There’s a strip from the 1950s where Charlie Brown is examining the books on Lucy’s shelf and finds such titles as Can a Fuss-Budget Find Love and Happiness?, The Decline and Fall of the Fuss-Budget, and, as a punchline, Can a Fuss-Budget Become President? And I thought I got the joke, I really did. After all, I recognized that second title as a reference to the classic history The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; I hadn’t read that six-volume eighteenth century set, but I had read the lighter 1950 book The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy, which may well have been on Schulz’s mind. So I thought they were all playing off titles at the time, and it was clear to me what the last one was: some book asking the question “Can a Catholic Become President?” I actually own a book on that question, although not under that title.
Now, I’m going to pause here for some of the younger members of the AAUGH Blog readership. That whole question may seem odd, wondering whether a specific type of Christian can become president. However, in the 1950s, this had not yet happened, and people expressed concern that a Catholic’s president’s first allegiance would not be the US, but to Rome, and that rather than being a leader, he would follow the dictates of the Pope. (This was before the public assumed that elected officials would be very weak adherents of whatever faith they laid claim to.)
Of course, all this was answered in 1960 when a Catholic was elected president, and everything went fine. (Well, except for the assassination. Okay, not everything went fine, but the Catholicism was not a difficulty.)
Here’s the problem I realized today: the strip is a year too early. It ran on August 2, 1956, and while I’m sure people had mused on the topic before then, it really didn’t become a question until 1957. That’s when folks really started looking at Senator John F. Kennedy as a possible candidate for the presidency. It’s not something that would’ve had the public discourse that would make it a good punchline in 1956. But I can’t find an appropriate book title that would match it. I’m sure I’m missing something.
(There’s an old line about “America is where any man can become president… and usually does” that I want to attribute to Will Rogers, but given how today is going, I’m probably wrong.)
Header image from Dear President Johnson, copyright by the Bill Adler estate and the Charles Schulz estate.