Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1952-1953

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Author: Harry S Truman  | Date: May 26, 1952

143
Address Before the Electric Consumers Conference.
May 26, 1952

I AM more than happy to meet with this conference of farm, labor, and consumer groups. I am a little bit hoarse—I have been talking to the "Big four," two Members of the House and two Members of the Senate. I couldn’t afford to let them out-talk me. What Mr. Lincoln has said is true for the 155 million people. You know, we have some distinguished Senators and Representatives in this town who represent the consumers in their districts, but I am the only person who represents the whole 155 million—the people who haven’t any pull or any lobby. I am their pull and I am their lobbyist. They know how to get to me, and I try to help them as best I can.

And you have two gentlemen here who, are looking out for the interests of the people. I can tell you that. I know.

You have come out here to protect the interests of the American people in their own electric power resources. I want to emphasize that these power resources belong to the people of the United States, and not to anybody else.
You are here as consumers, as people whoneed and want electric power for your homes, farms, and businesses. I hope this conference will speak out for the interest of power consumers. That is most important.

There is a terrible barrage of propaganda going around these days on behalf of the poor private power producers. These poor private power monopolies are asking for a fight. And I hope you will give it to them. And I will join you in it.

One of the first things I got into when I came here to the United States Senate in 1935 was to be on Senator Wheeler’s holding company committee. I presided over it part of the time, and I heard all the weeps and wails and everything that is possible from the people who are trying to repeat just what they were doing at that time. We passed the Holding Company Act, and that Holding Company Act was in the interest of the people and the consumers. Now, let’s keep that interest up, because it is absolutely necessary.

I hope you will figure out ways and means of answering their propaganda, and of showing the American people and the Congress what the real facts are. Propaganda can never face facts. I proved that conclusively in 1948.

This won’t be easy. The private power companies are spending millions and millions of dollars on their propaganda program. They have hired a lot of high-priced talent, advertising agencies and so-called public opinion research organizations, and they are running what I call a most vicious campaign.

And I haven’t got anything, now, against private ownership of industry. I want to see the industries of this country in the hands of private ownership. But I don’t want that private ownership—which is partly a public institution—to have the throat-hold on the people whom they serve. That’s all I am fighting.

That private power company propaganda campaign is based on the old theory of scare the people, of trying to frighten and confuse them, instead of arguing on the basis of facts. There is no question that this is the theory of the power companies’ vicious propaganda. They say so themselves, in the literature they distribute privately among themselves.

You see, they went about this very scientifically. First, they started out with a public opinion survey—one of those Roper surveys, you know—or Gallup, either one, I don’t care which one you take.

When I think about public opinion surveys, I always remember what Mr. Roper said on the 9th day of September 1948. He said, "I am taking no more polls, I am making no more comments, because the election is over and there’s no use holding-really holding an election, or going to the expense of holding one, might as well swear Mr. Dewey in now and be done with it." He has been apologizing about that ever since.

You see, they went about this very scientifically. First, they started out with a public opinion survey. They asked a lot of people what they thought of TVA. And most people said it was a wonderful thing. Then they asked people what they thought of public power, and most people said that was all right, too.

Well, this surprised the power companies, but it didn’t surprise me, and I don’t suppose it surprised anyone here. It simply meant that most people know what is good for them, when they have the facts in front of them.

Then the company agents asked people what they thought of socialism and of course most people said we are "agin" it. Naturally, they would say that.

You of course know the tale about a couple of men discussing socialism. One of them was a socialist and the other one was not.

The first man said, "Sam, if you had a million dollars, would you divide it with me?"
"Sure," said Sam.
"Well," said John, "if you had two pigs,would you give me one of them?"

Sam said, "Now John, you know I’ve got a couple of pigs."

At this point the private companies said, "Aha, what we have to do is convince the people that TVA and public power, and all the things the people think are good for them, are all part of some big plot to socialize the country."

You see, my political opponents don’t have any issues on which to hang their hats, and so they go out and dig up some things that they use for propaganda. And socialism is one of them. And these power companies, and the American Medical Association, are just tickled to death to have a thing like that and go around talking about that, but they don’t tell you the facts. That is exactly what they have been trying to do ever since they made those surveys.

The private power companies are spending millions and millions of dollars on this campaign. They are sponsoring nationwide radio programs which cost them many thousands of dollars every week. They are running full-page ads in the big magazines, month after month. Do you know that just one full-page ad in Mrs. Clare Boothe Luce’s Life magazine costs $17,000? And in one big corporation-controlled Saturday Evening Post, it costs $12,000? They are turning out pamphlets and leaflets and canned editorials by the score, and spreading them around the country.

And one of their advertising agencies actually boasted that their technique was so successful that ministers included some of this propaganda with their church notices, and some of their ’propaganda was posted on bulletin boards of the Boy Scouts.

What these private power companies are actually doing is deliberately and in cold blood setting out to poison the minds of the people. They make no bones about it. Their own manuals say that their purpose is to influence the mass mind in this country by playing on people’s emotions.

The "mass mind"—what a horrible phrase. I think it’s one of the most horrible phrases in the language. They think of the individual human beings in this great country as parts of a mass mind. They set out to play upon the emotions of churchgoers, Boy Scouts, and schoolchildren. They try to control people’s thoughts by using slogans and scare words.

They have taken a leaf right out of the books of Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler. They are following the Soviet and the fascist lines.

