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

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