July 25, 2005: Headlines: Figures: Staff: Journalism: History: New York Times: Charlie Peters' new book: How Willkie Ran, Lost and Helped Win the War

Peace Corps Online: Directory: USA: Special Report: Charlie Peters, Head of the Evaluation Division: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Staffer Charlie Peters : July 25, 2005: Headlines: Figures: Staff: Journalism: History: New York Times: Charlie Peters' new book: How Willkie Ran, Lost and Helped Win the War

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-23-45.balt.east.verizon.net - on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 8:47 pm: Edit Post

Charlie Peters' new book: How Willkie Ran, Lost and Helped Win the War

Charlie Peters' new book: How Willkie Ran, Lost and Helped Win the War

Legendary journalist I. F. Stone wrote an investigative book about Socrates after he retired. Now Charlie Peters, West Virginia lawyer, John F. Kennedy campaign worker, founder of The Washington Monthly, and the man who may be Washington's most prominent cockeyed optimist, writes "Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing 'We Want Willkie!' Convention of 1940 and How it Freed F. D. R. to Save the Western World." Charlie Peters headed the Peace Corps' evaluation divsion under Sargent Shriver.

Charlie Peters' new book: How Willkie Ran, Lost and Helped Win the War

How Willkie Ran, Lost and Helped Win the War

Published: July 25, 2005

WASHINGTON, July 24 - It is June 1940. France has just fallen to the Nazis. A conservative, isolationist Republican Party, incensed at the prospect of a third term for Franklin D. Roosevelt, nominates a liberal, interventionist political newcomer named Wendell Lewis Willkie. His moderate candidacy gives Roosevelt the cover he needs to pass a draft, swap American destroyers for bases from a beleaguered Britain and win re-election by five million votes.

Fiction? Nope, just improbable fact, recalled with relish by Charles Peters, West Virginia lawyer, John F. Kennedy campaign worker, Peace Corps official and founder of The Washington Monthly, who may be Washington's most prominent cockeyed optimist, in his new book "Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing 'We Want Willkie!' Convention of 1940 and How it Freed F. D. R. to Save the Western World" (Public Affairs).

"This is the plot that saved America," Mr. Peters said recently in his living room perched in a wooded cul de sac above the Potomac River, as he explained his fizzy, nonfiction book that could be a rejoinder to "The Plot Against America" (Houghton Mifflin), Philip Roth's darkly imagined 2004 novel in which Charles A. Lindbergh wins the 1940 Republican nomination and the presidency and there are scattered pogroms in the country.

"Because you realize," he added, referring to Willkie's conservative rival, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, that "Bob Taft would have been the nominee. He was Charles Lindbergh, except for the anti-Semitism, so Roth's nightmare could have come true. He was a very nice, very principled man, but he was dead wrong at the crucial point in our history."

Mr. Peters, 78, appreciates Willkie's unlikely appeal for that time and exemplary relevance for this, and he chronicles his candidate's rise in a lickety-split narrative that also conjures up a lost world in which Will Rogers was the beau ideal of common manhood, men wore hats and women gloves and political conventions still changed history in the searing summer heat of un-air-conditioned halls.

Peace Corps Online
The 1940 campaign was a time, Mr. Peters said, when Americans and their leaders "rose above, considerably above, the common behaviors of today." He had long been fascinated by Willkie's story, and decided to write the book four years ago after retiring as editor of The Washington Monthly, which he founded in 1969 and kept alive through decades of explication of the byways of the federal bureaucracy.

"At first I was just so fascinated with the story, and I wanted people to know that story," he said, "primarily to give Willkie the credit he was due. But as I was telling the story, I became more and more aware of the difference between that time and now, and I think the No. 1 thing I want to come out of the book is for people to see that difference and say: 'By God, we've got to do something about now. We can't go on the way we're going.'"

