The election this year is between two very different political personalities. John McCain is a moderate conservative and war hero with a solid political record but limited media skills (he still has trouble using a teleprompter) and no excess of charisma. Barack Obama is a young, very charismatic newcomer with virtually no political record but great oratorical talent who promises profound change.
This is very reminiscent of the election of 1896, when William McKinley ran against William Jennings Bryan. McKinley too was a genuine war hero (distinguished service in the Civil War) who then entered politics. He served several terms in the House and became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. In 1891 he was elected governor of Ohio.
His opponent's political resume was a lot thinner, with only two back-bencher terms in the House. But at the Democratic convention of 1896, Bryan electrified the crowd with his "Cross of Gold" speech. It instantly became an American classic and propelled him to the nomination at just 36 years old, by far the youngest man ever nominated by a major party. Like Mr. Obama, Bryan promised a new politics aimed to benefit the common man, not the capitalists.
He launched the country's first whistle-stop campaign, giving more than 500 speeches around the country. And at first it worked. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had made its debut on May 26 of that year at 40.94, had lost 30% by August, when it stood at 28.48. But the Republicans fought back, utilizing new advertising techniques, and painted Bryan as someone whose populist ideas would wreck the American economy. The Dow began to recover as McKinley picked up support in northern industrial cities, and among ethnic workers who had been previously Democratic. In the end he won with 51% of the popular vote against 47%.
So 1896 turned out to be a watershed election, alright. By rejecting the candidate who advocated change for the candidate who promised moderate conservatism, it made the Republicans the dominant party until 1932.
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your roundup of Obama news and commentary at OBAMA WATCH