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1944 Presidential Debate


Tune in tonight for a very special episode of Quantum Leap where President George W. Bush leaps into FDR, Hanoi John F'in' al-Qerry into Thomas Dewey, and Jim Lehrer into Edward R. Murrow—just in time for their mid-WWII presidential election-year debate!

elcome to the first quadrennial Lucky Stripes Presidential Debate. I'm your moderator, Edward R. Murrow.

"Tonight's debate is being broadcast live via radio at home and short-wave around the world to our fighting men battling the Nazi Hun in Europe and Jap Imperialists in the Pacific. Our two candidates for president are here, both ready to debate the important issues of the day as our nation and the entire civilized world faces annihilation from the dark forces of tyranny.

"Thank you for coming, gentlemen. Each of you have agreed to certain ground rules for this debate. So with those in mind, let us proceed. Governor Dewey, we'll start with your opening statement."

"Thank you, Ed. As you know, I'm running against an incumbent president who has gotten us into this terrible war and has failed miserably. He has diverted vast amounts of our country's resources from fighting those who attacked us at Pearl Harbor and siphoned them off to a War in Europe. He tells us that Adolph Hitler is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction when we've seen absolutely no evidence of that. In the meantime, our troops are being slaughtered at a horrendous rate, all for a mistake. His mistake, Ed. A mistake that has widened this war, weakened our economy, and put in serious jeopardy our relations with countries like France, Germany, and Russia. It is the wrong war at the wrong time and President Roosevelt has misled us into it. Thank you."

"Thank you, Governor Dewey. And now, President Roosevelt, your opening statement."

"I appreciate your introduction, Mr. Murrow. It points to just what we are fighting for in this war. It is never a mistake to do our best to turn back and destroy the dark forces of tyranny whenever and wherever they arise. If we focus on just one such force alone, soon we will find ourselves unprepared to deal with the others that are out there, bearing down on all of us as we speak. It is not enough to leave other tyrannies and their supporters festering inside some false field of containment, while we narrow our goals and therefore our options and our abilities to face these real threats. Had we done nothing except go after the Japanese who attacked us at Pearl Harbor three years ago, we still would be facing the threat to ourselves and our staunchest allies from the Axis powers. It is in our nation's best interests to deal as much as we can with all such threats, rather than waiting and hoping for some miracle down the road. A miracle that will in all likelihood never come unless we have the courage and fortitude to deal with these matters now, instead of leaving it to our children and their children to face nothing but even greater uncertainties should we presently fail to act."

"Thank you, President Roosevelt. We now proceed to the townhall portion of the debate. Members of our audience include undecided but likely voters from across the country who entered last month's all-expense paid Lucky Stripes Ask the Candidate Sweepstakes and were chosen at random by the debate committee. Earlier, they each submitted a question to ask the candidates. By draw, a limited number of these undecided but likely voters were selected to ask their questions. The first question is for President Roosevelt."

"Hello. My name is Stan Wilson. I'm from Canton, Ohio, and I want to ask the president why he believes Chancellor Hitler is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction."

"That is a very good question, Mr. Wilson. As far as I am able to tell you without breaching our nation's security, I can say that our civil and military intelligence have both concluded that the dictatorship in Germany is in the process of developing such weapons. We know that they used chemical weapons extensively in previous wars, causing terrible casualties. We warned them against using those in this war, telling them we would retaliate if they did. We and all our allies believe, from the best information available, that this dictatorship is trying to go further and create even more devastating weapons. We cannot allow that to happen and must defeat them before they get the chance. When we do, and once we examine all their own documents, we will know for certain the full extent of that development. Until we do, no one except themselves knows exactly how far they have gotten with developing such weapons."

"Thank you, Stan and President Roosevelt. The next question is for Governor Dewey."

"My name is Margery Steinholm from California. Governor Dewey, why do think the president has done such a terrible job with the economy and what would you do differently to improve it? Thank you."

"Well, Marge. As you know, I have a plan for turning around the economy and creating more jobs. Not merely those for the president's and his vice president's pals who get lone-bid contracts during this unwise war in Europe. Under my plan, Bechtel Corporation executives will have to pay their fair share and won't get any special tax relief. I will instead give that relief to working families—to the people who get up every morning and put on a hard hat and worry whether they'll have enough medical insurance in the event they get injured on the job because of unsafe working conditions. My plan will address these issues and create millions of new, good-paying jobs. That's the difference, Marge, between my plan and this president's failed policies."

"Thank you, Governor and Margery. President Roosevelt, you have a rebuttal?"

"Yes, Mr. Murrow, I do. We are creating jobs while at the same time fighting a World War. The only failure here is Governor Dewey's inability to state how his plan would create any jobs at all when the very people who have the means to create them are the ones he proposes to punish with an unfair burden of his new taxes. Our economy is not measured by how much wealth our government has but by how much the American people and their businesses have to drive our nation's free-enterprise system. Governor Dewey wants to limit and restrict that drive through much higher taxes than we have now."

"President Roosevelt, the next question is for you."

