A Strong Opposition Is Needed


By KARL MUNDT, Member of Congress from South Dakota

Delivered in the House of Representatives, August 1, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 696-698.

MR SPEAKER, Winston Churchill is undoubtedly the greatest orator in the world today. While there may be some who question his military genius or his diplomatic tact, I think none can successfully challenge the statement that he is without peer or equal on the contemporary scene in his ability to convey ideas and convince people by use of the spoken word.

It is probably at least in part because of his great prowess as a debater and orator that Churchill holds so tenaciously to the democratic processes of free speech, free criticism,free press, and free assemblage. He relies on his own ability to meet all comers, convince all critics. He is a strong advocate of the two-party system of government, and a firm believer in the important part to be played by a vigorous minority party in time of stress. He welcomes criticism. He never confuses unity of purpose with unanimity of thought.

A Determined Minority as Important as a Determining Majority

I am one who thinks there is a mountain of prophetic truth in the song, There Will Always Be an England, and one reason I so firmly believe this is that the English have learned that a determined minority party is just as important in a period of national crisis as a determining majority party. In fact, England has seldom emerged from any great war with the same leadership with which she entered it. Churchill, himself, is today's Prime Minister of England because of the critical opposition which he and his fellows laid against the policies of Chamberlain. As the ivy climbs the tallest wall by clinging to its roughest spots, self-government in England has a habit of capitalizing on criticism and testing its most important decisions in the fierce crucible of public debate so that only the soundest can survive. Above all, times of national emergency are the worst in which to proceed with untested, untried recipes born of the moment and not subjected to careful criticism and examination by the opposition party.

Churchill offered a good pattern for today's America in his speech to the House of Commons on June 10 describing the debacle of Crete. His opening paragraph set the tempo for a great orator's great speech. Said Churchill—No one, however ministerially minded, could complain of the tone and temper and the matter of this debate. The kind of criticism we have had today—and some of it was very searching—is the kind of criticism the Government not only accepts but welcomes.

It is a tough job to batter down a country that builds upon its criticism in such a manner.

A Lesson Americans Should Learn From Britain

We Americans, younger in form of self-government by many years than the English, can learn something from the manner in which the English "muddle" through adversity. We must learn the value of criticism in the art of government. We must come to learn from those with whom we disagree as well as to lean upon those with whom we are in agreement. We must have the courage to criticize as well as the candor to concede. We who belong to the opposition party in these trying times must recognize our responsibilities to test, to examine, to scrutinize, to question, to amend, and to criticize decisions and drifts in public policy just as the majority party must recognize its responsibility to formulate, to promote, to propound, to explain, and to project the determinations which it has the power and the votes to enact. It is only thus that the strong can help the strong and that the functioning of democracy—government by discussion, by debate, by concession and by compromise—can best succeed.

This most definitely does not mean the minority or the opposition should criticize simply for the sake of being critical or that it should ever be perverse simply to be partisan. Such behavior is neither good politics nor good patriotism. As an opposition party, we Republicans must never be mere obstructionists for the silly exercise of being obstinate. But, since criticism does not function freely on an intra-party basis, it is essential that the opposition party does not withhold from the majority the benefits which both it and theNation can harvest from a frank and fair and full analysis of proposed paths of public policy. To do less, is for the opposition party to cease to give good reason to exist; it is certainly to cease to give any reason at all for ever changing its label to that of the majority party. An opposition which dares not to oppose would be a majority which lacked the courage to propose and that would be fatal alike to the party and the people.

An Example of What Failure Would Mean

Recent developments in Washington, however, give proof more positive than any words that I command of the validity of the thesis which I have above defined. On June 2, S. 1579, prepared by the executive department bill drafters of the Capital was introduced. Known as the property-seizure bill, the following exact quotations from the bill suggest the scope of its significance:

During any period of national emergency proclaimed by the President, the President is authorized, when he deems it in the interests of national defense, (a) to requisition and take over, either temporarily or permanently, property of any kind or character, whether real or personal, tangible or intangible, or any part thereof, or any right or interest therein or with respect thereto, whether by virtue of contract, patent, license, or otherwise.

And furthermore:

Whenever the President shall requisition and take over any property pursuant to the provisions of this act, the person or persons having any right, title, or interest therein shall be paid as compensation therefore such sum as the President shall determine to be fair and just. If any such person or persons entitled to receive it are unwilling to accept as full and complete compensation for such property the sum determined by the President, such person or persons shall be paid 75 per cent of the sum as determined by the President and shall be entitled to sue the United States for such additional sum.

And finally:

This act shall be effective notwithstanding the provisions of any other act.

