Facing the second half of his term, the 44th President can learn much from the 33rd. As different as Barack Obama is in philosophy, temperament and style from Harry Truman, he faces similar challenges
But there is one crucial difference: Truman was a bare-knuckles fighter and, as E. J. Dionne puts it, Obama will “soon have to decide whether he wants to be a negotiator or a leader.”
It’s sad to see John Boehner, of all people, as the one aping Truman by calling Democratic maneuvers on the tax cut “chicken crap.” If Obama is above this level of discourse, he has to find his own way of dealing with it.
The larger problem is for the President to get beyond his professorial, open-minded manner and find his fighting voice. Truman overcame abysmal approval ratings in 1948 by railing against a “Do Nothing Congress” in language that reflected his anger and passion for social justice.
As a tutorial in how “Give ’em Hell, Harry” did it, start with excerpts from his acceptance speech at the convention:
“The Republican Party…favors the privileged few and not the common everyday man. Ever since its inception, that party has been under the control of special privilege; and they have completely proved it in the 80th Congress. They proved it by the things they did to the people, and not for them. They proved it by the things they failed to do…
“Now everybody likes to have low taxes, but we must reduce the national debt in times of prosperity. And when tax relief can be given, it ought to go to those who need it most, and not those who need it least, as this Republican rich man’s tax bill did when they passed it over my veto on the third try.
“The first one of these was so rotten that they couldn’t even stomach it themselves. They finally did send one that was somewhat improved, but it still helps the rich and sticks a knife into the back of the poor…”
In the runup to 2012, Barack Obama must make this same argument to the American people. In his elegant way with words, he can perhaps phrase it with more finesse. But the passion has to be there.
More on Obama leadership HERE.