21
Jun
12

Thoughts on a Book: The Making of a President 1964

The 1948 presidential election is a war for the soul of the Democratic Party, with accidental president Harry Truman pitted against Henry Wallace, his embittered leftwing predecessor as vice president, and stormy young South Carolina segregationist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. On the GOP side, it’s a four-way battle between cold-as-ice New Yorker Tom Dewey, Minnesota upstart Harold Stassen, the stodgy but brilliant Ohio conservative Robert Taft, and the imperious but aged Douglas McArthur.

It’s an election year featuring a uniquely stellar supporting cast: Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, Richard Nixon, civil rights crusader Hubert Humphrey, GOP vice presidential choice Earl Warren, Paul Robeson, Lillian Hellman, Pete Seeger, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe McCarthy, Clark Clifford, Adlai Stevenson, Lyndon Johnson, H.L. Mencken, Harold Ickes, Clare and Henry Luce, and Ronald Reagan.

Everyone knows the iconic newsphoto: A jubilant underdog Harry Truman brandishes a copy of the Chicago Tribune proclaiming “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” But far more exists to 1948’s election than a single inglorious headline.

In this fascinating book, award-winning author David Pietrusza goes beyond the headlines to reveal the backstage events behind Truman’s stunning upset victory, placing in context a down-to-the-wire fight against the background of an erupting Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, and the birth of Israel, and a post-war America facing exploding storms over civil rights and domestic communism.

AUTHOR: DAVID PIETRUSZA

David Pietrusza is the author of 1960 – LBJ vs JFK vs Nixon; 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents (named a Best Book of 2007 by Kirkus Reviews); Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series; Teddy Ballgame: My Life in Pictures (with Ted Williams); and Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Pietrusza’s historical work has garnered media attention from such outlets as the New York Times, Newsweek, US News and World Reports, the Washington Post, NPR, C-Span Book TV, C-SPAN American History TV, MSNBC, SIRIUS-XM, The Fox News Channel, Bloomberg Radio, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and others. He has served on the board of trustees of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. He lives in upstate New York.

  1. One of the most important person in the 1964 U.S. Elections is not even physically present during the entire proceeding. JFK died but his lasting influence in the electoral contest cannot be denied. His predecessor Lyndon Baines Johnson had both both the luck and misfortune of inheriting an administration on the road to a new frontier. The position fell into his lap in the wake of a national tragedy. A man of lesser substance will most likely succumb to the pressure of presiding over a grieving nation but Johnson proved he is made of sterner stuff. Had JFK died on a non-election season, we will still find his successor’s struggles and triumphs in taking over an orphaned administration riveting. The fact it happened during the campaign period makes it even more fascinating.
  2. History, as most people say, repeats itself. Methinks history simply echoes the past. As recounted in Theodore H. White’s excellent book, the incumbent Democrat president is up against a new kind of movement – conservatism. Sounds familiar. Oh. One of the major players in the 1964 Republican Convention is a man named Romney. No one will be surprised if this book is in placed prominently on the bedside table of President Barack Obama.
  3. Despite an economic abundance never-before-seen in history, Barry Goldwater painted a different picture of the United States, an America in great moral decay. Whereas his opponent preaches peace and prosperity, he pushes the panic button imploring the people to remove their rose-colored glasses. Adding in their hearts, they know he is right. After the assassination of the president, it became apparent people chose to seek comfort from the promise of peace and prosperity rather than hide in fear from crumbling moralities. Nevertheless, in spite of a devastating defeat, the gentleman from Arizona had put the issue of morality in the political spotlight. That is indeed his lasting contribution to politics.
  4. I once read an article enumerating the best U.S. presidents of the 20th century and found its description of Johnson most appropriate. Though am not sure, I think he even ranked higher than Kennedy. The biggest failure of his administration is the Vietnam War and most people remember him for it.  But the article remembered his greatest contribution: domestic policies. Without Johnson, the article says, these policies may not have been passed. Further, it would have taken a long time before such a president comes along to whip the Congress into signing such significant policies. Inventing Johnson would have been inevitable.
  5. One chapter that really had me thinking is the one about issues. The author began the discussion, “The campaign of 1964 was that rare thing in American political history. A campaign based on issues.” These issues include: (1) war and peace (2) the nature and role of the government (3) the morality and mercy of the society and (4) the quality of life. For the author to describe a U.S. campaign based on issues as a rare thing in American in American political history – considering it was already 1964 then – I had to take his observation gradually as I remember the recent elections in the Philippines. The United States declared its independence on 1776 and this makes the Philippines a democracy toddler in comparison. But for an astute political historian like White to point out an issue-based campaign as a rarity in the U.S. is incredible to hear for Filipinos dreaming of political maturity in the Philippines. 
RATING: A+
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