4. Newton D. Baker
It is no ordinary man who can dispense with the prestige and front-page value of high public office for more than a decade and still enjoy a generous popular demand for his presidential candidacy. The more fact of being executive of a large, and especially a politically doubtful, state in spite apart from other considerations, sufficient for a name in be listed among the White House eligibles. Such are the magic properties of being a governor, a senator or a speaker of the house that immediately one becomes simply an ex-so-and-so the gate of early oblivion is open and he is an exceptional man who can escape its tragic magnetism for long.
Outstanding Among Democrats
How, then, explain the prominence of Newton D. Baker among the possible Democratic nominees? Testimony comes in to tell of a prevailing Baker sentiment throughout the nation which persists in spite of the lack of any active organized effort to promote the Ohioan's candidacy. A poll taken recently of Democratic newspaper editors revealed nearly as many predictions of Baker's election as of Roosevelt's. Prominent party politicians, while discreetly silent in states where Mr. Baker's own withheld permission is necessary for their appearance at Chicago as official delegates, are known to harbor a secret desire for the fateful deadlock which will compel the nomination of a compromise candidate. And though Mr. Baker will go in to the convention with scarcely a pledged vote in his behalf, a succession of ballots would bring his name so significantly forward that the nomination might easily be within his grasp.
No one has yet arisen to debunk the Baker myth. That, in view of his undiminished public prominence, is itself something of a tribute to his excellent qualities. His character has been described as above all else embodying integrity. In its etymology, integrity implies that which is left untouched or undiminished-a whole made up of perfectly-fitted parts. This integration enriched by indulging a life-time of scholarly interests, embraces an uprightness and honesty which are unimpeachable. With these are associated a fearlessness of personal political consequences, a fighting determination and a native urge to leadership which are hallmarks of all of Mr. Baker's public utterances on the League of Nations and prohibition, for instance, when political expediency might have dictated evasion or silence.
If political expediency be taken simply to mean an advisability arising from a careful calculation of the expected action of voters and entrenched minority interests, the term has little place in Mr. Baker's vocabulary. The strength of his convictions is such that they must be freely expressed regardless of consequence. And this does not spring from a desire for martyrdom or from a stupid obstinacy, but from the genuine belief which he shared with Wilson that public opinion is not a static condition but that it is a thing alive and growing, capable of response to stimulation and direction of public leaders. Thus the function of men who aspire to be statesmen in a democracy is not to sit idly by while fortuitous circumstances sweep public opinion this way and that and then place themselves placidly in accord with every chance fluctuation, but rather it is their duty to participate actively in the conscious formation of intelligent opinion. that was the type of presidential leadership which Roosevelt and Wilson gave, and of which Baker is capable; and that is the type of leadership which the nation has sought in vain from the While House for eleven years.
Liberalism and Idealism
But given the character and qualities of leadership of a man, it is still essential to know his political principles. In a recent letter to a North Carolina newspaper friend, Mr. Baker wrote:
"... My greatest joy is that practically all of the comment which suggests a presidential candidacy for me is based upon the need for a revived liberalism and a refreshed idealism in the country. To that cause I am deeply committed and for it I want to fight, whether carrying a banner or marching in the ranks..."
Liberalism and idealism are much misused terms but they may be taken to include a belief in the essential oral quality of man, the courage to undertake new adventures in democracy in response to ideals of social justice, and a recognition that as life itself is dynamic so must institutions and policies grow and develop or else paralysis and death overtake them.
Isolation Come To An End
In harmony with this underlying body of conviction, Mr. Baker has for years sought to convince America that the day of isolation in world affairs is past, and that a true understanding of our interests and responsibilities as a member of a larger community must compel us to take a more active part in international life. In this view, Mr. Baker is unique and outstanding among the possible Democratic nominees. At a time when it is becoming more and more apparent that prosperity or depression is dependent on international conditions, it is imperative that the next occupant of the white House shall be gifted with courage, a largeness of vision and a freedom from traditional shibboleths so that he may direct our policies along the new way of international cooperation.
Mr. Baker is for the World Court, a reduction of armaments, and an international conference to consider tariffs and other obstacles to economic development. His mind is not closed to the reconsideration of war debts if that be necessary to our own and to Europe's recovery. For years he has advocated our joining the League of Nations and his speech on the League at the Madison Square convention of 1924 ranks among the most eloquent efforts of modern times. His position has not changed, but he is sufficiently a realist to recognize the folly, and the constitutional impossibility, of our entering the League until a vast body of sentiment in the country approves that action. For that reason he opposes a Democratic party endorsement as a new partisan division would throw the matter back into the political bickerings of 1920. Nevertheless, exceptional opportunities would exist for a president to aid in the formation of a more favorable public opinion.
Asks Prohibition Repeal
Mr. Baker's opposition to the Eighteenth Amendment and his support of the resubmission of the prohibition question to the states was made clear in an independent report delivered as a member of the Wickersham commission. No true believer in democracy could hod otherwise that the law to be valid and effective must rest on general consent and if that consent be wanting in large and populous sections the law must be changed.
As for economic issues, Mr. Baker's general philosophy and such recorded statements as we have would seem to place him in a moderately progressive position between that of Smith and Roosevelt. He has urged the gradual reduction of tariffs, the extension of the Federal Reserve system to cover all banks and the development of the anti-trust laws. He has declared that "progressive opinion does not believe that all our water powers should be added to the private fortunes of the privileged classes." He has argued that the primary responsibility for unemployment resulting from technological changes rests on industry but that it is shared by that industrial civilization as a whole which "invites or rather coerces the individual to surrender his independence and to become dependent for our sakes." At Williamstown last summer, he expressed opposition to the "strait-jacket of world economic planning" and faith in a system based primarily on individual initiative. But that this is not identical with an outworn laissez-faire theory is indicated by the following: "Our own capitalistic system obviously needs modification...There are large areas of new relations, of old relations expanded into new importance and meaning, as to which conscious regulation is the effective answer."
His Increasing Conservation
Years ago in Cleveland, Mr. Baker fought with Old Tom Johnson against the corporations. In more recent years as a practicing lawyer, Mr. Baker has represented some large corporations and this in the eyes of progressives represents him as more conservative than formerly. While this may be so, his advocacy in the law courts must certainly be read along with his general social and economic pronouncements.
Educated at Johns Hopkins and Washington and Lee Universities, Mr.Baker has spent most of his life practicing law save when he was Mayor of Cleveland from 1912 to 1916 and Secretary of War under Wilson from 1916 to 1921.
Short in physical stature, Mr. Baker does not look the politician, but the squareness and determination of his jaw indicates the temperament of a fighter and a leader. The White House could not find a better occupant when the vacancy sign hangs out next March.