Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Give’em Hell George: The one big difference between Bush and Truman

In Class and Social Stratification, Domestic Politics on April 12, 2010 at 11:16 am

I am a bit pressed to be able to write much today, but the one thing I could not ignore was an intriguing piece in the DailyBeast that compares George Bush to Harry Truman. There may be reasons to compare these two presidents, and I did occasionally think of them together in Bush’s tenure. They were both tough guy hawks who were under appreciated by the DC insiders. Truman was considered a little man who was not big enough to fill the shoes of his predecessor FDR. Bush was mocked for his Dan Quayle like tendency to misspeak. Those who opposed him were said to misunderestimate him and they surely did. He accomplished a lot, whether you agreed with him or not. What made these two presidents so different is what we now have trouble seeing. Pardon my fixation lately, but it is class politics. Truman was a class warrior in the old populist mold. He waged a whistle stop campaign trough the country that brought condemnation from the established industries in a time when the Democrats were seen as the party of the common man and that was widely recognized as a good thing. George Bush, on the other hand, once joked that his base consisted of “the haves and the have mores.” Contrast this with the following revealing segments from one of my favorite Truman speeches:

Now it is time for us to get together and beat the common enemy. And that is up to you.

We have been working together for victory in a great cause. Victory has become a habit of our party. It has been elected four times in succession, and I am convinced it will be elected a fifth time next November.

The reason is that the people know that the Democratic Party is the people’s party, and the Republican Party is the party of special interest, and it always has been and always will be.

The record of the Democratic Party is written in the accomplishments of the last 16 years.

Confidence and security have been brought to the people by the Democratic Party. Farm income has increased from less than $2 ¼ billion in 1932 to more than $18 billion in 1947. Never in the world were the farmers of any republic or any kingdom or any other country as prosperous as the farmers of the United States; and if they don’t do their duty by the Democratic Party, they are the most ungrateful people in the world!

The situation in 1932 was due to the policies of the Republican Party control of the Government of the United States. The Republican Party, as I said a while ago, 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.

I wonder if they think that they can fool the American people with such poppycock as that?

I am sure that you remember Truman for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan. That is certainly a distinction that separates him from others, and perhaps only George Bush competes on those grounds  for developing a doctrine of preemptive strike. What he should be most remembered for are those actions for which he had the most agency.  My view is that whoever held the office of the President at that point was going to drop the bomb. This leaves little room for agency and makes it less than his most central defining feature. However, there was a great deal of difference about how to relate to the legacy of the New Deal and I think that is what Truman contributed to politics at that time. Since then, we have seen an ambivalence toward the New Deal from Stevenson to Obama.

With his actions in Greece, Truman started the cold war. With his actions in Afghanistan, Bush started the war on terror. These rhetorical pivots on the crusades bring them into rare company, but they do share one more thing that may be more central, they were muscular class warriors who left office under a cloud. The point is that they fought on opposite sides of that war. The fact that we can now compare them based on their superficial characteristics says more about us by what we fight for than it does about them.


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