BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Zachary Karabell, author of "The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election," when did you get interested in talking about this subject?
Mr. ZACHARY KARABELL (Author, "The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won The 1948 Election"): Well, I was part of a project at the Kennedy School of Government about Americans and the eroding distrust of government that a lot of Americans apparently express feeling in the past 20, 25 years. And one of the reasons that a lot of people talked about as a reason for this distrust or this rising disillusionment with--with the governing process was the growth of television. And it's an interesting way of looking at it. It's an interesting explanation, I thought, to look at the last time in which there was not television as part of the political process, part of the presidential election as a way of really testing this out, to try to see the degree to which that was true or not true or just the way in which he world was on the verge of television becoming the--the major way in which people related to politics.
LAMB: Which president in your life do you first remember knowing anything about?
Mr. KARABELL: Nixon, Richard Nixon. I think I was five years old, six years years old, went on a White House tour and remember the tour guide saying something like, `Oh, well, we can't go upstairs because we wouldn't want to disturb the president now, would we?' I, of course, thought to myself, `But no, we would like to disturb him,' yeah.
LAMB: Have you always been interested in politics?
Mr. KARABELL: I think so. I think growing up in--in the '70s, I was focused on that. It seemed to be, you know, an interesting dynamicenvironment, and I--I gravitated toward it.
LAMB: What did you learn in your research for the book about Harry Truman that surprised you?
Mr. KARABELL: I--I think I learned, for one--most of us now, particularly in the past 10 or so years, are influenced by a particular image of Truman as a scrappy fighter, a kind of honest, straight-talking man from the Plains representing really traditional, simple American values. And that picture, in a lot of ways, was confirmed to me. But also added to it was, one, the degree to which he was a tried-and-true liberal, the ways in which Truman was part of a long tradition of what I call `agrarian populism,' and what a lot of people call `agrarian populism,' kind of anti-Wall Street. And the degree to which the political spectrum really has shifted between--between then and now. I mean, that struck me, the degree to which his message, as much he's become an icon for recent political parties, his message really would find a lot of opposition in today's political climate. And I think that's something that tends to be overlooked.
And the other thing that--that struck me about him was the degree to which he was a street-fighting, tough-talking politico. He was really willing to pull out the stops and--and ruthlessly attack his enemies, or his perceived enemies, in order to--to win electorally.
LAMB: What's behind this photograph?
Mr. KARABELL: The `Dewey Defeats Truman' photograph was perhaps the greatest miscalculation by a newspaper in American history, and is attributable to the long-lasting enmity, if not hatred, that the publisher of the--the newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, had for Truman. The McCormick empire, which was the publishing empire behind that, had spent a lot of time and energy to try to make sure that Truman was not re-elected. And they obviously were hoping that they would be victorious, and jumped the gun a little bit.
LAMB: When he went to bed, as you point out in your book, Harry Truman went to bed, did people think he'd lost?
Mr. KARABELL: When he went to bed--I mean, if we're going to be really, really nit-picking about it, at the time that he actually pulled up the covers and went to sleep, the--the--the commentary was he seemed to be leading in the cities for which there were early results, the kind of Northeastern belt, New York, Boston, Washington. But according to one of the major commentators at the time, a man named H.V. Kaltenborn, who was known for having a pretty staccato voice, was saying that, `While Truman is ahead in these areas, we fully expect that as the vote comes in from the Midwest and the West, this will quickly turn to Dewey's advantage and that a Dewey victory is still all but assured.'
LAMB: How many people were on the ballot in 1948?
Mr. KARABELL: Well, I mean, not everybody who ran for president in 1948, as now, appeared on the ballot in every single state. There were four or five major candidates who appeared in the ballots in most states, and you had the two main party candidates. You had Harry Truman for the Democrats, Tom Dewey, the sort of boy wunderkind governor of New York, who was the Democ--was the Republican standard bearer that year. You had two parties that had splintered off from the Democrats; one to the left, led by Henry Wallace, who was head of the Progressive Party, and the other led by the governor of South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, who had--was part of a party that was referred to as the Dixiecrats. But they preferred to think of themselves as States' Rights Democrats. And also on the ballot in a lot of states was the old-time Socialist, Norman Thomas, who had run for president numerous times before and ran once again to oppose Wallace from the left, the kind of anti-Communist Socialists. And Thomas was on the ballot.
And there were a number of--of--of more marginal rump candidates. There was a Prohibition candidate, who actually did pretty well in-in a few states. There was a--a--a--a kind of a white supremacist candidate, who ran in the South. And there was a Greenback candidate. So there were--I think there were 12, all in all. But there were only five that really had an national prominence.
LAMB: In your appendix, you run this chart. And if you look at it straight on, on the left, is the total votes for Harry Truman, then Tom Dewey and then Strom Thurmond and then Henry Wallace. And you can see there that 303 electoral votes for Harry Truman, 189 for Thomas Dewey, 39 for Strom Thurmond and none for Henry Wallace. When you look at those figures, what comes to mind?
Mr. KARABELL: Well, one is certainly the size--the--the size of the margin, relative to the expectation that the figures, at least in the Dewey-Truman side, would be if not reversed than even--even much more a--an advantage for Dewey. So the very fact that you have that disparity, with Truman coming out on top, was--was astounding at the time. The fact that Wallace won none is less surprising, and it's--he--there was a time when Wallace was expected to do considerably better, certainly in the spring, thought that he could poll as many as 10 million votes. It wasn't clear, though, in what states he had a chance of actually winning the state. I think there was some thought that perhaps he would do well in New York. Some thought that he would do well in Pennsylvania or--or--or some of the others. But he was anticipated to get more votes, but not necessarily more electoral votes.
And in the South, one of the peculiar things was that while the Thurmond ticket did capture four states, plus one electoral vote from--from Tennessee--one of the electors refused to cast the-the votes for Truman, and cast it for the States' Rights ticket--two of those states, the--the people who were voting in those states actually thought they were voting for the Democratic Party. In Mississippi, the--the--the States' Rights Dixiecrats had managed to control the state Democratic Party machinery, and replace Thurmond's name instead of Truman's, so that Truman didn't actually appear on the ballot. And in Louisiana, in one of these just infinitely complicated back room deals involving the governor--Governor Long, the--the party machinery as a way of really sticking it to the governor, replaced the States' Rights Democrats.
