The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, September 27, 2004

Eisenhower, TV and the 1952 Republican Convention

It's one of the many stories that are news only in the sense that I've previously been ignorant of them.

Reading another Joan Shorenstein Center paper [1], The Rise and Fall of the Televised Political Convention - from October 1998! - by Zachary Karabell, I come to the convention shenanigans that led to the first nomination of Dwight Eisenhower:
the supporters of Eisenhower challenged the supporters of Senator Robert Taft over the credentials of delegates from Texas. Taft backers wanted the debate over the so-called "Fair Play Amendment" conducted in private, away from television cameras. Eisenhower insisted that the contest be waged in public. The Fair-Play amendment won; Eisenhower's delegates were seated, and his nomination was secured.

Eisenhower's camp was able to use television to force open the proceedings to their advantage. After all, in the words of one commentator, "to be against fair play on television was like trying to commit grand larceny in broad daylight."

A candidate wanting genuine convention conflict shown on TV! As Mr Punch has it, That's the way to do it!

There is a little online about the Fair Play Amendment: this piece says that the idea was the result of researches by Attorney-General-to-be Herbert Brownell (a regular cast-member in the Civil Rights Act of 1957 soap, discussed here several times) which discovered a precedent in the 1912 convention [2]. More in this piece; a New York Times piece from July 11 1952 - entirely gratis! - takes up the story after the Fair Play Amendment had been passed, but before balloting had begun. There is also a Time piece from May 5 1952.

What had happened, if I understand matters aright, was that, in states, such as Texas, whose delegations were committed to Eisenhower, the Taft machine had magicked up unofficial delegations, which demanded to be seated at the convention.

The FPA excluded these unofficial delegations; but also refused them a vote on the FPA itself.

That still left Eisenhower short: he needed the California delegation (pledged to favorite son Earl Warren - of Jap deportations and (later) school desegregation fame) and that of Minnesota (pledged to Harold Stassen [3]).

If either party had produced floor action one-tenth as exciting in 2004, the networks would have pre-empted like billy-o. Rescuing hamsters just isn't on the same planet.

  1. I wrote on September 25 on a paper comparing TV coverage of the 1968 and 1988 campaigns.

  2. In which Robert Taft's father, William Howard Taft, snaffled the nom from TR, of course - now that's what I call a story arc!

  3. Stassen's meteoric rise and fall I discussed on March 31.

    There seems to be some dispute whether Ike won on the first ballot - these are hardly blue riband sources, but we online are, as per, beggars rather than choosers.

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