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National Affairs: Tick, Tock

5 minute read

The shift occurred last week without the faintest clank in the clockwork. Handsome, curly-haired Clark Clifford would bow out as special counsel to the President. And 40-year-old Charles Murphy, a poker-faced North Carolinian, would bow in. The White House was generally saddened at Clifford’s departure. “It’s a terrible loss,” said a Truman intimate. “Charlie Murphy is a hard plugger but he lacks Clifford’s flair and imagination. The rest of us will just have to try and supply Charlie with what he lacks.” But otherwise the mechanism of Harry Truman’s efficient Little Cabinet just ticked along.

Charlie Murphy is only one of a score of men in the Little Cabinet, men the U.S. knows little about, who make it their business to know a lot about the U.S. The big wheels, like Assistant President John Steelman and Secretary Matt Connelly, have their offices in the White House. The little wheels around the Truman mainspring are located just across the street on the second floor of the old State Department Building.

Old New Dealer David Niles, a relict of the Hopkins & Roosevelt days and a Truman adviser on handling racial and religious minorities, finds the Little Cabinet a more efficient apparatus than anything Roosevelt had: “While it’s true that everybody wants to be the king’s favorite, there is not the sniping such as was S.O.P. during the old Roosevelt days. You don’t wake up and find the President has given your assignment to four other people. That makes for satisfaction and holds down the bitter rivalry that delighted Roosevelt.”

They are a different breed of men from the Roosevelt advisers, who were fire-breathing liberals, poets and intellectual revolutionists. These are the quiet, less flamboyant men whom a political revolution produced. None of them embarrasses Mr. Truman by an ostentatious display of intellect. From them Mr. Truman seldom hears anything but what he wants to hear. Few of them had any careers of any importance outside of Washington, or outside of the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations. Few of them are any better known than Charlie Murphy himself.

Charlie Murphy arrived in Washington 15 years ago with the ink on his law degree still fresh. He went to work in the Senate legislative counsel’s office writing bills in proper legal language. One of his chores was the resolution creating Senator Truman’s wartime investigating committee. Some time after Mr. Truman became President, he remembered Charlie Murphy and took him into the White House as one of a dozen devotedly anonymous aides. Murphy was so anonymous that the White House Correspondents Association completely overlooked him last year when they issued invitations to the annual dinner for the President.

Taciturn and colorless, he won his private prestige among the President’s private men by the sheer orderliness of his legalistic mind.

Philip Maguire, 44, of Plainfield, N.J., made his entrance into Washington as a young lawyer in the NRA. From there he marched through the Government’s alphabet of bureaus. He helped work out the food-stamp plan. He served on WPB. spent three years in the Army, returned to serve on the CPA, went to Greece with the first military mission. He stayed to direct Greek trade and commerce, then returned to take charge of the Administration’s program for relieving unemployment. He is the President’s expert on public-works programs.

George Elsey, 31, is a fresh-faced Princeton graduate who worked in Franklin Roosevelt’s White House map room during the war, buckled down afterwards as a researcher for Clifford During the 1948 campaign he wrote the backgrounds and many of the punch lines for Harry Truman’s speeches in his 31,500-mile campaign. He is now one of the men at work researching, rewriting and polishing the State of the Union, budget and economic messages which the President will deliver to the new session of the 81st Congress.

David Lloyd, 38, another Clifford protégé, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Clifford found him working on the Democratic National Committee, turning out what Clifford thought was “stuff with real style.” Now Lloyd, whose first novel will be published in the spring, puts some of that style into Harry Truman’s pedestrian speeches.

David Stowe, 39, is a Steelman protégé, born in Connecticut, a former schoolteacher and the son of a schoolteacher. He does the President’s homework on the specific problems of the National Security Resources Board, planning the economic moves to be made in event of war.

Scurrying between the White House and the old State Building, all of these advisers live carefully compartmented lives. They see little of each other socially. They are divided roughly in their thinking between the Clifford philosophy of frontal attack and the Steelman philosophy that the better and safer attack is an oblique one. But the difference is principally in method, not in ideology. It is not enough to interrupt the almost noiseless ticking of the Little Cabinet’s well-oiled clockwork.

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