Jerry Kopel


"Take him for granted, we pay the price" Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) regarding President Clinton, New York Times, July 26, 1995.


Theme for this column is "Don't Count Clinton Out" or "How I Lost My Mustache".

A very brief autobiography: In 1947, I ended my Army Engineer military service in Panama at headquarters just outside of Colon, after one long stint in the jungle on the Atlantic Coast closest towards Costa Rica.

Evenings were spent in a sports jacket and open shirt, playing piano in the Colon bars that catered to servicemen. This was no chicken outfit. I grew long sideburns, a thin mustache, and generally tried to fit in with the native population.

I had already been accepted at the University of Colorado, arrived there in January, 1948, and enrolled under the GI bill in pre-journalism, sporting the same Army sideburns and mustache.

As in Panama, my philosophy was to mix with the native population, so within several weeks I held an after-class job at Norlin Library, pledged a fraternity, became a reporter on the then-daily, the Silver and Gold, and joined the Young Republicans.

President of the Young Republicans on the CU campus was a law school student named Luis Rovira, who took this ex-serviceman under his wing. Soon he had me helping him trying to put up posters of Will Nicholson, Republican candidate for U.S. Senator, in the bars of Louisville, where we were usually unsuccessful and escorted out by Democratic patrons.

When Presidential Candidate Harold Stassen came to Boulder, as the ex-governor and boy-wonder seriously challenging Thomas Dewey for the Republican nomination, Rovira took me to an evening cocktail party being given for Stassen, even though he knew I was a staunch Dewey supporter. Rovira didn't even cringe at the two Dewey buttons I wore in my coat lapels as I was introduced to Stassen.

Stassen spoke to an on-campus crowd at Old Main the following day, with Rovira, myself and other Young Republicans on the auditorium stage with him. It was a good speech with solid Stassen answers to questions, but I still stuck with Dewey.

In 1948, there wasn't a ghost of a chance that Harry Truman would be re-elected. Strom Thurmond and his Dixiecrats would take the South, Henry Wallace's Progressives would take the liberals, and Dewey was a shoo-in.

My fraternity brothers kidded me unmercifully on my "then-Republican" leanings, and one of the senior members made me a bet. If Truman won, I would shave off my mustache. If Truman lost, my clean-shaven fraternity brother would grow a mustache. It was a deal!

I wasn't living in the fraternity house, and the night of the election, I lay in my room, listening to radio commentator H.V. Kaltenborn, who kept saying "Well, the midwest results are not in yet, and they will put Dewey over the top." About 2 a.m., I fell asleep, the radio still on.

The next morning, it was over. Rather than have someone else take a razor to my face, I shaved off my mustache, and it has never reappeared in 47 years.

Irwin Ross, in his 1969 book, "The Loneliest Campaign" about the Truman election of 1948, acknowledges the electoral count could have gone either way:

"The figures told a paradoxical story. Truman had won by a decisive majority and yet the election had been close. In popular votes, the President had polled 24,179,345 to Dewey's 21,991,291 -- a plurality of 2,188,054. In electoral votes, the score was Truman, 303; Dewey, 189; Thurmond,39. The minority candidates had done poorly, with Wallace polling a mere 1,157,326 votes; Thurmond, 1,176,125; Norman Thomas, 139,572; and all other fringe parties, including the Prohibition party, 150,167.

"The Wallace and Thurmond candidacies, however, had attracted enough Democratic votes to deny Truman an absolute majority; the final tally showed him with 49.6 percent of the popular vote to Dewey's 45.l percent. The total vote had been low, with only 51.2 percent of the electorate going to the polls.

"A plurality of over two million votes was substantial, but Truman's lead in three states was so slender that the outcome might easily have been reversed in the Electoral College. Truman carried Ohio by only 7,107 votes, California by 17,865, Illinois by 33,612; his total plurality in the three states came to 58,584. The arithmetic irony was clear; a swing to Dewey of less than 30,000 votes, appropriately distributed in three states, would have given him an additional 78 electoral votes and the Presidency...267 for Dewey to 225 for Truman and 39 for Thurmond."

In Colorado, it was Truman, 267,288; Dewey, 239,714; Wallace, 6,115; and all other candidates, 2,120. Will Nicholson received only 165,069 votes for U.S. Senate against 340,719 for Ed Johnson. Lee Knous, Democratic candidate for governor received 332,752 votes defeating David Hamil who got 168,928.

Legislative Democrats in Colorado went from 27 out of 100 in the 1946 elections, to 55 out of 100 in 1948, more than doubling their numbers, and they were the majority party in the House. The four Congressional seats lined up as 3 Democrats, l Republican. Democrats made a clean sweep of the executive branch: Lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, and attorney general. They also won both races for the Colorado Supreme Court.

On Friday, Sept. 30, 1994, my column in the Statesman and Paul Gigot's column in the Wall Street Journal, both predicted Clinton would not seek re-election, clearing the way for Al Gore to run. That is now quite doubtful.

My prediction was a reflection from Truman's troubles in 1951, the third year of his first ELECTED term, as the president dealt with corruption and coverup in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Justice.

Bad decisions, jail terms for some office-holders, Senate investigations, an extremely negative press, resignations by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and Attorney General, and a 23 percent positive rating in the polls led to Truman's public announcement not to run again on March 29, 1952.

Whitewater is tame by comparison, but it's still likely at this juncture that a Republican will win the Presidency in 1996. However, I have one suggestion based on experience: If you have a mustache, and want to keep it, don't bet it against Clinton.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator. In 1950 (having come of age) he registered to vote as a Democrat, and has been there ever since.

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