"I'm wanting to ask—Oh, I'm Greg Swanson from Toledo, Ohio. I'm wanting to ask the president if he thinks the wartime measures we've taken to protect our country, like the internment camps out west and increased funding for the FBI's Special Intelligence Service, have actually eroded the civil liberties of American citizens?"

"I do not believe they have, Mr. Swanson. As I stated in my executive order which established the relocation centers, the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national defense. Based on the best evidence I had at the time, I believed—and still do believe—that this measure is necessary to protect the rights and safety of American citizens, including those of direct Japanese ancestry who resided in sensitive military areas. For their own safety as well, the latter are temporarily residing in the relocation centers in order to better safeguard them against the very high anti-Japanese sentiment still present in our western states. That hostile sentiment places these families in real danger during this war. Were they to remain in those military areas—areas which continue to be a prime target for enemy invasion—neither they nor the area itself would be safe. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has adopted similar, although stricter relocations of a number of her citizens. As for the SIS funding, I believe that the information this agency is now better able to gather because of that increased funding, is indispensable to my job of protecting our country and all American citizens from the very real harm our enemies have planned and are still planning to cause us."

"Thank you, President Roosevelt. Governor Dewey, a rebuttal? No? In that case, the next question is for Governor Dewey."

"Governor Dewey, my name is Frances Middleton. I live in Saginaw, Michigan, which lies roughly halfway between Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Berlin, Germany. Can you explain why we should be fighting a war that involves the latter when the former is the place where we were attacked?"

"I appreciate your question, Frances. As everyone knows, there is no evidence that Germany or Chancellor Hitler was involved in the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Speaking as a lawyer myself, I know that no judge in any court in America would allow a case to proceed in his court absent real evidence. With respect to Chancellor Hitler, there have been only charges from this president but absolutely no evidence. The president wants us to believe that Chancellor Hitler is a threat, but he offers no proof. Were Chancellor Hitler my client, I'd have no trouble at all getting all the charges against him dropped because they're so flimsy. That's why we shouldn't be fighting Berlin. We need to concentrate all our efforts on Tokyo, Japan, and on capturing the Japanese Emperor Hirohito instead of letting him get away."

"President Roosevelt, would you care to offer a rebuttal?"

"Only this, Mr. Murrow: I cannot see how my opponent can stand there and say that the United States would be better off if we do practically nothing about a tyrannical dictator who has already invaded and occupied his neighbors and exterminated tens if not hundreds of thousands of those occupied peoples as well as his own, and who still has plans and laboratories for developing unimaginably destructive weapons. That without firing a shot, he will simply stop his aggressions before they engulf all of Europe, including our allies there, so he can "purify" its populations and enslave whoever is left under one large, fascist totalitarian state. If my opponent believes such aggressions can be contained simply by imposing sanctions or some other measure that does not involve the overwhelming use of force, I am sure all of us would be very interested in seeing his proof that shows such measures—after years of having being tried without sufficient success—can and will be effective. The evidence we have seen so far convinces us otherwise."

"President Roosevelt, the next question for you covers an entirely different topic. Ma'am, please speak into the microphone so our radio audience can hear you too."

"I'm sorry. I'm a little nervous. Mr. President, we've had the Social Security program for nearly ten years now, but each of you have different ideas about how to save it so it will still be around when those in my generation retire. Specifically, do you think lifting the current payroll tax freeze will be necessary at some point? Oh, and my name is Margeret McKay from Georgia."

"A pleasure, Miss McKay. If you know anyone back home who lives near Warm Springs, please tell them how much I will always remember with appreciation the kindness everyone showed me during my last visit there this summer."

"I certainly will, Mr. President."

"About your question, I will not raise the payroll tax on anyone while I am in office. My opponent, on the other hand, has said he wants to increase those taxes because he believes some are not—and I quote—paying their fair share. Working with members in both houses of Congress, we determined that keeping the payroll tax at its one-percent rate was the right thing to do, especially while we are at war. The economy has been slowly recovering from an earlier depression, and we must not do anything now that would hinder the ability of our country's businessmen to create the jobs that will make it grow even more. Raising the tax rate would be counterproductive to that. Although Governor Dewey's bare topic outline hardly constitutes a plan in any real sense—he ought to rename it the Blame and Complain List—I strongly disagree with his calls for a tax increase. I have to disagree with you, too, Mr. Murrow, with what you said about this question. The tax issue and its relation to our economy have a direct bearing on our war effort. Our enemies would like nothing more than to see our nation's economy take another downturn so we have to focus more on addressing that issue and less on defeating them. They know it would be much harder for our people to maintain their resolve and strength overseas while our economy here is weak. That is why my friends in the Congress and I are going to keep the taxes on everyone as low as possible, even if that means issuing more war bonds and other instruments of debt, until we are assured a decisive victory on the economic front as well as on the war front."

"Governor Dewey, you have a rebuttal?"

