Pietrusza’s book is a well-documented account of the race for the White House in 1948 when Democrat Harry Truman pulled out a shocker over Republican Tom Dewey.
Dewey has been characterized as something of an intellectual stuffed shirt through the years, which may have been true.
I came across an interesting scene in the book where Dewey and Harold Stassen were debating in Portland on May 17, 1948 prior to the state’s primary election. The two were locked in a pretty good battle for the Republican nomination.
The serious effort to hunt down communists was just beginning to gather steam and would boil over when the Alger Hiss case hit in August 1948 and Sen. Joe McCarthy took center stage in the troubling period of tyranny for our country.
Stassen was riding a populist movement based on a bill proposed by Republicans Richard Nixon, then a representative from California, and Rep. Karl Mundt of South Dakota.
The bill established the Subversive Activities Control Board and outlawed the CPUSA, Communist Party USA.
The easy thing was to jump on the “let’s hate the commies” bandwagon. It made for easy talking points and easy votes.
Stassen’s point was the communist organization should be outlawed because “patriotic young Americans” were being drafted to fight the menace.
I always get a bad feeling when a candidate uses “patriotic,” “young” and “hero” in a sentence.
Dewey’s response was simple and based on the Constitution, which he clearly understood.
“I am unalterably, wholeheartedly, and unswervingly against any scheme to write laws outlawing people because of their religious, political, social or economic ideas,” he replied.
I have too often seen candidates and sitting political officials at the federal, state and city level fall to pandering for an easy slap on the back, because your friends like you better, or some other reason excluding a reasoned and thoughtful position.
The clarity of Dewey’s statement has something for everyone. Council members, representatives and community members are faced with difficult choices that often put them at odds with friends and neighbors. It may be most troubling for council members who will be seeing their neighbors in the grocery store, probably walking past without speaking.
(It happens to me all the time after I write a column someone doesn’t like, but it cheers me up because… well, let’s not get into that.)
National issues like hunting commies may seem remote from our little towns, but they are not.
I remember my dad telling me about a teacher from Enumclaw who was pulled before a subversive activities board. There is nothing like a local group of tyrants screaming and waving their arms about how everyone else should think and act. Democracy in action, and I can say it is alive and well today.
The best defense against the dangers of group-think are leaders like Dewey – people willing to think through an issue for the good of all, instead of handshakes of a few.
It is well worth taking a look at Pietrusza’s book if you are at all interested in the Truman-Dewey race, where the country was at the time and some thoughtful prose on American politics at all levels.