Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Workaholic as President: How Harry Truman's Whistle Stop Work Ethic Won the 1948 Election

It has become fashionable of late to decry long working hours and claim that anyone who beavers away day and night must have some kind of problem or 'personality disorder.' For years, the European Union Working Time Directive has limited weekly work hours to 48, and in most EU member nations, people are well below that limit: France has a 35-hour work week and Sweden has experimented with a six-hour work day.
In the US, where a blue-collar work ethic has long been a part of the national consciousness, recent Presidents have come under fire for taking too much time off. A New York Times blog post claims that George W. Bush had 879 vacation days, including 77 trips to his Texas ranch. And Barack Obama's love of golf has become so controversial - heaven forbid that Presidents take holidays or exercise! - that there's even a dedicated website keeping track of how many rounds the President plays.
There are no such leisure luxuries when it comes to Presidential campaigns, however, at least with regard to Harry Truman's 1948 Whistle Stop Tour. Coming into the campaign, Truman was no stranger to logging mega miles as a politician. When he was an administrator in Missouri's Jackson County, he drove than 20,000 miles at his own expense looking at designs that would inspire a facelift for his county's courthouse in Independence, Missouri. Truman traveled "as far west as Denver, as far east as Brooklyn, and as far south as Baton Rouge, Louisiana," as one account puts it.
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Then in fall 1944, as the unlikely running mate chosen by Franklin D. Roosevelt as he sought to extend his 12-year stay in the White House, Truman, who had by then served nine years in the US Senate, again became a road warrior. He made more than 200 speeches for the President and his efforts paid off, as FDR defeated Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey (for more on the 1944 election, see Michael A. Davis's insightful Politics as Usual).
Less than a year later, Roosevelt was dead. And in the election year of 1948 it was Truman's turn to head the Democratic Presidential ticket, with Dewey again his main opponent. But the former New York Governor wasn't his only rival: J. Strom Thurmond threatened to steal Southern votes as head of the 'Dixiecrats' who opposed Truman's civil rights agenda. And the man who Truman had replaced as Vice President, Henry Wallace (who Truman had fired from his post of Secretary of Commerce for criticizing his unflinching policy toward Stalin's Soviet Union) was sure to win some liberal support as he ran for the Progressive Party.
Truman had alienated the powerful labor unions by smashing their post-World War II strikes, which cost the US economy billions of dollars and threatened to shut down the entire economy in 1945 to 1947, with 4.6 million workers walking out in 1946 alone. In the previous election, FDR had also lost ground in America's heartland, where many farmers turned their support to the Republican Party and helped shrink Roosevelt's victory margin to just over two million votes, by far his narrowest election win. Wall Street donors closed their check books for the man most writers, pundits and pollsters predicted would fall to Dewey come November, leading to Truman pleading for funds.
With so many challenges at home and the distraction of the Berlin Blockade abroad, what was Harry Truman to do? Concede the Democratic Party nomination and let someone else run? Not likely. Sit on his hands and let Dewey and his "Victory Special" train waltz to the White House? Not a chance. "I'm going to take Dewey like that!" Truman told Clark Clifford and the rest of his campaign team in a summertime strategy meeting, snapping his fingers for emphasis.
Truman had already traveled more than 9,000 miles on a June 1948 tour out west, giving over 100 speeches to voters he implored to vote for him instead of for what he called "the party of privilege." Now his advisors had planned 250 more talks, which would take Truman more than 22,000 additional miles as he went back and forth across America. His team worried about the physical toll of such an ambitious schedule on the President, who had suffered migraines and stomach issues from work-related stress in the past and whose age (64) put him at another disadvantage to the 46-year-old Dewey. "I'll be alright," Truman assured them with a trademark grin. "It's YOU I'm worried about."

Click here to finish reading this story via The Huffington Post.

Want to learn more? Then click here to order my new book, Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman.

