Dewey Beats Truman: A Cautionary Tale for 2020

I just finished an excellent book titled Dewey Beats Truman: The 1948 Election and The Battle for America’s Soul by AJ Baime. It serves as a cautionary tale of what could happen, particularly to the unpleasant surprise for Democrats, in this year’s Presidential election.

First, my admiration for Truman as a President continues to grow. His administration was dealing with post Second World War relations and issues with the Soviet Union. There was a genuine concern there may be war between the two countries, particularly when the Soviets tried to blockade food and supplies getting into Berlin. Civil Rights was a huge issue as black soldiers returning home from the war demanding equal opportunity and equal justice. Truman initiated a number of civil rights legislation that infuriated the Southern Democrats in his own party. Truman was an early supporter for the state of Israel. This angered many in his party who were concerned that the Arab states would cut back on the distribution of oil to the United States.

Second, there are some corollaries between candidates Truman and Trump. Polls showed that both candidates were/are behind 15-20% of their challengers. Political pundits and writers almost unanimously picked Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate to win. Dewey was so confident of winning that he was focusing on who would be members of his Cabinet when he won in November. Major newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post endorsed Dewey. Both Trump and Truman were characterized as unpopular candidates. Congressional candidates running for reelection avoided having their endorsements or helping their campaigns with joint appearances. There were also concerns about one candidate winning the popular vote but the other winning the electoral college and causing a crisis. (Fortunately Truman easily won the popular and electoral college vote.)

Third, there were concerns in 1948, like today, of Soviet Union involvement in the election. During the campaign, Joseph Stalin exchanged letters with the progressive candidate, Henry Wallace. Stalin’s involvement intimated that he could work on building a peace with Wallace. The Soviet Union also engaged in certain military and political activities that were intended to discredit the Truman presidency and campaign.

Fourth, Truman’s path to victory was more problematic. Southern Democrats bolted the party as they opposed civil rights for blacks. They nominated Strom Thurmond as their choice for President. (Ironic that Strom was such a huge segregationist as he fathered a black daughter. To his credit, he did support and take care of her, surreptitiously.) The progressive wing of the Democratic Party nominated Henry Wallace as President. Wallace was not afraid to identify with the communist party. Wallace portrayed himself as a peace candidate, he was afraid that Truman would declare war on the Soviet Union.

Since Truman was not expected to win, campaign funds were very low. Customary Democratic party contributors decided to sit out this presidential election. This impacted Truman’s ability to get out his message, particularly with the advent of election coverage by television networks.

Sadly there were some things that happened in 1948 that still occur today. There were a number of incidents where innocent black men were killed by white mobs and gangs in southern states. These murders were often taken to suppress black voting turnout in the South. Despite overwhelming prosecution evidence presented at the trials of the of the people responsible and charged for the crimes, white juries in those southern states would not render guilty verdicts.

There are differences between the campaigns of 1948 and today. In 1948, both Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey refused to engage in character assassination and both treated their respective opponent with relative respect. When the votes were counted, Dewey respectfully conceded the election and wished Truman well. We certainly have not seen that courtesy exhibited today. In addition, the incumbent, President Truman engaged in a whistle-stop tour sharing his plans on foreign and domestic affairs. His speeches were disciplined. Truman addressed voters concerns, he did not engage in vitriolic language and focused on policies, not personality.

Evil Geniuses: the Unmaking of America : A Recent History by Kurt Andersen

This is a very sobering but not surprising story. The “evil geniuses” in this story include Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Milton Friedman, Lewis Powell, John H. Sununu, Mitch McConnell, Grover Norquist, Robert Bork and others. The Democrats own a lot of the blame too. Their Congress representatives were lobbied to support various deregulation efforts and tax cut packages. And now many Americans reap what has been sowed and plotted by the economic right.

The rich have gotten richer and the middle and lower classes have struggled the past 40 years. Listed below are some notes from my reading of the book:

In 1980, income above $700,000 (in today’s dollars) was taxed at 70% by the federal government, but today the top rate is 37%. And the richest Americans, who back in the day paid an average of 51% in federal, state and local taxes combined, now pay just 33%.

The richest 0.01% of Americans, the one in 10,000 families worth an average of $500 million, pay in effect federal income tax rate half what it was in the 1970s.

Before 1980, all Americans’ incomes grew at the same basic rate as the overall economy. Since 1980, the only people whose incomes have increased at that rate are people with household incomes in the range today of $180,000 to $450,000. People with incomes higher than that, the top 1%, have gotten increases much bigger than the overall economic growth. Meanwhile 90% of Americans have done worse than the economy overall.