LAMB: Henry Wallace in this picture. Right above him is Woody Guthrie. Where was this taken?
Mr. KARABELL: I'm actually not sure where it was taken. It's--it's part of one of Wallace's innumerable campaign stops. I think no one made more campaign appearances in 1948 than Henry Wallace. And he had a big thing for--for folk singing, for--for the--for being accompanied by it. And there's a real tradition of--of folk singing as protests in the United States, that kind of Appalachia music that comes out of a spirit of protest. And you had a lot of these singers accompanying Wallace, and a lot of Wallace rallies had songs, you know, various hymnals. Certainly there was Paul Robeson, who--who was really well know, Guthrie and Pete Seeger also was pretty prominent. So you often have these pictures of Wallace with some great American folk singer in the background.
LAMB: Why did FDR pick him to be his vice president?
Mr. KARABELL: Well, that comes out of a--somewhat of a different tradition. You have to understand the spectrum of the New Deal in the 1930s was a much more liberal, populist time. And Wallace had first been secretary of Agriculture in the first two Roosevelt administrations, and was an incredibly popular secretary of Agriculture at a time when all the various New Deal farm administration programs has really helped a lot of farmers get back on their feet. And Wallace was a way that Roosevelt was going to, you know, consolidate that sort of Midwestern left side of--of--of his flank, although most of his flank was--was pretty well covered.
LAMB: And in--in your book, you have pictures of a lot of different people, including Thomas Dewey. I want to show them and just get you to give us some brief synopsis of who you think they were.
Mr. KARABELL: Well, the picture of Thomas Dewey surrounded by these men wearing bear skins is certainly one of the--you know, odder
couplings that--you realize when candidates run for election then, as now, they--they end up in these kind of endless photo ops with a lot of groups who are, you know, silly and amusing the way a lot of American culture can be. And this was a group in Oregon known as the Cave Men. I'm not exactly sure what the Cave Men were, although they clearly enjoyed dressing up in bear skins and romping around.
What's profoundly amusing about this picture is that the Russians got ahold of it, and the Soviet news agency circulated this, I think, on Tass with a caption saying, `Workers of America'--or--or `Citizens of America left out of the capitalist revolution try to return to the land,' as a symbol of--of the fact that there were lots of Americans still suffering and that this being proof that the capitalist dream really wasn't--wasn't working so well.
LAMB: When Thomas Dewey was the candidate for the Republicans in1948, what had he been before that?
Mr. KARABELL: He'd been governor of New York, and he'd also been the Republican presidential nominee in 1944 and had performed much better against Roosevelt than a lot of people had imagined. I mean, Roosevelt was still immensely popular. World War II was going on. And the fact that Thomas Dewey was able to run a pretty credible campaign against Roosevelt in 1944 was something that--that led him to become the nominee again in 1948.
LAMB: Sitting here with Robert Taft, what's that picture all about?
Mr. KARABELL: Taft represented the kind of alternate wing of the Republican Party. Dewey was the--the centrist internationalist, who was in good stead with the kind of Northeastern elite. Taft, who was the son of the president, William Howard Taft, was the more isolationist, establishment side of the Republican Party. And the contest between the two, where Taft wan--wanted to see far fewer government programs, wanted to turn back the New Deal and was much wary of American commitments abroad during this emerging Cold War, was the alternative. But Taft was also a man who people thought was utterly lacking in charisma, and did not perform particularly well and--and lost the nomination to Dewey. And that's the two of them making good at the convention.
LAMB: Here you have Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen. Who was he?
Mr. KARABELL: Harold Stassen was the--had been governor of Minnesota, and had been present during the United Nations Conference in 1945. And a lot of people remember Stassen because Stassen became this familiar figure who always was running for president throughout the '50s and '60s, and somewhat comically. But in 1948, Stassen, who is this bear of a man, an incredibly vibrant, exuberant, mounted a considerable challenge to Dewey, and was a real counterpoint. Dewey was a reserved, guarded, genial man. Stassen was kind of a bearish guy, apt to make extremely hyperbolic pronouncements and had a lot of young people working for him. He was also backed by the Pillsbury fortune in Minnesota, and had a lot of powerful backers. And was, you know, campaigning on a very strong anti-Communist line. And for a while, seemed like he would, in fact, threaten Dewey's chances at the nomination. And by the summer, that was no longer true. And he also campaigned for Dewey then in--in the fall.
LAMB: Is Harold Stassen still alive?
Mr. KARABELL: Harold Stassen is still alive, but he is not in--or at least when I last knew, he's not--he's ailing.
LAMB: Did you talk--try to talk to him about this one?
Mr. KARABELL: No, he had had a stroke or he had--he had fallen-he had fallen ill, at the time I was writing the book.
LAMB: Strom Thurmond and who else, do you know in this picture?
Mr. KARABELL: Strom Thurmond and H.R. Cullen, I think, on the far right, who was a Texas oil man. And on the far left is his rather young wife, Jean Crouch, who was a beauty queen. I think she was a-a Miss South Carolina or something like that, that he had--he had met and married. And she'd been his secretary out of college.
And H.R. Cullen--one of the rubs on the Dixiecrats was that they were a front for tidelands oil interests, all the oil that exists in the Gulf Coast states, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. And there was a real dispute in these years over who had the rights to that oil, how far the state boundaries went out into the Gulf, and therefore, what was state-owned oil and what then was federal water--waterways and therefore the oil profits would go to the federal government. And the Dixiecrats certainly were well in favor of--of state ownership of those tidelands oil areas. And they were attacked for being simply a front for those oil interests. And H.R. Cullen was an oil man who provided Thurmond with a plane.
LAMB: Strom Thurmond was doing what in 1948?
