By Susan Dunn
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Extra resources for 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election amid the Storm
When one reporter suggested that the speech had presented “an attitude without a program,” FDR did not disagree. ” Another reporter asked whether there wasn’t a conflict between what the president had outlined and the Neutrality Act. “They seem to be on opposite poles to me,” said the reporter, Ernest Lindley. Walking on Eggs 23 “Put your thinking-cap on, Ernest,” the president replied. But he never answered Lindley’s question— or offered the nation the program he said he was searching for. 11 Despite the ambiguity of the president’s talk, some of the nation’s more internationally minded politicians and newspapers reacted positively to it.
What in fact was the difference between “keeping out of war” and rejecting the idea that “war is none of our business”? What did it mean to object to criminal dictatorships while seeking shelter in the “peace bloc”? Years earlier, FDR had spoken cogently about the importance of political leadership in a tumultuous world. ”80 But political leaders, as he knew well, have constituencies to court, refractory members of their own party to conciliate, and opposition parties to handle. ”81 Though FDR was supremely skilled in communicating and connecting with Americans, he had no unambiguous, resounding message about America’s role and responsibility in the international crisis.
The debate had been dragging on for months. But finally, after numerous postponements, filibusters, compromises, emasculating amendments, votes, and conferences,73 the bill passed. On November 4, almost a year after he had proposed changes to the arms embargo in his annual message, the president signed the Neutrality Act of 1939. The new legislation at last repealed the arms embargo, making it possible for the United States to provide military aid—in non-American ships and on a “cash and carry” basis—to the democracies fighting for survival.