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Walt Disney's Fascinating Political Journey

Wayland's newspaper, Appeal to Reason, "was folksy" and "reached the common man's ears but irritated the intellectual's." Elias Disney subscribed to Appeal to Reason, and Walt remembered cutting his teeth as an artist by copying the cartoons. Walt said he "could draw cartoons of 'Capital' and 'Labor' pretty good, the big fat capitalist with the money with his foot on the neck of the laboring man with the little cap on his head."

Elias Disney voted for Progressive William Jennings Bryan and Socialist Eugene Debs in presidential elections, despite being an entrepreneur and employer. Walt believed that he learned from his father how to be a friend of the working man, and he claimed to carry that belief even after his journey rightward.

As Walt moved into his thirties and became established in Hollywood and influence by his brother, his politics began to change. He told one writer:

In the election of 1936, I just couldn't go Republican. ... Roy and I split. Roy went Republican and I voted for Roosevelt. By 1940 and everything that happened in the next four years, I was right back on the other bandwagon. I became a [Wendell] Willkie man. He was a great man.

However, he stopped short of endorsing Willkie that year.

By 1941, unions began to organize many employees of the Disney Studios, and they went out on strike that May. The picket line struck a blow to the company's fragile financial state at the time, and the strike hurt Walt personally. Though the employees who led the strike, animator Art Babbitt and layout artist Dave Hilberman, had communist leanings, most of the rank-and-file strikers did not. Nevertheless, both Roy and Walt Disney laid the blame for the strike at the feet of Communism. Roy admitted that he and Walt believed that "money was never the basic problem in this thing, as much as communism [sic]."

For Walt, the strike solidified his political transformation. He contrasted his father's socialism ("I grew up believing a lot of that...") with his own experiences as a businessman and employer ("...but I was disillusioned"). He came to terms with this disillusionment during the strike, and he said, "A lot of my dad's socialistic ideas began to go out the window."