The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit more than tripled from 1950 to 1980, adjusted for inflation, but it has increased by just half in the four decades since.

“The greatest lie is that the 401(k) was capable of replacing the old system of pensions,” says the regretful man who was president of the American Society of Pension actuaries at the time and who had given his strong endorsement to 401(k)s. Today only one in eight private sector employees are in line to get such a pension, and most American workers don’t even have a 401(k) or an IRA or any other retirement account.

Only a quarter of people graduating from four-year public colleges and universities in the early 1990s had student loan debt; by 2010, 2/3 did.

The United States economy since 1980 has grown as much as or more than those of most of our rich country peers, although not all —-Sweden, for instance, has continuously grown faster than America for the last 30 years. But while the average US income and GDP per capita have risen as fast as or faster than incomes in your European economies, in exceptional America the more real life relevant median income – – the amount of money going to the person who earns more than the poor half and less than the rich half has hardly budged for decades.

In every international ranking of healthcare quality, the United States is low, from 28th to 37th place. Until the 1980s too, life expectancies for people in all the rich countries were increasing right in line but now people in the other countries live 3 to 5 years longer on average than Americans. According to the health efficiency index compiled by Bloomberg News which combines longevity and healthcare spending into a single metric for almost every country, the United States is second from the bottom, better only than Bulgaria.

Senescence

My pithy observations on maturity and the art of getting older…

Photo by Trang Pham from Pexels

We open our book of life to see there are not very many pages left.

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A great antidote to depression or melancholy is the comforting smile of a young child.

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As years grow longer, handshakes, hugs and kisses among friends are stronger.

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Those who are truly happy, if offered a chance to enter a time machine and go back to relive their lives, would decline and say, “I would not change a thing.”

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Songs trigger old memories—-some bring a smile, some bring a tear. 

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We wear fatigue like a thin blanket hanging loosely from our slightly stooped shoulders.

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One’s definition of “success’ matures with age. Success becomes not so much what one has but what one did with what one had.

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Past events that seemed so embarrassing and foolish then are accepted with a wry smile and a forgiving heart now.

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Add 20% to the time it usually took you to complete routine duties like taking out the trash, going grocery shopping, finding your keys and climbing the stairs.

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What we miss surpasses what we look forward to…

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Women retain their desirability by their humor, laughter and conversation; men by simply listening.

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Our nightmares are not events that could happen but did happen.

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What often frightens the young, amuses the mature.

Poor White Boy from South Camden Memories

I have referred to myself as a “poor white boy from South Camden” when describing my early youth (ages 0-10). I lived with my parents and grandparents in the same house. My sister was born when I was three years old. My grandfather died when I was six and my father passed away when I was seven. 

Camden was a different city than it is today. In 1960, when I was seven, “white flight” had not yet started. There were stores, bakeries, professional buildings and doctor’s offices on Mt Ephraim Avenue and on Broadway. I even remember a movie theater in the center part of Camden.  Crime and poverty were not as prevalent as it would become. I lived in a three bedroom, two level very modest home on Morton Street, located within South Camden, till I was eight or nine. The area was referred to as “Polack town”, where many Polish immigrants and their families settled.”With my mother, grandmother and sister, we moved to Sheridan Street which was about four blocks from the Morton Street residence. The house on Morton Street burned down sometime in the 70s or 80s I believe.

Listed below are some of my memories of living in South Camden (1952-1962):

Neighbors sweeping the streets and sidewalks with brooms of any trash or garbage. The streets were spotless. Everyone policed their own areas in front of their homes.

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Reading Sergeant Rock and Superman comics while waiting to get my haircut from a barber at Whitman Park.

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Walking home from St Joseph’s Grammar School located on Mechanic Street, about a 1.50 mile trip one way. My mother did not drive and there was no bus so I walked home all the time. No problem in nice weather. Problem walking in bad or snowy weather!

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I walked home from school during Hurricane Donna in 1960. Since my mother did not drive, I had to walk home through the start of the storm. I remember nurses from West Jersey Hospital stopping me on Mt. Ephraim Avenue trying to get me to come inside the hospital but I was concerned that my mother would worry where I was or whether I had gotten hurt in the storm. Scary walk as I was concerned about power lines coming down as the wind gusts were strong.

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Listening to Joe Niagara, Bill Wright, Sr, Hy Lit and other disk jockeys on  WIBG-AM on my transistor radio.

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Playing music on 78 and 45 RPM records.

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Very uncomfortable summer days and nights of heat and humidity. No air conditioners, just fans in the house.

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Buying and eating babkas and chruscikis from Morton Bakery down the street.

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Bottles of milk being delivered to a mailbox on the front porch by a Sealtest driver.

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Eating and enjoying cheese, sauerkraut and potato pierogis made by my grandmother.

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The horrible smell of my grandmother making kiszka (blood sausage) that literally made me gag and run from the house.

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Playing little league baseball at Whitman Park. My first team was sponsored by the PACC (Polish American Citizens Club). I remember the parade through South Camden streets when the baseball season opened up.

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Being taught Polish in school. (As an aside, I never learned the language though my grandmother spoke it all the time. Her English was very broken.) My grandfather did not speak any English.

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I vaguely remember being in some type of second or three grade play where I played Johnny Jump Up (?) Surprisingly my acting career never got off the ground.

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Parades on Red and White day down Mt. Ephraim Avenue from the grammar to the high school to celebrate St Joseph. I remember the St Joe’s High School cheerleaders dressed in their red and white uniforms and pompoms. I guess other events took place but I still remember the cheerleaders.

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First girlfriend—age 7: Robin. She had blonde curly hair and blue eyes. Year younger than me but she spoke Polish. Age difference killed our relationship.

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Pulaski Day parades with bands and other marching starting at the Radio Condenser building and going past my house on Sheridan Street.

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Watching St. Joseph High School football at Farnham Park. I remember a caravan of cars with red and white streamers honking on the way to the game and if St Joe’s won, honking after the game and driving through town to celebrate. Back then I rooted for St Joe’s when they played Camden Catholic. A few years later that changed.

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Buying and trading baseball cards with my school friends. A pack of cards cost a nickel and you got a stick of gum too!

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Buying Yum Yums (water ice) from the Yum Yum man. He was usually drunk when he biked up our street with his cart. Sometimes he forgot to get paid. I was partial to cherry and orange flavored Yum Yums.

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Walking behind a Mosquito Control truck as it went down the street fumigating the area with a cloud of dangerous chemicals. All the kids on the block did it. No one stopped us.

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While playing football with my friends at Municipal Hospital (off Cope Street), Jersey Joe Walcott, (who was Camden’s Director of Public Safety and former boxing heavyweight champion) pulled up to where were playing with four police cars filled with men carrying shotguns and other weapons. Scared the hell out of us as we were trespassing on hospital grounds but Jersey Joe and the police officers were looking for escaped convicts who were spotted where we were playing. Jersey Joe asked if we saw anyone. We didn’t. He and the police left. We resumed our football game.

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Playing half ball, wall ball, wire ball, wiffle ball, stick ball and box ball at Stanley Klish’s (classmate’s house. (Coincidentally, my future wife and her family lived on the street and my future wife may have even played in some of the games. We have no memory of each other though we remember the games. She also went to St Joseph’s but we were in different classes.)

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Another coincidence: My wife and I were both baptized and married by the same priest (Father Ed Korda).

First Communion Picture 1960: Me, Stashu (best friend) and my sister, Sandra–side of the Morton St. house

Book Review: Hoax by Brian Stelter

So there is a resistance movement within Fox News! Good to know! Today it was on display as many Fox “journalists” defended Jennifer Griffin after Trump wanted her fired after her sources revealed that certain allegations in the recent Atlantic article were confirmed by her sources. Trump accused our military dead, injured and POWs as being “losers.”

Fox Heroes: Carl Cameron, Shep Smith, Neil Cavuto, Chris Wallace and Brett Baier

Fox Zeroes: Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Jeanne Pirro, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, Eric Bolling, Kimberly Guilfoyle

Listed below are some sections from the Stetler book to give one a taste of what it covered and was about:

The day after his on air powwow with Hannity, the president called the host with a question; “How did we do?” Hannity knew that the real meaning of the question was “How did we rate?” pg. 5

Hannity chose this life, so no one felt sorry for him, but the stress took its toll. “Hannity would tell you, off off off the record, that Trump is a bat shit crazy person,” one of his associates said. Another colleague concurred; “Hannity has said to me, more than once, “he’s crazy”. pg. 9

Most Americans knew that Trump was on trustworthy, but the Fox base still trusted him. They also trusted Hannity, who dismissed “coronavirus hysteria,” and Laura Ingraham, who called Democrats “the panDEMic party” and Watters , who said, “I’m not a bit afraid of the coronavirus and no one else should be that afraid either.” pg. 12