Mr. KARABELL: He was governor of South Carolina, very popular. Oddly enough, like a lot of the Dixiecrats--and again, part of the story of '48 that--that's, I think, very illustrative for the present, is the degree to which these--these coalitions don't necessarily fall in neat little, you know, left, right cookie cutters. It's true that the Dixiecrats were heavily states' rights and represented the kind of Civil War redux. It--it's true that they had a real element of racism in them. But it's also true that people like Strom Thurmond and his running mate, who was the governor of Mississippi, were known as Southern Progressives. These were people in favor of rural electrification and building roads and education. And they were very much seen as kind of liberal progressives in a domestic sense in the South, at the same time being quite to the right on states' rights and--and race relations.
LAMB: Earl Warren and Senator Noland and Herbert Brownell. Which one is Mr. Brownell?
Mr. KARABELL: Mr. Brownell is the one on the--on the far left of the photo, sitting to the right of Dewey. Earl Warren is the man sitting on Dewey's left, who's in the center. And Noland is at the head of the table.
LAMB: What role did these men play in the '48 campaign?
Mr. KARABELL: Herbert Brownell was the campaign manager of--of the Dewey team, and later served in the Eisenhower administration. Earl Warren, at that time, was the very centrist and very popular governor of California. He'd actually been elected governor by both parties. He was both the Democrat and the Republican nominee. And he was chosen as Dewey's vice presidential running mate. And that's these gentlemen gathering, I think, at the end of the Republican convention or in August of '48 to discuss strategy.
LAMB: Anybody, as you began to look at that campaign, start to impress you that you didn't expect?
Mr. KARABELL: Well, I--I think all of them, in--in some ways, impressed me. I think the level of what I considered to be, you know, engaged debate on the substantive issues that each of the candidates put forth at various points was something that I--I--I f--I found compelling. Dewey certainly least so at that--at that level. By the fall, there was very little that Dewey said that was particularly compelling or particularly specific. In fact, the reporters on his train were so numbingly bored that a few of them tried to get over to the Truman train, the campaign train. And reporting on one of his speeches, one of the reporters said something like, `Mr. Dewey announced that he was for prosperity and peace. And though he didn't say so specifically, it can safely be assumed that he is also against sin.'
But Dewey, in the spring, when he was running against Stassen, actually took a really principled stand against the bill that was rumbling through Congress to outlaw the Communist Party. And while Dewey was very much in favor of monitoring Communist Party activity, he said that he would not be in favor of outlawing the party, that the United States was a country that supported freedom of expression and a multiplicity of views, even those that people found disagreeable, and that he didn't think it was appropriate. And this was a, you know, risky position to take in the climate of 1948, particularly with someone like Stassen, who is thundering for this bill, as were Richard Nixon, who was then a congressman from California.
LAMB: What role did polls play?
Mr. KARABELL: Polls played a huge role, both in the ways in which they were used by Dewey and the ways in which they were used and then, you know, proven wrong by the press. Dewey is very--one of the first candidates who is a poll-driven candidate. He watched his poll numbers. He--he listened to them. He believed them. He believed that he was ahead. He was being told by the the Roper Organization, by the Gallup Organization that he was leading on--on all--in all measures. And he then developed--and his team developed a campaign strategy designed to maintain that lead, a lead that they perceived themselves to have because the polls were telling them.
LAMB: How big a lead?
Mr. KARABELL: You know, it varied from--from poll to poll. Sometimes as much as 10 percent, sometimes as little as 6 percent or 7 percent. The final Gallup polls actually were--were within 6 percent to 8 percentage points. But there was an overall perception of a lead in every major region and in every significant litmus.
And the press also believed this. I mean, the--the pollsters were saying that they'd developed a scientific polling, and that there had been a real debacle in the 1930s and that they had learned from the experience of, particularly 1936, how to poll. And this was kind of the golden--and remember, this is a time when people are touting new technologies and everybody's having appliances and this kind of age of--of scientific golly gee, willakers was--was--was really quite prominent in the culture. So the idea that you could predict an election was seen as somewhat exciting, and--and people really gravitated toward that.
Oddly enough, the fact that the pollsters ended up being so completely wrong--Arthur Krock, the famous columnist for The New York Times, remarked about, you know, recognizing how wrong the polls were, that, you know, `Tonight, we shall dine on crow,' and--and took full responsibility for lending credence to what had been wrong poll numbers.
LAMB: Did anybody writing for a living in 1948, any newspaper, any columnist, any pollster get it right?
Mr. KARABELL: No, not a single one. There was one unofficial poll taken by the Staley Milling Company in--in Kansas, which had these things called pullet adams, which were a feed for--for livestock. And they told farmers to buy--they--they printed up two types of feed bags, one was an elephant and one was a donkey, representing Republicans and Democrats. And they told people to buy the feed bags based on the party they were going to vote for. And come late October 1948, Truman was ahead something like 60 to 40. So the--the pullet adam poll called the election right.
Other than that, not only did--did none of the polls have it right, but none of the columnists and none of the people writing about it had it right. No one--no one thought Truman was going to win.
LAMB: In the middle of the year 2000 campaign, as we talk about this campaign in 1948, any similarities?
Mr. KARABELL: There were some similarities, I think, in the primary season between George W. Bush and McCain, presenting in a lot of ways a familiar pattern of--of George W. being a kind of a package candidate, much like Dewey, and McCain being a straight-talking candidate, much like Truman. And people's enthusiasm for McCain, whether they agreed with him or not, had something to do with this appearance of being a--a personality that was real. And some of the distrust of both Bush and Al Gore and some of the apathy that greets them has to with the perception that these aren't real people. These are--these are images manufactured by a whole series of people to present a kind of "perfect composite" of a candidate. And--and people do tend to turn away from them.
I mean, one of the fascinating lessons, if--if--if--if you can say that about 1948, is the degree to which the perception of being packaged--which Dewey was widely derided as being--was a real liability. It turned people off from him. They didn't know who Dewey was. And Dewey is a--an immensely perplexing figure in the light of history, as he was at the time and somewhat impenetrable. It's hard to know what--why he rose as high as he did. It's almost like those pictures you see of your relatives in--in the '70s wearing those loud, polka-dot ties and those striped shirts and you--you wonder if it-how anyone ever thought that looked good. Similarly with Dewey, it's hard to imagine why he was seen as such a viable candidate because he seemed so pallid when he was actually campaigning. There is a lot of similar reactions, at least if you judge by the--the zeitgeists to Bush and to Gore.