If you'd like to purchase a signed copy of Whistle Stop and/or my previous book, Our Supreme Task, please leave a comment or e-mail me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Like Ike - Military Presidential Candidates From Eisenhower to Tom Cotton

In the election year of 1948, Republican Party bigwigs were feeling pretty pleased with themselves. President Harry Truman's Democratic Party was splintering, with Southern 'Dixiecrats' bolting in protest of Truman's civil rights agenda and Henry Wallace leading the Progressive Party leftward. The GOP was far ahead in fundraising, and Truman trailed Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey by double digits in the polls, while the American press lauded Dewey and his 'dream ticket' running mate Earl Warren.
But as the Democrats assembled for their national convention in July 1948 one man had the power to change everything. To reignite the Democratic fire. To pull in undecided independents. To wipe the floor with Tom Dewey like he had with the Wermacht in World War II. That man was General Dwight. D. Eisenhower.
In the run up to D-Day in June 1944, Eisenhower was under unbelievable strain. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, the success or failure of the largest landing in military history would rest on the Kansan's broad shoulders. In his wonderful book The Guns at Last Light, Rick Atkinson reveals that Ike wasn't sleeping much, was smoking up to 80 Camel cigarettes a day and, as a result, couldn't shake the throat and respiratory infections that'd bothered him for months.
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Though the 156,000 British, American and Canadian troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy endured heavy losses, they eventually prevailed and less than a year later, Hitler's would-be empire lay in ruins. Lauded as the mastermind of D-Day, Eisenhower served as military governor of the US Occupied Zone in Germany and then as US Army Chief of Staff. When he retired from military service in 1948, the five star General understandably wanted a quieter life away from the gaze of an adoring public, and thought he'd be getting one as the President of Columbia University.
This new, sedate role in academia have been enough for Eisenhower, but many Americans wanted their beloved war hero to pursue a different and more prestigious Presidency - one that would see him in the White House.
One of the many criticisms - a lot of them unfair - of Harry Truman was that he had little political experience before ascending to the highest office in the land after FDR's death in April 1945. He had only been Vice President 82 days, and had been in the Senate for nine years before Roosevelt chose him as his unlikely running mate - a short track record in Washington compared to other heirs apparent. Yet while Eisenhower had proved his political skill in working with Allied governments and tempestuous military figures like General George Patton, he had no background walking the corridors of power. So like his fellow Midwesterner Truman, who was from Missouri, Eisenhower was hardly a classic candidate for President.
This didn't deter the Republicans and Democrats from courting him in 1948. Before they nominated Dewey, the GOP figured that Ike could help them win an election for the first time since Herbert Hoover's victory in 1928. When he rebuffed them, the Democrats took their turn at persuading Ike to run in place of Truman, whose reputation still paled in comparison to that of his predecessor and who almost everyone - including First Lady Bess Truman - thought would lose come November. FDR's son James Roosevelt, tried to bring his family name and position of influence with California's Democratic organization to bear on Eisenhower. Powerful party men like New York mayor William O'Dwyer and Frank Hague of Jersey City then started petitioning the General. And labor chiefs Phil Murray of the CIO and Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers, whose endorsements would guide millions of blue collar voters, also joined the call of duty.
It wasn't just establishment figures who wanted Ike to knock Truman aside, but also the youthful and increasingly popular Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). In June, another son of FDR, Elliot, drew cheers from an ADA rally in New York when he read a non-committal letter from Eisenhower that stated, "I am anxious to do my duty, but felt that it was my own problem to determine whether a sense of duty could call me into the political field." Though this was hardly a notice of acceptance, the ADA faithful drew hope from the fact that it wasn't a denial, either.
A month later, as delegates converged to select the Democratic Party candidate, ADA volunteers handed out hundreds of "I Like Ike" buttons. It seemed from the groundswell of sentiment in Philadelphia that all Eisenhower needed to do was say "yes" to become the Dem's nominee.

Click here to finish reading this article via the Huffington Post.

