‘Most revolting spectacles:’ elections both then and now

Posted by Tom Camfield

Hoover had “alcoholic Smith;” Trump conjured up “Crooked Hillary.” Both won the election but we wound up with the true ‘’losers” in both cases.

Quoted paragraphs following are from a 2008 story by Joseph Cummins: “Dirty Campaigning in the Roaring Twenties; Herbert Hoover vs. Al Smith”


In the 1928 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Herbert Hoover’s campaign slogan was “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.’  He was elected following a campaign that one historian described as “one of the most revolting spectacles in the nation’s history.”

Hoover, a self-made millionaire, ran against long-time New York governor Al Smith, who supported the repeal of Prohibition and was America's first Catholic presidential candidate. Hoover won in a landslide but soon became known as a do-nothing president. He promptly led the country into the Great Depression. He was a one-term president, giving way to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

In 1928, “The Ku Klux Klan continued to be a powerful force in America, with a membership that historians now estimate as high as two to four million. When Smith's campaign train headed West, it was met by burning crosses on the hills and explosions from dynamite charges echoing across the prairies. Klansmen and other religious bigots swayed ignorant voters by telling them that the Catholic Smith, having supposedly sworn fealty to the pope, would turn the United States over to ‘Romanism and Ruin.’ Protestant ministers told their congregations that if Smith became president, all non-Catholic marriages would be annulled and all children of these marriages declared illegitimate. Preachers even warned their congregations that if they voted for Al Smith, they would go straight to hell.

“Hoover officially proclaimed that his opponent's religion had no bearing on his ability to be president, but even Hoover's wife, Lou, whispered that people had a right to vote against Smith because of his faith. She and many other Republicans spread rumors of Smith's alcoholism, which were already rampant because he favored the repeal of Prohibition or, at least, the right of states to choose for themselves. Republicans sneeringly referred to him as ‘Alcoholic Smith,’ told of drunken public behavior, and claimed that he had already secretly promised to appoint a bootlegger as secretary of the treasury.

“In truth, Smith was a moderate drinker who enjoyed a cocktail in the evening from legal, pre-Prohibition stock. But as we've seen, truth rarely factors into presidential campaigns.”  How true! Republican ads underscored the prosperity Americans were feeling at the time of the campaign.'Hoover and Happiness or Smith and Soap Houses.'

“In Daytona Beach, Florida, the school board instructed that a note be placed in every child's lunch pail that read: ‘We must prevent the election of Alfred E. Smith to the presidency. If he is chosen president, you will not be allowed to read or have a bible.’

“A poem spread in leaflets in upstate New York during the summer of 1928:

‘When Catholics rule the United States

And the Jew grows a Christian nose on his face

When Pope Pius is head of the Ku Klux Klan

In the land of Uncle Sam

Then Al Smith will be our president

And the country not worth a damn.’

“When people got tired of attacking Smith for his religion, there were other fruitful areas for invective. One Protestant minister rallied against Smith for dancing and accused him of doing the ‘bunny hug, turkey trot, hesitation, tango, Texas Tommy, the hug-me-tight, foxtrot, shimmy-dance . . . and skunk-waltz.’ Another minister claimed that Smith indulged in ‘card-playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, stuffy rooms, evolution...nude art, prize-fighting, actors, greyhound racing, and modernism’.”

Trump’s campaigning in 2016 beat that with the rumor that Hillary ran a pedophile ring from the basement of a pizza parlor.

Hoover, of course, was elected. A booming economy soon tanked, Wall Street crashed, and the Great Depression followed before I was one year old. Millions wound up without even a pot in which to cook a chicken or a garage for their non-existent car. My family was lucky, my father went to work at Port Townsend’s new paper mill, and we also lived in area where we could raise our own chickens, etc.

It is at least of peripheral interest when I note this bit of history involving Donald Trump’s father Fred, the year before Hoover was elected: “On Memorial Day 1927, brawls erupted in New York led by sympathizers of the Italian fascist movement and the Ku Klux Klan. In the fascist brawl, which took place in the Bronx, two Italian men were killed by anti-fascists. In Queens, 1,000 white-robed Klansmen marched through the Jamaica neighborhood, eventually spurring an all-out brawl in which seven men were arrested. One of those arrested was Fred Trump." However, it is unclear what alleged role Trump played in the brawl.

When news of the old report surfaced last year, Donald Trump vehemently denied his father's arrest. “He was never arrested. He has nothing to do with this. This never happened. This is nonsense and it never happened,” he said to the Daily Mail. “This never happened. Never took place. He was never arrested, never convicted, never even charged. It's a completely false, ridiculous story. He was never there! It never happened. Never took place.”

“FAKE NEWS?”—Donald was pretty positive with his opinion on something that happened 19 years before he was born in 1946! But his father WAS there; his father WAS arrested. In fact it was reported in 1927 by the very newspaper he is so fond of insulting, The New York Times. In fairness, the same paper did point outthat Fred Trump (then 21), while apprehended, was subsequently released without being charged. A photocopy of the news item is on the Internet. No need for retroactive “fake news” charges by Donald for something that happened 91 years ago and was real news, well documented by the press.

In any case, one can’t help but recall Donald’s remarks following the white supremacy rally/riot last year in Charlottesville, Virginia: “There were good people on both sides.” An innocent young woman was killed by a cowardly white supremacist and a young black man was beaten near to death by a gang of others.

Also Donald’s promises of pie in the sky to average working-class Americans during his campaign sound a little like “a chicken in every pot.” Will our economy, among other things, survive? Lord knows we have many people in the country already who are struggling along minus a pot with a chicken in it. Are we sitting on a time bomb?


A QUOTE OF NOTE“Since before he was elected president, Donald Trump has operated in the belief that he can control his narrative through sheer force of will — and words. Day after day, he floods the airwaves with messages — ad-libbed speeches, off the cuff remarks and incendiary tweets — whose effect is to keep the world’s attention squarely on him. As he explained at a July rally in Granite City, Ill., the advantage of never relinquishing the spotlight is ‘it’s covered live, much of it, and when I say it they can’t do anything about it’.”—David Knowles, Yahoo News Aug. 24

A RECENT NEWS COMMENT“If [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions’ recusal was his original sin, Trump has come to resent him for other reasons, griping to aides and lawmakers that the attorney general doesn’t have the Ivy League pedigree the president prefers, that he can’t stand his Southern accent and that Sessions isn’t a capable defender of the president on television — in part because he ‘talks like he has marbles in his mouth,’ the president has told aides.”—Politico, Aug. 31 (How y’all like that down in Sessions’ home state of Alabama?—and elsewhere down in the red-state South?)

If you’re interested in the distorted lies of Republicans in attack ads on Democratic candidates in close congressional House races, take a gander at this:





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