Barack Obama’s Harry Truman Redux

Barack Obama’s been criticizing the “do-nothing Congress”. An allusion to Truman isn’t a smart move because people can inspect the whole “ox being gored” and find exactly what good this allusion can accomplish. In this case not much good can come from it.

Truman took over after Franklin Roosevelt died and asked many of FDR’s Cabinet members to remain in place. After the war, there was a general reorganization placing more controls under the President than in cabinet-level elements controlled by experts. The Presidency accepted greater, increasingly important and powerful policy direction from White House staff members. Compare this to the incumbency of Barack Obama.

Truman selected John Steelman Clifford into a position similar to “Chief of Staff”, more an organizational specialist and propellant accomplishing the presidential goals and agendas. This is arguably the second most powerful position in Washington. Obama selected Rahm Emmanuel first, then Bill Daley (a Chicago political machine operative and son of Richard Daley deceased scion of that political machine) to control the day to day operation of this NEW machine.

FDR committed his programs to managing the national economy and guarding the interests of those he perceived to be most needy. FDR’s programs proved (and are still proving) to be heavily regulatory to an unprecedented degree. Legislation was crafted and passed helping Truman formulate progressive economic policy and liberal agendas and direction. Truman wanted to start his own economic direction apart from the New Deal and called it eventually, The Fair Deal.

Both Truman and Obama call(ed) for increased public works (infrastructure), legislative mandates for full employment (thus slowing sky-rocketing unemployment), higher minimum wages, Social Security increases and National Health Care. In the case of Truman it was viewed as an extension of the New Deal. Under Obama some describe it as; The Raw Deal.

Truman’s ideas went nowhere; winning lukewarm support for “full employment” but through legislation having no enforcement power.  Obama is trying the same thing but with greater opposition from (not only politicians but) a politically energized populace involving itself in national politics in a heretofore unseen strength of unity.

Truman’s popularity dropped to 32%. Obama’s popularity as reflected in recent polls is not much better on a day to day basis. Republicans won control of both House and Senate in Truman’s time. The future looks to be repetitive (potentially) for Obama.

Truman let the Republicans try mastering the governance of America and planned on waging a war by rhetoric to undermine the Republican’s efforts. Truman offered no solutions to any problems and proposed study commissions as opposed to actions. Truman pushed for higher taxes on the wealthy. Obama’s doing the same thing. Truman centered his rhetoric on the “do-nothing Congress”. Obama is shadowing the strategy at this time.

Truman and Obama both hammer the New/Fair/Raw Deal policies flowering on FDR’s grave. They both espouse: higher minimum wages, artificial expansion of Social Security, National Health Insurance, jobs creation through WPA-like Infrastructure projects (American Jobs Act) and liberalized immigration/amnesty programs.

Both Truman and Obama have underestimated America’s reaction to developing an enhanced and expanded Social Welfare state. National Healthcare is under attack by Republicans and the Tea Party Movement. Both Truman and Obama believe(d) there’s a mandate for liberal, social and economic policies simply because they were elected. Most Americans want the protective elements of the New Deal but not the full-blown expansion of it leading to a peculiar form of America Socialism. Neither man grasped the extent of Congressional and public opposition to a socialized welfare state.

Both men face(d) severe economic slowdowns and unacceptable unemployment rates. Both men want(ed) higher taxes to offset economic stagnation. Truman wanted controlled spending. Obama wants to tax and spend more. Both accept(ed) increasingly large budget deficits as temporary expedients.

Ultimately, the combined issues of economic turmoil, the Korean War, McCarthyism and scandals in his administration led Truman to reject running for re-election after his first full term.

Is this the point where, as George Santayana said, “…the one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again?”

Is this true of Obama?

Thanks for listening.



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