Five Days in Philadelphia

February 19th, 2009 at 11:21 pm David Frum | No Comments |

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Charlie Peters, former editor of the Washington Monthly, is one of those very partisan Democrats to whom the only good Republican is a dead Republican. And who is deader than Wendell Willkie? So in Five Days in Philadelphia , Peters offers Willkie a measure of praise. Willkie’s internationalism freed Roosevelt to do more to help Britain in the summer and fall of 1940 – to institute a draft to start training an army Ñ and to propose Lend Lease as soon as the election ended. The United States entered World War II late. But unlike in 1917, it entered the war ready.

Peters tells the story of the machinations that won the Republican presidential nomination for Willkie in the summer of 1940. It probably will not surprise you to hear that they were less spontaneous than they looked at the time. Henry Luce’s magazines publicized the owner’s chosen candidate; House Minority Leader Joe Martin used his chairmanship of the convention blatantly in Willkie’s favor; and the convention managers packed the rafters with chanting, cheering Willkieites while denying tickets to supporters of Robert Taft and Thomas Dewey.

Peters vividly reports all these ancient maneuverings. He does a fine job too summoning up the mood and feel of the time: I especially liked his account of driving to the Democratic convention in Chicago with his father later that summer, the radio stations fading in and out as they approached towns and then left them behind. The heavy-handed final chapter aside, Peters generally refrains from drawing contemporary lessons and parallels. The summer of 1940 is not exactly an obsure period in American history, but Peters tells his chosen portion of this great drama divertingly and well.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Johnnnymac66

    I’ve lived all of my 51 years in Chicago. I learned world politics by reading Gigi Geyer, Evans & Novak, George Will, and many, many others. I learned Chicago politics by reading Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, and many others.
    For me, the tipping point with Evans came when he “outted” Valerie Plame, a crime I believe was treasonous. I wrote him and told him exactly that, and was not surprised when I received no response.
    From that point on, I’d glance at his columns, but never again believed anything in them.
    When Hunter Thompson would inject himself into the stories he was writing, it was funny. Outting an undercover CIA operative because of a personal grudge wasn’t at all funny.
    I still believe Robert Evans committed treason against the United States.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Novak comes off as a sort of American, Jewish-cum-Catholic verson of Evelyn Waugh: nasty, vindictive and palpably self loathing. But he wasn’t unpatriotic. Moreover, he was correct about the War on Terror and Iraq. Compare his foreign policy views to David Frum’s, and then tell me: who comes out looking better on the geopolitics of the past decade?

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Oh, and by the way Frum, you’d fail your mother-in-law’s course, too: it’s ABC 20/20, not “NBC 20/20.”

  • lolapowers

    Mr Frum, I so wholeheartedly agree with you, Novak was indeed a dark soul !

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