Thursday, September 04, 2008

Stassen’s Son, Obama Fan, Recalls Conventions Past

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In 1940, young Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen (R) gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention that vaulted him into the national political spotlight. His son Glen was only 4 years old at the time, but he would have a front-row seat for his father’s long political career.

But Glen Stassen isn’t anywhere near the GOP convention this time, even though it is in his home state. He has contributed to Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential campaign.

“Dad was an excellent speaker all his life,” Stassen reflected, comparing his father’s 1940 speech to Obama’s 2004 convention speech, which thrust the then-42-year-old Illinois state Senator into the national spotlight. Harold Stassen was 33 years old at the time, and was fresh off his election as governor in 1938. He won re-election in 1940 and 1942, but resigned a year later to join the military during World War II.

At the 1940 convention, Stassen was floor chairman for Wendell Wilkie and helped the Indiana attorney secure the GOP presidential nomination after six ballots. Eight years later, Stassen ran for president for the first time.

In 1948, Stassen came close to winning the GOP nomination, defeating establishment candidate Thomas Dewey, who also had been the party’s 1944 presidential nominee, in the key Wisconsin and Nebraska primaries, and performing better in general election matchups against President Harry Truman (D). But Stassen, who was part of the liberal wing of the Republican Party, lost Ohio to native son and conservative Sen. Robert Taft and Oregon to Dewey, who wound up with the nomination again.

Glen Stassen was 12 years old.

Stassen ran for president again four years later, but ended up helping Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) secure the nomination. Stassen’s credentials committee representative, future Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, helped shift the momentum from Taft by seating the Texas and Mississippi delegations for Eisenhower.

“I remember dad calling to the Minnesota delegation, releasing them to put Ike over the top,” Glen Stassen said, recalling his view in the balcony. “Half of the people were celebrating while the Taft supporters were crestfallen.”

That was the closest Stassen would get to the GOP nomination in a career that would include a total of nine presidential runs. He last received votes at a Republican convention in 1968.

Combined with his runs for the U.S. House in Minnesota, governor of Pennsylvania (twice) and other offices, Stassen became known as the classic perennial candidate.

He didn’t run for president in 1972, but pushed President Richard Nixon (R) for the removal of troops from Vietnam.

“It was a bad time,” his son recalled. “I was worried for dad and for the nation.”

Today, Glen Stassen is a theologian, ethicist and author. He worked for 20 years as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently the Lewis B. Smedes professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary. His book “Just Peacemaking: the New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War,” is in its third printing.

“His lifelong commitment to peacemaking clearly influenced my same commitment,” Stassen said of his father.

Stassen isn’t officially backing a candidate in this election, but he donated $500 to Obama’s campaign in March.

He has contributed to the Democratic National Committee, former Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in the past as well.

“I am a theological ethicist in a theological seminary, which is somewhat like being a pastor. I don’t declare for political candidates,” Stassen explained. “I do declare on issues. Our nation is so polarized now in economic injustice, in war and peace policies, in negative attack smears that distract from the real issues of injustice and peacemaking. We desperately need healing.”

Harold Stassen died in Bloomington, Minn., in 2001, at the age of 93. The Stassen Building is located in the State Capitol complex in St. Paul, not far from where the convention is taking place in the Xcel Energy Center.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on September 3, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.