With the exception of the capitalizations the foregoing statements are precisely as they appeared in the body of this legislation as introduced by the majority. What should a patriotic and purposeful opposition do? Accept it? Rubber stamp an O. K. because it is labeled for national defense? Or test, examine, scrutinize, question, amend, and criticize? We who comprise the current opposition party in Congress chose the latter course, with capital letters, with emphasis, with gusto, from the platform, on the typewriter, and through the microphones. Result? It is still too early to predict, inasmuch as a week before this is written President Roosevelt was quoted as saying he wanted the "bill passed in the form it was written." I have made bad predictions before and this may be another one but "I'm predicting" that the opposition will not surrender to this challenge to the fundamental rights of freedom and private ownership in this Republic. "I am predicting"—and it is a dangerous practice in these dubious times—that the bill will not be enacted "in the form it was written." Just how much protection of private rights we can write into the bill depends upon how large a segment of American public opinion adheres to the philosophy of two-party government and continues to subscribe to the doctrine of private ownership and political freedom upon which this republic was founded.

Suffice it to say in summary, that without criticism the "property seizure bill" would by now already be the law.

A Responsibility We Cannot Dodge

Without patriotic opposition and sound criticism, whether it comes from an active and organized minority party whence it should emanate or from individuals grouping themselves together in an unofficial opposition bloc, the democratic processes cease to be effective. Without loyal opposition which stresses not only its obligations to be loyal but also its obligations to supply intelligent opposition, the democratic form degenerates into what is actually an oligarchy in function. Without such opposition from some source in the present crisis, America would already be engaged in the convoying of foreign and American ships into belligerent waters, which means that American boys would by now be laying down their lives in actual war in support of their Russian "comrades." President Roosevelt's statement that "convoys mean shooting and shooting means war" has never been successfully denied.

Without opposition to opinionated majority leadership, in this country, both the leadership and the country would suffer seriously, and the very existence of minority-party opposition would cease to continue because it had failed to function when its courage was most needed. Without sincere and loyal opposition, the administration is denied a crucible in which to test its theories; and, in critical times, above all others, a nation cannot afford the luxury of adopting untested recipes or illy considered courses of action.

The Republican Party Cannot Expand by Evasion

If fair-minded citizens will seriously reflect upon the destinations both in foreign policy and in the loss of democratic processes here at home at which this Nation would have already arrived had there been no opposition to "test, examine, scrutinize, amend, and criticize," it will stimulate increased demand that the Republican Party continue and expand its patriotic function as the opposition party in this all-important era. It, too, has a mandate from the people. It, too, has responsibilities which it cannot evade without rendering great disservice to this Republic. It, too, stands on trial before the Nation as its fitness to serve is being tested by the events which come and go. There is no other party or group in America which can fulfill this function. Should the Republican Party fail to meet its obligations and its challenge, the cause for which it preaches will soon perish. If the Republican Party fails to function as an opposition should in government erected on the two-party system, we shall be as guilty of dilatory action as the administration is of dictatorial aim. And if an American form of administrative absolutism shackles itself upon this country while we failto protest the separate steps by which it develops complete and total power, we shall be accessory to the crime.

It is to be hoped that the Republican Party will write a record of courage and valor, of patriotic opposition and constructive criticism, of real service to the common cause which today challenges the best that is in us all if the American way of life is to survive in the American sphere of influence.

The decisions facing America, today, are too monumental in importance to be left to the judgment of any one man or to any group of men personally selected or nominated by him. They are too vital to be delegated to volunteer pre-scriptionists outside the main tent of Government whose position as laymen exempt them from assuming direct responsibilities for possible errors in judgment. They are too far reaching to be left solely to the unchecked dictates of appointed men who have not been elected to office by the people and who therefore feel no responsibilities for conforming with the public will. They are too significant to become the sole province of the party which happens to be in power at the time their consideration becomes imperative.

Sound Decisions Best Come From a Clashing of Sound Minds

America today needs the best minds of its best people throughout the country in focus upon the problems at hand and devoted to working out solutions which will best serve the destiny of this Republic. It is going to take the best collective judgment of the great cross section of American intelligence and common sense in this dark hour, if this country is to avert the catastrophe of national bankruptcy, of loss of its freedoms here at home, of an American totalitarianism, of war, and of the threats to our American destiny resulting from dangers here at home and disrupters from abroad.

We have a crying need these days for the sound decisions which can only emanate from the clashing of sound minds and the determined drive of opposing forces which unite their strength toward a common goal only after each has explored and exposed every possible weakness and error of the other. Against the driving power of such a strength directed down a path selected by such means, no power on earth can offer successful resistance. It is to be hoped, therefore that, like the Churchill government in England, the Roosevelt government in America will cease berating critics as defeatists or obstructionists and some day rise to heights enough to sagely say, "The kind of criticism we have had is the kind that the Government not only accepts but welcomes."

To do less is to follow the totalitarian trail to total tyranny.