Welcome Greg Mitchell, Pressing Issues, and Host David Dayen, FDL News.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics

David Dayen, Host:

It’s a propitious time to be welcoming in Greg Mitchell for a discussion about his book “The Campaign of the Century.” Over the past couple weeks, Mitchell has virtually turned over his blog at The Nation to painstakingly chronicling the Wikileaks story, and chronicling how the political, corporate and media elite have mounted an effort to discredit, destroy and punish Julian Assange. 76 years earlier, these forces came together in an electoral context, to disable the candidacy of Upton Sinclair for Governor of California.

Sinclair, the celebrated muckraking writer, was described at that time as “America’s most prominent socialist.” (Just yesterday, America’s most prominent socialist in 2010 spoke on the Senate floor for 8½ hours in opposition to a deal to extend giant tax breaks for the rich.) On August 28, 1934, he improbably swept to the Democratic nomination for Governor on a platform known as EPIC, or “End Poverty in California.” The keynote of the plan was known as “production for use,” where the unemployed would produce goods and exchange them among themselves in state-run co-ops, outside of the business sector.

At the time, California was mired in 25% unemployment, and across the state people were searching desperately for hope. They found it in Sinclair and EPIC. Nearly 50 EPIC-backed candidates won state legislative primaries that August. Registration soared among Democrats, pushing them above Republicans in California for the very first time. By charging a small fee at campaign rallies, Sinclair funded his movement without the backing of wealthy contributors, presaging the small-dollar revolution. Sinclair – and even the forces beginning to mount against him – was confident of victory for him and his movement in November.

They ran into the most coordinated, focused and downright dastardly campaign to that point in American history, which saw some epic (pardon the pun) collusion amongst the forces arrayed against him. Multiple front groups with names like “United for California” and “The California League Against Sinclair-ism” sprung up overnight, backed with hundreds of thousands in donations by corporate money from sectors like energy (Southern California Edison), oil (Standard Oil), insurance (Pacific Mutual) and transportation (Southern Pacific). C.C. Teague, the head of Sunkist, hired the ad agency Lord & Thomas, who sold the concept of orange juice to the public, to demonize Sinclair. The ad man hired to oversee United for California was Don Belding, who later headed the famous agency Foote Cone Belding.

The California Real Estate Association launched a scheme to warn homeowners and prospective homebuyers that their properties would be worthless if Sinclair won the election, essentially freezing the housing market for two months. Business leaders raised the prospect of leaving the state constantly, and would flat-out tell their employees that they would lose their jobs if Sinclair won. Other groups poured through Sinclair’s voluminous writing, ripped quotes out of context, and plastered them across the state, providing them as proof of Sinclair’s hatred for America and all its values. This pre-figured the now-standard practice of campaign oppo research, and it was pioneered in the anti-Sinclair campaign by one of America’s first political consultants, Clem Whitaker. A damning Sinclair quote appeared in a box on the front page of the LA Times every day from September 20 until the election.

The media collusion was even more incredible. Not long after the primary, the New York Times asked William Randolph Hearst, who controlled competing papers, to submit an article blasting Sinclair. (In the article, Hearst called Sinclair “but a visionary.” Sinclair replied: “I think vision is one thing that is sadly needed in American politics.”) The LA Times’ lead editorial after the primary read, “Is This Still America?” Oakland Tribune publisher Joe Knowland asked his attorneys to look into how much he could lie about Sinclair and legally get away with it. Newspapers across the state (in association with several beer distributors) coordinated and timed their attacks on Sinclair, teamed with praise for the Republican incumbent, Frank Merriam (who ran Hoover’s campaign in California in 1928). By one account, 92% of all papers in the state supported Merriam, 5% the Progressive third-party challenger Ray Haight, and the rest stayed neutral.