LAMB: Who's Pat Buchanan in 1948?
Mr. KARABELL: Buchanan is a--is an interesting hybrid. There's a lot of Truman in Buchanan. There's a lot of that traditional animus toward the Northeast, toward the people with money. I mean, Truman spends a lot of '48, particularly in the fall, hammering home to the farmers in the Midwest, `Do you want to vote for fat cats on Wall Street? My opponents are just the tools of these Wall Street bankers who are going to deprive the American people of their birthright.' And that's a lot of Buchanan's message, you know, the--against the internationalism of--of--of free trade, the perception that the-the powers that be are really depriving the average American, the average Joe of their rights. And--and again, that's--that's really Truman's message.
The isolationist component of Buchanan, the feeling that we really should withdraw or disengage from our kind of military commitments abroad is--is much more akin to Robert Taft, to that wing of the Republican Party that had been there for quite some time, certainly in the '20s and '30s, and then became more prominent. So Buchanan brings together a lot of, sort of, traditional threads in American politics.
LAMB: What about the Green Party or the Libertarian Party and Nader or a Harry Browne and people like that?
Mr. KARABELL: That brings a--a--a similar--I mean, you know, oddly, as--as a number of people have remarked, there's a lot of overlap between the Green Party and the Naders and the Buchanans, at least in their attitudes towards the international system and--and whom that international system is serving, you know, the perception of there being a small group of--of powerful financial elites in league with politicos who are kind of determining the agenda to the advantage of the few and the detriment to the many. And you would have very much had that critique in Henry Wallace and in the--the--the left until 1948, this kind of critique of--of American foreign policy being a--really problematic.
Oddly enough, you had some elements of that critique, as well, in-in the Dixiecrat Party. I mean, Thurmond's States' Rights Party sounded very similar to Wallace and sounds very similar to what--the Green Party today in their approach to internationalism, the perception that this is really not serving the interests of the United States, as a whole. It's serving the interests of a very few number of people. And then again in the Green side, there's this long tradition of--of--of populist liberalism.
LAMB: You say that Harry Truman was 87 percent popular at his high mark...
Mr. KARABELL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...and how long at his low mark?
Mr. KARABELL: Depending on the polls, it's--it's about 35 percent to 37 percent at his low mark, which was reached in--in the spring-or the late winter of 1948, the sort of February, March, April period.
LAMB: You say that because of his--and you--you put the word--you--you say the words his demagoguery or his perceived demagoguery on the part of the Republicans that he ended up paying a price once he was elected in '50--I mean, once he was elected in '48.
Mr. KARABELL: Right. I mean, this is a--a--an argument that a lot of Truman fans might be a little bit uncomfortable with. But it's--it's hard to refute when you actually listen to the rhetoric at the time. Truman undoubtedly was an extremely effective attack dog, and really lit into--to Dewey. He actually didn't talk much about any of the other candidates. He let other people do the talking for him. But when it came to Dewey, he--he--he ridiculed him as a--as a stooge of Wall Street. He ridiculed him as being a man without opinions. And he finally compared him as being such a weak character supported by such an odious set of forces--invisible forces behind him that it was a little bit like Germany on the eve of the rise of Hitler or Italy on the rise of Mussolini, and that Dewey would be a--a conduit to fascism in the United States. And again, this resonates, this kind of critique of a--of--of a cabal that was going to rob the American people of their birthright, resonated with a lot of people in the United States then, as it does now. And--and it effectively weakened Dewey in the election and generated a lot of passion for Truman.
But, you know, there was a price to pay. And this was a strategy born out of weakness. And Truman pulled out all the stops because he felt like he had very little to lose. I know a lot of people remember the 1992 election where Bush Sr., campaigning against Clinton at the very end, started getting very shrill and very harsh. A lot of ad hominem attacks about Gore and about--about Clinton, and this was seen what a--what someone who knows that they might be on the verge of defeat does. They--they--they break the rules. There's no point in obeying them because if you obey the unwritten rules of civility, you're going to lose anyway. So why not just do what you can? The sort of Hail Mary rhetorical pass, see if you can tar your opponent with a--with a negative brush. And Truman did that and it worked, but I think the Republicans perceived that this was really foul play and that Truman, in breaking those rules, certainly didn't deserve fair play as president. And they unleashed their own attack dogs against the Democrats in the form of--of McCarthy.
LAMB: You got to the Kennedy School how?
Mr. KARABELL: I--I had done a PhD at Harvard on American foreign policy, and w--was sort of trying to find a new--new home, wasn't sure that I wanted to stay in academia. And the Kennedy School's a kind of a hybrid environment to both do some teaching and do some researching. And for a while, I worked for the dean of the Kennedy School as he was working on this project about Americans' eroding distrust in the government and the--the concern around that as a social issue.
LAMB: Is there one reason why you all feel that there's a distrust in government?
Mr. KARABELL: I--I--and I think the results of that project, which are ongoing, because of the--the nature of the--the people involved in it, was that there were a lot of different answers that a lot of different people came up with and that this is something that, you know, political scientists like to call an overdetermined event. I mean, that--that the reasons for distrust are many and that it's the combination of them that lead to it, that there are some historical reasons, kind of the results of Watergate and Vietnam, which, you know, frayed people's trust in what their elected officials said and did. The combination of--of the rhetoric of anti-government, which became very prominent in the 1980s, and in a lot of ways, has been somewhat victorious with--with Clinton saying that the era of big government is over.
And what's intriguing about '48, again, is--is the degree to which there was consensus that government was a good thing, that it was a progressive force in American life. And--and most of the Republicans of this time could only say, `We should halt the New Deal' or `We should cease the expansion.' But fully, the--you know, the spectrum was--was fully in support of a--of an activist government.
LAMB: How big is the Kennedy School?
Mr. KARABELL: The Kennedy School, big in terms of--the Kennedy School has about three parts, each of which circle around each other. There are--I don't know what the student body is right now because, there's, you know, several hundred permanent students and as many as1,000 people who funnel in and out of there for a couple of weeks at a time on these kind of "special" programs. There are a lot of foreign people. I know the Russian Duma was there the past couple of weeks. And then there are probably about 100 faculty. And then there are a lot of institutes that have their own kind of research agenda that isn't connected to--to teaching. So...
