The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Electionby Zachary Karabell
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In The Last Campaign, Zachary Karabell rescues the 1948 presidential campaign from the annals of political folklore ("Dewey Defeats Truman," the Chicago Tribune memorably and erroneously heralded), to give us a fresh look at perhaps the last time the American people could truly distinguish what the candidates stood for.
In 1948, Harry Truman, the feisty working-class Democratic incumbent was one of the most unpopular presidents the country had ever known. His Republican rival, the aloof Thomas Dewey, was widely thought to be a shoe-in. These two major party candidates were flanked on the far left by the Progressive Henry Wallace, and on the far right by white supremacist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. The Last Campaign exposes the fascinating story behind Truman’s legendary victory and turns a probing eye toward a by-gone era of political earnestness, when, for “the last time in this century, an entire spectrum of ideologies was represented,” a time before television fundamentally altered the political landscape.
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Prelude to the Year That Was
The war was over, but still it was everywhere. To live in 1948 was to live in the wake of global conflict and in the fallout of the Bomb. Nineteen forty-eight was a world defined by the war, shaped by the war, and still reacting to the war that had ended less than three years before. The men and women who voted in 1948 had last voted for president when more than ten million were in the armed services, when millions of women worked in the factories, when food was rationed, when sugar was a precious commodity, when every industry, every business, and every issue was linked to the battles raging in Italy, North Africa, France, Germany, Guam, Wake, Okinawa, and the Coral Sea. In 1948, the horrors of the Bataan Death March, when American GIs captured by the Japanese perished by the thousands, were still near the surface. People could still picture that grim but determined trioRoosevelt, Churchill, and Stalinconferring in Casablanca, Tehran, and Yalta. Americans thrilled to the memory of Paris liberated, and shuddered at the memory of concentration camps entered, and they could not shake the numbing unreality of corpses neatly piled row after row. They could still see innocent eighteen-year-old boys fighting and dying, raising the flag over Iwo Jima, ready to die on the shores of the island of Japan, if and when General Douglas MacArthur gave the order. Thanks to a mushroom cloud over New Mexico, followed quickly by Fat Man and Little Boy exploding over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thanks to the wonder and horror of the atom split, that order was never given. But then Americans were left with a new danger, that of nuclearArmageddon.
The years after the war were also defined by coming home to girlfriends and wives, by children born to women who didn't know if they would see their men again. The men came home, and they wanted only to have a house, and a job, and a family, to have a life uncluttered by tanks and guns and planes, and unclouded by death and mud. The women, who had found themselves out of the house and in the offices and factories, were quietly but firmly encouraged to return to domestic lives. They were told to be mothers and wives once again, and not Rosie the Riveter. Christian Dior, doyen of fashion, introduced the New Look for women, with long flowing skirts and a strong emphasis on nonpractical femininity. Hollywood films reintroduced the woman-as-wife as a stock character, and the soldiers put away their uniforms and went back to work, in jobs that women had shown they could do but that the men wanted back.
And these women and men did what most women and men do when they haven't seen one another for a long while. Alfred Eisenstadt's legendary photo, "V-J Day, Times Square, 1945," was a prelude. What came after wasn't shown, except when babies began popping out in maternity wards throughout the country. For to live in 1948 was to live amid constant marriage ceremonies and then amid little children, toddlers, and infants. Between 1945 and 1950, the marriage rate hit an all-time high and the birthrate increased by 25 percent for white women and by more than 30 percent for nonwhites.
After years of devoting their energies to producing jeeps and tanks, car manufacturers returned to cars and started selling millions of them. The car led to suburbs, unlike any that had existed before, unlike the train commutes and the trolley commutes of the past. Car suburbs sprang up everywhere. The federal government subsidized GIs' mortgages. Construction didn't just provide returning soldiers with homes; it was also good for the economy, and aided the growth of the subdivision. Newly married couples could move into their own homes, and millions of units were built in a postwar construction boom. And the most heralded of all of these was Levittown, New York.
Levittown, twenty-five miles from Manhattan on Long Island, was the American dream reborn. To every family a home, and a yard, and a white picket fence, and a car in the garage, and new appliances: the refrigerator, and the electric iron, and the washing machine, and the toaster, and the electric mixer, and the peelers and carvers and cutters and steamers, the Hoover vacuum cleaners, the drip coffee machine, and the lawn mower, and, to cap it all off, the car. Levittown was the child of Abraham Levitt and his sons William and Alfred. The Levitts perfected the art of mass-producing cookie-cutter subdivisions, where families came and looked at model homes and purchased them. Each home had at least four rooms, one bath, a living room with a fireplace. Each home looked nice and cost pretty much what the next one cost, and some even came with an incentive, a built-in Bendix washing machine. And to Levittown, and to hundreds of other new bedroom communities, the returning GIs and their wives and children flocked.
