50 years ahead of his time

Daniel J. Loden

March 13, 1992|By Daniel J. Loden

PAUL TSONGAS has joined a distinguished line of Massachusetts presidential favorite sons. Maryland can't lay a claim to a profusion of favorite-son presidential candidates. But it can claim one -- and a genuine one at that. While many younger voters probably don't even remember his name, he deserves a bright chapter in our state's history. And he was a straight talker.

Turn the clock back to the early 1930s.

A Sun editorial said of him, "His contribution is that he talks about the things that are important. Whether you like what he says or don't like what he says, you know what he thinks about them."

The editorial appeared on Jan. 8, 1932. But in the mysterious time warp of history, this Maryland presidential candidate, for he was a famous Maryland son, was a victim of simply being born too soon, because his ideas were as contemporary as today's problems.

For example, at the annual Andrew Jackson Day dinner in 1932 he said, "We cannot go on extending the powers of government ad infinitum without imperiling government itself and creating a tax burden which will soon amount to confiscation.

"We cannot look to government to regulate business, morals and all the adventures of life without jeopardizing our liberties, our happiness and our prosperity.

"When the emergency situation is out of the way there will remain the perplexing problem of the ages -- the problem of the recurring periods of forced unemployment.

"From six to eight million men and women are out of work, and whatever we have learned from past experience has not helped them to get it."

They wrote a song about him for that dinner, or at least new lyrics for an old song. The tune, of course, was "Maryland, My Maryland." The new lyrics, in part, went like this:

"We have a song of stature great;

Maryland, My Maryland;

Whose fame has gone from state to state,

Maryland, My Maryland.

In '32 he'll win the race,

As president, he'll set the pace,

Maryland, My Maryland.

Al Ritchie is our glorious ace,

Maryland, My Maryland."

Handsome (telegenic by today's standards), articulate Albert Cabell Ritchie didn't set the pace. Mr. Ritchie, at that time serving his fourth term as Maryland's governor, was star-crossed by more than simply being born some five decades too soon. The brightest star in Maryland's political firmament collided with an even larger and brighter rising star. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was nominated for the presidency by the Democratic convention in Chicago.

Al Ritchie was prophetic, if nothing else. At that same Jackson Day speech already quoted, he said, "The danger . . . lies in the possibility of compulsory government unemployment insurance."

But perhaps the most nostalgic quote, as we look back on our history of indicted high officials, is Governor Ritchie's remark: "I would like to think that such consideration is a recognition of this great little state of Maryland with its clean and progressive government."

Daniel J. Loden writes from Baltimore.

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