Sinclair not only faced this mounting criticism, but a revolt from old line Democrats inside his newly adopted party. Fake flyers from the “Young People’s Communist League” endorsing Sinclair were traced back to his primary opponent, George Creel. Creel, and Democratic Senator Bob McAdoo, checked out of the election campaign, literally leaving the state. Dozens of Democratic clubs and prominent Democrats deserted Sinclair, with William Jennings Bryan Junior calling him a “socialist interloper.” Many moderate Democrats looked to Ray Haight as the “responsible” alternative. More looked to their party leader, Franklin Roosevelt, for guidance, but after a meeting with Sinclair in early September he gave no indication of support. An endorsement of Sinclair at the DNC was chalked up to a “clerical error.”

But the biggest firepower against Sinclair was reserved to the motion picture industry. The movie moguls feared that Sinclair would raise their taxes and compete with them for business; Sinclair envisioned state-run movies to employ thousands. All the studio heads claimed that the movie business would leave California for New York upon a Sinclair victory. And what’s more, they created an unprecedented visual campaign against Sinclair. In between the newsreels and the features at their movie houses, they ran propaganda films smearing Sinclair, essentially the dawning of the negative attack ad.

All of this eventually wore down Sinclair’s support. After leading Frank Merriam 2-1 in polls at the start of the general election campaign, a week before the polls completely reversed, and rumors were rampant that Sinclair would drop out.

In the end, Sinclair only had the support of the people, and he did respectably. He lost to Merriam 48-37, garnering almost a million votes, twice as many as any Democratic candidate for Governor in California history. He consolidated a left-wing bloc in the state for the first time, rooted in the Southern California working class and the farm worker movement. 24 EPIC-backed candidates (including many who would have storied careers in California politics) won seats in the state Assembly, making that body almost even between Republicans and Democrats. The downticket strength proved that the party was on the verge of a breakthrough in the state. “This is our election in ’56,” supporters cried, referring to the Republican John Fremont election for President prior to Abraham Lincoln. In fact, in 1938, Culbert Olson, an EPIC-backed state Senator, did win the Governor’s race. As A.P. Giannini, the owner of Bank of America, said at the time, “You can’t tell me there there isn’t something wrong somewhere when a man like Sinclair without any newspaper support can get nearly a million votes.” Sinclair’s vision of government as helping to provide for California’s citizens helped swing the state away from the reactionary Republican consensus, even if he was not victorious. Sinclair himself noted in his concession speech, “Be of good cheer, this is not going to stop. This is only one skirmish, and we’re enlisted for the war.”

What’s more, the 1934 race showed the rank and file of Hollywood workers – which to that point were not really political – the power of the industry leadership. The campaign coincided with the rise of the big Hollywood labor unions, particularly the Screen Writer’s Guild. The election moved the line workers in Hollywood more, not less, to the left. An editorial in Variety the day after the election screamed: “Election’s Over, Go To Work.” But Hollywood didn’t heed this call, and now can be seen as one of the central points of liberal power in America, mainly because of their trade unions.

Mitchell tells this story in great detail, providing a day-by-day recollection of the Sinclair campaign and the power supplied against it. He brings forward the stories of practically everyone of renown in the country, if not the world, and how their orbits mixed with Sinclair in 1934. Sinclair was not without faults in the campaign, something he seemed to know implicitly; but the amateur candidate could simply not hold up against the birth of the modern attack machine.

Needless to say, in a post-Citizens United world, the campaign against Sinclair has powerful resonance today. The architecture of front groups and oppo research and attack ads is now a standard part of the discourse. But it’s telling how swiftly it was able to move people – even during the Depression – back then. In my favorite anecdote in the book, Roosevelt relays in an informal press briefing that he would like to take back his statement about how the only thing the country has to fear is fear itself. “I would now say that there is a greater thing that America needs to fear, and that is those who seek to instill fear into the American people.”

Please welcome Greg Mitchell to FDL Book Salon.

113 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics”

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Yes, I’m happy to be here, and hoping that Sinclair follower, Bernie Sanders, will join us….

BevW December 11th, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Greg, Welcome back to the Lake.

David, Thank you for Hosting this Book Salon.