When the country demobilized in 1945, the politicians feared a repeat of 1919, when the end of war led to a steep recession. Instead, by 1946, the economy was racing ahead. After years of unfulfilled, pent-up desire, people finally had the money to buy things, and they did. Price controls in place from the war temporarily kept inflation in check, but prices still rose. As demand grew and supply dwindled, employers needed workers to produce what people wanted to buy. Labor unions recognized that they were in a strong position to bargain for better wages, but business leaders weren't so inclined to concede. Strikes were ubiquitous and bitter.
Most people wanted only to live a good, quiet, simple life. The late 1940s were the obverse of the war. Where there had been dark, people sought light; from dirt they fled to a vision of cleanness, however antiseptic; from noise and chaos, they yearned for order and calm. Cities were too reminiscent of the war: too crammed, like foxholes; too many lights, like flares; too many people, like battlefields. It had to be the suburbs, and space, and familiar roles, with women as wives and men as breadwinners. It had to be a society where the government was benign but not intrusive.
A thriving economy opened up possibilities for those returning soldiers and newlyweds, but there were also farmers and sharecroppers and elders who found that their world was in flux. Drawn by the bustling urban North, black sharecroppers of the South took advantage of the war's end and began to move to Detroit and Chicago, New York and Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Starting in 1920 and gathering momentum after the war, their Great Trek, or Great Migration, changed the face of the nation, and the color of cities. That migration unsettled the urban life of the North and changed the outlook of the grandchildren of former slaves. American blacks had fought and died for their country during the war, and they had tasted, if only for an unreal moment, what it would be like to be equal in law and in attitude. To return to a world where they might be called "boy" and treated like children made even less sense than it ever had. As more than a million men, women, and children made their way north, official Washington started to attend to questions of race. In December 1946 Truman appointed a commission to study civil rights. And when that commission, sympathetic to civil rights, issued its report, its call for reform penetrated to the heart of southern society, and the white politicians of the Deep South blanched in horror at its implications.
In 1948, the New Deal coalition started to disintegrate. The unwieldy amalgamation of blacks, southern white conservatives, farmers, organized labor, and liberal northeastern elites, which had been held together by the charisma of Franklin Roosevelt and the glue of economic catastrophe, began to come apart. Civil rights was the catalyst. Truman tried to avoid a confrontation, but men like Governor Thurmond had other ideas. Deferential in their dealings with white power, black leaders at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had grown to half a million strong, insisted that after the experience of the war, there could be no turning back. In the summer of 1946, they marched peaceably to the Lincoln Memorial to protest against the Ku Klux Klan and to remind Washington of one individual who had taken the risk to make sure that the United States would be purged of the scourge of slavery. Truman, pushed by his own conscience, by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and by the party's declining fortunes, responded, knowing that in solidifying one base he might well lose another. He responded to the demands of black leaders, black soldiers, and black families, that they no longer be barred from voting, that they no longer have to endure the bigotry of men like Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, or men like the president of the Alabama Bar Association, who declared, "No Negro is good enough and no Negro will ever be good enough to participate in making the law under which the white people in Alabama have to live." Truman spoke of civil rights, and in response the leaders of the Deep South looked to remove him from the ticket in 1948.
Meanwhile, the farmers were dwindling in numbers, and they watched as large agribusiness and flight to the city eroded the populist base they once comprised. They listened to the radio from distant cities and heard the rumblings from the suburbs, and they realized that they no longer were the heart of America. They were still prominent and powerful in states like Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa, but they represented another era, not the present. The economic boom that followed the war passed them by, as farm prices fell. Struggling to survive, the farmers fought to be heard, as they had been heard by FDR and the New Deal, as they were to be for one final moment in 1948.
To live in 1948 was to live in the shadow of the New Deal. Not yet repudiated, the bold period of government activism was coming to a close. Though excoriated by conservatives as an era of government radicalism, the New Deal still enjoyed support. But people were tired of federal power, power that had been vastly expanded by the New Deal and then even more vastly expanded by the war. The alphabet programsthe WPA, CCC, AAA, and the resthad served their purpose but, after a few years, people had had enough of agencies that told them where to work, how to work, and when to work. They were fed up with food rationing, and after being ordered to fight, being told what to produce and how much and what to buy and at what price, they wanted to relax.
