–Smith which soared right up to the heights of Oscar Wilde: “Last night Sandy told me — I made him repeat it — ‘I didn’t mind it when oi polloi claimed that a live hog was better than a dead lion. That’s arguable,’ he said. ‘But now,’ he said, ‘they’re bellowing that a live hog is better than a live lion!’ Now isn’t that brilliant!”

Dr. Planish sighed, “Sometimes it seems to me that Sandy sacrifices true liberalism to a mere mot.”

“Oh, stuff!” said Peony.

She still admired the Doctor as the fount of learning, but she was doing very well on her own.

She had learned that congressmen and even bureau chiefs were not hard to get for dinner. You just offered them free food and the best of illicit liquor. She became chummy with several congressmen’s wives who, on cook’s night off, had to scramble their own family dinners; who took Peony into their confidences and swapped servant stories, while their husbands fed her hunger for magnificence by grunting, even apropos of the President himself, “I saw Herb yesterday, and he told me we’re coming out of the depression at last, yessir, that’s just what he said.”

She loved it. But the Doctor was ever more dubious as he toiled at labor-baiting; and as for Carrie, preposterous child, she kept whimpering that she wanted to see the suburban children with whom she had played in Mt. Vernon.

Their high triumph was in becoming charmingly acquainted with that great financial authority, Senator Felix Bultitude, who, as chairman of the board of the Cizkon, was something besides ornamental. He was even more celebrated for his honesty than for his intelligence — in fact, he wasn’t really so highly thought of for intelligence — and when potential contributors to the Cizkon saw his name fronting on the board, they exulted, “Don’t tell me that the CCCCC isn’t on the level, with a man like Bultitude running it. You don’t think HE’S the kind of grafter who’d stoop to padding his expense account ten dollars on his hotel bill, when he’s out lecturing for them, do you — a man of his standing?” (Mr. Bultitude was always referred to as “a man of his standing,” no matter what he stood on.)

They were right, too. The Senator never received a cent from the Cizkon. He merely let it interest a few prominent men outside his own State in his harmless, necessary campaign fund.

Senator Bultitude was always referred to by chairmen as “that great Liberal.” He loved to dwell on the History of Labor, even though he did mix up Heywood Broun and Big Bill Haywood. As a young man, while he was studying law, he had worked as a farmhand for one entire vacation, so he could properly call himself “a real dirt farmer,” and Sanderson–Smith regularly used him to put honey in the hair of farm blocs.

But when Sanderson–Smith wanted someone to come right out and tell club smokers that, in the opinion of the Cizkon, all workers, even the good or non-union workers, were dangerous to the peace of the state unless they were controlled by the Right People, then he used as prophet not Senator Bultitude but the Reverend Mr. Ezekiel Bittery, a former Fundamentalist preacher who really had been a farmhand. Mr. Bittery said, in Scriptural rhythms, “I’ve toiled with the toilers, I’ve preached to their stoniness, I know ’em — and they’re all skunks!”

Mr. Bittery was trying to enlist a private army called “The Gospel Gentlemen” from among former Ku Kluxers, but he had too many rivals for the position of American Duce, and he was still glad to do Sanderson–Smith a sixty-one-minute exposure of the Jews and Radicals for $65.00 cash — in advance — and a year later he would be throwing in two minutes of denouncing Eleanor Roosevelt.

The bad luck of the Planishes seemed over. The Doctor had been in the new job only a year when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President, and during the experimentation of the New Deal, so alarming to the Better People, who liked to have the objects of their charity grateful and transient, the Cizkon became important as a safeguard against loose spending and the horrid heresy of maintaining that Democracy also included people who did not live in your block.

Now, Sanderson–Smith was able to hurl gas bombs not just at anonymous Communists but even at the highly visible Administration itself. He was full of wit about the new Government bureaus and their names: SEC, PWA, FHRA. He said, “Our own little group, the CCCCC, has more C’s in it than the CCC’s but much less seize!”

“Isn’t that just brilliant!” said Peony Planish.

One of the mysteries is the origin of dirty stories and political anecdotes. A tale will be repeated ten million times over ten years, and yet the original author, honest fellow, will be unknown, unhonored. But of the thousand anecdotes about Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family and aides, at least a dozen of the more popular were created by the patient artistry of H. Sanderson Sanderson–Smith, including the one about the psychiatrist being sent to God when He had the delusion that he was Roosevelt.

When Mrs. Roosevelt was friendly with coal miners, it was Sanderson–Smith who explained to the ecstatic mine-owners — and the even more ecstatic Young Communists, who were now beginning to exceed in nuisance value the young disciples of Proust and Joyce — that it had all been done by collusion with Moscow. He sowed the rumor that Miss Frances Perkins, the Secretary of Labor, was really Rebecca Prjzbska from Crakow, and originated the jest, attributed to several popular columnists, that “The Trouble with the New Dealers is that they’re all small-town boys named Ray: Ray Moley, Ray Tugwell, Ray Frankfurter — and Ray Roosevelt.”

It was one of the duties of Dr. Planish to see that these witticisms were spread properly. Mr. Sanderson–Smith was not always pleasant when he failed to do so.

When the New Deal started on wages and hours legislation, the Cizkon came out for the very factory improvements that it had abhorred.

All industries were threatened with having to recognize one union or another, and Sanderson–Smith hired an expert who had been a union organizer himself to go from factory to factory of the Cizkon’s higher contributors and explain how to form reasonable company unions which would be nicer all round than the A.F. of L. or the C.I.O. This expert would also demonstrate how much cheaper it was to put in cafeterias and clean washrooms and free medical service than to have the workers think their bosses did not love them. He even went so far in a Southern State as to persuade an employer to hire one per cent of Negro labor, which clearly proved something or other, said Sanderson–Smith in an address “The New Liberalism vs the New Deal.”

Years later, in the 1940’s, even after America had entered World War II, Dr. Planish was interested to see that, though H. Sanderson Sanderson–Smith himself was in prison on the astounding charge that he was a Nazi agent, other bodies were carrying on the ameliorative work of the Cizkon, with the slogans “The American Way of Life” and “The Sacred Right to Work” and “The Founding Fathers who laid down the principle of Free Competition” still frequently meaning that employers did not care much for union wage scales.

Through all the Planishes’ prosperity and social magnitude in Washington, the Doctor had spiritual trouble.

Whenever his former colleagues, Chris Stern and Dr. Kitto and Natalia Hochberg and Professor Buchwald and George Riot, all of them Reformers at whom the Cizkon had heaved a paragraph or two, came to Washington, the Doctor felt uncomfortably that they felt uncomfortably that he was no longer a Liberal. He tried to explain to them that, really, he was more of a Liberal than ever; he and Sanderson–Smith were all for Constructive and Enlightened Labor Leadership, and they opposed only the misleaders who made a living out of Labor. They seemed highly unconvinced by him or by the fervors of Sanderson–Smith, for whom they adopted Peony’s name of “Sneaky Sandy.”

Dr. Planish tried to be jovial about it: “All right — all right! You get me as good a job with some liberal outfit in New York, and I’ll leave Sneaky Sandy flat!”

He had, he felt proudly, “called their bluff.” But he was still disquieted, and he tried to explain it all to Peony, when she came in from a cocktail party to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.

“Now get this, Peony. To be realistic, I must admit that the first purpose of any uplift organization must be to support the executives who give their time and good hard work to it — like a doctor or a preacher. But I do feel that if I make my living out of a movement to strengthen the public morale, then it ought — well, it ought to try and do some strengthening, don’t you see?”

“See what?” said Peony.

He went on, thinking aloud. “And I’m afraid Chris Stern is right. The Cizkon isn’t really liberal. Chris is probably just as much of a fourflusher as Sneaky Sandy — just as crazy to get power and publicity — only he’s a careerist on the right side, and Sandy is on the wrong side.”

Peony sniffed, “So what? He’s a Liberal, but he’s practical.”

“When was he ever liberal?”

“What’s the diff? We get our salary, don’t we? And do you mean to tell me that you don’t believe in the American system of justice, as laid down by George Washington?”

“Now what —”

“Every man that’s accused has a right to be represented in court by a lawyer, hasn’t he? Well, Sneaky is the lawyer for the capitalists, and they need a smart one, don’t they?”

“That’s an interesting point of view. Very interesting. But there’s another aspect of the matter. In the long run, I think that an executive does better if he’s known as a Liberal. By 1940, I’ll wager there’ll be more money — or rather, I mean a more dignified social position — in being associated with anti-Fascism than with Fascism. Besides, I’m an oldtime Fighting Liberal, and a man with his battles behind me, I mean my battles behind me, he simply can’t turn his back on the People, don’t you see? . . . No, no, it isn’t fly-by-night advocates of individualism like Sneaky Sandy that come out on top eventually; it’s proponents of communal discipline, like Colonel Charles B. Marduc, the greatest promoter of widespread prosperity —”

“Want a drink?” said Peony.

“Of course I want a drink!” said Dr. Planish.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38