"I sure do, Ed. This president wants to tie every issue under the sun to his unwise war in Europe as a way of distracting us from all his miserable failures there. Last summer—the very same summer this president was lounging around down south in Georgia—we and our allies lost close to ten thousand men in just a single day after this president ordered them to their certain deaths on the desolate beaches of Normandy. And for what? To battle a country that was in no way an imminent threat to us? To invade the French who decided to align themselves with their German neighbors? Instead of trying to get a global coalition together and more legitimately try to resolve our differences, this president decided to go it alone with only the British and a few Canadian and Polish platoons alongside him as he rushed everyone into an expanded war in Europe. We risk alienating other countries who might join our coalition. Not only that, his reckless invasion of France has now bogged down into a hopeless quagmire, with countless more deaths of our young boys. His unlawful invasion has become a recruiting tool for fascists. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and their homes bombed. We should've gone through the League of Nations as the best way of dealing with Chancellor Hitler's questionable activities. I do have a plan for doing just that, as well as for bringing our boys home and getting more countries to bear a greater burden of this unnecessary war which this president has wrought."

"Thank you, Governor Dewey. We will now proceed with each candidate's closing statement. As agreed, Governor Dewey will go first."

"I'd like to thank you again, Ed, and the audience and especially those who asked questions for making this such a great debate for me. I believe I can do a much better job to ensure a safer country, a stronger economy with more jobs, and a fairer tax system that does not allow some to escape paying their fair share. I believe this president has alienated America's allies and engendered everyone's enmity towards us. I see this president getting us into a war in Europe that wasn't worth it in terms of failing to contain the threat of fascism and of failing to strongly unite the world.

"I'm worried that Emperor Hirohito hasn't been captured yet and is still at large. I see this war draining our resources and running up our debt, while America's working class struggles to get by and doesn't get a fair shake. I would do everything differently in Europe. I have the courage to sit down with Chancellor Hitler and his axis associates and hammer out a binding agreement that will mean peace in our time, despite how this president has rushed us into a war without a plan for securing that peace. I will work with our allies abroad and with our Congress at home to make peace possible instead of war inevitable. I won't make the mistakes this president has made in squandering our credibility internationally and sapping our economy domestically. I have a plan to make things better which you can read by writing me at Dewey Does D.C., P.O. Box 666, Albany, New York, and asking for a copy. I won't use the rest of my allotted time to discuss everything in it because it really boils down to this: I want Americans to be safer, America's friends to not dislike us, and all of us to live in a much more peaceful world. I thank you."

"Now we return to President Roosevelt for his closing statement."

"My friends, thanks to the leadership of MacArthur and Nimitz, we are about to completely drive the Japanese out of the Philipines. We are taking the war to the enemy's very own shores. We have liberated France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other nations formerly under the Nazis' murderous thumbs. We have driven the Germans back to their own dispirited soil. All of our thinking about foreign policy in this war must be conditioned by the fact that millions of our American boys are today fighting, many thousands of miles from home, for the first objective: defense of our country; and the second objective, the perpetuation of our American ideals. And there are still many hard and bitter battles to be fought. These days I hear voices in the air attacking me for my "failure" to prepare this nation for this war, and to warn the American people of the approaching tragedy. These same voices were not so very audible five years ago—or even four years ago—giving warning of the grave peril which we then faced. You know, I happen to believe—I'm sort of old-fashioned—that, even in a political campaign, we ought to obey that ancient injunction—Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Now, the question of the men who will formulate and carry out the foreign policy of this country is in issue in this country—very much in issue. It is in issue not in terms of partisan application, but in terms of sober, solemn facts—the facts that are on the record. Politicians who embrace the policy of risk avoidance and casualty counts, and who never raise their voices against retreat and defeatism in our days of peril—I don't think they are reliable custodians of the future of America.

"We have debated our principles, and our determination to aid those fighting for freedom. Obviously, we could have come to terms with Hitler, and we could have accepted a minor role in his totalitarian world. We rejected that! We could have compromised with Japan, and bargained for a place in the Japanese-dominated Asia, by selling out the heart's blood of the Chinese people. And we rejected that! As I look back, I am more and more certain that the decision not to bargain with the tyrants rose from the hearts and souls and sinews of the American people. They faced reality; they appraised reality; they knew what freedom meant. The power which this nation has attained—the political, the economic, the military, and above all the moral power—has brought to us the responsibility, and with it the opportunity, for leadership in the community of nations. It is our own best interest, and in the name of peace and humanity, this nation cannot, must not, and will not shirk that responsibility. Now, there are some who hope to see a structure of peace completely set up immediately, with all the apartments assigned to everybody's satisfaction, with the telephones in, and the plumbing complete—the heating system, and the electric ice boxes all functioning perfectly, all furnished with linen and silver—and with the rent prepaid. But peace, like war, can succeed only where there is a will to enforce it, and where there is available power to enforce it. That is what we are doing, unlike my opponent who constantly talks of plans while offering only platitudes and no real details. That task, my friends, calls for the judgment of a seasoned and a mature people. This, I think, the American people have become. We shall not again be thwarted in our will to live as a mature nation, confronting limitless horizons. We shall bear our full responsibility, exercise our full influence, and bring our full help and encouragement to all who aspire to peace and freedom."

"Thank you, President Roosevelt. And thank you as well to our questioners and our audience here and to those listening in our country and around the world. This concludes what I hope you will consider, too, as having been a very useful and constructive presidential debate. Thank you, again, and good night."

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