Capitalizing on these feelings, the Republicans finally won back the Congress in 1946 (the theme was "Had Enough? Vote Republican"), but the best they could do was halt the New Deal and halt the expansion of federal power. They couldn't reverse it, even though they tried. They pressured Truman to end the price controls, which he did. Price controls gave the government more power than even the most liberal Democrats really desired. In the face of labor unrest, the Republicans passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which tried to restore the power of business over labor. If the New Deal had been the friend of organized labor, of the needs of the workers, the Taft-Hartley Act was a salve for employers and allowed them to sue unions for lost profits. Truman vetoed the bill, but it was overridden, as Senator Robert Taft, the ornery, crusty son of the former president, led the fight against the Democratic president.
Even so, the Republicans and conservative southern Democrats couldn't completely tear down what decades of depression and war had erected. They couldn't remove what FDR had put in place and what the threat of Nazi Germany had demanded. And in the face of the Soviet Union, they weren't about to weaken the power of the military. For the first time in its history, the United States was going to stay armed and dangerous in a time of peace. However much Americans wanted normalcy, however much they wanted that Bendix washer, the Chevy Convertible or Lincoln Continental with the tire on the back, the new RCA radio or television set, however much they wanted the two kids and the clean school and the upward mobility, they had to deal with the world outside. They had to face up to The Threat. Whether it was real or manufactured, whether it was ever truly a threat, for Americans in 1948, it was real, and it was visceral. They felt its presence, and it worried them. The Threat was communism, and people feared that communism would mean an end to subdivisions and radio and vacuum cleaners and God and Mom and apple pie and freedom.
Somewhere between the end of World War II and the election of 1948, the Cold War began. And it was a war, with sides and stakes and the looming threat of defeat. People were already concerned about physical annihilation, for though only the United States had successfully developed and deployed nuclear weapons, the very existence of such weapons conjured up grim visions. People believed that defeat in the Cold War would mean the eradication of a way of life. They listened to the warnings of their leaders and to the messages on the airwaves, and they digested the idea that the world was divided into two camps, one free and one the antithesis of freedom. "From Trieste in the Adriatic to Stettin in the Baltic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent [of Europe]," so said the former prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, as he stood with Harry Truman in the gymnasium of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The Cold War might have been over there somewhere, but its inauguration took place very much over here.
The war of words intensified. The paranoid yet oddly charming Soviet leader Joseph Stalin trumpeted plans to build up his nation's military strength. He said that conflict between East and West, between communism and capitalism, was inevitable and unavoidable. American leaders agreed. Truman spoke of the need to help all of those whose way of life was jeopardized by Stalin's creed. Announcing his intent to supply Greece and Turkey with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, he raised the rhetorical stakes to new heights: "At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. . . . One way of life is based upon the will of the majority and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government. . . . The second way of life is based upon the will of the minority forcibly imposed upon the majority." If the United States wanted to avoid the fate of minority dictatorship, Americans would have to undertake a new struggle.
This was the language that Americans heard when they listened to Lowell Thomas or Edward R. Murrow on the radio, and it was the same language they read in the newspapers. Americans were told about Poland and the betrayal of Yalta, where Stalin promised free elections and then installed a puppet government. They learned about the Italian Communists, who were rumored to be taking orders from Moscow and who were a serious threat to win elections in 1948. They heard about dangers within the American government. They listened as Truman called for a loyalty test and then issued Executive Order 9835 instituting a loyalty oath for federal employees. They were told that communism was an insidious disease, a virus that could easily contaminate society and spread and, if unchecked, could kill and destroy, and turn even the remotest corner of the American heartland into a totalitarian nightmare.
It was a time when what was said publicly by elected officials and statesmen was respected. It was a time when senator and congressman and president and secretary were terms of great respect, when the words of these menand they were nearly all menwere accorded a gravitas. If the president said that the world was divided between freedom and slavery, then it was a good bet that it was. If Senator Taft or Senator Vandenberg said that yes, communism was a clear and present danger, then that was because they believed it. The gap between words and intent, between rhetoric and belief did not exist in the public mind the way it would in subsequent years. As Americans absorbed the rising crescendo of warnings, as they registered the seriousness in the voices of leaders both federal and local, they began to think that the dream of coming home could turn very dark very quickly.
