Many of our friends continue to register shock at the election returns of last month. How can it be?, they ask. Itâs not so hard to figure out, we reply. The first Romney bumper sticker that appeared last year bore a startling resemblance to another famous corporate logo. What were they thinking? The first bumper sticker for the Presidentâs re-election said simply: âObamaCares.â Brilliant. We are not saying that President Obama does actually care about âpeople like me.â But voters polled on that question chose Mr. Obama over Mitt Romney by a whopping 81-18 margin. Thatâs fatal in politics.
The American Enterprise Instituteâs Henry Olsen shows that voters want a President who cares about them. This certainly helped the GOP when Ike swamped the cold and cerebral Adlai Stevenson, when Reagan trounced Carter and Mondale, and when George W. Bush beat sighinâ Al Gore and windsurfing John Kerry.
The 2012 election resembled Harry Trumanâs come-from-behind âGive `em Hellâ campaign of 1948. That year, too, Republicans could almost taste victory. They had taken over Congress for the first time in a generation on a TEA party-like slogan: âHad enough?â The Republican 80th Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Actâwhich organized labor hatedâover Trumanâs veto. Labor unions then were a much greater slice of the workforce.
Truman had few enthusiastic partisans. The late President Franklin Rooseveltâs son, Jimmy, a California Congressman, even tried to dump Truman at the partyâs Philadelphia convention and run Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in his place. Ike nixed all such efforts. âIâm just mild about Harry,â was a slogan of the Democratic Left. It played off the popular hit: âIâm just wild about Harry.â The Republicans told the rest of the country: âTo err is Truman.â
But Truman was a scrapper. He didnât mind winning ugly. Braving the opposition of his universally admired Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, Truman recognized the State of Israel just minutes after it declared its independence. He issued an Executive Order de-segregating the armed forces. He increased farm subsidies.
And he pushed class warfare at every opportunity. Sen. Robert Taftâthe hero of Republican conservativesâdismissed Trumanâs incessant campaigning âat every whistle stopâ in the Midwest. Tens of millions of Americans still lived in whistle stops and took the frosty Ohioanâs words as reflecting a Big Business disdain for the little guys in those little towns.
That year, too, Republicans nominated a moderate Northeastern Governor, Thomas E. Dewey of New York. He had run once before, and been rejected, but now, with the economy in the tank, the GOP felt it could not lose. Dewey confined himself to innocuous bromides, rarely departing from his text. Stiff and formal, he was described by Theodore Rooseveltâs daughter Alice as âthe little man on the wedding cake.â
Once, though, when his campaign train suddenly lurched backward into a crowd of well-scrubbed Dewey backers, the Governor ad-libbed: âWeâre going to take that engineer out and shoot him.â
Democrats seized on the quote as evidence that Dewey was out of touch with Joe Sixpack. âThatâs what they do to workers in the USSR,â they howled, playing on the blue collarsâ known suspicion of communism.
Throughout Election Night, famed radio commentator H.V. Kaltenborn assured his listeners that Dewey would pull ahead âwhen the rural counties are counted.â We saw a memorable repetition of this episode when Karl Rove challenged the Ohio count and pursued FOX Newsâs Megyn Kelly right down to the computer stations. It was as if the White Rabbit had chased Alice.
In the end, Trumanâs win at any price strategy proved successful. Although there were a million and a half fewer votes cast in the 1948 two-party contest then there had been, amazingly, in the wartime election of 1944, Truman got 1.5 million fewer votes than an obviously stricken FDR had gained in his last campaign. Still, Truman edged Dewey by more than two million popular votes and more than 100 Electoral Votes.
One of our friends reported the day after the 2012 election that his lawyer daughter, who is personally pro-life but politically pro-choice, voted at 2:00 pm on Election Day. At 2:20, she got a text message on her iPhone from the Obama campaign thanking her for voting. Would she kindly contact six of her FaceBook friends and urge them to vote, too?
We should never forget: In government, liberals move and breathe and have their being.
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