Monday, August 29, 2016

Campaign Rhetoric - Bleg

I admit I was surprised to see these Harry S Truman remarks (credit, Instapundit) during his campaign against Thomas Dewey in 1948.  I had thought of Truman as a decent guy who received unfair criticism, and I had always thought of politics before 1964 or at most 1968 as a more civil time, all the way back to the Harding era or thereabouts.  I suppose that just turns out to be chronocentrism on my part.  I do recall an article, I think by Dave Barry though I can't find it, on his parents discussing politics with neighbors without the current rancor we have grown used to.

Well, perhaps so.  Perhaps the hateful rhetoric came mostly from the candidates and their direct representatives in those days, while the rest of us went on more calmly - a reverse of today's practice of candidates leaving the most insulting rhetoric to their proxies while they are merely "impassioned," or "firm," or whatever.  I don't believe that Trump, for all the accusations that he has destroyed a previous civility and brought us to new depths, has said anything about Cruz, or Hillary, or anyone else equivalent to fascist, and the suggestion worse than communist. Hinting at those or making indirect connections doesn't count.  Doesn't count for this discussion, anyway.  Those might count for plenty in our posited History of Incivility.

Is that civility before our recent era a myth?  I am interested in quotes by presidential and vice-presidential candidates, from oh, 1920-1996 flexible, or quotes from campaign ads approved by the candidate, that seem remarkably hateful, intemperate, or unfair.  Any party.  That magazines or comedians said terrible things about Nixon or Coolidge I expect, and I'm not looking for that. If you have a vague memory of something, google it or look through your libraries and see if you can nail it down.  I have a couple of ready quotes and a guess of a theory, but not just yet.

If those of you who have sites where this would be appropriate could pass this on I'd be grateful.

12 comments:

james said...

The Lincoln memorial at Springfield had a room plastered with newspaper articles and cartoons, with a loop playing in which actors read some of the more "printable" attacks.

RichardJohnson said...

I had thought of Truman as a decent guy who received unfair criticism, and I had always thought of politics before 1964 or at most 1968 as a more civil time, all the way back to the Harding era or thereabouts. I suppose that just turns out to be chronocentrism on my part.

There was a reason why he was called "Give 'Em Hell Harry." He was always a very partisan campaigner.
One I remember from my childhood was that in 1960 he said that those who voted Pub should go to hell. And the man was 76 at the time, which is a pretty good indicator that he said precisely what he wanted to say. It turns out that my memory was correct.
1960: Former president Harry Truman advises voters that “if you vote for Richard Nixon, you ought to go to hell!”

HST was a mixed bag. While he began his political career as an underling of the corrupt Pendergast machine in Kansas City, he proved himself to be a competent and honest administrator there. Truman messed up on Alger Hiss. Had Truman been more forthcoming on what was known about Hiss, a lot of the subsequent "red-baiting" trauma might been avoided. Nonetheless, Truman was sitting on a hornet's nest, as more widely diffused information on Red penetration into the Roosevelt administration would have lost Demos more votes.

However, Truman had good judgement on what to do in foreign policy, no doubt enhanced by his thorough if unschooled readings in ancient history.

dmoelling said...

Both parties had real supporters of totalitarian ideas during WWII. The Democrats had Communists in high positions while the Republicans picked up some of the Lindberg style semi admiration for the Nazi's in the 1930's. People had seen the rather close run period during the depression as well as WWII where a democratic government was in some peril. So a charge of supporting dictators was not as far fetched as it sounds now. The democrats had run out of steam after the Roosevelt era and Truman was struggling with change.

I think he was a solid guy in most respects, especially as he left the White house with no pension and near broke. My Grandfather met Truman in the Argonne forest during WWI. I think Truman's WWI experience as a Captain of a field artillery unit was a large influence on his thinking. He was proud to get his unit out with no losses and had seen how a determined foe could fight well up to the last minute of a conflict. (Truman's experience in the Argonne battles were only 6 weeks prior to the armistice). When faced with using the Atom bomb on japan, I'm sure he had no doubt that this was necessary to bring the enemy to the point of surrender.

Donna B. said...

I think you're onto something here... but I think you're on the wrong branch of the tree. Politics has always been nasty -- what makes it worse today is, perhaps, political correctness. Or it's the enforcement of political correctness.

What stands out for me is that the caricatures of past political creatures are now acceptable. Hillary... Trump... Kerry... Obama... Biden... didn't they all appear in cartoons somewhere in the past 100 or 300 years?

I've been meaning to find the source which I remember reading a few years ago that the media, the printed news at the time, was never meant to be unbiased. It was in a history of Scotland that I remember that... but which one? I'd have to go to my print books and that's a problem since my hands can't hold one now. I'll find it someday when I get past more immediate and personal crises.

It is, to my way of thinking, a repetition of history because we didn't learn from history. When I get around to looking for the source of my thinking, the first place I'm going to look is Jacque Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence.

RichardJohnson said...

the Republicans picked up some of the Lindberg style semi admiration for the Nazi's in the 1930's.

Ambassador Joseph Kennedy was a Democrat, last I heard.

herfsi said...

"campaign rhetoric" - isn't that redundant? :)

RichardJohnson said...

dmoelling said...
Both parties had real supporters of totalitarian ideas during WWII. The Democrats had Communists in high positions while the Republicans picked up some of the Lindberg style semi admiration for the Nazi's in the 1930's.

It wasn't just Republicans that expressed "semi admiration" for Nazis or Fascists. Excerpted from Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism:

More than a few progressives were intrigued by Nazism as well. W. E. B. DuBois, for example, had very complex and mixed emotions about the rise of Hitler and the plight of the Jews, believing that National Socialism could be the model for economic organization. The formation of the Nazi dictatorship, he wrote, had been "absolutely necessary to get the state in order." Hewing to the progressive definition of "democracy" as egalitarian statism, DuBois delivered a speech in Harlem in 1937 proclaiming that "there is today, in some respects, more democracy in Germany than there has been in years past."10.......


FDR's defenders openly admitted their admiration of fascism. Rexford Guy Tugwell, an influential member of FDR's Brain Trust, said of Italian Fascism, "It's the cleanest, neatest most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It makes me envious." "We are trying out the economics of Fascism without having suffered all its social or political ravages," proclaimed the New Republic's editor George Soule, an enthusiastic supporter of the FDR administration.12


Not one of our best decades.

Texan99 said...

Remember the "nattering nabobs of negativism"?

Grim said...

Eugene Talmadge wasn't a VP or Presidential candidate, but he's the only politician except for Joe Brown to serve four terms as Georgia's governor. His campaign rhetoric was hideous by comparison with anything we see today: not coded racism, but pure and unadulterated racism. One of his radio ads from the 30s (I think) accused his opponent of secretly intending to introduce miscegenation, which was absurd at the time.

It's interesting how much we've changed on that score. Miscegenation was no one's policy in the 1930s, but turned out to be the actual policy agenda of a generation later, and today the President of the United States is widely celebrated for having come of just such parentage. So in this area, at least, political rhetoric and thought are positively improved over a few generations ago.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I don't recall Carter's rhetoric in 76 or 80, but he has been vicious since the 90's, anyway.

Christopher B said...

Texan99 - Spiro was a bit before my time but I thought of him as well. He seems the archetype of VP as attack dog.

I'm interested to see if anyone has comments on LBJ's infamous Daisy ad

Sam L. said...

Had to look it up to remember which current commentator had a hand in it: Bill Moyers.