Approaching the presidential election of 1948, Republicans were optimistic. They had recaptured both houses of Congress in the midterm elections of 1946, had a seasoned presumptive nominee in New York Governor Tom Dewey, and looked set to end the Democrats' decade-and-a-half hold on the White House. In "1948," author David Pietrusza looks back at how those GOP hopes fizzled and how President Harry Truman won election in his own right.
Pietrusza offers brief biographical sketches of both Truman and Dewey, as well as of minor-party candidates Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond. He also recalls the reluctance of Dwight Eisenhower to run and shows how figures such as Earl Warren, Alben Barkley, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, and others factored into Election 1948.
The late Forties were a fascinating time in American history: the Cold War, civil rights, the creation of Israel, the Hiss Case, inflation, and the nascent medium of television were the talk of the country in 1948, and Pietrusza shows how these issues impacted the election.
The author's account of the Republican nomination process and of the splintering of Wallace and Thurmond from the Democratic Party is absorbing, he covers each of the parties' conventions, and his account of the general election campaign is also very good--Dewey began very sure he would win, so much so that he decided to run a bland, play-it-safe campaign (but he made one huge gaffe which really cost him).
GOP doubts began to creep in as Election Day approached, and their fears of a Truman win were realized the morning after the election. Pietrusza's recollections of how the candidates as well as other key figures and interested onlookers spent Election Day and Election Night will be greatly enjoyed by any fan of political history.
President Obama looks as though he plans to run a campaign that mirrors Truman's campaign against Congress, but history suggests that that does not work most of the time. Typically, the electorate fires presidents in presidential election years and fires Congress in midterm election years. Since the end of the nineteenth century, 1948 is anomalous in that it is the only occasion on which the voters kept the president and fired Congress in a presidential election year. Running against a "do-nothing, block-everything" Congress of the other party generally doesn't end well (see Bush, George H.W., 1992).
Pietrusza's latest book is outstanding and even somewhat thought-provoking--when looking back at a close election, one is always tempted to wonder what might (or might not) have happened had the loser won, much more so with the election of 1948, considering what happened in China and Korea from 1949 to 1953. "1948" is a no-brainer addition to any collection of political history.