David M. Jordan's "FDR, Dewey and the Election of 1944" is worth a read because the election it studies has often been overlooked. The backdrop of a World War overshadowed the election at the time and since. Yet this was FDR's closest election, and Thomas Dewey was arguably FDR's savviest opponent. Jordan describes the election contest in clear prose and has done excellent research. He highlights the failed and almost delusional effort of Wendell Willkie to regain the nomination, and characters who once were major such as Governor Bricker of Ohio are evaluated again. Jordan also shows the prominence of anti-Communist rhetoric in the GOP campaign; I hadn't realized this previously, assuming that the wartime alliance with Moscow had placed such criticism on hold. Although I'm not usually a big Norman Rockwell fan, Jordan (or his publisher) found a superb illustration for the cover of the book.As with any book on politics, there is always a danger of giving in to your own biases. Jordan clearly favors FDR and paints a picture of Dewey as a somewhat soulless man. On issues of war and peace, he depicts Dewey as a straddler, although I don't think Dewey's practice of politics is that different from politicians through the ages or from FDR's; Dewey's goal was to try to keep his fractious coalition together, and he made compromises not unlike those FDR historically made on civil rights and other issues. Jordan puts context around Dewey's statements by using negative editorial comments (such as saying NY Times "demolished" his arguments in a speech). Jordan occasionally sprinkles in observations such as "If the depiction of Hillman happened to stir up some anti-Semitism, well that might bring out a few extra Republican votes" (news to Jordan: The Republican party wasn't the only one that had anti-semites in its ranks). I wish there had been just a little more balance in the presentation, but Jordan's biases are a small distraction from a generally well done book. I think that Jordan is a little careless in his assessment of GOP rhetoric criticizing FDR for the depression. He repeatedly and unnecessarily repeats that the Depression started under the Republicans instead of trying to understand what Republican politicians meant by such criticism. Were they saying that FDR's policies prolonged the depression? Did their rhetoric appeal to anyone? I had always assumed the GOP just avoided mention of the Depression so it would have been valuable to have a more thorough discussion of why Republicans thought FDR's handling of the Depression was an argument in their favor.A few stylistic flaws to note: I think using FDR's "Fala" speech at the Statler in September 1944 as an introduction to the election was a mistake. I wish it had been integrated into the flow of the election narrative. It was confusing to suddenly have the speech pop up as a done deal halfway through the book's narrative; as I was reading the final chapters, it took me a while to realize that this important speech that commentators are discussing was the one already presented in the introduction. I wish a good editor had broken Jordan of his habit of foreshadowing events with useless phrases such as "remained to be seen". Many of his chapters end with this annoying type of flourish (quick examples: "(Willkie) was not, however, out of the Republican picture, as would become clear in the weeks and months ahead" or "Perhaps some surprises were in store.")
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