LAMB: How many people there, in your capacity--and how long did you spend there?
Mr. KARABELL: I was there for about two years.
LAMB: Have been in government? Have worked for politicians or have either--and been politicians?
Mr. KARABELL: I would say a--a majority of the faculty has served in one form or another in government, in--they're either have been in administration and are waiting to be in the next administration, or they've retired there from government to--to teach.
LAMB: Did you ever get the sense that as you study what the problems are in the electorate that maybe everybody there was too close to it?
Mr. KARABELL: Oh, definitely. And--and also concerned--I mean, I--Isuppose I can say this now because I'm--I'm no longer there, but there was a--a healthy amount of concern for--for subsequent careers. And so people were, I think, rather careful about what they said and-and didn't say because they had very much an eye toward how this might or might not impact them for--for subsequent jobs in Washington.
LAMB: So based on the fact that you used to be there and you're out and looking back at it, the next time you see a pronouncement out of the Kennedy School, what automatically will kick in your head?
Mr. KARABELL: I--you know, for me, it kind of depends on who's
making it. I think, I--you know, a lot of what--a lot of what comes out there is--is--is extremely acute and--and illuminating about--about whatever problems. I mean, there's a--there's a--there's a project now that Shorenstein Center is doing on the vanishing voter, you now, why are Americans not as engaged in the political process as they used to be. And I think that will--there'll be some fascinating ideas that come out of that about how to reinvigorate the political life. There's a state and local government center that--that looks a lot about innovative local projects, particularly as the federal government retreats from a lot of issues that it became more involved in in the '60s and '70s. So, you know, it very much depends on--on--on who's making it and why.
LAMB: Where is your hometown originally?
Mr. KARABELL: My hometown is New York City.
LAMB: And what kind of a family did you grow up in?
Mr. KARABELL: I grew up in a--in a perfect '70s hybrid with a mother on the Upper West Side and a father on the Upper East Side and a professional father and a sort of countercultural mother. So I--I-I got both sides of the '70s spectrum.
LAMB: For someone who's never been to New York, never been on the East or West Side, what are you really saying there?
Mr. KARABELL: Well, you know, the--the West Side is--was--was kind of known as a more liberal, intellectual environment. And the EastSide is known as a--a more corporate, affluent environment. So you--Manhattan, like most cities, has very distinct social, political and economic connotations in its little neighborhoods, and everybody kind of knows them.
LAMB: So where did you go to school up there?
Mr. KARABELL: I went to a--an old prep school, which has been around for 300 years.
LAMB: On the East or West Side?
Mr. KARABELL: On the West Side, but it had an East Side mentality.
LAMB: And where did you go to college?
Mr. KARABELL: I went to Columbia. You know, I really went very far afield from that...
LAMB: That's on the West Side.
Mr. KARABELL: That's on the West Side, but that's--you know, that's up near Harlem in its own kind of universe. So...
LAMB: What's--what's happening in these early years to your own politics? What's in your head?
Mr. KARABELL: You know, I think I was predictably liberal and, you know, identified myself with--with Demo--with the Democrats. I would have never have considered myself a strong Democrat. You know, people do these kind of party affiliations. But definitely, in--in the '80s or '70s terms, falling on the liberal side of spectrum. And--but I was also, you know, never quite--never quite comfortable with-with strong ideological partisanship, at least not defined by parties.
And I studied a lot of this at Columbia. I had some wonderful professors who really, you know, got me to think hard about any particular point of view, you know, whether I was supportive of it or--or not--to really hold it up in--in the harsh light of truth and just try to figure out whether something was substantive and meaningful, and th--that, you know, anything had fair--fair value if it--if it passed those kinds of tests.
LAMB: What year did you graduate from Columbia?
Mr. KARABELL: Graduated from Columbia in 1988.
LAMB: Then what?
Mr. KARABELL: Then I got a fellowship and I went to Oxford.
LAMB: For what subject?
Mr. KARABELL: Then I studied Middle East studies, tried to learn Arabic, somewhat haltingly. Had these wonderful images of going off to Oxford and really studying and sitting late at night listening to, you know, medieval chants and small light by candlelight, that-that image ended up being a lot less real than--than imagined. There was a lot more drinking and partying than I had anticipated, but somewhere in--in the midst of it, I--I did some reading and...
LAMB: How long were you at Oxford?
Mr. KARABELL: I was there for two years.
LAMB: That tooks you--took you to about 1990, '91?
Mr. KARABELL: Took me to 1990.
LAMB: Then what did you do?
Mr. KARABELL: And then I went to Harvard, to the history department.
LAMB: To--to do what?
Mr. KARABELL: To do a PhD.
LAMB: In what area?
Mr. KARABELL: In American foreign policy. I'd studied British imperialism at Oxford. I was very interested in kind of interplay between an imperial power and these countries that were the object of its attentions, for better or for worse. And so I went from looking at the British in the Middle East to the United States and the world in the '40s, '50s, '60s and--and beyond.
LAMB: Your politics changing at all during these years?
Mr. KARABELL: I think my politics changed the way a lot of people's did, in that I actually just became a lot less interested in politics as they were currently being played out. And I think I share a certain degree of--if not apathy, lack of excitement about contemporary politics. I'm not sure I decry that as a real problem. I think the energies of the world have--have shifted somewhat. I think the energies of Americans are located in different places than they used to be. I mean, if you wanted to be part of what was happening in American culture in the '40--late '40s or in the '60s, you went to Washington or you thought about government, you thought about public service. To some degree, those energies are now taken up by--by the Internet or by new economy or by these kind of new worlds that the market is opening up. And, you know, they--they have their failings and their weaknesses both. So I'm not sure that's such a problematic development, but I think my politics shifted in that foreign policy seemed to become less important as the Cold War ended, and there wasn't the same kind of, you know, earth shattering--or at least not in--in my sense of earth shattering--issues to deal with. And politics also became, I think, a less exciting and, you know, perhaps a less dynamic environment.
LAMB: What are you doing now?
Mr. KARABELL: I'm now writing books full time.
