Missed the big-hairy-deal debate last night. Nothing either of them could say at this point is going to change my mind. This election has gone on long enough already.
Instead I worked, as I usually do on Monday nights, and late in the evening read for pleasure, as I often do. Currently I’m working my way through 1948 by David Pietrusza (2011), which is about (as the subtitle says), “Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory,” or the story of an election that didn’t go on quite so long, and had its share of surprises. I read Pietrusza’s book about presidential politics in 1920 some time ago, and it was fairly good. So is 1948.
I haven’t been in a hurry to get through 1948, diverting into other books as well, such as a second reading of The Right Stuff (first time was in the early ’90s, and well worth the re-read), and first readings of The Basketball Diaries and Death Comes for the Archbishop. It’s a rare time when I just read one thing all the way through to the exclusion of others. I might even take up News from Tartary soon, since it’s been much too long since I read any Peter Fleming.
1948’s got some interesting detail. Here’s an anecdote about the Democratic National Convention that year that I like: “With the convention running three hours and forty-three minutes behind schedule, [Sam] Rayburn nevertheless undertook one last chore before introducing the exceedingly patient Truman: ‘I want to introduce Mrs. Emma Guffey Miller, Pennsylvania delegate-at-large. She has a surprise for us which I hope the convention will enjoy.’
“The plump, white-frocked, seventy-three-year-old Mrs. Miller, younger sister of former Pennsylvania senator Joseph Guffey, had prepared an elaborate, six-foot-high floral display composed of red and while carnations, in the shape of the Liberty Bell. Imprisoned inside it for several hours were forty-eight caged white pigeons, officially and symbolically designated ‘doves of peace.’ In the horrible heat, a couple had already expired. The band stoked up ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and the surviving birds — crazed by the noise, lights, and the heat — exploded out of the opened ‘Liberty Bell.’
“Pigeons flew into the rafters. They dive-bombed delegates. Men and women shouted, ‘Watch your clothes!’
” ‘Though the press delicately did not mention it,’ noted Clark Clifford (who did), the ‘doves of peace began, not surprisingly, to drop the inevitable product of their hours of imprisonment on any delegate who had the bad luck to be underneath them.’
“Some birds landed on the platform. Rayburn frantically shushed them away. One nearly landed on his glistening, bald head… ‘Get those damned pigeons out of here!’ he screamed over live radio and TV.
” ‘As [Truman] spoke,’ Time reported, ‘pigeons teetered on the balconies, on folds of the draperies, on overhead lights, occasionally launched on a quick flight to a more pigeonly position.’
“Thus, Harry Truman’s choice of a crisp, double-breasted white suit that evening may not have been the wisest choice of the campaign…”
Nevertheless, Truman’s ’48 Democratic Convention acceptance speech famously turned out to be a barnburner: “Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make these Republicans like it — don’t you forget that!”