Not for nothing is Mr. Peters's Monthly column, which he still writes, called "Tilting at Windmills." He has been doing that for years, earning a reputation not only as the father of "neo-liberalism," the philosophy of practical progressivism that found one flawed flowering in Bill Clinton, but also as the godfather to a couple of generations of bright journalists, including James Fallows, Michael Kinsley, Jonathan Alter, Jon Meacham and Matthew Cooper, whom he hired for low wages and trained in his outside-the-box style.

"The big difference between Charles Peters" and "those of us who came to work for him over the years is this," his successor, Paul Glastris, writes in a review of "Five Days" in the Monthly's current issue: "He believes in idealism while we want to believe in idealism."

Peace Corps Online
What besides idealism could fully explain how Willkie, an Indiana-born lawyer and utilities executive with a falling forelock, who spoke with a twang but lived on Fifth Avenue, became first the darling of the Manhattan media elite and country-club, Ivy League Republicans desperate for a charismatic candidate, and then the leader of a genuine mass movement that culminated in his getting more votes than any Republican presidential nominee up to that time?

Caption: Wendell Willie in a parade in his hometown of Elwood, Indiana in one of the most famous campaign photos ever taken.

"The hardest thing to explain to people is the degree to which people then really believed Mr. Smith could go to Washington, and because they believed it, they made it happen," said Mr. Peters, whose father took him to the 1940 Democratic Convention as a boy. "And the Frank Capra movies that seem too sentimental to us today? Well, a lot of people actually thought of themselves that way."

But Mr. Peters sees his hero's flaws. Willkie drank too much. He won crucial support on the convention floor by agreeing to grant influence on judicial nominations to Frank McKay, a Michigan power broker whom former President Gerald R. Ford described to Mr. Peters as "a crook." His campaign was much more calculated and much less spontaneous than it seemed. And he was conducting a semi-open extra-martial affair with one of his informal campaign advisers.

"Thank God the press was the way the press was," Mr. Peters said, noting Roosevelt's own complicated romantic life. "Because you have to think that both Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie would have been destroyed by today's standards before they had a chance to do any of the great things they did."

Peace Corps Online
When it comes to the intersection of media and politics, Mr. Peters is neither prude nor purist. He confessed to identifying with the role played by William Allen White, the disproportionately influential small-town Republican editor from Kansas who served as an unofficial go-between for Willkie and Roosevelt at one point. He said his own experience as a member of the West Virginia Legislature, a county manager in the 1960 Kennedy campaign and director of evaluation (a kind of internal auditor) for the Peace Corps, greatly enriched his perspective as a journalist.

Caption: Charlie Peters prepares for an around the world trip with Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver.

"It helped me an awful lot," he said, adding that he had urged his protégés to get experience in government and politics, "and I hate these people who tell them not to, because it is so valuable to get a confident measuring rod for smelling out the truth and for having a sense of where the bodies are really buried."

Mr. Peters said that "the damnedest thing I have to confess is how involved I must have gotten emotionally" in Willkie's story. He told of tearing up at a recent public reading at the Politics & Prose bookstore here in the presence of old friends and colleagues.

"It was embarrassing, I tell you, because I did it twice, and you know that begins to make your friends think 'Charlie needs a little help here, maybe a white coat,' " he said as he retrieved the book and read aloud the mist-inducing passage. "Willkie is talking about writing his own epitaph and says, 'If I could choose between 'Here lies an unimportant president,' and 'Here lies one who contributed to saving freedom at a moment of great peril,' I would prefer the latter.' "

Mr. Peters finished, and looked up with a crooked smile. His eyes were filled.

Order the Book

Peace Corps Online

Order the book here.

When this story was posted in July 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Contact PCOLBulletin BoardRegisterSearch PCOLWhat's New?