Mr. KARABELL: Living...
Mr. KARABELL: ...living in New York, living on--in--in Manhattan, working on a book on American idealism and utopianism and how the visionaries kind of defined the culture. And I start by looking at the Puritans and go through the Revolution and work through the Great Society and to the Internet and the market today.
LAMB: Are you living on the East Side or the West Side?
Mr. KARABELL: I'm actually living on the West Side. So I've-you know, I've come somewhat full circle it would appear.
LAMB: In your book, you say that--that--you--you call it `television's destructive magic.' What are you talking about?
Mr. KARABELL: I'm talking about the influence that television had on the political process. And `magic' in the sense of any new technology has a kind of magical transformative effect on the culture. And I do think that in terms of the way television evolved in the United States--Marshall McLuhan was--was the big thing for a lot of years, and the whole idea of the medium of being the message would suggest that, you know, I'm saying that television simply as a medium had a destructive influence. And it's--it's not that, and I'm not actually suggesting that at all. It's this kind of confluence of network news as a pay-television experience. Meaning in order to get on TV if you're running for office, you need huge amounts of money to pay for the time. Therefore, time is incredibly valuable. Therefore, you try to condense what you're saying in order to fit that valuable time.
I think that has an inevitable kind of reductive effect on the amount of substance that gets conveyed, both by the candidates and by the news; you know, the news, too. It's--it's a slot of time that has to be used efficiently because it costs a lot of money. And the combination of that with certain historical developments with-with Vietnam and Watergate--with the--with the--the sense of conflict being uncomfortable and dangerous and the desire of parties to reduce the appearance of conflict on television led to a real shrinkage of political debate and of the spectrum of ideas that are offered in our current political environment. So that's where I--I get into this idea about television.
LAMB: What percentage of the American populace voted in 1948?
Mr. KARABELL: It was very low, it was barely 50 percent. But I think that there's a difference between that low turnout and the low turnout of the elections of the--of the late '80s and the '90s. And there was a brief blip in '92 where more people showed up, and I think Ross Perot was a--was a factor drawing people into the process. Because of the polls in 1948, so many people were convinced that the election was over in about September. In fact, the pollsters believed there was a theory then floating around that people made up their minds about the election sometime during the summer and didn't change them. We know now that that's--that's an absurd theory, that people actually often make up their minds the minute they walk into the voting booth. But people in '48 believed otherwise.
And so there was a sense that before--there was a foregone conclusion, which I think dissuaded people from showing up. But I don't think the turnout in 1948 was indicative of engagement. I think a lot more people were engaged in the political process, who then didn't vote in 1948. Then you could say in 1996 or 2000, where I think voter turnout is cer--certainly an indicator of apathy.
LAMB: Hubert Humphrey's name comes up in your book. He was mayor of Minneapolis.
Mr. KARABELL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: He's seen here on the podium at the convention. What role did he play?
Mr. KARABELL: Hubert Humphrey was kind of an up-and-coming star in the Democratic Party. He was running for senator that year. And he was active in a--in a group known as Americans for Democratic Action,which was the emergence in 1948 of what Arthur Schlesinger called the `vital center,' which was the anti-Communist left. A real split in the American left in the late '40s was over those who really denounced Stalin and distanced them--themselves from the Soviet Union and those who were less willing to make the Soviet Union an issue. And Humphrey was--was part of that.
But his main influence in '48 was in refusing to kowtow to the pressures of the Southern wing of the Democratic Party by muting the civil rights demands of the Northern and--and more liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
Truman had made a very dramatic civil rights message in February of 1948, which had precipitated the Dixiecrat revolt. By the summer of 1948, the party around Truman preferred to let the civil rights issue be quiet. Truman had made his statement, and he wasn't really gonna take much more action on it, although he did do an executive order of desegregating the military. Humphrey was not content with this. Humphrey was determined that there would be a strong language in the Democratic platform about civil rights. And he knew, as did everyone else, that if there was language on civil rights inserted into the platform in such strong terms, that would lead to the Southern conservative or the Southern Democrats around Strom Thurmond to walk out of the convention hall and form a rump political movement.
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LAMB: Did Hub--Hubert Humphrey want to dump Harry Truman?
Mr. KARABELL: Humphrey's positions on this are a little less clear. He didn't--he didn't quite go out on a limb. There were a lot of main
figures in the Democratic Party in March, April and May of 1948 who were very vocal about dumping Truman. And there was a dump Truman movement up until the beginning of July, where they were trying to draft Dwight Eisenhower of all people.
LAMB: You say that a lot of Roosevelts...
Mr. KARABELL: The Roosevelt...
LAMB: ...trying to draft Dwight Eisenhower.
Mr. KARABELL: The Roosevelt clan was--was--was not very interested in Truman.
LAMB: Even including Eleanor Roosevelt?
Mr. KARABELL: Eleanor Roosevelt thought--thought Truman was-was just not a very good leader, in--in spite of that very touching moment, you know, where she's supposed to have said to him when Truman assumed the presidency in 1945, `How can we help you, Mr. President?' She--she found him a weak leader. She wasn't as vocal as--as her son, James, who was really determined--he was the Democ--the r-the Democratic Party head in California--determined to remove Truman from the ticket. Eleanor Roosevelt was actually a little more outspoken about Henry Wallace. She--she felt that he was...
LAMB: Did James Roosevelt go on to become a Republican?
Mr. KARABELL: I'm not sure what James Roosevelt's subsequent career
LAMB: Here's a picture of Henry Wallace. And you say that he left the Commerce Department as secretary to become editor of The New Republic.
Mr. KARABELL: Correct.
Mr. KARABELL: Well, he--he didn't leave the Commerce Department voluntarily. He made a speech at Madison Square Garden offering an olive branch to Stalin, saying that the Truman administration ought to stop being so belligerent in Europe and ought to recognize Soviet interests. And the then Secretary of State James Byrnes, who was a very proud South Carolinian gentleman, basically said to Truman, you know, `Either I'm making foreign policy in this administration or he is, but we certainly aren't both going to do it.' And Truman, who in one of the great debates was--Wallace claimed that Truman had cleared this speech at Madison Square Garden. Truman claimed that all he cleared was Wallace's right to make the speech, but that he didn't actually sign off on the text of it. Be that as it may, when Truman fully realized what the text of it was, he fired Wallace.
