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Eleanor And Ike: Historical Fiction Parallels Today's Presidential Politics

Jan 27, 2008
My first attempt at fiction, The Sex Ed Chronicles, was based on historical events in my hometown and state, but it was a story of fictional characters. However, there are brilliant works of historical fiction that stay truer to history, when they use well-known historical figures in alternate scenarios.

Eleanor and Ike by Robin Gerber is one such work of fiction.

In Eleanor and Ike, the presidential race features no incumbent president or vice president, only the year is 1952 and the former First Lady at the top of the ticket is Eleanor Roosevelt. It's interesting, as I read this story, the similarities to the current aspirations of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Like Hillary, Eleanor subordinated personal political ambitions to advance the career of her husband. As First Ladies both traveled around the world representing the United States, were active in the cause of working women and opposition to racial discrimination. Both played important roles in shaping foreign policy. They also had to lead in times of war. Sadly, both had to deal with extramarital affairs before their husbands became President.

Robin Gerber, the author of Eleanor and Ike, is an Eleanor Roosevelt scholar; shes also written a non-fiction work about the late First Lady's leadership style.

In this work, Eleanor does not promise to continue the economic policies of her late husband's New Deal in this post-World War II world. She calls her platform America's Deal based on equality of rights: the right to an education according to ability; the right to earn a living according to ability; the right to equal justice before the law; and the right to participate in government through the ballot, protection of civil liberties, and universal health care.

That's a platform Hillary Clinton, or any other Democratic candidate, could have run on 56 years later.

America's Deal would not be the only similarity; we feared nuclear proliferation and the emergence of controversial leadership in Korea then, as now. There were also concerns about homeland security dominating the news in 1952, just as they do today. We also have fears at home; then it was the spread of Communism, today it is terrorism.

Had Eleanor Roosevelt actually run for President, she, like Hillary Clinton, would have led at a time after our institutions, such as Congress and the presidency, had been attacked at gunpoint. President Eleanor Roosevelt would have taken office two years after immigrant gunmen attempted to assassinate President Truman, in the cause of Puerto Rican independence. Puerto Rican Nationalists opened fire on a live session of the House of Representatives 14 months after Eisenhower took office, injuring five members of Congress.

In Gerber's work, Eleanor's campaign also thinks about "change," just as presidential candidates do today. As she is about to kick-off her campaign, a band plays Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner, a hymn of praise to the joys of the Oldsmobile "Rocket 88" automobile; it's also rumored she will campaign in an Oldsmobile 88 convertible. When Eleanor asks about the choice of song, she's told: "It represents change. It's a young people's song, not a gray-haired grandma kind of song."

This is where historical fiction breaks away from the realities of today's Democratic campaign; Hillary Clinton has been unfairly portrayed as old news and politics-as-usual, when the truth is that she has not been a member of the party in power during six of her seven years in the Senate. I don't see how any Democratic candidate who comes from the Senate could be viewed as a leader for change when they didn't have the chance to win votes for their legislation.

That goes for Senators Clinton and Obama, since John Edwards has not been an office holder for the past four years. However, it also goes true for the Republicans; as former House Speaker Dennis Hastert once said, they've carried the water for their president. There are not many new tunes from the other side, just a rewind of the same Bush songs.

When asked if Eleanor Roosevelt could be elected president today, Gerber said that she'd win in a landslide. She says there is a deep hunger in our country for a leader with conviction, integrity, demonstrated compassion, and authentic humanity.

Those are all traits where Hillary Clinton scores low in opinion polls and Senator Obama appears to score high.

Maybe she should buy a copy of this book.
About the Author
Stuart Nachbar has been involved with education politics, policy and technology as a student, urban planner, government affairs manager, software executive, and now as author of The Sex Ed Chronicles. Visit his blog, Educated Quest.
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