Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The 1936 Presidential Election

The state of Main had so long been a bellwether of national politics that there was and old saying; "As goes Maine, so goes the nation."

The Presidential election held on November 3, 1936, was the most lopsided in American history, if you judge by the Electoral College. Alf Landon took two states, Maine and Vermont, prompting Democratic chairman James Farley to quip, "As goes Maine, so goes Vermont."

This was not a foregone conclusion, and the conventional wisdom of the time was that the race would be close. The nation was still in the throes of the Great Depression, and there was a question as to how long the public would continue to blame the Republicans for it.

In the recent State of the Union address, John McCain was seen "sneering" as President Obama reminded everyone that the deficit was something he inherited. In the New York Times this past Sunday, Frank Rich noted:
Perhaps McCain was sneering at Obama because of the Beltway’s newest unquestioned cliché: one year after a new president takes office he is required to stop blaming his predecessor for the calamities left behind. Who dreamed up that canard — Alito? F.D.R. never followed it. In an October 1936 speech, nearly four years after Hoover, Roosevelt was still railing against the “hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government” he had inherited. He reminded unemployed and destitute radio listeners that there had been “nine crazy years at the ticker” and “nine mad years of mirage” followed by three long years of bread lines and despair. F.D.R. soon won re-election in the greatest landslide the country had seen.
FDR was famously good at using modern technological media to further his agenda. His "fireside chats" brought him into everyone's home, reassuring them that things were going to be all right. This put Landon in the position of having to criticize the New Deal, and to accuse FDR of veering toward dictatorship. One wonder what might have happened if the news media felt no compunction about playing up Roosevelt's physical disability, or extra-marital sexual ability.

This election also marked the first time African-Americans came out to vote in large numbers for any Democrat. Lincoln freed the slaves, gave blacks the (as-yet not well-protected) right to vote, while the Democratic Party ruled the Jim Crow south. However, thanks in large part to Eleanor Roosevelt's insistence, African-Americans felt the benefit of these new federal programs.

Frank Rich, The State of the Union is Comatose, The New York Times, 1/31/2010
Kennesaw State University

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