That's why a high standard was set on Oct. 20, 1960, when former President Harry Truman came to the annual Dairy Festival in Abbeville to stump for the candidacy of John F. Kennedy.
State Comptroller Roy Theriot, no novice at politics or speechmaking, led the parade of Democratic politicians (most all of them were Democrats in those days) who escorted Truman into town. An honor guard gave him a 21-gun salute and then a wedge of VIPs helped push him through the crowd to the speaker's stand.
Dignitaries already on the platform included some of the most powerful figures in Louisiana politics, including U.S. Senators Russell Long and Allen Ellender; Congressmen Hale Boggs, Ed Willis and T.A. Thompson; Secretary of State Wade O. Martin Jr.; Public Service Commissioner John McKeithen; and AFL-CIO President Victor Bussie.
Truman was 76 years old in 1960, but he was still as vigorous and cantankerous as ever. He visited nine states on Kennedy's behalf during that campaign season, telling reporters, "I don't know whether I'm doing any good, but I'm giving it a good try."
"Give 'em hell," the Abbeville crowd yelled as Harry pushed through it.
"Just give me a chance," he yelled back. "I just tell the truth and the Republicans think it's hell."
Senator Ellender introduced Truman and warned him that he was talking to a partisan crowd. Ellender estimated that there might be as many as nine Republicans among the 90,000 people crowded into the courthouse square to see and hear the former president.
Senator Long gave Truman a stuffed rooster, which was then the emblem of the Democratic Party in Louisiana. He said Strom Thurmond's State's Rights Party had carried the state in the previous election because Louisiana ballots carried the national emblem of a donkey instead of the Louisiana rooster.
When Truman began to speak the crowd let out such a whoop that he couldn't be heard.
Theriot asked him to talk into a microphone at the side of the podium, but Truman complained that he couldn't speak into a mike at the side of the stand and read off notes in front of him at the same time. To solve the problem, Theriot picked up the mike and held it in front of Truman while he railed against the Republicans.
Richard Nixon, who was running against Kennedy for the presidency in 1960, was a "double-crossing, double-talking politician," Truman said. He accused the Republican Eisenhower administration of selling out the Monroe Doctrine in Cuba and Latin America, and advised Protestants (who were also probably significantly outnumbered in that Vermilion Parish crowd) to vote for the Catholic Kennedy.
Everyone enjoyed themselves, but one member of the crowd, Willie Hebert of Jeanerette, might have had more fun than anybody.
Willie looked almost exactly like Truman and had a great time signing autographs and passing himself off as Truman's brother.
He was there to present a Cajun cookbook to the president, but state police formed a solid ring around Truman when his speech was finished and Willie couldn't get to him.
According to a reminiscence of the day by writer and regional historian Morris Raphael, Willie rushed to the Lafayette airport and caught up with the former president there.
"When Willie handed over the cookbook," Raphael said, "Truman's escort and the police did a double-take. They thought Willie really was a Truman relative."
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.