I’d been forced to listen to radio news since Schenectady but it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I paid much attention to anything but war news. We were living in Rome, New York, in a large house on a leafy street with a huge park a few blocks away.
My parents’ passionate reaction to the election of 1948 involved me in news at a new level. It looked as if Republicans would win the election and roll back the New Deal. They were the party of big corporations. The lesson my father passed on to me after fifteen years at International General Electric was: “corporations are ruthless.” In 1948 two friends of his were convicted of price-fixing and bribery. GE fired them. I expressed my sympathy but my father laughed. “Don’t worry about those boys,” he said, “they know how to get the job done. They’ll do fine.” Within the month both were working for major oil companies at substantially higher salaries. My father was cynical but principled: bribery and price-fixing were things a gentlemen didn’t do.
1948 was a hard year and Truman’s ratings were down. People were anxious about the future. Although the United States had a monopoly on the atomic bomb, nobody thought it would last. Good feelings toward the Soviet Union evaporated when Soviet troops occupied Czechoslovakia in February and blockaded Berlin on April Fools Day. Dramatic newsreels showed American cargo planes, silhouetted against a gray, Berlin sky, defying the Soviet blockade to bring food, clothing and coal to the people of West Berlin. Were we on the brink of new war against the communist Soviet Union?.
At home a witch hunt was underway for domestic Communists and their sympathizers. In the event of war, they might help the communist cause. We had locked up the Japanese during World War II for the same reason. Republicans said the Truman administration was soft on communism. The president reinstated the military draft, cracked down on domestic communists in government and required a loyalty oath for all government workers for the first time in American history. My parents were appalled.
My father said Republican candidate Thomas Dewey looked like the picture-perfect groom on a wedding cake. Dewey campaigned as if he were already president, but some Republican stalwarts circulated a nasty song about Truman’s daughter, Mary Margaret.
Mary Margaret Truman is the daughter of the Pres.
She lives in the White House with her pa and mama Bess.
Her social rating is not worth debating.
She is a member of Phi Beta Phi,
When Harry S. Truman get the gate in ’48,
Repulsive Mary Margaret will be left without a date.
She’ll go to Missouri and work in a brewery,
So let’s drink milk.
On the eve of the election The New York Times ran a headline: “Thomas E. Dewey’s Election as President is a Foregone Conclusion.” Life Magazine ran Dewey’s picture on the cover with the caption, “The Next President of the United States.”
On election night, we sat around the radio listening to the prominent broadcaster H.V. Kaltenborn announcing that the President’s early lead would be unlikely to hold.
In the end, a majority of American’s voted for Truman and a common vision, expressed by the President in his inaugural speech on January 20th 1949. “Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the right of all people.”
It was the same sentiment I was reading in my novels. Tom Paine and Ruth Witherspoon all over again.