The Spectacle Blog

The Obama-Truman Narrative

By on 8.16.11 | 1:32PM

All of a sudden, within the last 48 hours or so, a new narrative has emerged likening President Obama's re-election bid to President Truman's come from behind victory in 1948.

On August 14th, at The Huffington Post, political consultant Peter D. Rosenstein wrote, "He has to stop sounding like the constitutional law professor he is, and begin to sound more like Harry Truman. Maybe the new slogan for his campaign should be "Give 'em Hell Barack".

And perhaps, President Obama should have opened a haberdashery. It might provided him with some actual executive experience.

But perhaps Rosenstein is onto something. Because that same day, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post invoked Truman as he praised "the new, old Obama":

The president's speech last Thursday in Holland, Mich., was the first sign that the competitive Obama is reemerging. His target, like Harry Truman's in 1948, was an obstructionist Republican Congress. He condemned "the refusal of some folks in Congress to put country ahead of party" and urged that it "start passing bills that we all know will help our economy right now."

Ah yes, that obstructionist Republican Congress which unlike the Senate actually passed a budget. It's now been 838 days since the Democrat controlled Senate passed a budget. But it's the Republicans who are obstructionist. As for the "refusal of some folks in Congress to put country ahead of party", if a Republican President had dared to suggest a Democrat controlled Congress was refusing to put country ahead of party, Dionne would be the first to decry a sitting President questioning the patriotism of his or her loyal opposition. But I digress.

The New Republic has done double duty on the Obama-Truman narrative. Yesterday, Norman Ornstein put in his two cents while Jonathan Cohn jumped on the bandwagon today. Ornstein urges Obama "to channel his inner Harry Truman":

That means first redefining the terms of the debate, framing a narrative across the country by both decrying the bickering and describing the consequences for voters everywhere if the Republican Congress has its way - what budget cuts in the House budget would mean for medical research, how people with serious disabilities would be forced onto the streets, Medicaid patients unable to get organ transplants, and so on.

But what makes Ornstein think that Obama hasn't already followed his advice? Consider President Obama's remarks on Paul Ryan's House Budget last April:

It's a vision that says up to 50 million American have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. Who are these 50 million Americans? Many are somebody's grandparents -- may be one of yours -- who wouldn't be able to afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down's syndrome. Some of these kids with disabilities are -- the disabilities are so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we'd be telling to fend for themselves.

It's just the kind of sanctimony that has not served President Obama well.

As for Cohn he agreed with Ornstein that Obama had "really found his inner Harry Truman." Well, I suspect if President Obama had actually found his "inner Harry Truman" he might hear his mother-in-law ask, "Why would Barack run against that nice Mr. Romney?" Cohn, like Dionne, also invoked Obama's speech before employees of Johnson Controls in Holland, Michigan. He praised Obama's "unusually combative" rhetoric. And how exactly was President Obama's rhetoric any less "unusally combative" that day than during the previous 933 days he had been in office? It doesn't get much more combative than when, only days after taking office, Obama told Republican Congressional leaders, "I won."

But now all that's missing now is President Obama going on a Whistle Stop tour with the band Chicago in tow playing the Robert Lamm penned "Harry Truman" before every speech.

The Obama as Truman narrative has not been lost on Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary who largely focuses his critique on Ornstein's article. Tobin simply points out that "Obama is not Truman":

Truman was a feisty man of the people took easily to the role of battling underdog. Obama may have many gifts but his arrogance and his enormous self-regard make him ill suited to take plays from Truman's playbook.

I would only add that Truman is perhaps best known by younger audiences for saying, "The Buck Stops Here." Well, Barack Obama has spent his entire presidency blaming George W. Bush and now House Republicans for his misfortune - many of them his own making. For Obama, the buck stops everywhere but with him.

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