This is nothing less than an attack on the fundamental principles of our democratic country. Instead of letting people make up their own minds on the basis of the facts and the truth, this private power company propaganda is deliberately designed to conceal the facts, and to manipulate people’s opinions by appealing to their emotions and not to their reason.

Now I have got an ad here out of a magazine, paid for by the Wisconsin Power and Light Company, and it says, "Do you want to pay for a Government honeymoon at Niagara fails ?" Then they try to make you believe that the power companies would like to build—control the power at Niagara falls, and to do it in the public interest and without any cost to the public. Now, if you believe that, you are more naive than I think you are.

They don’t stop to think that an investment of the Federal Government in a proposition of that kind is an investment for the people of the whole United States. And it is an investment and a self-liquidating investment.

I want to say to you that these great power dams which we have built in the Northwest and in the TVA are an investment that belongs to the people of the United States—and the people are getting the benefit from them.

Now, I don’t object to the power companies making a profit, but I do object to their skinning the life out of the people. In this ad here, they don’t say anything about profits. They imply that if the private power people could build this, there wouldn’t be any cost to the public at all.
Well now, you know what the cost wouldbe. You all remember the North American Holding Company, and you all remember the Electric Bond and Share, which had 163 companies, and even Hopson himself couldn’t tell which end of him was up when he got up on the witness stand before that committee. The same thing was true of all the rest of these things. Now what they are trying to do is restore that situation.

These power companies are public institutions. There is not a single one of them in the cities that is not a monopoly. And they are there because the people allow them to be there. They are regulated by the public service commissions of the States, and they owe a duty to the public.

I wonder why they don’t talk about Nebraska; and Seattle, Washington; and Tacoma; and Kansas City, Kansas; and Independence, Missouri? You know, we have a municipal plant on each side of the Kansas City Power and Light Company, and that is the only way we have been able to keep the rates of the Kansas City Power and Light Company at a reasonable figure.

When I was running the county back there, we used to assess these people. I went into the situation as to how they performed. Now they had one set of figures on which they paid taxes, and they had another set of figures which was four or five times as great as the ones on which they paid taxes, on which they based the rates. I tried my best to get the legislature of Missouri to see that rates and taxes ought to be on the same figures, but they had too big a pull in the Missouri legislature, and I couldn’t get it done.

Now I am not going to go into this thing in detail because sometime soon, when the whistlestop campaign starts, I am going to go out and give you all the facts with regard to this power situation.

Nebraska hasn’t a single private power company in it—they are all municipally owned. You don’t hear them talk about that. Seattle owns its plant. Tacoma owns its plant, and I told you about the Kansas City, Kansas, and Independence, Missouri, keeping Kansas City, Missouri, out of a strait jacket.

I think that you people ought to do everything you possibly can to get the facts on such things as this. And I think also there may be something going wrong under the Corrupt Practices Act, through the rates that these companies charge—you are paying for that. You are paying for that. And the tax collections of the Government are not so great because they charge these off as expenses of operation.

I think I will ask the Attorney General, when he gets in office—and I have had a hard time getting an Attorney General—to take a look at this situation and see if the Corrupt Practices Act doesn’t apply.

You know, I didn’t intend to make you a political speech, but since I have got to that point about the Attorney General, I can’t help but make a remark that they are always saying that there is corruption in the Government. Well now, there is no such thing. There have been several collectors and one or two other fellows gone wrong, and whenever it has come to the attention of the President, he has fired him and ordered a grand jury investigation; and some of them are being prosecuted and some of them have already been sentenced to penalties.

But they don’t want to call attention to the fact that at one time before we did have corruption in Government, and it was at the top and nothing was done about it until a committee of the Senate dug up the Teapot Dome scandal and they had to go to work on it.

Nobody has had to force me to do what is right to keep the Government straight and square—and never will have.

I didn’t come down here to talk about that, because that is another whistlestop subject I am going to discuss when this campaign starts.

I am glad you are here. I am trying to call your attention to the fact that you are on the right track. And what I said to Murray Lincoln about the consumers not being represented and their interest not being represented—except by such Congressmen and Senators who really have the people’s interests at heart—should get themselves together and come down here, because there are so many more of you than there are of these private power companies. You can make them stand on their heads, if you want to.
Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:32 a.m. at the Willard Hotel in Washington. He had met earlier with Vice President Alben W. Barkley, President of the Senate, Ernest W. Mcfarland, Majority Leader of the Senate, Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and John W. McCormack, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.

During his remarks the President referred to Murray D. Lincoln, president and director of the Cooperative League of the United States, who served as chairman of the Electric Consumers Conference, national pollsters Elmo B. Roper, Jr., and George Gallup, and to Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, candidate for President in the 1948 election on the Republican ticket.

The President also referred to Mrs. Clare Boothe Luce, former Representative from Connecticut and wife of Henry R. Luce, Editor-in-Chief of Life magazine, James P. McGranery, Attorney General of the United States, and Howard C. Hopson who built an empire of gas and electric holding companies.

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Chicago: Harry S Truman, "143 Address Before the Electric Consumers Conference.," Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1952-1953 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S Truman, 1952-1953 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1216 371–374. Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LDTAG5G773ALSZ.

MLA: Truman, Harry S. "143 Address Before the Electric Consumers Conference." Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1952-1953, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S Truman, 1952-1953 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1216, pp. 371–374. Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LDTAG5G773ALSZ.

Harvard: Truman, HS, '143 Address Before the Electric Consumers Conference.' in Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1952-1953. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S Truman, 1952-1953 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1216, pp.371–374. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LDTAG5G773ALSZ.