The average American wasn't inclined to give much thought to events in the world outside. Turmoil in Europe notwithstanding, many people didn't pay attention to the looming threat of communism, or to Stalin. Many people were optimistic about the future, and occupied with their daily lives. Yet, even though the country was in the midst of exciting, prosperous times, to live in 1948 was to know how perverse humans could be. To live in those years was to believe that the economy could collapse, that fields could dry out, that angry men with angry words could send the world to the brink. When Churchill spoke of an Iron Curtain, when Truman spoke of freedom and tyranny, when leaders murmured about enemies in our midst, it was all too credible. In 1948, millions read the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian who appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Niebuhr warned of the evil inherent in all of us and cautioned against false faith in the better nature of mankind. Men are selfish, he concluded, and they shouldn't be trusted. To be alive was to dwell on a planet full of sin, and only a fool would rely on the kindness of strangers. To have seen the horrors of Buchenwald, even if only in a brief flash on a newsreel before a Hepburn-Tracy film, to have known a friend, neighbor, or relative who had perished of starvation during the Bataan Death March, to have survived Omaha Beach or Okinawa, was to know that the monsters under the bed were real. It was to know that when Truman, or Churchill, or that young California congressman Richard Nixon, or the fiery South Dakota representative Karl Mundt warned of traitors in our midst who given a chance would bring our way of life to an end, they were warning of dangers that were all too real, and ready, at all times, to reemerge with a vengeance.
The fears may have been irrational, if by irrational we mean that the threat was less real than imagined. The fears may have been manufactured and stoked by opportunistic politicians, though these politicians themselves may have believed in the threat and may have been just as scared as that proverbial man on the street. Some of these fears may have, in the clear light of hindsight, been silly, stupid, boorish, misguided. The Soviet Union betrayed the spirit of Yalta and loomed at the border of Western Europe. That much was true. But whether it jeopardized the American way of life is much less clear, and communism was never a significant force in American politics or organized labor. Yet to live in these years was not to know that these concerns were anything less than a reasonable reaction to an unreasoning enemy, an enemy of ideology, an enemy whose agents looked just like us, sounded like us, lived among us, and yet wished us ill.
The year 1948 began with the end of democracy in Czechoslovakia, as the Soviet Union engineered a coup against the elected government, and in March the world watched as the Czech foreign minister "accidentally" fell out of a window while in detention in Prague. Jan Masaryk's defenestration was another sign, if one was needed, that the Cold War could easily turn hot, that confrontational words were the first step on a road that might end in confrontational actions. As the year progressed, and as the election evolved, Czechoslovakia loomed large, but not nearly as large as Berlin. After three years of postwar stalemate, the Soviet Union decided to force the issue. Divided between an American-French-British occupation zone and a Soviet zone, Berlin was surrounded by an East Germany under the sway of Stalin. In June 1948, Stalin said that the roads and the trains would be blocked, blocked from West Germany to East, and thus blocked from West Germany to West Berlin. Cut off from Western Europe, Berlin was now cut off from food and supplies, as Stalin intended. Now, he believed, the Americans would be forced to recognize the partition of Germany. They would have no choice but to evacuate Berlin and sign the treaty, making the division of Germany permanent.
But Truman had other ideas. Though he was not against the partition of Germany, he intended to maintain an American presence in Berlin. That decision was not made without debate within the administration, but Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall decided that however strategically untenable it was, the Western foothold in Berlin should be defended. The order was given to one of the American commanders in Europe, Lucius Clay, to begin an airlift of supplies. What started as an emergency relief measure ended up lasting more than a year. While the presidential election was being waged in the United States, American planes, with cooperation from Western European allies, flew in tons of food, fuel, medicine, and supplies every day to West Berlin. It was the most massive relief effort ever mounted. A year later, Stalin blinked and ended the blockade.
By then Truman was facing a new set of challenges. Though conducted against the backdrop of the Cold War, the election of 1948 saw remarkably little debate between Dewey and Truman over it. Democrat and Republican agreed, as all who were responsible for American foreign policy agreed, that the Soviet Union was a threat that must be met. Furthermore, Truman was not vulnerable on foreign policy because he seemed to be managing the challenges. The Cold War was still in its early stages. The Soviets had not yet exploded their first nuclear weapon. The spy trials of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss had not yet begun, and the McCarthy investigations had not yet been conducted. The forces of Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communists had not yet defeated the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek, and the invasion of South Korea by the North had not yet happened. Truman was not yet being assailed for mistakes and gaffes in foreign policy. That would change after the Soviets detonated their atomic bomb in 1949, after China was "lost" to communism, and after Korea was invaded. Though the Cold War was important, the bipartisan consensus combined with an absence of major crises other than Berlin made it difficult for Dewey to focus on Truman's conduct of foreign policy as a central issue of the campaign. The only person to puncture the consensus on foreign policy was the man on the Left, the first candidate and the most complicated, Henry Wallace.