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Welcome! It’s fantastic to have you here. I’m not Bernie Sanders – but I’m proud to be a socialist!

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

If you want, during or after this chat, to watch cool, historic, videos related to the book and the campaign — including the first “attack ads” ever for the screen created by Irving Thalberg at MGM — go here: http://bit.ly/bDPTF3

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Does Senator Sanders actually model his approach consciously on Upton Sinclair?

protoslacker December 11th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Thank you Greg Mitchel for your coverage of Wikileaks–great that you identified it as an important story

~~~Mod Note: While Wikileaks is an important story, please keep questions on the topic of Mr Mitchell’s book~~~

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:00 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 5

No, not that I know of, but Sinclair was the most famous socialist in the world for decades — and could speak off the cuff like Bernie for hours.

dakine01 December 11th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Greg and David and Greg, welcome back to FDL this afternoon

Greg, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a question – do you think Upton Sinclair would be more surprised or more appalled at the current state of the economy and the actions of the governments at all levels regarding the treatment of the social safety net and the economy as a piggybank for the rich?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:01 pm
In response to protoslacker @ 6

Thanks, still doing it today — 14th day of live blogging. Latest: North Korea asked U.S. to set up an Eric Clapton concert to loosen up their glorious leader. Not kidding.

egregious December 11th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Welcome to Firedoglake!

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:02 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 8

Well, he lived until the late 1960s, so he even witnessed the Great Society. In fact, one of his last public acts was going to the White House as guest when LBJ signed landmark food safety act….

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:03 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 1

Greg, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.

I wanted to start with those incredible attack ads funded by Louis B. Mayer and MGM. I took a look at a sampling of them at your site today, and was surprised by how deviously subtle they were. They included in their “fair and balanced” man on the street reports alleged supporters of Sinclair, who were then shown to be either uninformed or just Communists. Do you think these ads actually make their point more effectively by using these more subtle tactics?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Last time I was here I was hosting chat with Bob Woodward — but yes, we better avoid the Wikileaks connections.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:05 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 12

Yes, they were tremendously effective and even caused riots in the theaters. Unlike on TV today, audiences then did not witness on the screen much blatant electioneering so most presumed they were “straight” newsreels.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:06 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 13

Actually, pursuant to that, do you see any parallels between the seemingly coordinated campaign to go after Assange and the most definitely coordinated campaign to take down Sinclair?

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Today it’s been ratcheted up a notch – people know to expect attack ads on TV, but they’re not fully wise to astroturfing PR tactics yet.

Neil December 11th, 2010 at 2:08 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 9

Eric Clapton is god, or so some say.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:08 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 15

Hard to say — such different spheres. Waiting for the “attack ads” on TV, though one might say Fox News is a 24-hour attack ad. Mr. Thalberg meet Mr. Ailes.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Greg, I was interested in your book’s depiction of Hollywood as a sort of apolitical town, notwithstanding the studio heads. Do you think that the way the moguls took down the Sinclair campaign led to a backlash among the line workers, which we can still see today in the generally left-wing stance of Hollywood?

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

And Mr. Potter (Deadly Spin) – although he’s now on the other side.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 19

Actually it had a HUGE effect. The screenwriters and actors were so outraged by the studio tactics (for one thing the moguls forced them to donate a day’s pay to the GOP candidate) that they vastly expanded their guilds and helped elect a Sinclairite as governor in 1936, and Sinclair’s running mate was elected to the U.S. Senate. Hollywood has been liberal since and so has the state party.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

It’s interesting how many of the arguments made by the anti-Sinclair forces – particularly about how businesses would pick up and leave California if left-wing policies went into effect – are STILL made today by reactionary Republicans here. In fact, the Republicans say it’s already happened, although there’s no evidence of this. Was there any belief that businesses were prepared to leave at the time of the Sinclair campaign, or was it all a giant bluff?

