San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 16th, 2008
Last time it happened …

COMMENTARY
By BILL PETERSON

Every fourth year arrives with a guarantee that every presidential candidate will proclaim the coming election one of the most important in American history. But seldom can anyone claim that the election will be so interesting as the campaign presently underway.

Not since 1928 have we come to a presidential election wholly free of an incumbent’s influence. Many commentators mention 1952 as the last one, but this round is even more lacking incumbency.

The 1952 election began with Harry S. Truman running for re-election, though he withdrew after losing the New Hampshire primary. Truman’s Vice President, Alben Barkley, then threw his hat in the ring, but he was 74 and big labor said he was too old, so he withdrew. The Democrats ended up nominating Adlai Stevenson, who lost to Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1928, the incumbent, Calvin Coolidge, famously announced, “I do not choose to run.” Neither did his Vice President, Charles Gates Dawes. In 2008, of course, George W. Bush is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term, and Vice President Dick Cheney has never intended to run, either.

In the usual course of events, the Vice President will run when the President is term-limited from running. But Cheney, 66 at the end of this month, has been through four heart attacks and three heart surgeries, so he is, in a sense, like Barkley, too old.

Dawes was 63 as the sitting Vice President in 1928, but his problems didn’t end with age. Some historians count Dawes as disaster from that office, perhaps even an object lesson for why the presidential candidate must pick his own running mate. Coolidge’s first two choices in 1924 declined, so the Republican convention chose Dawes.

Immediately upon election in 1924, Dawes informed Coolidge that he would not attend cabinet meetings. Then, Dawes gave an inaugural address blasting the Senate for its rules and traditions that allow small minorities to lock up legislation. The speech caused such commotion as to over-shadow Coolidge’s inauguration speech.

By accounts, neither the Senate nor Coolidge were happy with Dawes. By the Republican nominating convention in 1928, the party and the press were enamoured of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, who worked heroically after a Mississippi River flood in 1927 wiped out parts of six states. It’s said that when Hoover supporters suggested Dawes for the vice presidency, Coolidge put the word out that he would be insulted.

Dawes shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his plan to collect German World War I reparations after the Treaty of Versailles provisions proved untenable. But the Dawes Plan didn’t work, either.

As demonstrated by his history and his book, Notes as Vice President, 1928-1929, Dawes spared no feelings to condemn triviality and foolishness. But posterity would make him suffer, anyway.

Dawes taught himself piano and composition. He never studied music, he said, because his parents were afraid he might become a musician. But his 1912 work, “Melody in A Major,” became so well known as a piano and violin piece that he tired of hearing it. Fritz Kreisler, the violinist, started using it for his closing number. Tommy Dorsey picked up “Dawes Melody,” as it was called, and added swing in the 1940s.

After Dawes died in 1951, lyricist Carl Sigman added words and soon it was recorded by the likes of Dinah Shore and Sammy Kaye. The song title: “It’s All In The Game.”

Tommy Edwards went No. 1 in England with it in 1958. Cliff Richard went No. 2 in England with it in 1963. The Four Tops went No. 5 in England with it in 1970. The song became a concert favorite with Van Morrison fans. Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, Jackie DeShannon, Robert Goulet and Andy Williams are among the dozens of singers who have recorded “It’s All In The Game.”

So, that’s what we got out of the last presidential election in which no incumbent, either President or Vice President, ran at any point in the process. We got the Great Depression and “It’s All In The Game.”

Maybe we’ll do better this time.

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