From Publishers Weekly
On the 50th anniversary of Harry Truman's famous presidential "upset," Gullan, a contributor to Presidential Studies Quarterly, has written a nuts-and-bolts political history of the 1948 presidential election. Truman, it seems, always played the turtle to his opponent's hare. When his haberdashery business failed he was recruited by T.J. ("Boss") Pendergast to run for District Judge, and he won. In 1934, he was elected to the Senate; in 1944, he became FDR's vice president; and five months later he was president. At the end of WWII, the country converted from a war- to a consumer-oriented economy; GIs faced labor unrest, angry farmers and unemployment when they came home. The country turned Congress over to the Republicans in 1946 and Truman's approval ratings plummeted?and the 1948 election was right around the corner. Gullan's emphasis is on personality: GOP nominees Thomas E. Dewey ("the little man on the wedding cake," according to Alice Roosevelt Longworth) and Earl Warren ("that dumb Swede," said Dewey); third-party candidates Strom Thurmond of the "Dixiecrats" and Henry Wallace of Progressive Labor. Gullan makes several salient points. Dewey, in reality, may have been more liberal than Truman; for all the excitement of the close election, 1948 had the lowest voter turnout in 20 years; and it may have been the emerging power of the black vote, according to Theodore White, that made Truman president. This is a very readable history focusing on the 30th president, one of the great gut politicians of the century.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Fresh appraisal of an election that has long been considered the greatest political upset in American history. Gullan, an independent scholar whose work has appeared in the Presidential Studies Quarterly, argues that the election would have been an upset if Dewey had won. He finds the New Deal program had become so institutionalized that the old Rooseveltian coalition simply could not dissolve completely. The partially conservative Truman, leaning somewhat away from the left toward center, more than matched Dewey, also moving toward the center (but from the conservative right of a Republican-controlled Congress that had attempted and failed to roll back the popular New Deal program). Gullan attributes the Democratic victory, contradicting polls predicting a Republican win, to the greater effectiveness of Trumans populist cross-country whistle stop campaign conducted from the rear platform of a train. Then too, the folksy vice presidential candidate Alben Barkley corralled votes across the South, the Farm Belt, and the border states, unlike the efforts of the dull, uncoordinated Dewey-Warren ticket. The separatist, more extreme parties of Henry Wallace (friendly to world communism) and Strom Thurmond (white-supremacy Dixiecrats) held little appeal to voters. Adding weight to Truman's candidacy was the highly respected secretary of state, General George Marshall. Prosperity at home and peril abroad also favored incumbents, observes Gullan. He believes that the 1948 election was distinctive in serving as a bridge between party-loyalty-oriented elections and a more independent voter movement, leading later to increased numbers of landslide electoral victories for both Republican and Democratic presidents. Truman, the ``square shooter, enjoyed additionally the special fate of running against the depressing ghost of Herbert Hoover that lingered in American memory. A lucid, enlightening historical survey, as well as a nostalgic look at a bygone era. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.