protoslacker December 11th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Sinclair worked to expose privilege. Discussions of white privilege often turn defensive and hostile. What can we take from his campaign today towards extending humanity in the face of privilege always obscured?

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:18 pm

One thing you point out in the book is that African-Americans were pretty cold to the Sinclair campaign; they still identified with the GOP as the party of Lincoln. In the newsreels, a few African-American Merriam supporters said things like “if you chase all the capital away, who will pay us to work?” Why didn’t Sinclair’s message play better to this community? Was it all just the tribal identification with Republicans, or did Sinclair’s campaign just do a bad job at outreach?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:19 pm
In response to protoslacker @ 23

Sinclair’s race raises issue of working within Dem party or going 3rd party. He had run as socialist a couple of times and got nowhere — as Norman Thomas would do for president. So Sinclair switched to Dem Party and nearly won. Of course, it was special time — but today’s economic crisis has some parallels. FDR gave Sinclair room to move on the left, perhaps Obama is getting to point of inspiring the same.

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

The Republicans also try to blame economic demand failures – even in a depression – on an insufficiently servile attitude of government toward business.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:20 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 22

Certainly the movie studios were bluffing — although there was already a town in Florida called Hollywood they might have moved to…. Some other companies might well have moved, if Sinclair was actually able to move state far to left, but he would have had a battle to do that.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 26

As in this past campaign, the Chamber of Commerce was big force for GOP that year.

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 25

The history of Sinclair’s third-party vs. Dem attempts is interesting, and would appear to suggest that we would be better off pressuring the Democrats rather than creating a third party. Perhaps an outside group, like a leftwing counterpart of the Tea Party, could combine the advantages of both approaches by keeping funding and activist energy outside the Democratic Party power structure and under firm progressive control, and funneling resources only to Democratic candidates who met their standards. In that way, unwinnable third-party races could be avoided, but cooptation by the Democratic Party insiders could also be avoided.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 28

Yeah, the book was almost a flashback: all these front groups for corporate interests with benign names, all the paid media they bought. Is the anti-Sinclair campaign a relic of the past, or a sign toward the future?

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for this great intro, David. And thank you to Greg Mitchell for your wonderful book. I can’t imagine anything more timely to our current polity than the Sinclair campaign.

Do you find Legacy Media resistant to its message in our Citizens United world?

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:26 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 28

I get a real sense of déjà vu from all of this. I thought US Chamber of Commerce involvement in serious astroturfing was new. Apparently not!

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:27 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 29

In the book, Socialist Party leaders like Norman Thomas and even the SP candidate for Governor are anguished, wondering whether to go in with Sinclair or pursue their own agenda from the outside. Eventually the SP candidate did run but only got a few thousand votes. At the Republican Convention, pols used Norman Thomas’ words against Sinclair – essentially running against Sinclair from the left!

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

The book first came out in 1992 and got a good deal of exposure, including a Newsweek excerpt, a PBS film, and even a Leonard Maltin segment on Entertainment Tonight! It sparked a good deal of talk then about new role of spin doctors and political consultants and massive fundraising –and then all of those things got worse. And even worse now, as you note.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:28 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 32

CC Teague, who ran Sunkist and put together one of the biggest front groups, United for California, was the head of the state Chamber of Commerce.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Fun fact: Sinclair also financed Eisenstein’s only film in the West, the epic blunder “Que Viva Mexico.”

Robert Cruickshank December 11th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

David’s lead-in states what I’ve understood to be the case from the 1934 election, that it helped consolidate a new progressive base that led not only to Olson’s 1938 win, but eventually to Democratic dominance of state politics by the late 1950s. What was it in Sinclair’s campaign that achieved that, and how did he and his supporters try and counter the corporate/studio lies?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I encourage everyone to read about Sinclair’s life, it was wild and wacky, he had his kook personal obsessions — including diet, ESP and the like — he was actually a fun guy, even beyond all the books, arrests and politics.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

