While contemporary nominating conventions have lost nearly all of their political importance, becoming instead an extended infomercial designed to promote long-ago-selected presidential candidate, such was not always the case. In Happy Days Are Here Again
, the late Chicago Sun-Times
columnist Steve Neal tells the story of the 1932 Democratic convention which led, after a tumultuous series of machinations and backroom deals, to the nomination of New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It may be surprising, given Roosevelt's three terms in the White House and near mythic status in political history, to learn that the nomination was far from a sure thing. Neal details the challenges mounted by Newton Baker, John Nance Garner, and Al Smith, any of who could have just as easily emerged victorious. Although Roosevelt had more delegates than the others candidates entering the Chicago convention, it wasn't enough to lock up the top spot. Gaining the support to put him over the top required Roosevelt's camp giving the vice-presidential post to Garner, with whom Roosevelt shared no special affinity, and making special arrangements with Joseph P. Kennedy and William Randolph Hearst. Plenty of other famous names drift in and out of Neal's narrative, including Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington, John Dos Passos, and Huey Long. But the most fascinating figure is Roosevelt, severely physically disabled but capable, with the help of a sympathetic and complicit press corps, to create an image of robust health to go with his considerable charisma. Followers of modern politics, not used to seeing such drama played out so late in the campaign season, will be intrigued by the older way of selecting a party nominee and readers of history will be interested to learn how a presidency as legendary as Roosevelt's could arise from a situation as convoluted as the 1932 convention. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
This book by recently deceased Chicago Sun-Times
columnist Neal (Harry & Ike: The Partnership That Remade America
) constitutes an excellent and instructive narrative of the Democrats' 1932 Chicago convention and the complicated personal and political mechanics resulting in the nomination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On the face of it, the story is simple. Governor Roosevelt of New York went into the convention with an early majority of delegates, but not the two-thirds needed to lock up the nomination against opponents Al Smith and John Nance Garner. On the third ballot, Garner allowed his delegates to be thrown to Roosevelt. In return, Garner received the vice-presidential nomination. But many tangled tales of side allegiances and backroom dealing lie behind the apparent quid pro quo, such as Joseph P. Kennedy—a man with presidential aspirations of his own—convincing media mogul William Randolph Hearst to free his bought-and-paid-for delegates and send them over to FDR. Other players in Neal's fascinating text include Will Rogers (who received 22 votes from the Oklahoma delegation on the second ballot), Amelia Earhart (a Democratic national committeewoman) and Bernard Baruch. 16-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW
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