For all of the recent comparisons made between Barack Obama seeking reelection in 2012 to Harry Truman in his stunning upset win of 1948, there are some sharp differences, and pundits should be more careful in saying “Give ’em Hell Harry” can be replicated next year by “Give ‘Em Hell Barry.”
That was the conclusion last week of a respected historian who has written three books exploring important presidential years. David Pietrusza, author of the widely praised books “1960” and “1920” on the presidential elections of those years, was in Washington, D.C., to appear on the weekly C-SPAN documentary, “The Contenders,” about losing presidential candidates who nonetheless influenced U.S. history. He dropped by HUMAN EVENTS to discuss his latest election-year book “1948,” which brings to life Democrat Truman’s dramatic come-from-behind victory over much-favored Republican Thomas E. Dewey.
“Obama’s certainly trying to spin his reelection effort as 1948 redux,” Pietrusza told us, noting the analogies that have been made in HUMAN EVENTS following the President’s fighting Labor Day speech last month to CBS-TV correspondent Bill Plante’s question at Obama’s recent press conference about him following Truman’s lead by running against a “do-nothing Congress.”
The historian concluded, however, that Obama will have “certain problems in replicating Truman’s experience. In 1948, unemployment was under 4%. The U.S. was recording surpluses—not deficits. There were no shooting wars.” All of that stands in sharp contrast to Obama seeking reelection with unemployment at 9%, the deficit at a record high, and U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As for Plante’s question about Obama running against a “do-nothing Congress” as Truman did, Pietrusza pointed out that Truman ran against a Congress with Republicans controlling both houses, not just one. In addition, he noted, “Truman recorded a better share of the Catholic vote than even FDR. Obama is facing new challenges on that front even as we speak.” He agreed with HUMAN EVENTS’ conclusion that Obama at his news conference Oct. 6 appeared to be embracing the far Left with his kind words about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. This, he concluded, is far from ’48, when former Vice President Henry Wallace’s far-Left third party challenge freed Truman from GOP charges of radical control of the Democratic Party. In Pietrusza’s words, “Obama tosses away the opportunity to paint himself in the middle by boasting that he’s a ‘class warrior.’ “
“Obama’s style is the complete opposite of Truman’s in many ways—even in how they deliver their message,” the historian told us. “While Obama remains teleprompter-dependent, Truman could not read properly from the written page to save his life—or job. It was only when Truman spoke off-the-cuff that he truly became effective. Truman’s whistle-stop tours brought him face-to-face with millions of ordinary Americans. Obama’s tours are really structured to bring him face-to-face with donors who will donate millions.”