In 1933, California (through an initiative) changed their requirement for passing a budget in the legislature up to 2/3 from a majority vote. That didn’t get changed until THIS YEAR. Because of that requirement, would Sinclair have been able to get as much done as he hoped?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

As I noted above, part of the reason for the rapid wins by the Dems just four years later, was outrage over the outrageous attacks on Sinclair. Then there was the continuing popularity of FDR. Actually it was Sinclair race and a couple of others that emboldened FDR to finally push for Social Security and other key moves in 1935 that really made the New Deal work and led to Democrats gaining more power for … decades.

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:36 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 38

Didn’t Sinclair write not only The Jungle but also The Gnomobile?

protoslacker December 11th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

In your book the portrait you paint of Sinclair and Mencken’s relationship is so fascinating. In Internet conversation Mencken can sort of stand for a type of position and of course lots like me “are chasing butterflies.” It seems rare to see such mutual respect across these sort of Mencken-like positions and Sinclair-like positions. I can imagine Obama courting the Mencken-likes but not the butterfly chasers.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:37 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 40

Yes, I wrote an article for Democracy Journal this year that focused on Francis Townsend, another activist that pushed FDR to the left, particularly on Social Security. He lived in Long Beach. Did he and his Townsend clubs have much to do with the Sinclair campaign?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:37 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 41

Yes he did and made into a Disney flick.

Bluetoe2 December 11th, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Given the fact of a corrupt and complicit corporate media do you see the potential for cyber wars being waged against these instruments of indoctrination and propaganda, similar to what is happening with governmental and corporate interests opposed to Wikileaks?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 43

Townsend did not back Sinclair and may have even opposed him. Sister Aimee McPherson and her huge following were also naturals for Sinclair but she got paid off to oppose him. The book is full of all of these characters, plus Father Coughlin, Huey Long and on and on.

Will Rogers: hero.

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:40 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 40

Today it seems like “outrageous attacks” can go to any length without provoking that much of a backlash. Or maybe it’s just delayed? Do you think the Republicans will yet pay a price for their current tactics, just as they did in the days of Upton Sinclair?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:40 pm
In response to protoslacker @ 42

Yeah, I love the Mencken stuff — his correspondence with Sinclair worth a book. But Mencken worship can go too far, he’s sort of like Hitchens–fun and always a good read but views often appalling.

Jane Hamsher December 11th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Thanks so much for being here, Greg. And thanks Dave for hosting.

“The amateur candidate could simply not hold up against the birth of the modern attack machine” — interesting observation.

How do you weight the Tea Party victories in the last election? They were amateur candidates (sometimes) — do you feel the “attack machine” just stayed in large part away from them, or was it less efficient due to air cover provided by Fox etc?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:41 pm
In response to Bluetoe2 @ 45

Cyber wars will go on but it was revealing that today the people going against companies opposing WikiLeaks announced that they had only made a “small dent” in their targets and are now simply encouraging more leaks.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:43 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 47

Yeah they paid a price — in winning the House! And intimidating Obama. I’m pretty pessimistic on this.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:44 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 46

I love when Sinclair goes to Royal Oak, MI to visit Coughlin, and he tells him he can say to the public that Coughlin forgave him for negative comments he made about religion seventeen years ago.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:46 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 49

The media went after the easy pickings, like Christine O’Donnell, but not the more difficult cases — where respectable rightwingers held far-right views but were treated as mainstreamy. Today Sinclair would be treated as a “far-left” candidate and completely dismissed (so no hope for Bernie Sanders running) but GOPers can be as rightwing as they want, so long as they don’t attend any witch covens. Palin’s views, sometimes hidden by her antics, are paleo.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:46 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 52

