Humble starts are a political staple

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Log cabins are regaining popularity. It now is possible to buy kits to build your own log cabin — sort of like life-size Lincoln Logs.
What’s the attraction of log cabins? Part of it has to do with the image, some of it rubbing off from Abraham Lincoln. Log cabins carry an air of hard working self-sufficiency and part of it has to do with politicians wanting to demonstrate they came from humble beginnings.
Beginning in the middle 1800s, it became almost essential for presidential candidates to claim birth in a log cabin. According to National Park Service information, seven presidents claimed to have been born in log cabins. Add in vice presidents and losing candidates and you have an impressive number.
Evidently William Henry Harrison, our eighth president, was one of the first to make the log cabin claim.
It was only a partial truth. He did retire to a log cabin of his youth but he surrounded it with 16 rooms of more modern construction.
Harrison was the first Whig candidate to win election to the presidency. He did it with some very creative political advisers. Harrison had been a general 30 years earlier. He was on the winning side of an Indian battle fought near the Tippecanoe River.
Although Harrison’s troops won the battle, he was criticized for some bad decisions. But after 30 years, few remembered. So he was paired with John Tyler in the campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”
They thoroughly trounced incumbent president Martin van Buren.
Much of the credit was given to the image of Harrison living in a log cabin, which created the impression of virtue, independent thinking and a humble beginning.
Harrison’s campaign also was the first to use slogans, songs and symbols. One fortuitous symbol it used to great advantage was an answer to the frequent Democrat complaint that Harrison was too old, at 67, to be president and that he was more suited to going back to his log cabin with a big jug of hard cider and living out his years.
Harrisonís campaign turned that around and promoted him as the hard cider candidate. Evidently hard cider, made from apple trees in back yards throughout the nation, was very popular in those days. It became another symbol of self-sufficiency.
Candidates have since used symbols to their advantage. Bruce King was the hard working, successful “Cowboy in the Roundhouse,” the title of his memoir. Presidential candidate Gary Johnson now advertises “America Needs a Handyman,” the opening line for his story of humble business beginnings.
And recently deceased former state Sen. Aubrey Dunn introduced himself to voters as the ol’ Apple Picker from High Rolls. Dunn ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1982. Do you suppose his problem was not making it into hard cider?
This attention to humble beginnings is occasioned by the over-the-top speeches about humble beginnings by Ann Romney and Michelle Obama at their respective conventions recently.
Both talked of living in tiny apartments and dinner on the ironing board. It brought a flood of memories to many of us watching.
But both the Romneys and Obamas knew their humble conditions were only temporary. They had every reason to expect a great future.
The first lady’s tale of her date’s car with a hole in the bottom of the door she could see through happened when both already had graduated from prestigious law schools.
Barack Obama must have been a community organizer at the time. He worked under the direction of the very best organizers, trained by the master, Saul Alinski. He would not have been allowed to drive a decent car while working with the truly poor.
The background Obama received in organizing during that period was vital to the development of a ground organization for his campaign that was superior to any previously developed.  
He’ll do it again this year and Mitt Romney will try to equal him.