Could It Be Dewey-Truman Again?
Will history repeat itself and America again deny the presidency to a Republican who has long sought the office?
I'm reminded of the 1948 election when a beleaguered President Harry Truman defied the odds and trounced the pollsters' favorite, Gov. Tom Dewey of New York.
Truman was earthy, feisty and a born fighter who had not sought the presidency but inherited it upon Franklin Roosevelt's death. Truman, like President Obama, came to the Oval Office from the U.S. Senate, where he was well-respected on both sides of the aisle. Truman had chaired a bipartisan committee that ferreted out wartime graft and corruption.
A stiff Tom Dewey was Truman's exact opposite. Truman had never attended college and was a failed businessman. Dewey, a graduate of Michigan and Columbia Law, became America's most famous federal criminal prosecutor, fighting organized crime in New York. When he convicted Lucky Luciano for prostitution racketeering, he became a national celebrity.
Mitt Romney, somewhat rigid like Dewey, has spent millions of his personal fortune to be president. Dewey tried for the nomination in 1940, which went to Wendell Willkie. Both were liberals who had to battle the GOP's reactionary Robert Taft wing to get on the ticket. Dewey, nominated in 1944, lost to FDR.
In 1948, the pundits all predicted it was "Dewey's year." Truman's popularity seemed at an all-time low, and the Democratic Party had split three ways: among Truman, Henry Wallace (Progressive Party) and Strom Thurmond, (Dixiecrat Party).
Dewey believed the pollsters and took no chances. Speaking in platitudes, he tried to transcend politics. He later admitted he'd wanted to appear as nonpartisan as possible, believing the 1944 race against FDR had been a "mudslinging match."
His party's right wing urged him to engage in red-baiting, but he refused. He opposed outlawing the Communist Party, further offending his far-right supporters.
Romney, as Massachusetts' governor, served as a progressive in America's most liberal state. Running unsuccessfully against Ted Kennedy for U.S. Senate, he sounded more liberal than Teddy.
Now he seeks to walk away from his record, particularly on controversial social issues like abortion and health care. Ironically, he'd end "Obamacare," a plan largely modeled after Romney's now-popular Massachusetts health insurance program.
Dewey was an outspoken liberal who never tried to hide his stripes. Proud of his progressive achievements, he supported New Deal social welfare reforms.
Honest and effective, he cut taxes, doubled state aid to education, increased state employee salaries, reduced state debt by $100 million, and enacted America's first law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment. He created the State University of New York and the New York State Thruway, now named after him. He was proud of his record and never hid from it.
Truman campaigned by train across the U.S., tying Dewey to a "do-nothing Republican 80th Congress." Ironically, Dewey had supported the U.N., the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, recognition of Israel and the Berlin Airlift.
Romney finds himself in a position not unlike Dewey's. The Republican Party, overwhelmed by a regressive Tea Party, advocates far-right positions that conflict with his basic beliefs.
But unlike Dewey, Romney refuses to stand up to such pressure. Persistent attacks on his record of "flip-flopping" by primary opponents were especially damaging.
Obama is a natural, charismatic campaigner with a united party and enthusiastic supporters. Expect him to run against an even more regressive GOP Congress than Truman ever experienced.
The reactionary Taft wing of the GOP failed to keep Dewey, and later Ike Eisenhower, off the ballot. In 2012, an equally intransigent element dominates the GOP, and Mitt Romney has kowtowed to it to win the nomination.
When ultraconservative Sen. Barry Goldwater received the GOP nomination in 1964, Tom Dewey refused to attend the convention, the first he'd missed in 36 years. He correctly foresaw that his beloved party would drift further and further to the right.
Can instinctively moderate Romney be elected running as a sheep in wolf's clothing? Tom Dewey, an "Eastern Establishment" internationalist, refused to do so. He kept his honor but lost to Truman. My hunch is Romney may lose both his honor and the election.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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