Coughlin in 1934 was just starting to move to fascism, still considered quasi-progressive. Before his Glenn Beck phase.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I’ll just throw this one back up: In 1933, California (through an initiative) changed their requirement for passing a budget in the legislature up to 2/3 from a majority vote. That didn’t get changed until THIS YEAR. Because of that requirement, would Sinclair have been able to get as much done as he hoped?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I posted it earlier but here again is link to the videos related to the book, including the “first attack ad” made by Thalberg at MGM: http://bit.ly/bDPTF3

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:48 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 54

Right, Coughlin and the Share the Wealth campaign and Townsend ran a third-party candidate in 1936, right?

Scarecrow December 11th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Greg — what’s the political lesson you take away from Sinclair’s campaign? That there’s a chance for a leftist candidate to win if he avoids certain errors? Or that right-wing/corporate power will stoop to any level to defeat them?

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:48 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 51

One of the most striking aspects of the Sinclair campaign was the apparent power of just one such radical-left campaign to mobilize leftwing sentiment in a whole state for decades. Yet today, the Obama wave of 2008 seems to have stayed home in 2010. Do you think we might have at least some success in mobilizing another wave of the previously apolitical with a radical-left campaign (say, Sanders primarying Obama, to be imaginative)?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:50 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 55

Would have been tough, but a couple of dozen of his EPIC movement candidates did win their state races and they would have had big say, along with regular Dems. Most likely, Sinclair would have been more of a lefty FDR, and dropped some of more blatantly “socialist” plans.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:53 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 58

Certainly the right will stoop to anything to halt even a moderate Democrat let alone a real lefty. But if economic crisis gets worse? Sad to say, the best chance for real move to left would be a GOPer beating Obama, then horribly screwing up as economy gets even worse, then pendulum swings again and real lefty has chance in 2016.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 59

I was head of the McCarthy for president chapter at my college in 1968 and went to the Dem convention in Chicago that year. So I know how challenging a president can come out of nowhere and have incredible impact. But, alas, we did lose that year!

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 61

So it’s just a matter of how much pain is needed to overcome the effects of the PR joy juice the public is being fed? (wince)

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

One interesting point is that this year, despite the right-wing dominance across the country, that didn’t hit California, almost a mirror image of the left-wing dominance in 1934 except for Sinclair. But Jerry Brown couldn’t put up an ad without the disclaimer of “no new taxes without voter approval.” Do you think the ’34 campaign and its antecedents (like the tax revolt of 1978) still resonate with mainstream Democrats? It seems like they’re forever running in fear of the ghost of a Sinclair or someone in their eyes “too far to the left.”

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:00 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 64

Right, there were Dem landslides in Calif and New York, plus Dems doing well in Connecticut and so on — but you’d never know it from coverage. The man on the tractor in Nebraska is still viewed as the “real American,” not the 39 million in California and 16 million in New York.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 64

Also, Obama and Dems caved on tax cuts for rich because so feared not being able to successfully blame GOP for threatening to take away middle-class cuts.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Okay, if no more questions, is this a wrap? Or pose a couple of more now…

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:02 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 66

They just don’t believe they can win an argument with the word “tax” in it.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:02 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 67

I think this actually goes 2hrs… Bev?

protoslacker December 11th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Take you very much Greg Mitchell. I want to read all your book now. Sinclair’s campaign seems to have much to say about building a cooperative movement; something the Web brings a new wrinkle to.

dakine01 December 11th, 2010 at 3:03 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 67

Did Sinclair have any credibility because of his background as an author or was that part of the attack used against him?

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Is there any hope of getting through to the public with an education campaign – which, given the extent of the astroturfing, might itself need to be slightly paranoid in tone – about how they’re being manipulated by professional liars? (“Yes, it’s as bad as your worst fears …”) Could the public be immunized against the full range of modern PR so that they would allow for it, as they now allow for attack ads?

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I did have another question. The most effective attack ad, I think, was the one about the trainloads of unemployed hordes descending on California in the event of a Sinclair victory, to pick up their free cash from the state. But this happened ANYWAY, particularly during the Dust Bowl. Is it inevitable in a time of economic crisis to get this kind of scaremongering of the other coming to take your jobs and services?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Okay, happy to be here until 6:30…

