Every politician in trouble channels Harry S Truman, but President Barack Obama now wants to channel his strategy. He is running against a do-nothing GOP Congress, going so far as to propose legislation with little chance of succeeding so that he can blame Republicans when it fails.
This and other small things (such as the Cold War) did work for Truman, but whether it can be transposed to the situation of the current president is an open question, and the reasons for it would be these:
- Republicans in 2010 lost a few Senate races, leaving Democrats in control, whereas Truman had an entire GOP Congress to deal with. Except for George W. Bush 43 from 2003-06, every Republican president since 1932 has faced opposition from one house of Congress, and often from both. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush always faced two hostile houses of Congress, as did Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in the final two years of their terms. It didn’t do Reagan much harm, and Bush managed to save his surge in Iraq against fierce opposition. Competent people manage to deal with these problems. Now the entire executive branch is under Obama’s control and he has a six-seat edge in the Senate, yet he is still trying to tell us he’s helpless? Please.
- Republicans in the House passed a budget and a passel of bills that were axed in the Senate, and if passed would have faced vetoes. Does that sound like “do-nothing” behavior? Maybe those plans might have fixed the economy. They could argue that Obama is obstructing them.
- The things Obama wants passed are reruns of things he passed years ago, which didn’t do much besides waste money.
- Finally, Republicans have a plan of their own, which is to run against Obama’s Democratic Congress of 2009-10. Far from being a do-nothing Congress, they’ll claim that was the Congress that did far too much.
It ran up a staggering list of “achievements” that voters disliked and distrusted, and those plans did nothing to help the economy. In retrospect, the voters wish most of those bills had been obstructed. If Harry Truman couldn’t pass his domestic agenda, he at least didn’t do things that turned people off.
There are other differences between Truman and Obama as well. Truman ended World War II, for which voters were grateful. He used the atom bomb on Japan to avoid an invasion of the Japanese homeland that would have killed millions of innocents. He was one of the great foreign policy presidents, establishing in only two years the tools and protocols by which, over the course of four decades, the Cold War was finally won.
Obama extended the protocols Bush had established, much as Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy carried on those set by Truman. But Ike and JFK backed them from the beginning. Obama fought those that he later supported. I’m afraid President Obama will never be the next President Truman, and he ought to start looking for a new plan.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations; The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”