For anyone born after 1950 the name of Harold Stassen immediately summons up three words: Perennial presidential candidate. Indeed, those were the first three words of The Associated Press story that reported his death on Sunday at a Bloomington retirement home.
Although Stassen was a major political force from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, he, sadly, was viewed by many only as a joke -- an old man in a bad wig who refused to acknowledge that time had passed him by.
The young Minnesota governor who was dubbed the "Boy Wonder" by political pundits of the late 1930s, was so much more than that. Unfortunately, most Americans have short memories and little knowledge of Stassen's enormous contributions to the U.S. political scene.
Stassen worked his way through college and excelled in collegiate clubs and extra-curricular activities. Among other distinctions, Stassen was an expert marksman, once hitting 400 bull's eyes in 400 attempts, The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported.
Elected Minnesota governor at the age of 31, Stassen went on to win election to three two-year terms. He stepped down as governor to serve in the U.S. Navy, eventually serving as an assistant chief of staff to Admiral William Halsey in the Pacific Theater.
He blazed the trail for a string of Minnesota Republicans who served as the Gopher state's top official: Ed Thye, Brainerd's C. Elmer Anderson, Elmer L. Anderson and Harold LeVander.
In his first presidential campaign, no one was laughing at Stassen's political acumen. Although eventually losing to Thomas E. Dewey in 1948, Stassen ran a vigorous campaign and was initially seen as the favorite by many. Former Vice President Walter Mondale credited Stassen with moving the Republican Party away from its isolationist stance to "an internationalist mode" and reviving the GOP after years of Democratic domination in the 1930s and 1940s.
An attorney, Stassen was one of the founders of the United Nations and continued to be an outspoken advocate for global disarmament.
Even when he was no longer taken seriously as a candidate he continued to offer thoughtful insights on important issues.
Whether the field is athletics or politics, Americans get uncomfortable when their heroes start to age but continue to fight the good fight. We would rather they fade quietly into the background. But losing never bothered Harold Stassen. He thought his ideas could contribute something to the political debate and he was never afraid to offer himself as a candidate.
In coming years, if U.S. political campaigns continue to get dirtier and fewer quality individuals consider running, we may wish we had some candidates who are at least close to the caliber of Harold Stassen.
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