Truman's Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America.
Despite opinions to the contrary, there is a considerable difference between political history and political science. Political scientists (as scientists would) look to the numbers for their answers--a statistical analysis that unfolds a story. They spend time collecting and calculating the numbers, lists, columns, decimal points. Historians dig deeply into the sources: archives, letters, diaries, journals, memoirs. Everyone, of course, is looking for the same answers: truths and insights to the past. Political historians and political scientists just go about it in different ways. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people (from students to book editors) who refuse to see the difference.
History is narrative, one of the humanities. It is, of course, more akin to literature than any of the sciences. Some might consider that viewpoint a detriment, a weakness in an academic world where direct focus and statistical evidence seems more important than grace and style. For at least a century, historians have lamented about the need to combine the techniques of history with other academic disciplines, to make history more "relevant," more "useful." Historians have not done particularly well at combining their works with other disciplines. We can thank the gods that academics in other disciplines have been fairly successful in looking at their own topics with an historical eye.
Andrew E. Busch's Truman's Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America is political science, written by a political scientist for other political scientists in a series designed and edited by political scientists. It's all about the numbers, and more numbers, and then (if that is not enough) there are still more numbers. Busch makes no attempt at archival research, only a pitch or two toward published memoirs, a few newspapers here and there, websites, and then a mountain of work in Roper/Fortune and Gallup Poll statistics. His analysis is mostly predictable: Truman's victory was complicated, but the 1948 victory all boiled down to little more than a few farm states in the Midwest that unexpectedly switched from Dewey in 1944 to Truman in 1948.
None of this is wrong, of course. And the book certainly adds to the knowledge of the events of the time--which is why we do this. On top of all the statistical analysis, there is a lot to appreciate. One major contribution is Busch's focus on a postwar nation that was entering a time of tremendous uncertainty, and it was that uncertainty that was reflected in voters' decisions on Election Day. Busch also has the vision to look at the merging points of foreign policy and politics--something that all historians of this era need to see more clearly. He looks at the big picture of Soviet actions in Eastern Europe and how those events impacted the election. And Busch's analysis of Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond is probably better than anything available. Most writers simply want to dispose of Thurmond as a shallow mid-century racist; he was, of course, much more than that.
There is certainly a lot to digest here. Busch gives little more than a casual nod to the old notions that Thurmond's candidacy (always perceived as racist) gave Truman the northern urban black vote, or that Truman was able to deflect the Republican-planned soft-on-communism issue because Henry Wallace (the darling of the Democratic Left) decided to make a run that year. And if you are interested in things like the Wardman Park Group, the celebrated "Give 'em hell, Harry.... whistlestop" campaign, the significance of the Eightieth Congress, or even the impact of the 1946 mid-term elections, you might want to look elsewhere. But beyond that, this book has a lot to add to the knowledge of one of America's most fascinating presidential campaigns.
--Gary A. Donaldson
Xavier University of Louisiana
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|Author:||Donaldson, Gary A.|
|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2013|
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