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Empty stadiums, then and now


On June 21, 1948, Life magazine ran a gleeful series of photos ridiculing Harry Truman’s famous don’t-call-it-a-campaign-trip campaign trip through the West — a tour that was widely mocked by his adversaries but which actually had the effect of reviving his fortunes at a time when many within his party were scouting about for a replacement candidate. Henry Luce was a first-rate Truman hater, believing him to be insufficiently hostile toward the Soviet Union and insufficiently supportive of the Chinese nationalists, so when a publicity gaffe led Truman to deliver a speech to a nearly-empty Ak-Sar-Ben coliseum in Omaha, his magazine provided ample space for this:

Life conveniently overlooked the fact that Truman had drawn 160,000 Omahans to a parade earlier in the day, just as they had almost nothing to say about the substance of Truman’s speech, which endorsed still-popular New Deal policies including agricultural price supports, soil conservation efforts, federal support for farm cooperatives, measures to alleviate food insecurity and malnutrition, electrification programs as well as improvements to rural health services. Though Truman would eventually lose Nebraska by a margin of 54-46 percent, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that FDR had lost the state by 15 and 17 points in 1940 and 1944. So while the Republican media made strong efforts to depict Truman’s speaking tour as the work of a bumbling dope, the reality was that the more Truman spoke — sparse crowds or no — the more popular he became with voters.

Not so with Mittens, whose dishonest speech to an empty stadium in Detroit offered — as Ezra Klein points out — a horrifying call for Americans to address a debt non-emergency by hacking away at programs that serve the poorest citizens. No wonder, then, that the more Willard Romney speaks, the more everyone dislikes him.

Sometimes the empty stadium is an anomaly, and sometimes you’ve really earned it.

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