Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dirty Tricks, Mudslinging, and October Surprises

One of our all-time favorite presenters, Professor Alex Smith, filled us in on Part II of his series on dirty presidential campaigns. With his surprising anecdotes and spot-on presidential impersonations, our LIFErs can't get enough of Alex's presentations and were asking him to come back for Part III. Here are the campaigns covered today:

1928: Herbert Hoover vs. Al Smith
These two rags-to-riches millionaires couldn't have been more different. Hoover's monotone voice and failure to engage with people drove his campaigners to create buttons that read "That Man Hoover - He's Human". On the other hand, Al Smith's man of the people personality and engaging speeches sometimes made him too energetic to sit still for radio addresses. However, Al Smith's admittance that he drank during this prohibition era and his Catholicism were factors against him. Some detractors even managed to spread the rumor that Smith had built a tunnel between Washington, D.C. and the Vatican. As we all know, Hoover was the winner in this election. To add something not often remembered about Hoover, he provided a great deal of humanitarian aid and food relief to families in Eastern Europe during World War I.

1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Wendell Willkie
In this campaign, FDR was "reluctantly" running for his 3rd term in office, which he actually wanted very much. Roosevelt's situation was quite different to that of Wendell Willkie's, who had never held elected office. In this election, each party had some powerful material on the other candidate, but it was believed that FDR and Willkie had some sort of agreement not to disclose the information on the other. FDR's Vice President, Henry Wallace, had written letters to Nicholas Roerich that expressed unusual religious interests, and Willkie's supporters threatened to publish these. Willkie also left himself open to attack however, with the information that he was having an affair, and so both sides decided not to disclose this compromising information about the other.

1952: Dwight Eisenhower vs. Adlai Stevenson
At this time, Eisenhower was a beloved American war hero who actually had to pick a political party in order to run for president, so he chose the party that spends more money on the military. Adlai Stevenson was championed by the previous president, Harry Truman, and was actually reluctant to run with his support. TV had grown in popularity during the campaign, and Stevenson's rambling, 30 minute addresses stood in stark contrast to Eisenhower's down-to-earth 20 second TV spots. As rumors spread about Stevenson, one long-kept secret came to light--Adlai had killed another teen when he was thirteen years old and he and some friends were playing with a rifle. No one knows how this information was discovered, but it could have helped lead to Eisenhower's landslide victory.

1960: John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon
The Republicans caused problems for themselves in this election by having just passed the 22nd Amendment, which limited a president to serving two terms. Had this law not been in place, Eisenhower could have easily won a third term. Instead, they chose to select the next best option, Vice President Richard Nixon, who touted his experience. This proved a problem when Eisenhower showed only lukewarm support of Nixon, and expressed the view that Nixon had done very little in office. Despite the claims that JFK was too young and just a spoiled rich kid, his popularity grew quickly. The first televised debate didn't do Nixon any favors either. It took place soon after a two week hospital stay for Nixon, who stood on stage with a 100 degree fever and appeared to be melting as his sweat mixed with the makeup he was wearing on-screen. In polls conducted afterwards, radio listeners would say that Nixon won the debate while TV watchers claimed that JFK won. The results of the election were about as close as they could possibly be, and there were some very shady operations in Texas, where many dead people seemed to have voted, and Illinois, where the votes just didn't add up right. In spite of all this, Nixon accepted his defeat and even put a stop to a series of exposé pieces being written on voter fraud in the election.

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