For my write-up today on W.A. Swanberg’s Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist, which is about six-time Socialist candidate for President Norman Thomas, I’ll focus on what Swanberg says on page 334 about Thomas’ relationship with his son Evan (who presumably was named after Thomas’ brother). Swanberg at the top of each left-hand page tells us the year in which the events that he is narrating take place, and the top of page 334 says “1950”.
Swanberg says that Norman Thomas enjoyed the company of his grandchildren, but he had difficulty in terms of his relationships with his adult children. Thomas’ daughter Frances was long supportive of her father’s Socialism, but Thomas’ son Evan was much more skeptical. Evan did not think that Socialism was feasible, and Evan was “at least a nominal Democrat” (Swanberg’s words). Swanberg speculates that Evan’s’ political beliefs may have been (at least in part) rooted in his resentment at being sent to school at the age of eight (while Norman’s other children were older when they were sent to school), and Evans blamed this on his father’s “insistence on running for President and saving the world” (Swanberg’s words).
Evan and his wife lived with Norman for a short time after World War II, when there was a scarcity in housing, and Norman and Evan would get into political and intellectual arguments. Norman usually won these arguments “with the immemorial certitude of parents” (Swanberg’s words), and why not? As Swanberg notes: “Evan was up against one of the most gifted of all debaters, who had given thought to all the issues, had handled hundreds of hecklers in his day and could pick apart any argument that was not firmly based—-possibly even one that was.”
Evan recalls only winning one argument with his father. Norman liked a book that was critical of Franklin Roosevelt, whereas Evan disagreed with his father’s position. After a long discussion, Norman shocked his son by saying, “You’re right and I’m wrong.”
Another area in which Norman and Evan disagreed concerned Norman’s writing. Evan was a talented editor, and he admired his father’s literary abilities, but Evan felt that Norman should spend more time revising his material rather than just rushing books off to press. Norman did not heed Evan’s advice, and Swanberg finds this noteworthy because, in other settings, Norman listened to other people’s perspectives. Swanberg states that “in public debates [Norman] was known for his fairness towards opponents”, and he listened to “arguments pro and con” within Socialist settings and also the committees on which he served.