Eric Rauchway: Presidents CAN do two things at once





[Eric Rauchway is a professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and the author, most recently, of Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America and Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America. ]

Today is September 24. On this day in 1864, Abraham Lincoln presided over a country at war with itself and a party split to its roots over the question of how to plan for the nation’s reconstruction—to such an extent that on this day, Lincoln reluctantly accepted the resignation of Montgomery Blair, his Postmaster General and a valued advisor, owing to disputes over plans for Reconstruction.

Yet the campaign for the presidency was “now being prosecuted with the utmost vigor,” as one could read in the New York Times.

On this day in 1932, with the nation mired in the Great Depression, you could read Will Rogers in the New York Times saying “This is a year that will bring out lots of votes, for the voter has nothing to do but vote; his 1932 employment consists entirely of voting.” Managing the economic crisis was assuredly a full time job.

Yet Herbert Hoover prepared to give a large speech in Iowa and Franklin Roosevelt had just given what became a famous address to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

On this day in 1944, the US prepared one of the most ambitious postwar occupations in history for Germany, while American forces in the Pacific prepared an assault on the Philippines on the way to Japan.

Yet President Roosevelt had just officially launched his campaign for a fourth term, while Thomas Dewey took his turn speaking in San Francisco, challenging Roosevelt’s supremacy.

All these examples suggest the contest for the presidency has been an indispensable part of American democracy, enduring even in the greatest of crises. But somehow, on this day in 2008, John McCain announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency and asked for an extension in preparing for this week’s presidential debate.


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