Saturday, January 24, 2015

Book Review: Whistle Stop by Philip White

Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry TrumanWhistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman by Philip  White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Whistle Stop Tour of Harry S. Truman has gone down in political lore on how to win an election as well as lose one.  Philip White in his book “Whistle Stop” describes the famous political tour from inception to conclusion, not only following Truman’s actions and the political team supporting him but events both domestically and internationally that influenced the race.

White begins his book by setting the stage for the 1948 Elections including brief description Harry Truman’s three years in office by spring 1948 as well as the 1946 Congressional elections and the consequences of the Republican sweep of both houses.  As the prospects for Truman’s reelection, let alone his nomination for the Democrats, grew increasingly worse White notes that Truman believed he would come out on top and that his chief aides had already begun laying the ground work for his Whistle Stop Tour by the creation of the Research Division, inspired by the one Thomas Dewey had created for his 1944 Presidential run again President Roosevelt.

Truman’s “nonpolitical” trip out West in early summer 1948 was described in detail as both President and his team created the blueprint for his fall campaign, even though his nomination wasn’t assured.  The three-way split of the Democrats with the far-left progressives of Henry Wallace and the segregationist Dixiecrats and its consequences are traced throughout the book, especially how in the end they resulted in Truman triumphant both at the convention and Election Day by focusing Truman’s rhetoric and shaping his itinerary.

White does not neglect the Republicans, both presidential contenders and Congressional leaders, in his book.  Truman’s congressional opponents, primarily conservative Robert Taft, rhetorically countered the President more than his eventual opponent New York governor Dewey did during the campaign.  However the ideological divide between the moderate Dewey and Taft led to a less than unified party that was confident in victory leading into the fall campaign with disastrous results.

The dominate part of White’s book is the Whistle Stop Tour itself including numerous speeches by Truman throughout his crisscrossing of the nation.  The daily stressful schedule Truman endured and put his political team, as well as reporters, through was described in detail.  White contrasts Truman’s campaign and speeches to that of Dewey, who unlike the President did not explain his position on issues.  The most remembered part of Truman’s campaign was his attack on the “do-nothing” Republican Congress that is always positioned as the enemy of the interest of the average man and the use of the Turnip Day Special Session of Congress by Truman framed the campaign the way he preferred.

White’s book is not the first covering Truman’s campaign or the 1948 Presidential election nor does it fully cover everything in detail.  However a first time reader of the subject, like me, will find it a fascinating and informative introduction to the postwar period of politics that will wet one’s literary appetite to learn more of Harry S. Truman, Thomas Dewey, Robert Taft, and the post-FDR era of political history.

I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

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