Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Guest Post: What if Harold Stassen had been elected POTUS?

 This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

March 4, 2001 - Death of President Stassen

Bloomington, Minnesota ~ on this sad day in alternate history, Harold Stassen died of natural causes at the age of 93. During a remarkable political career that spanned four decades from the Depression Era through to the Peace in Vietnam he delivered, Stassen served as the governor of two states - Minnesota and Pennsylvania - and later 37th U.S. President

Being the youngest person elected governor in the history of the state, Stassen was chosen to give the keynote address at the 1940 Republican National Convention. However, his budding political career was suddenly interrupted by the Second World War, and he later resigned to serve in the USN, becoming an aide to Admiral William Halsey Jr. After demobilization, Stassen became president of the University of Pennsylvania. In this post, he undoubtedly had far greater accomplishments through his campus expansion plans than Eisenhower had as president of Columbia University.

Following an unsuccessful run for the White House, Stassen held his university position until 1953. Multiple failed attempts at election to various political offices followed, but his academic role provided him with a way back into public office. In 1958, he won the governorship of Pennsylvania, beating Albert McGonigle in the GOP primary and then beating Pittsburgh mayor David L. Lawrence in the general election. Alternate history then repeated itself and another truncated governorship followed.

After campaigning vigorously in 1960, Stassen was chosen as Richard Nixon's running mate. Minnesota and Pennsylvania were both contested states, and so he was a unique vote-winning choice as a "double favourite son." Moreover, Nixon had personally backed Stassen's presidential run twelve years earlier and was very grateful for his support in 1956 when many GOP figures were advising Eisenhower to drop him from the ticket. GOP fatigue after eight years of a Republican White House was a key factor in their narrowly defeat to the fresh face of Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. The press fawned over Kennedy who over-promised change and unashamedly took aim at Eisenhower's two terms of office. Polar opposites in mainstream American politics, Kennedy was to learn that Eisenhower had actually delivered unparalleled efficiencies in Federal Government. Moreover, his caution about the perils of "quick fixes" in his Farewell Address was diametrically opposed to the naïve promises of Kennedy's inauguration speech which was littered with undeliverable promises.

Fortunately, Stassen was the improbable beneficiary of a reverse swing of the pendulum. After JFK was assassinated, popularity for the Democrat White House faded under his successor Lyndon B. Johnson due to Vietnam and Civil Rights disturbances in the cities. Stassen chose not to run for office in 1964 because the GOP did not seek a moderate candidate. However, the landslide general election result, and the emergence of George Wallace as a third party candidate radically changed the political landscape. Having actively supported GOP candidates in the mid-terms, Stassen made another remarkable comeback eight years later. He won the 1968 presidential election as a peace candidate narrowly defeating his fellow Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey. As a liberal Republican, he offered Americans a unique compromise between the Eisenhower-Nixon and Kennedy-Johnson eras. Having sacrificed his own political career to serve in war-time, he had the credibility, as well as the wisdom and good judgement, to deliver a lasting peace.

Author's Note:

In reality, Stassen committed the blunder of urging the GOP to dump Nixon in 1956. Thereafter his name became most identified with his status as a perennial candidate.

Provine's Addendum:

Just as Minnesota's labor-employer relations and UPenn's campus bore the long-lasting legacy of Harold Stassen, the modern American life still had Stassen's fingerprints. History classes would of course focus on Stassen's foreign relations, especially efforts to bring peace to Vietnam by reinvigorating the United Nations as a center of diplomacy as he had envisioned while a signatory to the charter. He remained strong against communism, using American dollar diplomacy to encourage the opening of China as well as seeing South Vietnam become a center of the Southeast Asian tiger economies, mirroring a comparison with South Korea. At home, Stassen mapped out the modern American workforce to pursue corruption within unions while also encouraging their voice. Without Stassen, historians argue that there might be many larger and more crippling national strikes, such as if all of the airline controllers had to strike instead of coming to terms in 1981. Stassen also worked to improve race relations alongside fellow Baptist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with whom he marched in 1963, as well as implementing many of King's ideals on improving worker benefits. Today the single-payer national health care system, the 32-hour work week, and the family support of every mother receiving universal basic income per child all trace their roots to Stassen's administration.

1 comment:

  1. Would the Republicans have nominated a peace candidate in 1968?


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