(Part 8 of “Newspapers - a Window to the Past”)
There’s a saying that goes like this: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” I believe this is especially true in politics. This past week has been a nail-biter when it came to the presidential election, one that saw many people rejoice and many others lament. But this isn’t rare in politics. Several elections of the twentieth century and one in the twenty-first century were controversial and contentious.
Most recently, George W. Bush narrowly won over Al Gore in 2000. Florida became the focus of national attention when the race was so close that a recount was necessary. This time it was the Democrats that were disputing the election results. Finally, on December 12, Bush was declared the winner with just 271 electoral votes and became the 43rd president of the United States. To the Democrats’ amazement, the United States did not go to “h --- in a handbasket” and eight years later, it was their turn to declare victory with the election of Barack Obama.
Sixty years ago in 1960, another contentious battle for the presidency took place. Richard M. Nixon, a Republican and the former vice-president under Dwight D. Eisenhower, ran against John F. Kennedy, a relatively unknown Senator from Massachusetts.
Kennedy had two strikes against him – if he won, he would be the youngest man in the United States history to be elected president and the first Roman Catholic. Today, both of these facts hardly seem like deal-breakers, but in 1960 a lot of people were concerned by these two issues. Non-Catholics were sure that Kennedy would be carrying out the Pope’s bidding.
Another controversial issue in the election was Civil Rights. Although Nixon did not state that he was against Civil Rights, he was not as vocal about supporting equal rights for Black Americans as Kennedy was. This, along with Kennedy’s religion concerned people in a predominantly Protestant South.
In a letter to the editor prior to the election, one Brooksville citizen expressed this concern when he stated, “… think of the deadly peril to our schools: one of the favorite devices of the Catholic Hierarchy in its ceaseless campaign to undermine our great American school system is its reference to the public schools as ‘Godless’. They fail to explain that by ‘Godless’ they merely mean the schools’ refusal to be invaded by Roman sectarianism.”
One comment in the paper put this feeling very succinctly, “There is abundant evidence that Kennedy, Socialists and Fellow-travelers…have plans all made for a Socialist America.”
Despite the fact that the Democrats were the predominant party in Hernando County, Nixon won this county, as well as the state of Florida. However, Kennedy won overall, by 112,000 votes out of 68 million – a small margin of just .02 percent. He won the Electoral College 303 to 219.
After 1964 when Congress passed the law banning discrimination in hiring based on gender or race, help wanted ads like the following could be seen in 1960: “Wanted - A young ambitious man 25-40 to operate a Watkins route [and] earn $100 - $150 per week.” That was pretty good money, considering the average wage at the time was about $96 per week. With that $100-$150 per week, you could save up to buy a used ’57 Ford station wagon for just $1,195.
Now we’re going to take our time machine back eighty-eight years ago. It’s 1932 and the presidential race pits Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt against Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover.
At the time, our country, as it is today, was in the midst of an economic crisis - the Great Depression. War was raging in Europe and other parts of the globe. On November 8, 1932, Roosevelt won in a landslide victory and ushered in the New Deal. Unlike the 1960, 2000, and 2020 elections, Florida voted Blue.
To take your mind off the Depression and other cares you could go to the Dixie Theatre and be entertained. Playing that week was the hilarious Marx Brothers comedy, Horsefeathers, the inspiring film, The Spirit of Notre Dame, and the spooky Chandu the Magician. If a movie didn’t perk up your spirits, then perhaps a dose of Nervine tablets would help, especially if you were a nervous, sleepless, cranky woman. Or maybe a new dress would do the trick. A fashionable fall frock could be had for $2.69.
Now our time machine has arrived back in 2020. For many people, the election isn’t over and it’s their right to question and protest the results. Losing is hard. However, when the dust settles, all Americans need to accept the results, whether they like them or not, and work together to make our country an example of democracy across the world.