Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Elections of 1958

A second-term president’s party often loses a large number of seats in the mid-term elections. Republicans who fear being banished from the corridors of power and Democrats who think that this year’s elections represent some unprecedented dissatisfaction with a president would do well to consider the history. A second-term president’s party loses on average 6 seats in the Senate and 25 seats in the House in the mid-terms.

But in 1958, the Democrats gained 15 seats in the Senate: 13 which they won from Republicans and 2 more in the new state of Alaska. New Senators included Robert Byrd of WV and Chris Dodd’s daddy, Thomas, in CT. The Democrats additionally gained 48 seats in the House.

If you are having trouble remembering what it was that created such enormous pressure to throw the bums out, it is because there wasn’t much. There was a worldwide recession in 1957-58, which was blamed on Eisenhower. The effect in the US was a one-year spike in unemployment, which went from 4% to 7%, then back down to 5% in 1959, and an inflation rate that jumped from 2 to 3%. There was a scandal involving Sherman Adams of NH, who was Eisenhower’s Chief Of Staff, and was forced to resign because of accepting the gifts of an oriental rug and a vicuna coat. As is often the case with such scandals, what angered people at the time turned out to be small potatoes, while the corruption we didn’t know about was much worse.

The USSR had also just launched Sputnik, which made Americans nervous that we had lost our technological edge over our enemies. We hankered for someone new to come rescue us. Eisenhower, who had proved himself an excellent military mind, was resented by the Democrats as a dolt who had somehow defeated the intellectual Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson had proved himself an excellent, um, give me a minute here, intellectual. Because he was an academic and Eisenhower, er, wasn’t.

That’s it. Those were the reasons. An economic blip, a petty scandal, irritation, and falling back to a close second place in the space race. We were at peace, and extreme poverty was dropping quickly. The Republicans got creamed.

The French hated us even then, by the way.

3 comments:

Michael said...

But you listen to the media today, and you might hear a vague reference to the cyclical nature of off year elections, but otherwise it is all about Iraq.

Thanks for the history lesson.

George said...

I was almost nineteen at the election of 1958. I recall the relentless emphasis of the economic recession. Castro was on the march in Cuba, but no one in the general populace knew what he was really planning. The Hungarian Revolution had occured just two years prior, and I don't recall a good feeling about the Eisenhower response to it, which was essentially no response. We were still absorbing Hungarian refugees in the corner of the US I lived in. Yes, the Soviets launched Sputnik in October 1957 and commentators all over the world were wringing their hands that the US had been bested in the "space race." Of course, Explorer I was launched three months later and did more than the rinkydink Sputnik, but no one knew much about that. The fools that were the MSM of the day went on and on about the Soviet achievements, but they either were willing dupes even then or were gullible enough to believe the propaganda that the Soviets were pumping out. The Berlin Crisis of 1958 was another ploy by the Soviets that ultimately failed, but I don't recall how that was played by the MSM of the day. Khrushchev visited the US in September of 1959 and Eisenhower escorted him on a visit to Disneyland.

What we didn't know running up to the election of 1958 was that in spite of all the media hype the US was not lagging behind the Soviets in the "space race." On his way out to Disneyland, Eisenhower had escorted Khrushchev on a special passenger train. The train passed down the California coast and through Vandenburg Air Force Base, then quickly becoming the Western Missile Test Range development site. It also housed several squadrons of strategic ICBMs and they were all in plain view as the train passed through. It was a stark reminder to Khrushchev that he wasn't dealing with a patsy.

So, AVI, you're right. The world, especially the MSM, was focused on trivial crap while big events were playing out behind the scenes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thanks for the added perspective, George. I should have made the Hungarian Revolution connection myself.