Ever wonder what the destiny of our country would look like if the men that lost recent presidential elections had won instead. For example, if Al Gore had been allowed to assume the presidency in 2000 after an election he had actually won, it’s likely that Saddam Hussein would still be dictator in Iraq. But also, 6000 dead U.S. military and civilians would likely still be alive, and over 30,000 U.S. men and women that suffered life-destroying injuries like blindness or severe brain trauma would have their lives back. Also, about a trillion dollars we spent over there could have been saved. So let’s look back at some of the near misses in recent presidential elections and perhaps drink a toast to the guys that almost made it but didn’t.
My earliest recollection of presidential politics was in 1948 when I was 12 years old. That year, the contestants were Harry Truman, who had taken over the presidency from Franklin Roosevelt when FDR died in 1945 (after winning an unprecedented 4 terms) and Tom Dewey the Republican governor of New York. Dewey had built his reputation as a crime busting district attorney that had put Murder Inc. out of business. (That was a Mafia-run enterprise where you could hire someone to whack anyone you had a beef against, usually for a hefty price like $50,000.) Dewey was a moderate to progressive Republican, (an extinct species in today’s politics) and all the polls said he would beat Truman by double digits. My father was bemoaning the fact that we would have to live under a GOP presidency, but some intuitive instinct told me otherwise, so, knowing virtually nothing, I proudly declared that Truman would win win the election. My father, looking angrily at me, said I better keep my mouth shut, lest the neighbors discover what an idiot child he had raised. But I wouldn’t budge in my prediction. Dad, don’t worry, Truman will win, I kept saying. The newspapers were so confident of a Dewey win that the Chicago Tribune already published the story before the election results came in. The next day a beaming and victorious Truman held up the Chicago Tribune paper that had the headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
In 1952 the election was between war hero Dwight Eisenhower (Ike) and Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson. Ike, besides being the great war hero that defeated Nazism in Europe during WWII, had that great smile that made him instantly likable to just about everyone. He was considered a moderate and ran against Ohio conservative Robert Taft in the GOP primary which Ike easily won. I consider Adlai Stevenson perhaps the most honorable, honest, and decent candidate to run for office in my lifetime, but he had no chance against Ike. Oh, that smile, and the war-hero thing. It was Stevenson’s misfortune to be nominated again in 1956, and thus be shellacked by Ike twice. Eisenhower had a fairly unremarkable presidency during his 8 years. But he did send in federal troops to protect 9 black children when the segregationist governor of Arkansas tried to block the integration of a white-only public school in Little Rock.
In 1960, it was the famous battle between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. It was also the first year they had televised debates between the 2 candidates. Nixon was a powerful debater and people who heard the debates on the radio thought he had won them. But on television, Kennedy was so much better-looking , and had so much more charm and charisma, that it lifted him to a narrow victory in 1960, but then, to eventual tragedy. Kennedy’s short presidency was marred by the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, when the CIA tried to overthrow Castro but failed. The following year, the Russians tried to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, which led to the great missile crisis that year, which brought the world to the edge of nuclear devastation. Fortunately the Russians backed down and withdrew their missiles and the world was saved.
After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 Lyndon Johnson became president and ran in in 1964. The Republican nomination looked like it was going to Nelson Rockefeller, the progressive governor of New York. But Rocky made the huge mistake of leaving his wife and seeking a divorce during the primary season, which was apparently too much of a scandal for the country at that time. So instead, Barry Goldwater, who was considered a radical right-wing senator from Arizona came off the winner but was trounced by Johnson in the election. Lyndon Johnson did a lot of great things during his presidency, like getting Medicare and civil rights legislation thru Congress, but he also got us bogged down in Viet-Nam which turned into a disaster. That ruined his presidency and he didn’t run for re-election.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy was running in the Democratic primary against Hubert Humphrey. Both were were excellent candidates, but I thought that RFK would have made a great president because of all the suffering he went thru at time of his brother”s death. It seemed to me that he knew and empathized with others who had also known great sadness in their lives. But 1968 turned out to be one of the most tragic years in American history, with the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King during that year. That enabled Hubert Humphrey to get the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, Richard Nixon returned to the fray, after vowing to the press in 1962 that they wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around anymore. Also in the race was third-party candidate George Wallace, a fiercely segregationist governor of Alabama. In a very tight election, Nixon edged out the win for presidency he had so long desired. The burden of Viet-Nam was to heavy for any Democrat to bear.
Some months after the election was over, they had a “roast” for Hubert Humphrey on TV that was run by entertainer Dean Martin. Martin arose before the mic to speak, and said words to the effect that: I want to introduce a person of such high honor, decency, integrity, and honesty that he’s sitting here next to me tonight at this crummy roast, rather than being in the White House. Truer words were never spoken. Even Humphrey couldn’t stop laughing.
We’ll pick up at this point next time around.