It’s worth stating the obvious here: Trump’s entanglement with Fox has no historical precedent. Never before has a TV network effectively produced the president’s intelligence briefing and staff the federal bureaucracy. Never before has a president promoted a single TV channel, ask the hosts for advice behind closed doors, and demanded for them to be fired when they stepped out of line. pg.22

Here’s what everyone should understand about Fox’s relationship with Trump, a former Fox and Friends producer said: “People think he’s calling up Fox and Friends and telling us what to say. Hell no. It’s the opposite. We tell him what to say.” pg.43

What works (at Fox): 

  • Stories about undocumented immigrants killing Americans
  • Stories about citizens standing up to the government bureaucracy 
  • Stories about college students disrespecting the flag 
  • Stories about hate crime hoaxes 
  • Stories about liberal media outlets suppressing the truth 
  • And whenever possible stories involving attractive women pg.50

Sex is what Ailes (Roger) wanted, and sex is what he got. He used his power to enforce the short skirts and “leg cams” and exploitive segments that kept men watching. He also abused his power by preying on dozens of women, including Gretchen Carlson, who hatched a plan to hold him accountable. Ailes downfall would coincide with Trump’s takeover of the American right. (pg.51)

(Kimberly) Guilfoyle’s cheerleading for Ailes confused some staffers, since Ailes was known to be dismissive of her in private. According to unsubstantiated allegations in a lawsuit filed by former Fox co host Julie Roginsky, Ailes once said to her that Guilfoyle would “get on her knees for anyone.” pg. 67

In private, during the 2016 primaries, (Carl) Cameron likened Trump to a con man and reminded people of all Trump’s documented fraudulent activity. He pointed out that Fox was owned by Murdoch, a phenomenally successful businessman who built a global media empire, while Trump merely sold his name to other people’s projects. pg.123

Rounding out the five was a “hot chick,” and in Ailes’ words — – two actually, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Andrea Tantaros, who took turns sitting at the end of the table so the wide shot shot showed off their legs. That was the “leg chair.” pg. 139

(Ailes) always wanted a certain southern beauty queen look from the women on his channel. Sometimes (Suzanne) Scott would convey his messages directly, by telling new hires to “let hair and make up do their job.” She wanted more glam, longer eyelash extensions, shorter skirts, bronzer legs. Some of the Fox make up artists called it the “Barbie doll look.” pg. 143

Poll after poll showed that Fox viewers were less concerned about the virus than average consumers of other news sources, strongly suggesting a linkage between the networks’ commentary and the audience’s beliefs. The Knight foundation and Gallup found that 57% of respondents with a “conservative news diet” believe that the new virus was less deadly than or as deadly as the flu. pg. 306

Aphorisms for the Trump Era

I have a dislike for most political memes that are so popularly posted on Facebook and other social media. So many are crude, misleading, poorly written and contain doctored and photoshopped images and pictures. These memes are not meant to inform but inflame, frighten and mislead. What’s worse is that these memes are shared and spread like a cancer. An example of such a meme is described below:

If bullshit doesn’t come to a halt, you will see 83 million gun owners walk out of their homes like this. (picture of masked man carying a rifle and dressed in fatigues).

I am a collector of timeless aphorisms. Aphorisms are short, pithy observations, opinions and thoughts created by (mostly) wise and observant people, not by bots and trolls in their cellars.

Here are a few aphorisms that may have been written a century ago are relevant to what we experience today…

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

H.L. Mencken

 “Holders of power, almost inevitably desire their subjects to be emotional rather than rational, since this renders it easier to make those who are victims of an unjust social system contented with their lot.”

Bertrand Russell

“America is a pot that’s melting.”

John Alejandro King

“The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”

Dante Alighieri

“A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.” 

Bertrand de Jouvenel

“We don’t collect news to inform us. We collect news to affirm us.”

Frank Luntz

“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

H.L. Mencken

A politician thinks about the upcoming elections, a statesman to the next generations.”

James Freeman Clarke

“The man who is always waving the flag usually waives what it stands for.”

Laurence J. Peter

 “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”

Oscar Ameringer

“The only valid political system is one that can handle an imbecile in power without suffering from it.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Democracy the domination of unreflective and timorous men, moved in vast herds by mob conditions.”

H.L. Mencken

“The flag does not identify the nation, it identifies the wind.”

George Murray