February 11th, 2008
01:00 PM ET
13 years ago

Across America with Bob Greene: 'The 1952 Factor'

 Dwight Eisenhower and wife Mamie.

Dwight Eisenhower and wife Mamie.

ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS IN PLACENTIA, California (CNN) - On a journey like this you learn some valuable life lessons, and so far I certainly have.

For example, here is how to spend the best three dollars you will ever invest:

If you are dining at a Denny’s, and, before ordering, you turn over the menu to find that the same meal you were about to ask for is available at a senior discount. . . .

And if the terrible, icicle-claws-in-your-stomach realization dawns on you that you are, in fact, available for that discount. . . .

Don’t do it. Order the regular meal. The three dollars you’d save is not worth the despondency that would result from having the qualifying conversation with the waitress. Pretend you didn’t even see the back of the menu. Proceed as if it doesn’t apply to you.

Another lesson, not quite as personal but just as apt, is this:

For anyone in America who wasn’t around in 1952 - meaning most of the country - the presidential election this November is going to be like none they have ever experienced.

Much has been made of that fact that the Bush family and the Clinton family have put the word “dynasty,” more often used to describe royalty or successful sports teams, into the forefront of the American political vocabulary. But, whether or not Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee and then the president, there is something else about this year’s election that makes it extraordinary: the 1952 factor.

This November will be the first time in 56 years that neither of the candidates for president has already served as either president or vice president.

In 1952 it was Dwight Eisenhower vs. Adlai Stevenson. After that, there has never been an election lacking a candidate who had previously been No. 1 or No. 2 in the executive branch.

To save you from doing the memory gymnastics: In 1956, Eisenhower was running for re-election as the incumbent. In 1960, his vice president, Richard Nixon, was a candidate. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson - the sitting president, who had been John F. Kennedy’s vice president - ran on his own. In 1968 Nixon was back on the ballot against Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, and in 1972 Nixon ran as the incumbent. In 1976 Nixon’s second vice president, Gerald Ford, ran, and in 1980 the man who defeated Ford, Jimmy Carter, ran as the incumbent. In 1984 the sitting president, Ronald Reagan, ran against a former vice president, Walter Mondale. In 1988 Reagan’s vice president, George Bush, ran and won, and in 1992 he ran and lost. In 1996 the sitting president, Bill Clinton, ran - as in 2000, did his vice president, Al Gore. In 2004, the man who defeated Gore, George W. Bush, ran for re-election.

It has become all but required, the idea that one of the candidates must have already served in the White House. If you’re 55 years old or younger, it has never been any other way in your lifetime.

So for most Americans, this is new territory. Now, there is another similarity between the 1952 election and the one this year, even though the major parties have not yet named their candidates. One of the candidates in 1952, while not having served as president or vice president, was as well-known to Americans as any politician: Eisenhower had great stature as a World War II hero, and he amiably grinned a beaming Ike smile around the country on his way to a landslide victory. This year one of the two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, has been known for a decade and a half to virtually every citizen because, although not elected to the White House, she lived there for eight years. Both Eisenhower and Clinton brought immense, saturation celebrity to their candidacies.

The most striking thing about the uniqueness of this year’s election - at least the uniqueness in the prism of the last half-century - is that not much is being made of it. For whatever reason, Americans have, without really thinking about it, long demanded - or taken on faith - that one of the two candidates in a November election be someone who has been the president or the vice president. It’s as if there was some sort of comfort, or sense of security, in that. This year, mostly by circumstance, the nation has changed its mind. And barely discussed it.

Soon I will tell you about an oddly obsessive restaurant out here - not a Denny’s - where the gimmick is garlic, but for now I can’t get out of my mind the image of Eisenhower smiling. As soon as I typed that reference to it two paragraphs above, I couldn’t stop thinking: Ike’s grin was almost exactly the same as Hillary Clinton’s. Close your eyes and think about it. Coincidence? Or Mystery of History?

Tomorrow: a tale of garlic ice cream.

Bob Greene is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.

Filed under: Bob Greene
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Independent

    Obama has the vision and the policy. Go to Obama's website to view his policies get inspired and hopeful about the beef and drink the Kool-aid . He is the total package… vision, good judgement, great policies, leader, tough , has the ability to inspire and can create a majority.

    Obama 08

    February 11, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  2. michael

    Living in Chicago area, it is great reading Bob Greene, again. It has been to long, not having Bob's talent & gift to be experienced. Thanks.

    February 11, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. Jenn

    How anyone can support a person who doesn't fell it necessary to solute the flag of this country is beyond me.

    February 11, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  4. Grandpa

    Back in my day, our ice cream had no flavor to it and it had lots and lots of calories and we liked it! And our presidents didn't wear skirts or have funny names neither, and we liked it! Vote for McCain to take this country back to the good old days of bland ice cream and everyone looking and sounding the same! Pooey!

    February 11, 2008 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  5. Darth Vadik, CA

    Conservativism died with Barry Goldwater, what we have today are Neo-Cons, and Neo-Cons are parasites, they feed of the host, eventually killing the host and in the end themeselves.

    We need a vaccine against Neo-Conservatism, otherwie they will take ous down with them.

    February 11, 2008 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  6. Robert G.

    What an exciting time and there will defintely be a changing of the guard for President. The only difference could be that Hilary Clinton was first Lady for 8 years and her Husband Bill was President so they do have ties to the past. So its not quite the 1952 factor.

    Go Obama, we need a break from the past!

    February 11, 2008 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  7. m

    Although Obama is likeable enough, just can't see him as president. I have listened and listened and I hear hope and change but no specifics. What are his claims to experience that would make him qualified to be President. I can truly say that everytime I hear him speak the hair on the back of my neck stands up and that is not a good thing. I have been a Democrat all of my life but can not see me voting for him for president. IF he becomes the Democratic nominee I will for the first time vote non democratic.

    February 11, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  8. tim

    To Jenn- That pic of Obama "not saluting" was a hoax, do you believe everythign you see on the internet....if so I got some swamp land in Florida...........

    February 11, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  9. Don't Get Fooled Again!

    This is NOT about Obama vs Clinton.

    It's about Democratics vs Republicans

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...uh..DON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN!
    - George W. "Baby" Bush

    February 11, 2008 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  10. Wayne, Greenville TX

    Jenn February 11, 2008 2:34 pm ET

    How anyone can support a person who doesn't fell it necessary to solute the flag of this country is beyond me.

    How anyone can take seriously the comments of anyone who can't spell "salute" when she mindlessly spews right-wing talking point pap is beyond me.

    February 11, 2008 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |