Elections, past and present


These are not the best of times when it comes to politics. Nobody seems to be happy with either candidate for the Presidency. The castigation factor has never been more intense than it seems to have been in this year’s presidential campaign, but if you reflect back, you likely agree, we have elected some rather unsavory characters since ol’ George retired to his farm at Mt. Vernon where his most productive cash crop came from distilling rye whiskey.

There is a book with all the inauguration speeches which reflects that historically the persons elected to hold residency in the White House, make beautiful speeches. Especially at the outset. Sometimes there is head turning verbiage sounding forth. They touch on the most basic things that are important to Americans. They provide insight into what they want for our country, espousing the most uplifting preachments.

Then they get elected and that unifying speech on a blustery Washington January day will be given high marks, but more often than not, when retirement comes about and they pack up to move out of the White House, they depart without glowing approval ratings.

Some of that is that the electorate is as fickle as Monday morning quarterbacks. Some of it is that it is just plain hard to run this country to the absolute approval of a majority of Americans.

Scandal seems to be a White House plague for countless administrations. Potomac Fever seems to trip up so many. No President is immune to controversy or shenanigan.

Affairs, even in the White House, have gotten traction countless times. Andrew Jackson was the Great Adulterer, having married a woman who was not legally divorced. Who said so? The Republicans, that’s who. Each party seized on any opportunity to bash the party in power. Nothing has changed.

Another President is supposed to have fathered an illegitimate daughter. It wasn’t scandalous, but when Republican William Howard Taft (332 pounds) got stuck in a bathtub, the Democrats had fun throughout Taft’s presidency. Nixon’s staff was so clumsy, becoming preoccupied with cover-up phobia that he had to resign from office. Bill Clinton was impeached but kept on serving. History reminds us that the Teapot Dome scandal of Warren Harding’s administration involved a cabinet member who traded influence for personal profit and cattle. “Just throw in a few head of cattle to-boot.”

Everybody seemed to like Ike who liked golf and played a few rounds with Arnold Palmer. About the only one to leave Washington unscathed was Harry Truman, who served one full term and a partial term after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office in 1945.

Truman was the last President to campaign by train, a whistle stop routine which must have worked since he upset the favorite, Tom Dewey, of New York when the latter was the overwhelming favorite. In those days, there were not an abundance of polls which measured the intent and mood of the populace as there is today.

The Chicago Tribune printed its morning edition the day after the election with a front page headline which screamed, “Dewey Wins.” Truman was photographed holding up the Chicago paper and displaying a wide grin that told the real story.

An apocryphal vignette about the election would become popular. On the eve of the election, Dewey is said to have been sitting in the parlor with his wife and remarked, “Tomorrow night, my dear, you will be sleeping with the next President of the United States.”

The morning after the election, the story goes, Mrs. Dewey said to her husband: “Let me get this straight, am I going to Washington or is Harry Truman coming here.”

Somehow or other, mud-slinging seems to be the choice of all major political candidates. Will we ever see an election when there will be more civility, a candidate raving about good things and taking the high road?

Castigating opponents goes way back. In 1892 Grover Cleveland ran for President and was elected, even though there was a widespread rumor which claimed he was the father of an illegitimate daughter.

The opposition came up with this doggerel, but it didn’t keep Cleveland from serving in the White House:

“Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”

“Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.”

[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]