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Andrew E. Busch's Truman's Triumphs is an outstanding analysis of the 1948 presidential election and its impact on American political development. Busch's work requires us to abandon former ways of understanding this pivotal election in favor of a more convincing [End Page 470] perspective that can speak to and inform current politics. Specifically, Busch asks us to forego conclusions regarding President Truman's "upset" victory over Republican nominee Governor Thomas E. Dewey and reconsider the importance of the political contexts at work within an election cycle. In this way, Busch helps situate Truman's singular electoral victory within the larger milieu of American politics and demonstrates the reciprocal relationship between politics and presidents.
The bulk of Truman's Triumphs details the important politics leading up to the 1948 election. Accordingly, Busch focuses on the political context surrounding the election, the important political actors participating in the election, the dynamics of the interparty and intraparty relationships, the important conventions leading to presidential nominations, the significance of the various campaign strategies by the four major presidential contenders, and the outcomes of state and congressional elections with their relationship to the presidential election. Drawing from a wealth of sources and survey data, the scope of Truman's Triumphs convincingly challenges the conventional understanding of 1948.
The conventional account of the 1948 election is often captured in the iconic photo of a victorious Harry S. Truman holding a Chicago Tribune with the unabashed—yet miscalculated—headline reading, "Dewey Defeats Truman." Given the analyses at the time, conventional wisdom would have predicted a Dewey victory. Busch asks, however, whether we should continue to understand Truman's victory as an upset or if, given the political circumstances, his reelection should have been expected. In other words, despite trailing in the polls, Truman had confidence in his ability to maintain the New Deal coalitions and even recreate them when necessary. Accordingly, Busch draws our attention to Truman's stance on foreign policy, his personality, and his fiery campaign as convincing explanations for his reelection success. As a result, Truman's presidency was not obscured by the long shadows cast by his predecessor. Indeed, Truman would test the strength of the ideological attachments to FDR's previous regime through his policy proposals, thereby providing the New Deal [End Page 471] orthodoxy with opportunities for innovation. According to Busch, the most enduring of Truman's innovations was in the realm of foreign policy by confronting Stalin and the Soviet empire, so that "the 1948 election . . . assured that containment would be on a stable footing for the foreseeable future" (p. 215). Furthermore, Truman's victory "confirmed that FDR had not been a fluke and that Democrats had constructed a coalition that gave them a residual advantage going into national elections even when public opinion on crucial issues was not favorable" (p. 217). Thus, Truman's victory had not been a fluke and his presidential legacy would have a lasting impact on the development of the executive office and American politics.
Perhaps where Busch's analysis reaches its analytic pinnacle is in its ability to help us understand our current political environment. One cannot help but be drawn to the similarities between 1948 and 2012. Like Truman, traditional political-science measures were against President Obama's reelection as many predicted an incumbent president presiding over a struggling economy with 8 percent unemployment had no chance of reelection. Moreover, in 2010, many viewed the Republican capture of the House of Representatives and nearly capturing the Senate, as a repudiation of the Democrats and as evidence that the Republicans would carry this momentum into the presidential race, much like what happened in 1946. However, like Truman, President Obama reminded us that candidates, campaigns, and coalitions matter. Overall, Truman's Triumphs reminds us of what makes election cycles so compelling. And in this regard, Truman's Triumphs is really Busch's.
Robert E. Ross is a doctoral candidate at the University of...