LAMB: How long was he editor of The New Republic?
Mr. KARABELL: I--I--it was less than a year 'cause he--Wallace was then asked to leave as the editor of The New Republic, as well. The New Republic in those years, as opposed to now, was actually to the right--to--to the left of the nation. The nation was more centrist in those years. And he was seen as a liability.
LAMB: Today, a--Marty Peretz, the former teacher of Al Gore at Harvard and friend, owns The New Republic. Does it have the kind of clout today that The New Republic did back in Henry Wallace's time?
Mr. KARABELL: I--I mean, I'm tempted to say no. I think The New Republic certainly is still read by political junkies and read by people who care about these issues. And it's not as if any of these so-called "journals of opinion" ever had such a huge readership. I mean, The New Republic was never a mainstream publication, nor was The Nation or any of these. But in--in terms of influence, it certainly seems that--that the influence that these magazines carry, their connection to politics was much more intimate, that they were much more woven into the political process.
LAMB: Who is Henry Wallace sitting next to on his left?
Mr. KARABELL: On his left is Paul Robeson, who was one of the-you know, the great baritone singers, and then later in 1947, '48, became a leader of the Progressive Party, was hounded as--and--and, in fact, did become much more closely aligned with the Communist Party as his life went on. And he was the--I think, one of the directors of the Progressive Party in '48.
LAMB: Who's looking over Henry Wallace's shoulder?
Mr. KARABELL: The singing cowboy, Glen Taylor, senator from Idaho, who was, in fact, another folk singer who traveled around with his guitar and tried to support himself in a variety of ways in the '40s, and eventually managed to win election as a Democrat. He was a quirky man, to say the least. And in February of '48, decided that he-the only person he could honorably support in politics was Henry Wallace, and he became Henry Wallace's vice presidential running mate.
LAMB: Why did Tom Dewey and Harry Truman meet in the middle of the campaign?
Mr. KARABELL: They met at a dedication ceremony for Idlewild Airport in New York City at the end of July, Idlewild, which later became Kennedy International Airport. And I think this is their one handshake during the election.
LAMB: Did they debate?
Mr. KARABELL: No. They just--they just sort of met and greeted.And Dewey was there was governor of New York, and Truman was there as president. And...
LAMB: How much television was there in the country in 1948?
Mr. KARABELL: Almost--almost none. There was a--a coaxial cable that extended through parts of the Northeast. There was several hundred thousand sets in use, and obviously viewership was considerably higher than that because people shared television sets. And there were convention--there were television cameras in the convention hall in Philadelphia, which in fact was one of the reasons for holding the conventions in Philadelphia. But very few people watched television. Television really was not a familiar medium for people. Radio was much more prominent in these years. And other than having the conventions on television, television played almost no role in the subsequent campaign. Although there was one or two political advertisements created in October that were aired in these years.
LAMB: What role did the railroad play?
Mr. KARABELL: This was one of the, you know, last great railroad campaigns. This was the primary way that--that Dewey and Truman saw the country and met people. And they each had their presidential cars, as you can see with Dewey. It was optimistically named the Victory Special, which I think may have dissuaded people from-from being quite so optimistic in the future about naming their cars. Truman's was a little more elliptically named, the Ferdinand Magellan, and was an old, outfitted car from the 1920s, very sumptuous, had been used by Roosevelt.
LAMB: We get the impression, you know, just in thinking back inhistory that it was--Harry Truman was out there all the time in that railroad train. How much did Tom Dewey spend on the road?
Mr. KARABELL: Dewey--Dewey was almost as active. I mean, I think covered maybe 10,000 fewer miles and definitely wasn't quite as active. But--but Dewey gave a lot of speeches, a lot of what would have amounted to the same thing as what Truman was doing in his famous whistle-stop campaign. He'd pull up at a small town and go to the back of the platform and--and make his speech.
I should think Henry Wallace, all in all, traveled more than any of them although Wallace didn't have his own private train in quite the same way, Wallace went by bus and occasionally plane and occasionally
LAMB: Tom Dewey here with Joe Louis.
Mr. KARABELL: Joe...
LAMB: Joe Louis was originally not a Republican?
Mr. KARABELL: Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion of the world, boxer, and was--was certainly known as a Democrat, in so far as Joe Louis was known as having any political affiliation. And the fact that he was a very prominent African-American and came to endorse Dewey even though it was the rep--the Democrats who seemed to be much more active in civil rights was seen as quite a--a coup, a good photo op. And--and that's what it was.
LAMB: Here's a picture of Henry Wallace, and you can see it on the screen. It looks like a normal picture, but when you move it up and you look at the base, what do we see?
Mr. KARABELL: We see Henry Wallace getting pelted with eggs. Wallace had a real martyr complex. And by the late fall--not by the late fall, by the end of the summer--late August and September--it was very clear that the Progressive Party was not only not gonna be a significant vote-gathering force, but that it was everywhere in disrepute and retreat. But Wallace persevered. He w--he thought he was fighting the good fight. He was going to lead the Gideon's Army. He kept quoting from the Bible and kept making increasingly less veiled illusions to himself and Christ and talking about being crucified for his beliefs.
And it's almost as if he went out of his way to generate that. So he traveled through the South in August and into the fall with a mixed race entourage, you know, which was a guaranteed way of getting, you know, angry Southerners gathering to heckle him, jeer him with hatred because he would appear with African-Africans on the platform. He would, you know, insist on eating in--in mixed race situations which just wasn't done. I mean, that--the kind of animus that confronts Wallace is somewhere to the--the pictures that are familiar to us from the civil rights struggles of the late '50s and--and the '60s. And Wallace received a lot of attention in Time and Newsweek and in the major radio for his attacks. And if anything, received a sort of grudging admiration from some people for being willing to state his--his beliefs in the face of such anger and hatred. But again, he went out of his way to court this.
LAMB: How long did it take you to research the book?
