People have the mistaken impression that Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed universal support throughout his long career in governmental service. After all, he was elected president four times. What was not to like?
But as Steve Neal, a long-time political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times reports in HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, that first attempt in 1932 was an uphill battle, with the eventual outcome often in doubt.
With painstaking detail and lively character analysis, Neal "handicaps" the candidates, such as Speaker of the House John Nance Garner; Newton D. Baker, former Secretary of War during WWI; Harry Flood Byrd; Alfred E. Smith, who, as the first Roman Catholic seeking the high office faced a virtually hopeless task; William Gibbs McAdoo, former Secretary of the Treasury; and Albert Cabell Ritchie, a four-term governor of Maryland, among others.
But as any political analyst will tell you, it's often the people behind the scenes, the kingmakers --- such as publisher William Randolph Hearst --- who set the stage, who wield the power behind the throne.
Roosevelt came under fire for, among other things, his physical infirmity. How could you have a president who was in such questionable health, asked politicians, planting the seeds of doubt in voters' minds, pointing to the spate of recent presidents who suffered catastrophically: Wilson's stroke, Harding's heart attack, Cleveland's secret cancer operation.
Internal and regional battles add to the tension of the convention. In the wake of the Depression, with the additional weight of Prohibition and the past international problems fresh in voters' memories (and with more looming on the horizon), to paraphrase the words of that great comic, Oliver Hardy, here's another fine mess the America public was getting into.
The knowledge of the convention's outcome does not detract from the enjoyment of HAPPY DAYS. There are enough shenanigans to entertain and frustrate as these kingmakers try to circumvent the rules to achieve their goals.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 22, 2011