In 1948, when I was still almost a child, I became aware of politics and presidential elections for the first time. Yes, I know most of you think that my childhood took place around the time that Galileo was telling the world that the Earth really did rotate around the Sun, rather than vice versa. But, as I said, it was 1948 that I first became aware that their were Democrats and Republicans, and elections every four years. In that year, the presidential race was between Tom Dewey, the Republican, and Harry Truman, the Democrat. Truman, of course, had been FDR’s Vice-President, and took over the presidency in 1945 when Roosevelt died. A feisty Missourian, Truman decided to run for reelection in 1948 against very heavy odds. Supposedly, the country was tired of 16 years of Democratic rule, people wanted a change, Truman didn’t have the stature that FDR had, etc., etc. All the polls, and all the political pundits of that day proclaimed that the Republicans were a sure bet in the election. My father, who was a life-long Democrat, was bemoaning the fact that the Republicans would win that year. But somehow, I had an instinctive feeling that Truman would upset the applecart. Call it intuition. I told my father not to worry, that in the end, the Democrats would retain their hold on the White House. Whereupon, my father told me to keep my mouth shut, lest the neighbors overhear my remarks and discover what an idiot son he had raised.
Tom Dewey, the man that everybody expected to triumph, had been a racketeer busting District Attorney in Manhattan, and scored a boatload of convictions of Mafia kingpins, which subsequently propelled him into the Governor’s seat in New York. He had been nominated, ran against and lost to Roosevelt in 1944, but 1948 was supposedly going to be his year. Being a moderate progressive (yes, they still had some of those in the GOP at that time), Dewey picked Earl Warren, then Governor of California and even more progressive than himself, to be his running mate. The Dewey/Warren ticket looked to be unstoppable. But Truman and the Democrats had other ideas.
One of Truman’s favorite proclamations when he was in office, was that if the Republicans didn’t like his policies “they could all go to hell.” He was roundly chastised by the GOP for this, as many Republicans protested how “undignified” it was for the President to use such profanity. Whereby Truman explained that ” I just tell the truth and the Republicans think it’s hell.” Well we all know what subsequently ensued. Dewey, believing the Gallop poll which showed him comfortably in the lead, eased up on the gas pedal, and pretty much coasted the last 10 days to election. Truman, on the other hand, showed his feistiness with an all-court press to the very end of the campaign. People woke up on Wednesday after the election to find that Truman had scored a major upset and won reelection after all. The “Chicago Tribune” which had been absolutely convinced that Dewey would prevail, printed its Wednesday edition on Tuesday night before the election results were in, with the blaring headline-DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. In one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century, a beaming Harry Truman is shown holding up a copy of that newspaper and headline in front of a multitude of news cameras.
While both my father and I cheered Truman’s victory, in retrospect, our country might have turned out better if the Dewey/Warren ticket had prevailed. The Republican Party might have retained the moderate progressivism of those candidates, to this day. Instead, after Eisenhower left the scene, the GOP began shifting further and further to the right, until today when it’s firmly entrenched in the streets of right-wing looney-tunesville. Moderate Republicanism has become as extinct as the Dodo bird.
Truman went on to have a successful 4 year-administration and today is usually ranked by historians as one of our best presidents. Dewey quickly faded from the scene after 2 losses in a row, but Earl Warren was subsequently appointed by Eisenhower to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Court under Warren’s leadership achieved some historic decisions, including the establishment of a criminal defendant’s “Miranda Rights, ” and establishment of the exclusionary rule whereby evidence obtained though illegal searches could no longer be entered in a criminal trial.
So what’s the relevance of these 64-year-old events to this years election? Well, for one, it would be nice if Obama were able to display some of Harry Truman’s spirit and feistiness and never-say-die attitude. Because he doesn’t he’s on the verge of being a one-term President. What’s also different is the mind-boggling amounts of money being spent this year versus the events of yesteryear. I guess with all those billionaires pouring multi-millions into Romney’s campaign, the Democrats always faced a severe uphill battle this year, even under the best of circumstances. Also the very essence of the democratic process has become a joke. Republican Governors in key swing states, have been systematically removing registered voters from the voting rolls, on the pretense that these people are not legitimate citizens of those states. To no one’s surprise, those being removed are from the lower classes that usually vote heavily Democratic.
Also, a number of those Romney-supporting billionaires like the Koch brothers own industries that employ thousands of people. Written word has gone down to those workers that if Obama wins, the jobs of all those thousands of employees will likely be in jeopardy, or the health care and other benefits these employees currently receive will no longer be available. Voter intimidation has become so massive, that one political columnist called it a coup-d’etat in slow motion. So through voter intimidation, and removing Democrats from voter eligibility lists, plus requiring people that are allowed to vote to present Government issued, picture ID, it’s hard to see how the Republicans can lose. That the race is so close a week before election day, bespeaks to what a piece of garbage the Republican platform is. But it’s almost certain that Romney will buy and bulldoze his way into the Oval Office. In the meantime, with still a week to go, it wouldn’t hurt if the Democrats raised all kinds of hell, the way Harry Truman would have done it.