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
The Peace Corps Library Date: March 27 2005 No: 536 The Peace Corps Library
Peace Corps Online is proud to announce that the Peace Corps Library is now available online. With over 30,000 index entries in 500 categories, this is the largest collection of Peace Corps related stories in the world. From Acting to Zucchini, you can find hundreds of stories about what RPCVs with your same interests or from your Country of Service are doing today. If you have a web site, support the "Peace Corps Library" and link to it today.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

Special Events for RPCVs Date: July 13 2005 No: 683 Special Events for RPCVs
Join the NPCA in DC for Advocacy Day on July 28
NPCA to hold Virtual Leaders Forum on July 29
RPCV's "Taking the Early Bus" at Cal State until Aug 15
"Artists and Patrons in Traditional African Cultures" in NY thru Sept 30
See RPCV Musical "Doing Good" in CA through Sept
RPCV Film Festival in DC in October

July 17, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: July 17 2005 No: 690 July 17, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
C. Payne Lucas writes "Can we win the war on HIV/Aids?" 11 July
Director Vasquez hints at expansion in Bangladesh 17 July
Why didn't I spend my life helping others? 17 July
John Beasley returns to the islands of Micronesia 17 July
Jennifer Field to study glacier melting 17 July
Tucker McCravy works with Serendib in Sri Lanka 17 July
David Vick writes "Waging civilized warfare" 16 July
Tom Petri says Nelson helped to promote civility 16 July
Peace Corps Director Visits Volunteers in Mongolia 15 July
John Bridgeland writes "An example for Boomers" 15 July
Robert Blackwill says India and US have a great future 15 July
Peace Corps debuts new internet recruitment tool 14 July
Eight New Country Directors Appointed 13 July
Shelton Johnson Honored for Buffalo Soldier program 13 July
Bill Lorenz leads trek for Sudanese refugees 12 July
Emilie Pryor says Peace Corps ignores Lariam problems 12 July
DDN is Award Finalist for reporting on PC Safety 11 July
Randy Lewis to hire 200 people with cognitive disabilities 10 July
Maryland needs people like Tom Lewis 10 July
Dan DeWayne puts on music festival 10 July

July 9, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: July 9 2005 No: 675 July 9, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
Mike Honda says Democratic Party in paradigm shift 6 July
Peace Corps Suspends Program in Gabon 8 July
Thomas Tighe says Thailand is faring better 8 July
Michael Parmly appointed top diplomat in Cuba 7 July
Paul Timmreck got his start trailing garbage trucks 7 July
Shays says London explosions should be wakeup call 7 July
Tom Murphy says: Be Vigilant, But Not Afraid 7 July
Gov. Doyle saddened and outraged by London Attacks 7 July
RPCV Films organizing Film Festival 6 July
Terez Rose writes Aid for Africa Will the G8 Help? 6 July
Carl Youngberg takes ballet to Honduras 6 July
Kafatia faces a mandatory eight years in prison 6 July
Bill Moyers says LBJ hated FOIA law 6 July
Andy and Trudy Anderson work with The Hunger Project 5 July
Thomas A. Dine deplores the attack against reporter 5 July
Mime Troupe tackles history, politics and the World Bank 4 July
Francis Mandanici says investigation could lead to impeachment 4 July
Beth Bedinotti says motherhood is "toughest job" 1 July
Director Vasquez Visits Volunteers in Eastern Caribbean 1 July

July 8, 2005: PC suspends program in Gabon Date: July 10 2005 No: 679 July 8, 2005: PC suspends program in Gabon
Peace Corps announced the suspension of the program in Gabon citing the high cost of the program. In addition, a 2003 Inspector General report documented safety and security costs of $1 million that would be necessary to keep the program operating successfully. Background: In 1998 Peace Corps Volunteer Karen Phillips was was found murdered in the weeds about 100 yards from her home in Oyem, Gabon. Her killer has never been brought to justice.

Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000  strong Date: April 2 2005 No: 543 Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000 strong
170,000 is a very special number for the RPCV community - it's the number of Volunteers who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961. It's also a number that is very special to us because March is the first month since our founding in January, 2001 that our readership has exceeded 170,000. And while we know that not everyone who comes to this site is an RPCV, they are all "Friends of the Peace Corps." Thanks everybody for making PCOL your source of news for the Returned Volunteer community.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: New York Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; Staff; Journalism; History


Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.