Friday, January 15, 2010

DBTL 52: Wedge

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. With no European crisis to deal with, Franklin Roosevelt decides to maintain tradition and retire at the end of his second term. The Democratic Barkley-Kennedy ticket is engulfed in scandal, and the Republicans regain the White House . . .

Washington DC, USA
27 June 1941

Robert Alphonso Taft, 33rd President of the United States, was not a happy man. Not being of a demonstrative nature, there were few who would have noticed. As it happened, though, one of those few was sitting across from his desk in the Oval Office, and he did notice.

“Why so glum, Bob?” asked the President’s brother. “All is roses. You’ve just won the first major victory of your presidency, and Owen Roberts is going to be our next Chief Justice.”

“That’s just it, Charlie,” the President replied. “Five months in, the only thing I’ve accomplished is to appoint a man to be the Chief Justice. This time eight years ago, Roosevelt already had most of his New Deal passed, and he didn’t start until March.”

“Roosevelt was in the middle of a crisis,” Charlie Taft pointed out, “and he had a friendly Congress to deal with. The country’s pretty much back on its feet now, so there’s no need for any desperate measures. And even with the elections we won last year, the Democrats are still running Congress.”

If anything, his brother’s words deepened Bob Taft’s melancholy. “That’s the problem, Charlie. People weren’t voting for me, they were voting against Joe Kennedy. They still see us as the party of Herbert Hoover. Even the negroes are voting Democratic, and who ever thought we’d see that day come?”

“Well, that can’t last long, anyway,” Charlie Taft responded. “White southerners and negroes in the same party? The day’s going to come when the Democrats will have to choose between them.”

“Not soon enough to help me, though,” said Bob, still sunk in gloom.

“Now, what kind of talk is that?” demanded Charlie. “The President of the United States does not sit around waiting for things to happen, he makes things happen! You’ve got to take the fight to the Democrats. You need to find some issue that’ll act as a, well, as a wedge, and drive the southerners and the negroes apart.”

Bob Taft felt his interest pique at his brother’s words. “What sort of issue, Charlie?”

Charlie pondered for a moment, then snapped his fingers. “The Supreme Court! Of course, it’s sitting right in front of our faces. Now that Roberts is going to be the Chief Justice, you’ll have to find another Associate Justice. I know you’ve been thinking about it, so think about this: how about if we nominate a negro!”

Bob Taft was flabbergasted. “Are you out of your mind, Charlie? A negro on the Supreme Court?”

His brother, though, seemed undeterred. “Sure, Bob, it’d be just the thing to remind the negroes which party is the Party of Lincoln and which is the White Man’s Party.”

“Charlie, you know as well as I do that we’d never get it through the Senate. We’ve only got thirty Republicans. Anyway, even if we got La Follette and Norris and all the liberals to support us, the southerners’d be sure to filibuster the nomination.”

“All the better, Bob, all the better. Let ‘em filibuster. Let the negroes see which of the New Dealers votes for cloture and which don’t. I guarantee you, this’ll split the Democratic Party right down the middle. And if by some miracle we beat the filibuster, then it’ll be a Republican president who appointed the first negro to the Supreme Court, and that’ll be the end of the so-called New Deal coalition.”

It was a tribute to Charlie’s salesmanship that Bob Taft found himself going through his mental file cabinet to see who might fit the bill. “You know, Charlie, Perry Howard’s done some good work for the party in Mississippi, and he’s a damn fine lawyer . . . “

A big grin spread across Charlie Taft’s face, and Bob found his own spirits rising. “Tell you what, Charlie," he said. "Soon as you can, get on the horn to Joe Martin and get me Perry Howard’s number. Him and me are gonna have a nice long talk.”


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Bob Taft felt his interest pique at his brother’s words. “What sort of issue, Charlie?”

I can't help but hear this line delivered in Sarah Palin's voice.

I am digging this alternate timeline- integration first being tried in the military, the lack of WW2 as a catalyst should make for an interesting Civil Rights "history".

Well played, JP... now get an agent, PLEASE!

Johnny Pez said...

I was struck by the fact that in our own history, the Republicans didn't get the presidency back for 20 years, and by then blacks were a solid Democratic voting bloc, while the Dixiecrats were already starting to break away. As a result, the Republicans decided to give up on black voters and try to win over the southern whites -- with the results we have today.

As for an agent, the job's open if you want it. If you can find somebody willing to publish these disconnected fragments, you'll have earned your ten percent.