Was campaigning in Illinois this week...


October 20, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

GEORGE BUSH was campaigning in Illinois this week, attacking the Democratic Party for a policy of "tax and spend, tax and spend."

This marks the 52nd year that that line or a variation of it has been a staple of Republican campaigners. It was once the subject of a Senate committee hearing.

In September 1938, Frank Kent, the political columnist for The Sun ("The Great Game of Politics" was the great name of his column), quoted an anonymous source as saying Harry Hopkins, a close adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had told him, "We shall spend and spend, tax and tax, elect and elect."

This was picked up and repeated by New York Times political columnist Arthur Krock, by syndicated columnists Joseph Alsop, Robert Kitner and Dorothy Thompson, by Time magazine, and others.

In January 1939, the Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on Hopkins' nomination to be secretary of Commerce. A senator asked him if that was an "approximately accurate quotation." He said, "It is not." He gave the committee a letter he had written Krock saying, "The quotation is absolutely inaccurate."

The committee called Krock. It called Alsop. It got an affidavit from Kent. None would identify their source. At the risk of giving away a secret of Washington punditry, I have to say my own guess is that only Kent actually had one. His column was everybody else's.

Kent and Krock said they believed it was a serious remark. Alsop wasn't so sure. He had written that the remark was "probably apocryphal." If Hopkins had said it, he said, it was meant to be "a joke."

Alsop also altered the original quote to "We are going to spend and spend and spend, and tax and tax and tax, and re-elect and re-elect."

Why all this concern about such a comment? Because, as Alsop put it, it "reflected the New Dealer's determination to perpetuate the New Deal." Many Democrats denied this was their determination.

Kent told the committee the remark was made at a New York race track in August of 1938. Later Robert Sherwood, the playwright and speechwriter for FDR, investigated for a book about Hopkins and concluded that Kent's source was a theatrical producer, Max Gordon, who may -- or may not -- have misunderstood what Hopkins said. Ironically, Gordon was Hopkins' friend.

Also ironically, it was Kent who breathed life into the phrase to indict FDR and the New Deal, which he had come to loathe. FDR had helped the once-liberal Kent get syndicated.

Whether Hopkins said it or not, one thing is sure true. The policies of big government have perpetuated Democrats in Congress. In the 26 congressional elections since Hopkins said whatever he said, his Democrats have won control of the House and have controlled the Senate for 40 of the last 52 years.

As for the core of the New Deal, even Republicans, including George Bush, favor raising some taxes to perpetuate it these days.

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