Monday, March 29, 2010

The Lunatic Fringe and Al Smith

The lunatic fringe seems to have taken over American politics. The Tea Baggers protest comparing the US president to mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin because he wants to spend healthcare to those who need it. We have other nuts saying that he is a Muslim or a terroist or even a foreigner. Now that the healthcare bill has passed, we have Democratic Senators and Reps (aka people dedicating their lives to service to this country) getting death threats because they voted for the bill. This is crazy stuff but it is no different than any other era in US history. In the 1990's we had the militia movement, in the 1890's we had people who feared that the free masons were taking over and we have had over 100 years of irrational anti-Catholism in American politics. I have often heard about how many Americans feared John F. Kennedy because of his Catholism, but I had never heard of Alfred E. Smith until today. I grew up Catholic so much of this is foreign to me. I have been a confessed atheist for almost three decades now. I don't fear Catholism anymore than any other religion. I fear them all equally.

Al Smith was the first Catholic in the US to ever run for President for a major party. He was the 42nd Governor of New York and he lost his presidential bid to Herbert Hoover in 1928. He only took Massachusetts and Rhode Island mostly due to their highly Catholic population. He lost miserably but you could say that he paved the way for Kennedy. The term "tunnel to Rome" came out of the Smith election. This was a hyperbolic term that was spread by his opponent making people fear that he would take advice and/or commands from the Pope because he was Catholic. But others took it literally believing that he wanted to build a tunnel under the White House leading to Rome. This sounds ridiculous today but no more than Obama being compared to Hitler because of his taking the lead on healthcare.

Considering how bad a president Hoover was, one has to wonder how different the 1930's would have been if Smith had been elected. The little amount of reading I have done today says that his election helped for the base of FDR's support and the beginning of the New Deal. After losing the election Smith went into the private sector and was one of the people behind getting the Empire State Building built in Manhattan.

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