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The Last Campaign
How Truman Won in 1948

by Gad Nahshon

Harry Truman did not pay much attention to the issue of the Jewish vote. There are scholars who tend to over-estimate the role of this vote. It has to do with the face that Truman wished on May 14, 1948, to recognize the state of Israel but also put an embargo of arms to this region.

1948 was the last old fashioned campaign. It was the pre-television era. The people who ran the campaign of 1948 used more old methods: printed materials, rallies, meeting with the voters and crossing the country by whistle trains. But there was another alternative: the radio, but it was very expensive. You needed 13 million to run for president. 1948 is more important because of its uniqueness. It was the last election in which the Americans had a frontier or choice: third party candidates.

After 1948 they became 'victimized' by the two-party system. 1948 was the last great hope and dream of the third party, a real force. Furthermore, Americans also had an ideological choice: right, middle of the road, progressivism (new-dealism). It was the last strong appearance of the American populism as an original ideology. Even Truman used populism in his political way of propaganda. 1948 will also be remembered as the nightmare of the professional pollsters and the forecasters of the press and media. To mention the story of the headline Dewey Defeats Truman which the "Chicago Daily Tribune" prepared ahead is a must. Indeed all predicted that Dewey will win easily against Truman, a gray unimpressive local politician from Independence, Miss.

The above mentioned insights, conclusions, and illuminations is to be found inside the 294 pages of Zachary Karabell's vivid account of 1948 The Last Campaign-How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election (Alfred A. Knoff, NY 2000). This account, a detailed one, reads like a drama, a political thriller because the author produced a colorful panorama of the main actors who acted on the 1948 stage. Zachary Karabell managed to show the specific characteristics of each actor's campaign, what was typical to each of the candidates for presidency in 1948. Harry Truman, the Vice President since F.D.R., dies April 1945. His opponent from the left, the new dealer and ex-vice president of F.D.R., Henry A. Wallace; his opponent from right, from the south, senator Strom Thurmond, the leader of the Dixicrats of the 'state's rights' party.

The Republican Thomas E. Dewey confronting Truman and a broken democratic party could not but feel that he will be the winner. But the reality was different. Truman won 49% of the total vote or 24 million (303 electors) to Dewey's 21.9 million (189 electors). Thurmond had 1.1 million (39 electors) and Henry Wallace only 1.1 million, and without even one elector.

Although the 'Dixicrats' caused problems to the democratic machine, the great challenge came from Henry Wallace who was the last great New Dealer. Wallace came out for agreement with Stalin, against the military-industrial complex, against the big corporations of Wall Street and for the farmers, the working classes and the African Americans.

Wallace attracted many Jews: around 30% of his followers were Jews. Among them his fund-raiser, William Gailmore, was an ex-rabbi. He controlled the Bronx thanks to Leo Isaacson who was elected to the congress as a member of the progressive party. Many communists and Jewish communists supported Wallace who always was blamed as a front for Moscow. But Wallace did something else, he never forgot to declare his support of Zionism and a Jewish state. On Dec. 1947, he visited Palestine as a guest of the Labor movement. Wallace also believed in the Judeo-Christian idea and a project to develop the Middle-East for Jews and Arabs alike. Furthermore, he helped the 'Friends of Lehi in the U.S." (the so-called 'Stern Gang.') And Karabell wrote that on July 23, 1948 the Progressive Party's convention hosted "the Stern Gang, the Israeli underground paramilitary organization that had blown up buildings and assassinated British officials in Palestine..." He wrote that the Lehi (Freedom Fighters of Israel) were close to the Irgun's Menachem Begin, but Yitzhak Shamir was the Lehi's commander together with Natan Yellin-Mor and Israel Eldad. Truman was pushed by his pro-Zionist advisors (Mark Cliford) to support Israel in 1948 in order to attract the Jewish vote away from Wallace's camp. Also, Dewey was pro-Zionist.

The author concluded that Truman won because he managed an effective campaign, used populist rhetoric and managed what we define today as a 'negative campaign.' Dewey, the gentleman, lost!


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