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Undoing the New Deal: The 1944 Coup Against VP Henry Wallace (pt1)

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Peter Kuznick is a professor of history and the director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University. He is the co-writer with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States; author of Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists As Political Activists in 1930s America(University of Chicago Press); co-author with Akira Kimura of Rethinking the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japanese and American Perspectives (Horitsu Bunkasha, 2010); co-author with Yuki Tanaka of Genpatsu to Hiroshima - genshiryoku heiwa riyo no shinso (Nuclear Power and Hiroshima: The Truth Behind the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power) (Iwanami, 2011); and co-editor with James Gilbert of Rethinking Cold War Culture (Smithsonian Institution Press).

PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay. On the Real News, we've been doing a lot of coverage, stories, about the battle within the Democratic party between the Sanders wing and what I would call the oligarchic ring, otherwise sometimes referred to as the Clinton wing or the Clinton/Obama wing, sometimes called the Corporate Democratic wing.

Well, we want to go back a bit in history and talk about the origins of this fight. At least, one of the critical turning points. We're not going to go way back to the beginning of the Democratic party. Kind of go back to Roosevelt and the New Deal and Henry Wallace, who became Roosevelt's vice president from '41 to '45, what happens in 1944 when Wallace gets dumped as Roosevelt's vice president, and Wallace represents perhaps the most progressive politics that a vice president certainly ever had. Maybe the most progressive politics that someone ever made it to that kind of power ever had in the United States.

We're going to go through over the course of a few segments how this battle unfolded and put the Sanders fight and Sanders wing of the party's fight with the Corporate Democratic wing in some historical context. Now joining us to discuss all of that is historian Peter Kuznick, who now joins us from his home in Washington. Peter is a professor of history and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute in American University. He's the co-writer with Oliver Stone, The Untold History of the United States. Thanks for joining us again, Peter.

PETER KUZNICK: Glad to be here, Paul.

PAUL JAY: I guess let's start to give some context to people that haven't, certainly younger people that don't know this history. Number one, let me say we did do a multi-part series with Peter about the whole Oliver Stone series that he did together with Peter. I really urge you to watch this because it goes in a lot of depth covering a lot of the history.

We're going to pick upon this particular angle of how this unfolds in the Democratic party over the next few decades after the war. To set the context, let's go over some of the basic groundwork. First of all, give us a bit of context. Roosevelt does not get elected as a super liberal, progressive New Dealer but given in the Depression becomes that and Wallace has a role to play in all of that. Maybe you can get us started on this, Peter.

PETER KUZNICK: Well Paul, let me frame it a little bit differently to start. If we look at the Democratic party in the 1930s and first half of the 1940s we see it as a progressive party. If we take it back a little further, even to the Wilson administration then you've got a liberal internationalist kind of party.

It becomes under Wilson's policies are very, very counter-revolutionary across the globe. Wilsonian progressivism while it had certain high ideals that we see in his post-war program, the reality of Wilson's policies was much more conservative and counter-revolutionary, as we see manifested in the Versailles Treaty and what would have been the League of Nations had the United States embraced it. It would have been, as critics argued at the time, a defense of European colonialism.

Let's take it to the 1920s instead because in the 1920s the Democratic party was very conservative. In fact, at the 1924 convention it was dominated by the Klu Klux Klan. You've always had a split in the Democratic party. There were certain progressive elements. The Bryan Wing was in some ways internationally, globally progressive. Although, culturally, like I say, much more conservative.

In the 1920s you've got strong right wing in the Democratic party. Even Al Smith, the Democratic nominee in 1928, turns sharply to the right in the 1930s, is an opponent of the New Deal, sides with the DuPonts and the Morgans and the other right wingers in the 1930s in opposing the New Deal and might have been involved in this Smedley Butler coup that we've talked about before.

The Democratic party has always had a mixed legacy. There were moments, there have been a lot of moments, of real progressive promise but the overall history has not been a consistently progressive one. Things do change in the 1930s as you were getting at. They change, Roosevelt gets elected in 1932, not as a flaming progressive by any means. In fact, he attacks Hoover and the Republicans from the right in many senses during the campaign. He attacks Hoover for unbalancing the budget, for being too big a spender during the 1932 campaign.

There were glimpses of the New Deal in some of his speeches and statements but you would not have expected, or could not have foreseen seen Roosevelt turning into the kind of progressive visionary leader that to some extent he comes during the 1930s, especially during his second term and then during the war period.

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