In her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Sarah Palin spoke about the improbable rise of Harry Truman to the Vice-presidency, and then to President of the United States.
Palin mentioned that, like her, Truman grew up in a small American town of humble beginnings. He hailed from Lamar, Missouri, and after World War I worked on the family farm and in a haberdashery he opened. Truman is the only President since 1897 that never earned a college degree. In short, he was not a person you would have picked out in a room of men as a likely U.S. President.
To be sure, Truman accumulated more political experience than Palin, serving as a judge and county administrator for several years, then in the U.S. Senate for ten years, before Franklin Roosevelt tapped him for Vice-president in 1944.
I tell this story for two reasons. First, it explains the power of appeal to small town America that both Truman and Palin evoked. Remember, Truman won a razor-thin re-election in 1948, largely on the heels of his “whistle stop tour” through small-town America. Those folks care, and they vote! They are a force not to be taken lightly. This is why you will see Palin campaign in many such places.
Second, there is an issue of greater concern to people about Palin. Given her relative lack of experience (similar to Barack Obama’s), is she ready to lead if McCain dies?
The same dilemma faced Democrats when they nominated Truman in 1944 to replace Vice-president Henry Wallace. All the insiders knew FDR was in failing health and might not live much longer.
Sure enough, after less than three months in office, Truman was thrust into the White House when Roosevelt died.
An article published in www.wikipedia.org paints the situation as similar to the one that concerns people about Palin today:
“Truman had been Vice President for only 82 days when President Roosevelt died on 12 April, 1945. He had very little meaningful communication with Roosevelt about world affairs or domestic politics after being sworn in as Vice President and was completely uninformed about major initiatives relating to the successful prosecution of the war—notably the top-secret Manhattan Project, which was about to test the world's first atomic bomb.
Shortly after taking the oath of office, Truman said to reporters:
'Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me'."
We all know how it ended. Truman was surrounded by experienced foreign policy staff and great military leaders. The U.S. won World War II and went on to a post-war boom. Many people didn’t think much of Truman at the time; and, indeed, he was almost voted out of office. Today, presidential candidates evoke Truman’s name often as one of America’s great leaders. It’s rich with irony. He was not well regarded in his day, but the distance of time and reflection has changed all that.
One never knows what we really are going to get when we walk into the voting booth. The only real test of the office is to actually have the job. Some with great prospects and ideas have faltered (Carter, Bush II); and some with questionable resumes have shone brightly (Truman, Reagan).
Of course, by all accounts, John McCain is healthy at 72; and all of this may be a moot point. If he’s elected, the side benefit is that he may fill out his term, with Sarah Palin getting one of the best on-the-job training regimens of all time.
It is that prospect that frightens opponents and enlivens supporters all at the very same time.
Please tell your friends about this blog. We are looking for paid advertisers, too! Your comments and questions are always welcome at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.