Historian Weintraub (Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941, 2011, etc.) looks at an ailing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last campaign.
In 1944, Roosevelt was in very poor health, plagued by a heart condition, high blood pressure and exhaustion. He was noticeably gaunt and sickly, drawing concerned comments from those close to him, and even from the press. But with World War II still raging overseas, he chose to run for an unprecedented fourth term, even if it was likely that he wouldn’t live to see the end of it. In this well-researched, engaging history, Weintraub effectively brings the players to life, portraying the public and private faces of the witty, indomitable FDR and his opponent, the stiff, humorless New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey mounted a tough campaign, claiming that “the New Deal was the beginning of a Communist ‘corporate state.’ ” He even considered accusing Roosevelt publicly of not acting on advance warning of the Pearl Harbor attacks; he was only dissuaded from doing so by Gen. George Marshall, who warned that such an accusation would endanger the ongoing war effort. He largely stayed away from exploiting Roosevelt’s illness during the campaign, although the Chicago Tribune warned that “a vote for Roosevelt is very likely to be a vote for [vice-presidential candidate Harry] Truman for President.” (Truman would in fact become president when Roosevelt died of a brain hemorrhage, just months into his fourth term.) Weintraub shows how Roosevelt, despite his illness, was still a force to be reckoned with. He continued to give dazzling speeches and enjoyed loyal support from many constituencies, including soldiers still at war, who voted absentee for FDR in large numbers.
A well-drawn political history of FDR’s last days.