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Truman, of course, had another idea of how to run a presidential campaign altogether. Relentlessly boisterous, he used every opportunity to tear into Dewey, ridiculing the idea of “unity.” Ironically, says Smith, it was Truman who behaved as the outsider and Dewey who played the role of the above-the-fray incumbent. Truman went after Dewey as the “chief prosecutor” of the sainted FDR’s New Deal. Dewey, Truman sneered, was lying in wait to do “a real hatchet job” on popular New Deal programs. He accused Dewey of wanting to take from the poor to give to the rich, of being the kind of guy who was so sneaky about his intentions he was “the candidate in sneakers.” Over and over and over again Truman mocked Dewey, made fun of him, scored points off of him by scorning the press that was openly speculating that the only job Truman could get after losing to Dewey would be as the vice president of an insurance company.
IN THE END, OF COURSE, the nation awoke to find that the spirited Truman had won. The dignified, efficient, and sincere Dewey, who insisted on running a “unity” campaign, was stunned to find himself on the losing end of a 303-189 Electoral College vote to the man once disdained as a “failed haberdasher.” Truman had a new nickname forever after that campaign: “Give’em hell Harry.”
Make no mistake. Senator Barack Obama did not get to this point in his life by acting like the Thomas E. Dewey of 1948. He may make a brief nod to McCain’s military heroism, but it is no accident that Obama-surrogate General Wesley Clark disses that record as making McCain unfit to be commander-in-chief. For anyone to believe something like this happens on its own there is a bridge in Brooklyn that I can sell you. Obama will go after the 71-year old Senator with all the verbal gusto of Harry Truman, as he has already done with cracks that McCain wants “George Bush’s third term,” blaming McCain for everything from gas prices to the floods in Iowa and the Midwest. If ever there is a potential irony in the 2008 campaign, it is that John McCain, he of the legendary Trumanesque explosive temper and barracks style stories, a real-deal fighter pilot, could turn himself into the new Dewey. Bland, courteous, sonorous, and dull.
Why would he ever do such a thing? Because John McCain’s political career is not about a passionately held political philosophy that makes presenting sharp differences an easy thing for him to do. Even if done with a Reaganesque smile and nod of the head. John McCain’s campaign, very much like the life of the candidate himself, is about a deeply passionate sense of personal honor. This is, as any Boy Scout will attest, a good and great thing.
But as Thomas E. Dewey discovered sixty years ago, however well intentioned, it will take more than honor to be elected president. Or to serve as president.
Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, a conservative online video site. A Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania.
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