Wallace was the last major presidential candidate this century to argue for both internationalism and pacifism. He understood that the emerging Cold War had inextricably linked domestic politics to foreign affairs, and he tried to graft domestic progressivism to American policy abroad. He became a passionate critic of Truman's conduct of foreign affairs, and, well into 1948, he seemed like a major and even fatal threat to the president's chances for reelection.
It had been a friendly, even adoring, audience at Madison Square Garden back on September 12, 1946. Wallace, then the secretary of commerce, made a speech during a rally organized by labor leaders to launch the candidacy of Herbert Lehman to oust Governor Dewey from the statehouse in Albany that November. Wallace had shown the speech to President Truman on the morning of September 10. Truman denied having done more than skim it. In the speech, Wallace enunciated his vision of international politics. He said that the Russians and the Americans could and should live and let live. He said that each country should respect the other's sphere of influence and that Russia deserved to feel secure in Eastern Europe, just as the United States deserved to feel secure in Latin America. He said that the United Nations should control atomic weapons, and thereby prevent future arms races. He said that the two countries could engage in peaceful competition. But what really made the speech distinctive was the idea of moral equivalency: the United States and the Soviet Union were both great powers, and in Wallace's view what the Soviets did in their sphere should be seen in the same light as what the Americans did in theirs. This view of the world was simply not acceptable to Truman or to his then secretary of state, James Byrnes.
The policy of the Truman administration was that American spheres were not equivalent to Soviet spheres because the Soviets were trying to expand theirs beyond the limits established at Yalta in early 1945. The official line in Washington was that atomic weapons were not to be shared, that peaceful competition was up to the Soviets, and that unless Stalin honored open elections in Poland and demilitarization in Germany and a whole host of other conditions, then there could be no peace. Byrnes, a man of no small ambition, a former senator from South Carolina and a former Supreme Court justice, could barely conceal his disdain for Truman but thought even less of Wallace. After hearing the speech, Byrnes, who was in the midst of negotiating with the Soviets, made it known to the president that either Wallace or he could serve in the cabinet, but not both of them. Either Byrnes would make foreign policy, or Wallace would. Truman, faced with a commerce secretary who seemed to be veering off dangerously in his own direction, who seemed to be burying his head in the sand of idealism, asked for Wallace's resignation."The foreign policy of this country is the most important question confronting us today," Truman announced as he presented Wallace's head to the press. "The people of the United States may disagree freely and publicly on any question, including that of foreign policy, but the Government of the United States must stand as a unit in its relations with the rest of the world." There was, Truman went on, a fundamental conflict between the views of Wallace and those of the president and the rest of the administration. He felt it best for Henry Wallace to make his own way in the world and, in the future, Truman warned, no one would speak for the foreign policy of his government unless it was first cleared with the secretary of state.
While Wallace would claim till his death that Truman had cleared the Madison Square Garden speech, the resignation meant that he was now free to champion his own brand of foreign policy. In the fall of 1946, he began to follow a new tangent, one that took him further from Truman than any could have predicted. Having questioned the need for conflict with the Soviet Union, Wallace began to question the motives of the Truman administration, of the Republicans, of the press, and of business leaders, and as he did so, he entered the choppy waters of radicalism.
The Left in American politics was an exciting place to be in 1948. Factions within factions, a legacy of the 1930s, created kaleidoscopic eddies that only the most devoted practitioners could keep track of. The UDA, the CIO-PAC, the NC-PAC, the ICCASP, the PCA, the ADAthe story of the Left in the 1940s reads like the alphabet soup of the New Deal. The disputes between these groups were often bitter, always contentious, and rarely reconciled. Wallace went directly from his job as commerce secretary to the bully pulpit of the editorship of The New Republic, one of the major liberal weekly journals of opinion, which had been founded by Herbert Croly on the eve of World War I. From this post, he helped establish the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA), and out of that movement, Wallace began wandering down the path that would bring him once again into a direct confrontation with Truman. Over the course of 1947, Wallace realized that he neither liked nor agreed with his former boss. Wallace and the PCA pledged to fight for the heart of the New Deal, a heart that was being cut out by the Republican Congress that took over in January 1947. Of course, the Left being the Left, others split with Wallace the way that Wallace had split with Truman. The Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) was created by men and women who didn't like Wallace's equivocation on the issue of American communism. Led by luminaries like Eleanor Roosevelt and Leon Henderson, the ADA would do much of the dirty work for Truman. In 1948, it was the ADA that successfully assassinated Wallace's character, an assassination that he himself greatly facilitated.
