| by DUNCAN
WASHINGTON, March 28. Where does the Townsend old-age pension movement got
from here? That question is engaging many minds in Washington following the
opening of a Congressional investigation and an open rupture in the movement's
high command all within three days this week. |
Will the movement whose co-founder and chief organizing expert, Robert
Earl Clements, has just resigned in an obvious huff, and whose financial
structure is being examined by a special House committee, suffer rapid
disintegration and lose most of its political potency even before the 1936
campaign gets under way? Or has the idea of $200-a-month pensions for all
Americans over 60 such a fundamental emotional appeal and have the leaders
remaining after Mr. Clements's defection sufficient reorganizing talents to tide
it over the crisis and enable it to survive with its strength actually increased
by an admittedly extreme test of its vitality?
Washington experts are guessing both ways at the present momentas
well as admitting that a good many of their judgments are guesses, modified by
considerable wishful thinking. Perhaps the best way to strive for a clear view of
Townsend prospects is to give an account of what has recently happened, or is
happening, in the movement in such a way that fact and rumor may be separated.
Facts and Rumors
On Thursday the House's $50,000 investigating committee, headed by
Representative C. Japser Bell of Missouri, opened its sessions with Mr. Clements
on its stand and started subjecting him to the severest sort of grilling.
Townsend leaders in Washington were openly jubilant over the results of
the first two days' sessions. On the other hand, James R. Sullivan of Kansas
City, committee attorney, announced that his procedure during the first two days
was calculated to lay the groundwork for charges of fraudulent accounting of the
Townsend movement's income at the OARP convention in Chicago last Autumn.
Committee members considered it damaging to the movement to have proved
that Mr. and Mrs. Cements were being supported in relative luxury by the dimes
and nickels of a pension-seeking following. (Together they had an income of
$14,110 and many of their expenses were paid by the movement.) Townsend leaders,
on the other hand, maintained that Mr. Clements had earned his salary and
additional perquisites by building up the movement to a point where it is
bringing in about $1,000,000 a year, and that no "scandal" could result from the
To leave conjecture and consider fact again, Co-Founder Clements, whose
organizing skill is evidenced by a Townsend membership roll admitted by its worst
enemies to exceed 2,000,000 resigned on Tuesday. Mr. Clements retired after a
months-long disagreement with dr. Francis E. Townsend, OARP founder, over the
political policies of the movement and over the question of who was "boss" of its
organizing phase. Mr. Clements, who believed in "boring from within" in the major
parties and throwing the OARP movement's political support to pro-Townsend
national candidates, in the old Anti-Saloon League manner regardless of party
labels, withdrew after his inability to restrain Dr. Townsend from announcing
third-part programs and declaring his support for merely "sympathetic"
candidateslike Senator Borah in the Presidential racewas openly
demonstrated on several occasions.
Other grievances of Mr. Clements against the founder included the addition
of three mena controlling majorityto the national executive body of
the movement without the co-founder's knowledge or advice, and instances in which
Dr. Townsend appointed organizers in the field, or reinstated organizers whom Mr.
Clements had dismissed for minor faults, without consulting the organization
All these developments are reasonably factual. There are many other
reports, some gleaned from sources close to the investigating committee, but most
of them are rumors.
A characteristic reaction of a veteran Townsend leader to the present
uncertainties is that of Representative John Steven McGroarty, elected as a
Townsend-pledged Congressman from California in 1934 and sponsor of the official
bill to put the Townsend plan, in most of its essentials, into legal effect. From
fact and rumor Mr. McGroarty deduces that the
Townsend movement has enough "human
vitality" behind its basic demand to preserve itself more or less automatically
More specifically, he believes a convocation of serious Townsend leaders
from all parts of the country will introduce a necessary degree of order and
discipline into the movement's working methods, put professional politics into
the background of OARP activities, and, while recognizing Dr. Townsend as the
movement's chief propaganda spokesman, limit his authority to make political
commitments without consent of the movement's other directing agencies. Mr.
McGroarty believes it is not impossible to arrange a
basis on which Mr. Clements,
whom he regards as one of the great organizing geniuses of modern times, will be
able to return to his post with his authority clarified. |
As to the actual effects of the recent excitements on the movement's
numerical strength and political power, it is a little early to tell. As the
investigating committee's sessions drew near, Congressmen of all degrees of
friendliness and hostility to the plan reported their Townsend mail increasing
both in volume and in emotional tension. No outward symptoms of a numerical
decline had made their appearance, and the work of organizing new clubs was going
on at a normal rate, according to official Townsend organization charts, up to
the moment when Mr. Clements resigned.
Mr. Clements's departure, even according to Townsend leaders who
sympathize with his reasons for resigning, will not immediately affect the
movement's organizing activities. The resignation does not take effect until late
next week, and a successor will probably not be appointed until a meeting of the
OARP board of directors with other recognized regional and national officials can
be held. But meanwhile the club recruiting system of Townsendism is
suchthanks to the work of Mr. Clementsthat is will operate in large
degree more or less automatically,
The Townsend membership-promotion program functions through four regional
headquarters in Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeleswhose
executive heads have their organizing methods and duties cut out for them and are
able to act with little more than occasional guiding suggestions from the heads
of the national movement.
Below the movement's regional chiefs come the State and area organizers;
"areas" are Townsend territorial divisions embracing more than on State or
fractions of large State, but ranking on the same basis with single State
departments in the Townsend hierarchy. These State and area officers work on what
is substantially a commission basis, and consequently have the same economic
motives for carrying on their work on a full pressure basis that they had while
Mr. Clements still directed their activities.
The same incentives apply to the Congressional district organizers who
work, for a share of the commissions, under the State and area directors, and
whose immediate "bosses" will not be changed, necessarily, as a result of Mr.
Most Townsend leaders are confident, however, that the Clements system of
recruiting by clubs will be preserved practically intact. Under this method any
group of fifty or more members may organize themselves as a Townsend club, but no
charters are issued and no memberships of individuals are recognized until the
new club has paid into its State or area headquarters its entire dues quota.
Townsend headquarters are entirely indifferent on the question of whether each
individual member pays his dues or not, but the Clements system requires
absolutely that the dues of the members unable to pay be remitted by the club as
Meanwhile both Townsend leaders and their opponents admit that to some
extent what happens in the movement in the immediate future will depend on what
is develop in the investigating committee's sessions. A "flop" in the
investigation would mean a renewal and increase of crusading activities, while
damaging disclosures might bring about a wide-scale reorganization of Townsend
methods of procedure and numerous changes in personnel.
In any event, plans are being made for a counter-irritant from the
Townsendites while the investigation is on. Dr. Townsend, if this idea is carried
out, will spend most of the weeks during the hearing working up monster mass
meetings in the Eastern industrial States, whose Congressmen thus far have proved