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:05 pm
In response to protoslacker @ 70

Yes, a lot of his plan was based on co-ops which was a big movement then…

bluewombat December 11th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I just looked up the ’34 California gubernatorial campaign on Wikipedia, and was surprised to learn there was also another main candidate in the race, Progressive Raymond Haight, and that his vote total combined with Upton Sinclair’s would have just barely beaten Republican winner Frank Merriam.

I very much want to support a progressive challenge to Obama in 2012, but is that the likely result of doing so?

(P.S.: I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this or not, but I think you did a great job at Editor & Publisher.)

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:05 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 74

great thanks

irishdave3 December 11th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Fun Fact… Manchester Boddy, Democratic Candidate in “D” primary 1948 against Helen Gahagan Douglas used the label “Pink Lady” first. Boddy in 1934 published (edited?) only LA newspaper that was NOT blantantly anti-EPIC.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 71

Being an author really killed him — he gave so much ammunition to his opponents having written dozens of “muckraking” books. They even used his novels against him, taking something one of his villains might have said and putting it into Sinclair’s mouth!

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:08 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 76

Thanks. Much wrong has been written about that third party candidate (BTW, I met his son, not to mention Sinclair’s son)…. Haight was good guy but most of his vote was from GOPers and they would have voted for Sinclair’s opponent or stayed home. Sinclair might have gotten most of Haight vote but not nearly enough to swing election.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:08 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 76

As Greg notes in the book, the Haight supporters wouldn’t necessarily have broken toward Sinclair. In fact, Merriam supporters tried to bribe him to get him out of the race. Haight was supported by moderate Dems who couldn’t stand Sinclair, and also by William Randolph Hearst, who didn’t fully embrace Haight, but whose newspapers in the Central Valley gave him enough ink to raise his vote total there.

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 3:10 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 75

Is there any hope of reviving a cooperative movement now, maybe based on information technology workers, and reaping the political as well as economic benefits?

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:11 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 79

I liked the LA Times expose on Sinclair’s “palatial estates.” Seems like the author/celebrity angle was also used by his opponents to paint him as a member of the elite, right? Shades of “If Al Gore says he’s against global warming, why does he fly on planes?”

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:11 pm
In response to irishdave3 @ 78

See my book on the 1950 race, “Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady.”

irishdave3 December 11th, 2010 at 3:12 pm

One of Sinclair’s young campaign aides(Paul Kiepe) told me that Haight as a candidate was thought by some to be a James Farley ploy to reduce EPIC vote…

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I tried to interview Nixon about the 1934 race, he was nearby in New Jersey at the time — would have been first race he could vote in and no one has ever found out if he did. Had nice letters with his people but never got to meet Dick. Then wrote whole book about his 1950 race and was first to see his papers on it.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to irishdave3 @ 85

Nah, it kind of ended up that way but not planned in advance.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 84

Nixon makes a cameo in this book. He became of voting age in 1934, but he went to law school at Duke. So can we assume that he didn’t vote Sinclair? :)

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:14 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 83

Sinclair rented a home in Beverly Hills during the campaign as it was ultra cheap — during Depression. His main home was cobbled-together thing in Pasadena.

Bluetoe2 December 11th, 2010 at 3:14 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 61

Thought that’s what happened in 2008. Don’t know how the Republicans could have screwed up the economy any worse than they did. The problem seemed to be that the people were voting for someone promising transformational change (the left) and ended up getting a corporatist “Democrat.” Biggest con job in U.S. political history.

masaccio December 11th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 43

The Social Security Administration says that part of the cause Sinclair’s loss was that he alienated the Townsend groups.