As Wallace toured the country in 1947, people urged him to challenge Truman. The disenchanted and the disenfranchised and the liberal intelligentsia praised his integrity and questioned Truman's. They told Wallace that he was the rightful heir to the New Deal, that he was the true leader of Gideon's army, that only he could stand for the common man. And he felt that it was true. He began to talk about running for president, and maybe, just maybe, winning. At the least, he would show Truman that conceding to the Cold War was not just a sign of weak character but a betrayal of the New Deal. He watched in disgust as Truman called for universal military training to prepare America to fight communism. "Harry Truman is a son of a bitch," he told an associate, and he wanted the son of a bitch to lose.
On December 29, 1947, Henry Wallace declared his candidacy for president. He announced his plans during a broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network. He said that he would dedicate himself to world peace, that the Democratic Party had become the party of the Depression, that it had forgotten the common man, and left millions alone in the middle of a meaningless Cold War. And then his language grew more ominous: "We are not for Russia and we are not for Communism, but we recognize Hitlerite methods when we see them in our own land and we denounce the men who engage in such name-calling as enemies of the human race who would rather have World War III than put forth a genuine effort to bring about a peaceful settlement of differences." A challenge had been issued. If his adversaries would give him no quarter, he would give them none in return.
Explaining his decision to run, Wallace evoked the legacy of third parties in America. "I am more than ever convinced that third parties have a significance far greater than is ever admitted in most of the press." As he surveyed the past, he thought that he had found the key to the vibrancy of American democracy. It was the third parties, the ability of new movements to form, with new ideas that the established parties tried to exclude. It was, he recognized, the Republicans of the 1850s who secured America from slavery, the Greenbacks and People's Party who alerted the robber barons of the 1880s and 1890s that not everyone benefited from rapid industrialization, and the Progressives of 1912 and beyond who reminded America to have a social conscience. His "New Party" of 1948 would pull America back from the brink of an unnecessary, foolish war.
As Wallace began his crusade with the optimism of one who did not know what lay ahead, as Truman prepared to run his own seemingly hopeless campaign to be elected in his own right, and as Strom Thurmond and the rest of the southern conservatives fumed while civil rights moved to center stage, most Americans simply went about their lives, taking scant notice of these events. They were occupied with the new cars they wanted to buy, with subdivisions and babies and college degrees, and with their quiet lives on the other side of the war. All the same, many Americans felt a vague foreboding that the world outside was encroaching once again. It was an unsettling fear that the present was but a respite, that enemies in the form of Communists would soon call them away from those subdivisions, would soon pull them away from families and jobs, take them out of the radio fantasies they listened to each night, take them away from the summertime idyll of baseball, away from all that they had come back to and tried to build. But for the moment, there was no compelling reason to follow the minutiae of politics; most people didn't really care about the UDA and the ADA and the PCA and the southern conservatives and the Republican congress. They cared about what people have always cared about, their community and homes. They knew that they would soon vote, but they also suspected that the real decisions in politics would be made in "smoke-filled rooms" by party leaders who would determine in private who and what was best for the country. And for most people, that was just fine.
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Zachary Karabell was educated at Columbia and Oxford, and at Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. in American history in 1996. He is the author of What's College For? The Struggle to Define American Higher Education and Architects of Intervention: The United States, the Third World, and the Cold War, 1946-1962. He has taught at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and Dartmouth. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, Boston Globe, The Nation, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Christian Science Monitor.
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For anyone whose interested in how Presidential elections work, this book is definetely recommended. It chronicles Truman's adversaries both inside and outside the Democratic Party, and his near defeat in the 1948 election. Karabel does an excellent job on describing the fact that the 1948 election was the last election in which Americans truly had a choice in who they could elect as their leaders; it was before TV and the media took over everything and only the super wealthy could come close to being elected president.