Want to order a signed copy of my new book, Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman? Then e-mail me or leave a comment on this post and I'll make it happen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

2014 Midterm Election's Billion Dollar Budget vs Harry Truman's 1948 Whistle Stop Shoestring

One billion dollars. That's how much candidates for the upcoming US midterm elections have raised for their House and Senate campaigns. A billion freaking dollars! And actually, according to figures released by the FEC and shared by Opensecrets.org, that's rounding down. With more than six weeks to go until election night, the total might jump up to $1.5 billion. That's what it takes to take candidates around their states in nice air conditioned RVs and private planes, and, of course, to film horrendous TV promos (though they'll be hard pressed to beat Jeff Wagner's ad from the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral race). In the 2012 Presidential election, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent almost $2 billion.
Rewind to 1948, before the days of super PACs, TV debates and, well, shirtless guys climbing out of lakes to drink coffee, and you'd find a completely different campaign cycle. Nobody likes to back a loser, and that's just what most journalists, politicos and pollsters thought President Harry Truman would be come election night.
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Thrust into the White House by the untimely demise of Franklin Roosevelt two years before, Truman had helped the Allies win the war in the Pacific with a decision no leader should have to make. Then he squared his shoulders as peacetime problems marched toward him, overcoming millions of workdays lost to strikes and taking two giant steps forward in civil rights by ending pay discrimination for federal employees and desegregating the US Armed Forces.
And yet the Southern Democrats (aka Dixiecrats) had broken away in protest of this civil rights program, rallying around J. Strom Thurmond, the fiery former Governor of South Carolina who declared that "there's not enough troops in the Army to break down segregation." The Democratic Party also split to the left, with former Vice President Henry Wallace calling for a conciliatory stance toward Soviet Russia and nationalized industries as leader of the Progressive Party.
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Meanwhile, the Republicans, out of power since FDR won the 1932 election, believed they would recapture the White House by putting debonair former New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey - who'd come closest of all GOP candidates to defeating FDR - and likable California Governor Earl Warren on a "dream ticket" that had the media fawning. In fact, more than two thirds of editors surveyed midway through the campaign believed Truman was done, a verdict backed up by Dewey's double digit polling leads.
So how bad did things get for Truman's finance team? Well, the President clambered on top of a chair at a White House fundraiser, and pleaded for contributions from a room of wealthy backers: "I am appealing for your help. Help to carry my message to the American people. We just haven't got the money to buy radio time. In Detroit on Labor Day we had to cut out one of the most important sections of my speech because we didn't have the money to stay on the air." The Chief Executive was certainly being truthful: despite Oklahoma Governor Roy Turner cutting a last minute check to radio networks so they'd broadcast Truman's Cadillac Square address, Truman had to edit his concluding remarks. But climbing on a chair to beg wasn't Presidential, his detractors scoffed, with Drew Pearson lamenting in his daily 'Washington Merry Go-Round' column that Truman looked "pathetic and alone."
The chair-top appeal did convince some donors to cough up, including two who gave $10,000 a piece on the spot. But the money didn't get the President very far, literally or figuratively. As his train car, the armor-plated Ferdinand Magellan, chugged into Oklahoma in the final days of September, Truman had reached the end of the line. Hearing that the Democratic National Committee was hard up, the railroads took a page from the radio network's playbook, demanding up front payment for fuel and other fees. The trouble was, the coffers were empty. For Truman to continue on his 31,000 mile Whistle Stop Tour that he had started in June and complete the rest of the planned 352 speeches (he gave up to 16 a day), it looked like he'd need an act of God.

Click here to read the rest of the post at The Huffington Post.

And don't forget to click here to pre-order your copy of Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman.

