Always dangerous to talk politics, but on Election Day it seems appropriate. I’m sure you all realize what tomorrow will bring–the beginning of the 2020 presidential campaign! Since this blog likely won’t be around in 2020, might as well get a few words in now.
2020 will be the centennial of the campaign that gave us the phrase, “the return to normalcy.” It was the first election after the war, and certainly, it was the opportunity for the nation to escape from its steps into world affairs and return to the isolationism before the war. The country had already rejected the League of Nations. It wanted nothing to do with rebuilding Europe.
Republican nominee Senator Warren G. Harding wanted the country to return to its prewar state, saying:
“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”
His opponent, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio was the Democratic nominee. Cox was a progressive reformer, supporting both Prohibition and women’s suffrage. He supported Woodrow Wilson’s internationalist stance, although he did have some doubts about the League of Nations. He did take the position of supporting greater Americanization of immigrants.
Harding won the election easily. The stage was set for the 1920s, and one can question whether prewar normalcy was achieved. It is often said that the First World War changed everything. One can think of that as you consider some of the themes of 1920s life in America–political scandal, prosperity, nativism, consumerism, racial tensions, morality, crime, and new music and fashion.
One trivial sidelight of the four men who ran from President and Vice-President that year–Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge for the Republicans, James Cox and Franklin Roosevelt for the Democrats–only Cox would never serve as President.