It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 10

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 Wmdrip 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) Hanfstängl; 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 hoose-gow.”

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 well-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.”

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