Want to buy a signed copy? Then e-mail me today and we'll figure it out.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Hear That Train A-Comin': Cameron Should Follow Truman's Whistle Stop Lead With Early Campaigning

It appears from recent statements in the House of Commons and from Downing Street that the only vote David Cameron is concerned about is the Scottish independence referendum. While it's certainly an important matter that will help decide the future of the UK, Cameron should also be thinking about voters in another election battle: his own. While the next General Election is 10 months away, looking to the example of Harry Truman's 1948 Whistle Stop campaign as an example of how an embattled leader can get his message out to the electorate well before they head to the polls.
This time in 1948 was not kind to President Harry Truman. The Soviet Union started the Berlin Blockade, which cut off food, coal, medical supplies and all other road, rail and river traffic to East Berlin. The Communist takeover of China continued, while Communist forces also threatened to depose the Greek ruling party.
Things were little better back in the US. Franklin Roosevelt's former Vice President Henry Wallace leading a left-leaning breakaway of the Democratic Party on one of Truman's flanks, while the Southern Democrats (aka Dixiecrats') used the issue of states' rights to mask their racism as they too broke away from Truman because he supported civil rights. Later that year the States' Rights Democratic Party leader, Strom Thurmond, would outrageously declare that "there's not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our swimming pools, our homes, and into our churches."
Truman could have waited until the autumn to launch his bid to beat Thurmond, Wallace and Republican candidate Thomas Dewey. After all, by mid October in his final election cycle, his predecessor, FDR, had only given two major speeches. But Truman was not beloved by the party faithful as Roosevelt had been, and wartime unity was a thing of the past. So the President used a speaking engagement at the University of California's Berkeley campus as an excuse to go on a "non-political inspection tour" of the Western United States. In fact, this "Shakedown Cruise" as one member of his new Research Division called it, certainly was political, with its aim being for Truman to share the main concepts of the Democratic platform from as many train platforms as possible.
Heading out in mid June, Truman's train rumbled across thousands of miles of track - 9,505, to be precise. He delivered 76 speeches in 18 states in just 15 days and while some of those were to large audiences, most were to small groups who had gathered at train stations in small towns. Truman would come out to the rear platform of his armor-plated living quarters - which included a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and formal dining room - speak for a few minutes, shake a few hands, and then head on down the line.
During these brief speeches, Truman discussed conservation, reclamation and power projects in the West, the precarious situation in Germany, provision of low cost housing and government support for farmers. But he saved his most energetic words for the Republican-controlled 80th Congress, which he felt had blocked all of his party's major legislation just for the sake of obstruction. He warned that if people voted the same way as they had in the 1946 midterm elections, they would get more of the same inaction from another "do nothing Congress", which he claimed was "the worst we've ever had" (today's Democrats may have something to say about that.) Insulted, the man who many felt controlled that Congress, Ohio's Robert Taft (the son of former President William Howard Taft), complained that Truman was "blackguarding Congress at every whistle stop in the West." Rather than firing back at the man whose motto was "The duty of opposition is to oppose," the wily Truman embraced the "Whistle Stop" slogan, and took advantage of the outrage from the small towns he spoke in, whose residents were offended by Taft dismissing them as inconsequential.
Click here to keep reading this article via The Huffington Post. 
Want the full story of Truman's Whistle Stop Tour and remarkable 1948 election victory? 
Then Click here to buy the US version of my new book, Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman. 
Live in the UK/Europe? Then click here to get a copy.  
If you'd like a signed copy (to be dispatched in early November 2014) please e-mail me

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Harry Truman and the RAF Save West Berlin: Remembering the Airlift that Defied Communism

