As I watch President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney zip around on airplanes, making speeches and hoping to squeeze presidential votes from every nook and cranny of the country, I am reminded of a presidential campaign that was the opposite.
When James A. Garfield, a Republican congressman from Ohio, was nominated by his party after a particularly contentious convention, he went home, sat on his porch and let the press and any of the public who wanted to do so come and see him. During that campaign, he made only one trip of any note — to New York to try to heal some of the Republican Party’s wounds that had been caused by the arguments that had led to his nomination — which he had not sought.
You may wonder how he could conduct what was for all practical purposes a stay-at-home campaign that depended on people visiting him at home.
Well, people probably wanted to go to see him because of who he was.
He was one of the most accomplished men of his time. Before he was 30, he had become a college president. During the Civil War, he rose to the rank of general in the Union Army. He was elected to Congress for nine consecutive terms. He was highly regarded as a public speaker, and was known for his honesty and ability to work hard. He also was reputedly a very good host who would treat you well.
He had good ideas for reforming the government civil service, which at that time was a terrible example of the spoils system. People were hired for virtually all government jobs based on their support of the winning candidate, and not on the basis of competency.
He only served as president for 200 days. He was assassinated by a deranged job-seeker.
In these days of high-energy campaigning, a candidate couldn’t afford to stay home. But I’d think, down deep inside, they’d like to give it a try.