Last year, in the final weeks, and then days, preceding the presidential election, the pundits were talking about how close the race seemed to be. They were intently focused on the “battleground states.” They worried (or were they really rubbing their hands together in eager anticipation?) that some of the state vote tallies might be so close as to trigger automatic recounts. And that could lead to legal challenges. There were echoes of Florida in 2000. It didn’t turn out that way, probably to the disappointment of some journalists (and maybe lawyers) and the relief of everyone else.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 32 – No 02 – February 2013
But it brought to mind conversations I’d had during the six weeks or so of the contested election of 2000, that period between Election Day and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. Perhaps, I said to the medical students and residents I was supervising in the emergency department, neither Bush nor Gore should want to be the winner, because of the tragic history of presidents elected in years ending in zero.
I noted that the last president elected in a year ending in zero, Ronald Reagan (1980), had been shot soon after taking office and come perilously close to death. Who, I asked them, was the last president before Reagan to be elected in a year ending in zero and not die in office?
I didn’t expect anyone to know the answer straight away. I wanted to see how they would approach the question, what they knew of presidential history, which I would be able to tell if they tried to work their way back through the years that were multiples of 20 – the presidential election years ending in zero.
Nearly all (I was aghast that it was not all) knew that John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960 and assassinated. But things went downhill quickly from there. Most did not know that Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1940 (and, of course, also 1932, 1936, and 1944) and died in office (in the spring of 1945, from a cerebral hemorrhage), to be succeeded by Harry Truman.
As I recall, exactly no one knew that Warren Harding was elected in 1920, died in office, and was succeeded by Vice President Calvin Coolidge. I believe one person knew William McKinley was elected in 1900, assassinated by an anarchist, and succeeded by Teddy Roosevelt.
James Garfield was shot in 1881 by a psychotic man who believed Garfield should have recognized the work he’d done on behalf of the presidential campaign (which was trivial) and appointed him to an important job. The bullet wound was actually not that bad – nowhere near as serious as the one that almost took the life of Ronald Reagan. Garfield was more a victim of the terrible medical care he received. No one knew that. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was disappointed just the same, if only because the medical part of the story was so important.