The fight for freedom in Europe did not end with the defeat of Adolf Hitler's Germany at the end of World War 2. As Winston Churchill correctly stated in his Sinews of Peace address (aka 'The Iron Curtain Speech') at Fulton, Missouri in 1946, Communism was the next great threat to democracy. And for Berliners in 1948, the tension between totalitarianism and democracy was at their doorstep, as Soviet Russia attempted to force French, British and American troops to quit the city of ruins so Communism could fill the void left by Fuhrer's fall.
In June 1948, Harry Truman was fighting for his political life. His party was split two ways - with Henry Wallace's Progressives veering to the far left, even as a bloc of Southern Democrats (aka the Dixiecrats) cried foul over Truman's bold civil rights proposals. Soon enough, the Republican Party would put forth a 'dream ticket' of Thomas Dewey, the New York Governor who had come closest of all GOP candidates to defeating FDR, and popular California Governor Earl Warren. American commentators gave Truman little chance, while Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Time proprietor Henry Luce, declared that the Man from Missouri was a "gone goose."
But Truman refused to accept that his goose was about to be cooked. He set off on a 9,000 mile train tour in the West which saw him speak to hundreds of thousands of Americans. This led to Truman's nemesis, Republican Senator Robert Taft, grumbling that Truman was "blackguarding Congress at every whistle stop." Rather than bristling at Taft's comment, Truman embraced it and now his campaign had a name - The Whistle Stop Tour.
So the President had plenty of domestic matters to occupy his mind as he concluded his Western 'non political' jaunt - which was, in fact, very political! - and returned to Washington DC. But he had to set inter-party fighting and his continued conflict with the Republican-controlled "do-nothing Congress" aside when disturbing news came through from Germany. In response to West Berlin issuing its own currency - a sign of fiscal freedom that Moscow fretted would spread into its tightly controlled zone - the Soviets had cut off road, rail and river traffic between Allied zones and the Red Army-occupied zone. This meant that the food, coal and medical supplies West Berliners needed to survive couldn't get through. It was clearly a Russian power play designed to force America and her partners to either abandon their efforts to restore democracy and a free economy in Berlin, or to quit the city altogether. If this happened, Stalin and his cronies would have a free hand and could fill the void left by Nazism with Communism, and the Cold War would've taken a decisive turn in Soviet Russia's favor.
Truman refused to yield. Taking advice from his military commanders and civilian advisors on the ground, he approved one of the biggest airborne relief campaigns in history: The Berlin Airlift. With all other transport routes cut off, American and British planes took to the skies over Berlin, delivering essentials to West Berliners and calling Stalin's bluff. Some aircraft also dropped sweets and as a result were soon dubbed "The Candy Bombers."

Click here to finish reading this story via The Huffington Post.

Want the full story of Truman's Whistle Stop Tour and remarkable 1948 election victory? 
Then Click here to buy the US version of my new book, Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman. 
Live in the UK/Europe? Then click here to get a copy.  
If you'd like a signed copy (to be dispatched in early November 2014) please leave a comment on this blog post and I'll get back to you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Big Wave Surfer Dave Kalama, CrossFit Athletes, Walkers Sweat for Cystic Fibrosis

When siblings Audrey and Jack DuCharme are healthy, they need a breathing treatment each day. Then there's the multiple inhaled medications, the doctors' checkups, and the fear that if they get a cold - which most of us would dismiss as a sniffle - it could put them in hospital, or at least require four daily treatments. This routine would be hard enough for an adult. Audrey is seven and Jack is five.



They're two of the 30,000 young people in the US who suffer from cystic fibrosis (CF), which also affects 10,000 people in the UK. This inherited disease is caused by a gene mutation which causes improper movement of water and salt in and out of cells, leading to mucus clogging the lungs and digestive system. When a CF patient gets bacteria in their lungs, it can be fatal and sometimes only a lung transplant can extend their life. CF can also lead to heart disease, diabetes and a host of other difficulties.
This month saw a host of fundraising events to raise money and awareness for CF. Big wave surfer Dave Kalama, who with Laird Hamilton pioneered tow surfing at Peahi (Jaws) and popularized standup paddleboarding, serves on the board for Pipeline to a Cure (as does Hamilton).
"With all the ocean has given me as a surfer, how can you not want to share and give back to such a worthy cause, that is so directly beneficial to people with cystic fibrosis?" Kalama said.
In a recent motivational talk for racers at the prestigious Carolina Cup standup paddleboard race, Kalama shared his worst race experience, when an illness soon before the 2009 Molokai race left him uncharacteristically underprepared and wanting to stop partway through the event. As shown, the video below, it was the thought of the CF kids who his charity work benefits that kept Kalama going, resolved that "you never, ever quit."

