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Close Elections and the Race for President

Monday 14 November 2016 at 12:54 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 10, 2016, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            It’s necessary for me to write this column a couple days before Election Day during one of the closest and most unusual elections ever, so I don’t know the outcome of this political contest, even though it will be known to you when you read this. My policy has always been to neither write about politics in my column nor preach about such in the pulpit, -- at least in a way that would show my preferences.

            Seven of the ten closest Presidential races in United State history occurred before I was born, thus as a registered voter I have lived through three of those, -- four, if you consider the current race one of the closest. The three were Gerald Ford versus Jimmy Carter in 1976, George W. Bush versus Al Gore in 2000, and George W. Bush versus John Kerry in 2004. I remember all three quite well.

            One of the races that many of us think of as being a really close one was Thomas Dewey versus Harry S. Truman in 1948. I was a junior in high school at the time, and I remember the race well, because our social studies teacher required us to keep up with the election. In fact, each member of our class had a subscription to a weekly political newsletter, which kept us updated.

            Although the Truman-Dewey election was not one of the top 10 closest elections, it was thought to be, because the Chicago Daily Tribune ran the morning headline, “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” I remember a follow-up story in all the other newspapers, showing Truman holding up a copy of the Daily Tribune with its erroneous headline, with a huge grin on his face.

            Why did this happen? Well, back in 1948, television was just in its infancy and nobody had a TV set, there were no computers and other electronic devices, so naming a winner before it was over was a very “dangerous” action. Of course, everybody had predicted that Dewey would win handily, and most were sure he would; the results disproved all the predictions. My teacher made it obvious that she favored Truman, and since he had first taken over the duties of President when Franklin D. Roosevelt died, I was convinced it was a good thing. I wonder if social studies teachers still require their students to keep up with current elections. I raise that question, because some of the kids I talk to can name very few American Presidents. NFL teams and coaches they can name, but not U. S. Presidents.

            As a senior citizen, I am amazed at how much of our country’s history I have lived through, including the election of 13 of our 43 U.S. Presidents (Glover Cleveland left the White House and was re-elected four years later, a fact that makes Obama the 44th President). My life began with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected for the first time in 1933, the year before I was born. I have lived through, and in many cases, voted in, the elections of Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower (the first election I voted in), John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and whoever was elected on November 8, 2016. Good grief! Can anybody really be that old?!

            Since churches have a tax-free status, as a pastor, I have always been reluctant to express my personal political views. Yet, at the same time, when elected officials are responsible for repressing the expression of religious freedom, such as taking down the Ten Commandments from the walls of public buildings, or forbidding the erection of manger scenes on public property during Christmas, I feel the need to speak out on those issues. If speaking out on religious freedom means giving up tax-exemption status, then maybe we should give it up.

            This year’s election has been unusual in that both candidates, throughout the election, had a very high “dislike” rating, and folks were talking about voting AGAINST a candidate rather than voting FOR one. Even though I remember there being negative talk against Harry S. Truman, especially regarding his blunt way of speaking, it was not a high level of negativity. If I remember correctly, verbal attacks on Johnson and Nixon came during their time of serving as President.

            To be sure, the early history of our country showed very close Presidential races, too. John Adams versus Thomas Jefferson was a very close race. Although Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and is considered one of the great Presidents, he was criticized for his “liberal leanings,” such as toward Deism. John Quincy Adams versus Andrew Jackson was a very tight race also. Running for President is not an easy thing to do.

            Many thanks to all our workers and officials at the voting sites on Tuesday. Not an easy job either.


 Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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