The strange case of history repeating itself is ever reoccurring. It feels like we have been here before or as Yogi stated, ‘It’s deja vu all over again.’.
‘Preservation of American Democracy’ is how he said it. Newsweek perhaps said it best, ‘Nothing exactly like it ever happened before in American politics. Willkie had never held public office or even sought it. Virtually a neophyte in politics, he had entered no primaries, made no deals, organized no campaign. . . . His backers were uninitiated volunteers, as strange to the ways of the ward bosses and state chairmen as their hero.’ The new presidential candidate boosted about it, ‘All the headquarters I have are under my hat.’
Eighty-Seven years ago today, the Republican Convention got underway in Philadelphia and it was the first time it was ever televised. The convention was a mishmash. Dewey, Taft, some guy named Stassen and an amateur politician took aim at the title of GOP Presidential Candidate.
At the convention, he had only 29% of the vote. But on the 6th ballot he was claimed the victor. The Party was torn apart. The New York faction supporting Dewey was defiant. The Conservative Ohio faction supporting Senator Taft, was steadfast in their candidates rejection. But the nominee stated boldly that he didn’t need any experience to run the country. As he said, ‘All the headquarters I have are under my hat.’
His campaign was full of errors. Campaign errors, in organization; amateur managers and staff, attempted to write all his own speeches, even with speech writer came to many impromptu speeches, his voice could not keep up the speaking schedule. He claimed on the stump that the New Deal had not caused an economic recovery while all evidence was against that statement. He stressed distribution rather than production of goods, both became none issues, especially with the war spending economic upturn. It was as if he wasn’t looking at the country with the same glasses as others.
Willkie’s disagreement with the methods of The Lend Lease program did not help his campaign especially after he attacked that the administration had neglected the nation’s defenses, and the Democrats responded the Republican congress in the 1930s blocked all attempts at defense bills, defense spending increases.
With the Republican slogan, ‘Bring On The Champ’, Willkie made his comeback during the campaign in October 1940 as the anti-war peace candidate, and gained steam in the public opinion polls. ‘Who really thinks that the President is sincerely trying to keep us out of war?” “We are being edged toward war by an administration that is alike careless in speech and action.”… “If you elect me President . . . , no American boys will be sent to the shambles of the European trenches. If his promise to keep our boys out of foreign wars is not better than his promise to balance the budget, they’re almost on the transports! There comes a time when it is very wise to get off that horse in midstream, because if we don’t, both you and the horse will sink. If one man is indispensable, then none of us is free.’
Robert E. Sherwood, one of FDR’s speech-writers on Wilkie creating an anti-war hysteria, ‘The effects of this were felt powerfully in the White House during the last week in October. I had to read the letters and telegrams and reports that flooded in and . . . I was amazed and horrified at the evidences of hysteria. . . . Newspapermen . . . reported mounting waves of fear throughout the country, which might easily merge into tidal proportions by election day and sweep Willkie into office.’
On November 1, 1940, Herbert Hoover, the former President, campaigned in Salt Lake City, Utah, for Wendell Willkie and claimed that the fundamental issue in the present campaign was still “the preservation of democracy,” and that a reelection for Roosevelt would increase his ‘Personal Power’ and it should be defeated. Four day before the campaign, the former defeated President who led the nation into the Great Depression put the nail in the Willkie campaign. ‘The preservation of democracy’ was the nail. Hoover was the hammer. Four days later, on November 5, 1940, Election Day, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was re-elected for an unprecedented third term and Henry Wallace elected Vice President.
That was then…87 years ago. The results of the Republican Convention of that year represents a mirror of what happened in 2016 during the Presidential Campaign. Then, in 1940, America woke up in time. Will it nearly a Century later?
Today’s Wilkie, another businessman with no governmental experience, gained the office of the President of the United States. But during the first half of his first year, the feel of the amateurism found in 1940 has descended within the White House in 2017. History certainly repeats itself because too few bother to remember the past.
If you take the time to look, you…we all…might learn something.