Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A long presidential campaign is nothing new

A post from the Chicago Reader blog Daily Harold which linked specifically to a post from the blog, Open University. All this based on a NY Times article (or abstract actually) about the current president campaign in which Senator Obama has just entered. It says that the race has gone to a "breathtakingly early start". So this is where the blogmaster at Open University, Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin comes in...
In fact, since the dawn of mass parties in the 1820s, American politics--and presidential politics, in particular--has always been aggressively entrepreneurial. And, as with most markets, the personal sales effort rarely takes a break.

During the winter of 1826-7, Martin Van Buren was already organizing furiously to avenge Andrew Jackson's unjust defeat in the previous election. William Henry Harrison began touring key states over a year before the 1836 election. After narrowly losing to Van Buren, the 64-year-old military hero was soon on the road again. He knew, after all, that his party rivals Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were doing it too.

The prize for early starts probably goes to William Jennings Bryan, who just loved to campaign. A month after his defeat in 1896, Bryan and his wife published a thick account of the campaign whose title--The First Battle--made his intentions clear. His local post office flooded with thousands of admiring letters, and Bryan took off to speak to potential delegates in dozens of states. One could tell an analogous tale about the 1956 publication of Profiles in Courage, which first helped make John Kennedy a contender for the vice-presidential nomination that year and then made him one of the most popular speakers in the nation. By the time he announced for president in 1960, he was already the favorite.

All that's really new in the 21st century are the Internet and the ever-mounting cost of running a campaign that reporters and viewers will take seriously. Bryan and the Democrats spent all of $250,000 on his 1896 race. But then he lost to a Republican who spent at least ten times more
An interesting way to look at it. Calling politics entrepreneurial. I can interpret this to mean that you can afford to be an upstart in politics. Indeed it can also mean that as to how you campaign you'd better be somewhat imaginative. Either way this is a great history lesson on early American politics.

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