It's not only surfers who are standing up for CF sufferers. At Solution One CrossFit in Shawnee, Kansas, owner JR Kuchta and longtime member Jeremy Snyder organized a "CF for CF" event, which 3-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning helped promote by tweeting about it.
During the special charity WOD, CrossFitters paid $10 and then completed as many rounds of 50 air squats, 30 pushups and 15 pullups as they could in 12 minutes. As the athletes went through their paces earlier this month, Audrey and Jack DuCharme watched with their parents, Jim and Stephanie.
"It's great to see new families joining in to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation each year," Stephanie said. "We're so thankful for everyone's support, which is raising the profile of CF and prompting drug companies to come up with better treatments that have raised life expectancy from 34 to 41 in the past 10 years."
Click here to finish reading this story via The Huffington Post


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Winston Churchill, Putin's Russia and Ukraine: Timeless Lessons from the 'Iron Curtain Speech' 68 Years On

Can a speech made by a former Prime Minister 68 years ago still be relevant today? When we're talking about Winston Churchill's Sinews of Peace address (aka 'the Iron Curtain speech'), the answer is a resounding "yes."
68 years ago today, Churchill stood in  the crowded Westminster College gymnasium in Fulton, Missouri and shared his concerns about Communism, becoming the first to call out Russia for its takeover of Eastern European nations, which he claimed were becoming little more than puppet police states taking their direction from Moscow.
Churchill was widely condemned for the Fulton address. Labor MPs petitioned Prime Minister Clement Attlee to censure Churchill in the Commons, which he didn't do. Churchill heard the same insults he had endured during his "wilderness" in the 1930s, when his warnings about Hitler earned him labels like "imperialist" and "old Tory." Stalin himself dismissed his former wartime summit partner as a "warmonger." Most people in Britain and the US at the time still saw the Soviet Union as a wartime ally, and many believed that Communism - which they little understood thanks to Russian propaganda - was a viable alternative to democracy. Above all, they would do anything to avoid yet another global conflict. So their derision is understandable, and yet misplaced.
Everything Churchill claimed about the ills of Communism was true, and then some. Beyond the eradication of democracy in Eastern Europe, the Red Army had broken its promises to leave Iran, jeopardizing British and American oil supply and trade (sound familiar?). Stalin demanded military bases in Turkey, and this nation, Greece and China were on the brink of succumbing to Communist takeover. In Korea, the Soviets regularly cut off energy supplies to democratic regions to show who was really in control. Churchill and other leaders were rightly concerned that Communism would fill the void left by Hitler's demise in Germany, and Communist Party membership in Italy and France was rising dramatically. The threat to liberty and freedom was very real, and only Churchill could enunciate it, despite his loss of 10 Downing Street in the calamitous 1946 General Election.
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In addition to warning about Russian malfeasance at home and abroad, Churchill suggested how the Western democracies should respond, and what they should avoid. Simply put: strength good, weakness bad. In Churchill's words, "From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness." This was not, as Churchill's critics asserted, a battle cry, but was rather just stating a fact: show weakness and Russia will take advantage. Show strength, and you will earn respect.
Fast forward 68 years and much has changed in Russia since Churchill's wakeup call in Missouri. And yet much remains the same. The so-called "elections" that keep Putin in power (the most recent falling, ironically, on the same date as Churchill's Fulton address) are little more than stagecraftexpertly managed by the ex KGB man's cronies to give the world the false impression that real democracy is reality in Russia. Politicians who oppose the Kremlin are imprisoned or thrown out of (one-horse) political 'races.' Journalists who dare to tell the truth are silenced. Even citizens on foreign soil are not safe if they air a dissenting voice - as Alexander Litvinenko found out to his cost . There is certainly choice in modern Russia - if you choose Putin and his brand of hyper-masculine nationalism, you thrive. If not, you wilt.
So the Cold War may be over, Communism may have receded and Putin may be less of a tyrant than his post-World War II predecessors. But Churchill's words still ring true.