Mr. KARABELL: It--I mean, there was the time in which I started researching the book. There's also--this book is the accumulation of a lot of years of doing graduate study. So it took about a year, a year and a half researching it. But I was--you know, I had written about Truman a bit and foreign policy. And I had studied a lot of this for--and taught some of this for a lot of years. So I--I had-I had a head start before I actually sat down to research this subject.
LAMB: Where did you do most of your research?
Mr. KARABELL: Most of it was done in--in libraries across the country. Each of the--each of the candidates have an archival collection. Henry Wallace's papers are at the University of Iowa and Truman's are at the Truman Library in Independence and Dewey's at the University of Rochester and Strom Thurmond's are housed in a special collection at Clemson University. So I went there and...
LAMB: Any special interviews?
Mr. KARABELL: I--I did some. I mean, I talked to George Elsey and I--I talked to...
LAMB: Who is he?
Mr. KARABELL: He was a special assistant to Truman on the train, who helped write a lot of the speeches. And also was--worked very closely with Clark Clifford, who was another close adviser of Truman's, who helped craft a lot of Truman's campaign strategy.
LAMB: You say there was a memo that Clark Clifford wrote, but he wrote it off somebody else's memo.
Mr. KARABELL: Yeah, he wrote it off of--this is-political scientists love this memo, which was penned largely by James Rowe, who had been a--a lawyer in the Justice Department in the Roosevelt administration. And there's a lot of questions about why Rowe's name wasn't more prominent in this memo. I--some of it had to do with Rowe's association with a kind of a hustler, insider lawyer named Thomas Corcoran, whose known as Tommy the Cork, who was pretty prominent in the '40s. And there's some questions about Truman and there being some bad blood between Truman and Corcoran and, therefore, Truman and Rowe.
But this memo, which was written in the fall of '47 was one of the most perfect articulations of how a campaign would go and what thestrategy would be, although it did make one glaring error in that itdid not perceive that there was any possibility of the Dixiecrat movement. But other than that, it, you know, it charted out thatTruman needed to move to the left, to consolidate the African-American vote in the cities by becoming more firmly prominent in civil rights, that he needed to make an effort to gain the farm vote as a way of undercutting Dewey. And it--it, you know, it said--it pretty much mapped out the course of the election in a way that ended up being astonishingly prescient.
LAMB: You point out that Strom Thurmond got 2 percent of the vote, but won three states. And those three were South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
Mr. KARABELL: Oh, and Louisiana. He won--he won four.
LAMB: Those--three of the four were the first three of the four states to secede from the union.
Mr. KARABELL: Right.
LAMB: That was right, Louisiana won--but have those states changed much?
Mr. KARABELL: Since the time they seceded or since 1948?
LAMB: Since '48.
Mr. KARABELL:I--certainly there is--I mean, the--the degree to which these states had been solid Democrat since the end of Reconstruction--I--I mean, there was no Republican Party to speak of the in the Deep South in 1948. And as a number of people have commented, at least up until the 1998 mid-term elections, there's--there's not much of a Democratic Party in a lot of those states anymore. So there's been a--almost a complete flip-flop of party affiliation.
The fact was, though, that these Southern "conservatives" or, you know, the people represented by the States' Rights, were always strange bedfellows with the kind of Northern wing of the Democratic Party. I mean, the--the wonder of the New Deal coalition that it brought Southern Democrats and Northern and Midwestern Democrats together. That was always Roosevelt's incredible magic, was to create this coalition. And the Dixiecrat revolt in 1948 is the first major crack in what a lot of people have called the New Deal coalition, that pretty much collapses in the late '60s and you--sort of reaches its--its--its final moment in the Great Society and then falls apart, and the r--the South becomes largely Republican.
But Thurmond's career is illustrative of that switch because he simply switched parties. You know, he was a Democrat in 1948. He was then kind of ran out of the Democratic Party. He ran for senator on a write-in candidate. He's one of the only senators to ever to win a write-in candidate for Senate in 1952. And then he switched parties and became a Republican, much like much of the South.
LAMB: Based on what you found here, if you were advising anybody running for president in the year 2000, what's a big lesson out of this?
Mr. KARABELL: I think a big lesson--and McCain is a perfect illustration of this, is that people respect and gravitate toward real people and--and strongly held views by--by candidates.
LAMB: How would television have changed the election in '48 had they been able to follow Harry Truman from stop to stop?
Mr. KARABELL: Television would have made it more difficult for Truman to campaign the way he did because the--as I was going to say, the downside of speaking plainly is that you--you galvanize people who agree with you and you alienate people who disagree with you. And you got to be willing to accept that tradeoff. And that's a tradeoff Truman could easily accept. Because if you made a speech in a small whistle-stop town in Idaho in 1948, your audience heard it. There was no 24-hour news cycle. There were TV cameras waiting to endlessly replay what you had say. So you could your tailor your message much more locally.
And what works for farmers or--you know, potato farmers in Idaho may not be a palatable message to steelworkers in Pittsburgh in 1948. And--and you can do the kind of similar calculation today. What works for suburban or retiree voter in Phoenix or Las Vegas may not carry much weight in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And the problem with the 24-hour news cycle in television is that what you say in one place, you're essentially saying in every place. And that, too, leads to a kind of leveling out, a more generic way of--of speechifying because you don't want to run the risk of alienating people simply to gain the allegiance of a thousand.
LAMB: Who had the biggest crowd of any event in the '48 campaign?
Mr. KARABELL: I--I think it was--it was Truman at the--it might have been the Chicago Stadium. I mean, there were...
LAMB: Could that happen today?
Mr. KARABELL: The size of the crowds? I think there have a couple political events where 60,000, 70,000 people turned out at a college stadium to hear a--a political figure--certainly to hear a president.
LAMB: At one point, I think I remember saying there were a couple of hundred thousand people lined up here in Washington when Harry Truman came back to this town.
Mr. KARABELL: Yeah.
LAMB: After he got elected?
Mr. KARABELL: Well, I mean, a lot of people lined the route to kind of wave and wish him well. You know, it was definitely more of a time where people were accustomed to com--coming out and meeting and greeting the politician.
LAMB: We're out of time. Our guest has been Zachary Karabell. Here's what the book looks like. It's called "The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election." Thank you.
Mr. KARABELL: Thank you very much.
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