August 12, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)

Presidential Elections

During the 1950s, a woman came up to Adlai Stevenson and said, "Oh, Mr. Stevenson, you have the vote of every intelligent person in this country." He replied, "Yes, madam, but I need a majority."

I watched John Kerry's speech at the Democrat's convention on television. I usually don't listen to political speeches because I figure that they are mostly baloney. That applied to Kerry's speech as well. What I wanted to find out was whether his baloney was of the kind that would appeal to the majority of the electorate, which might help to get him elected. The best test that I know of is if what he says will turn my stomach. He succeeded. Since I want him to win, I was delighted.

My last active participation in a presidential campaign was when I campaigned for Adlai Stevenson when he ran against Dwight Eisenhower. Everything that Stevenson said was clear and made sense, in contrast to the speeches of his opponent. He lost twice despite the fact that he was brighter and much more qualified for the job. It is very discouraging to "get out the vote," and find out that the voters whom you got out had voted for your man's opponent. Oh well, I was young and naive. That experience was enough to sour me on being active in politics for the rest of my life.

I believe that Stevenson lost because he let his intelligence show. That is enough to defeat anyone. The public wants someone they consider to be one of them. Half of the population is below average in intelligence.

Harry Truman was a very bright child with bad eyesight, who spent a lot of time at the library and his major interest was history. That he was very intelligent was one of the best kept secrets of his political career. His intelligence and understanding was revealed after he could no longer run for president. The perception that a presidential candidate has a brain is the kiss of death in American presidential politics. It might not just be a trait of American politics, but might well be universal. I have no way of knowing.

The only exception that I am aware of in the last century was Woodrow Wilson. He was elected president because his opposition in the Republican party was split. He was reelected because, as his slogan said, "He kept us out of war." In his second term, he got us into World War I. The world might have avoided W.W.II if it had listened to him, but the top European diplomats and our own congress weren't interested.

One of the secrets to winning a presidential election is to be a war hero. I would guess that a number of potential presidents now reside in Arlington National Cemetery. Kerry was just one step away from rear admiral, the navy equivalent of an army brigadier general. . That step from colonel (or navy captain) to brigadier general(or rear admiral) is said to be the most difficult one to make in the military. I know of no general who was killed in action. One reason that our country has had so many generals as president is because the numskulls consider a general to be one of their own.

The Democratic convention is over and the campaign starts in earnest. Adlai Stevenson said "I'm not an old, experienced hand at politics. But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning."

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