I’ve been avoiding campaign ads for the sake of my mental health, but I did run across an amazing political artifact in the fascinating new DVD collection Saved From the Flames (Flicker Alley). This compilation of nitrate-stock oddities includes Hell-Bent for Election, a 12-minute pro-FDR cartoon from 1944, animated by none other than Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame.
The UAW-CIO-sponsored cartoon depicts Roosevelt as a sleek streamliner train zooming down the “right track” to victory while being dogged by a smoke-belching old steamer labeled “1929 Defeatist Limited.” The Roosevelt train, which looks like the famous Burlington Zephyr, features the New Deal’s trademark thrust-chin profile as the sloping nose of the engine. The Defeatist Limited carries a “hot air” tanker, a “log jam” can, a “business as usual” sleeper car and a Jim Crow caboose. In keeping with the theme that the Republicans, even after 15 years, were the party of the Depression, the car labeled workers’ insurance is an apple cart (and later the cartoon references Hoover and the image of unemployed workers selling apples).
Meanwhile, a sturdy laborer named Joe is tasked by Uncle Sam himself to see that the “Win the War” special gets through to Washington. An evil cigar-smoking imp tries to distract Joe with Campaign Champagne (“No Proof”) and complaints about labor unions. In a striking dream sequence, Joe turns into a slow-motion chalk-outline character chasing after escalating prices and stuck in a snow storm while the imp croons, “Joe, business is entitled to a fair profit during this war. The workers are making too much money for their own good.”
Finally, Joe does the right thing and the Win the War special speeds through to Washington. Interestingly, by 1944, even though the war was still on, the ad looks ahead to the post-war era with promises for soldiers (training and education), farmers (adequate credit), big business (world trade, but no pusing and no crowding) and small business (protection from big business). Sounds like John Edwards in his best moments.
The cartoon, which musters all of Jones’ considerable skills at graphic storytelling, ends with a catchy ditty by none other than Yip Harburg, a socialist (he was later blacklisted in the ’50s) and lyricist. Although not as felicitious as his most remembered songs—”Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”—the ditty is all-purpose enough to serve any candidate (any Democratic candidate) with its bouncy call for full employment:
“There’ll be a job for everyone
There’ll be a job for everyone
If we get out and vote!”