He probably would have won, except for two last-minute political errors in judgment. When President Roosevelt announced in June 1934 that he would propose a national social insurance system in the next session of Congress, Sinclair quite reasonably declared that he would be willing to defer his plan in favor of the President’s national solution. This was perhaps reasonable, but it was impolitic, as it undermined his strongest issue. Then too, Sinclair felt duty-bound to announce his opposition to the rival Townsend Plan because the Townsend Plan was based on a regressive sales tax. Since the Townsend Plan and the EPIC supporters were often one and the same people, this was in effect an attack on his own core constituency.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
In response to Bluetoe2 @ 90

Well, we all remember that early on many “the left” were backing nearly anyone but Obama, from Bill Richardson and Wesley Clark to John Edwards and Al Gore.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Do you think there was any way for Sinclair to overcome this onslaught? Say if money were no object, what would the strategy have been to counteract this?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:18 pm
In response to masaccio @ 91

Yeah, partly true, but the GOP attacks on Sinclair would have sunk him no matter what, most likely.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
In response to masaccio @ 91

Yeah, the deferring of his old-age insurance idea to the national plan was, if I read the book correctly, a sop to the mainline Democrats who wanted to soften his platform at the state convention. Sinclair kind of didn’t care what the platform said because he knew what he wanted to do.

But the tension between the Townsend and the EPIC groups is fascinating.

irishdave3 December 11th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Oops, always seem to confuse 1948 with 1950…I don’t have to tell you that Tricky’s 1st victim was Jerry Voorhis (D-San Dimas) one of the successful EPIC candidates in 1934.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Sinclair semi-threatened to run for Prez in 1936 but didn’t really try. Pretty much exited politics after while and wrote multi-volume “Lanny Budd” novels that would win him a Pulitzer and indoctrinate millions of youngish people (including Kurt Vonnegut and Saul Bellow, among others) to socialist ideas.

irishdave3 December 11th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Sorry, haven’t read your book, yet…did you cover the Utopian Society of American and their Newspaper run by a former Hearst reporter named Roberts?

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:23 pm
In response to irishdave3 @ 96

Yeah, I interviewed Jerry and he plays a role in this book as a candidate who ran on Sinclair’s ticket and as a fellow socialist who ran as a Dem and took heat.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:23 pm
In response to irishdave3 @ 98

Utopians are in it some but I forget what.

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:23 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 94

So you think Sinclair was sunk by the multi-pronged attack against him. What if Roosevelt came out for him?

BevW December 11th, 2010 at 3:25 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,(Greg has to leave early).

Greg, Thank you for returning to the Lake and for spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book.

David, Thank you very much for Hosting this interesting Book Salon.

Thanks all,
Have a great evening.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:25 pm
In response to David Dayen @ 101

Roosevelt might have saved him. One of the top continuing stories in the book is the FDR ambivalence, Sinclair’s visit with him, and FDR’s ultimate betrayal, even bribery at end…

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Okay, have to exit in 5 minutes, ready for final questions…

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 97

Do you think that’s where we’ve arrived today? That we have to just write off the next decade or so, and prepare the next generation to make better choices?

David Dayen December 11th, 2010 at 3:27 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 103

Thanks for the book and a very interesting discussion, Greg. And we’ve all been riveted to your Wikileaks live-blogging, so keep it up!

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

BTW, I am at Twitter @GregMitch

Nation daily blog is: http://www.thenation.com/blogs/media-fix

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:28 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 105

I am not writing off gains vs. GOP in near-term but not BIG changes.

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Okay, folks, thanks for the great questions. If you need to email I am, naturally, at: epic1934@aol.com

Greg Mitchell December 11th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Thanks again to David, Bev and FDL.

Sebastos December 11th, 2010 at 3:32 pm
In response to Greg Mitchell @ 108

Thanks for writing this book and sharing your thoughts with us – Upton Sinclair and his campaign definitely deserve to be better known!

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Thanks for a wonderful discussion and a terrific match-up of host and author, as usual, Bev.

lennonist December 12th, 2010 at 7:21 am

I picked a great night to watch There Will Be Blood, which is loosely based on Sinclair’s ‘Oil!’ unlike the film, the book apparently explores the son’s empathy for oilfield workers and his belief in worker’s rights. I thought the film- with it’s conflict between Eli the minister and Daniel the Oil Baron- also nicely symbolized the two main modern branches of the GOP, or, as I like to call them, the Greed and God wings. But they’re by no means mutually exclusive, as the film, and likely the book, accurately documents.

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