By all measures, the election of 1948 was supposed to be a Republican blowout. The Democrats had been in the White House for sixteen consecutive years, their longest run there since 1824. The beleaguered incumbent had succeeded to office when his popular predecessor had died. Harry S Truman lacked his presence and charisma of FDR.
Most polls had Truman’s Republican challenger New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey up throughout the campaign, sometimes by margins higher than 10 percent. There were, to be sure, far fewer polls then than there are now. Yet, somehow that Democrat managed to pull it off, winning reelection in perhaps the most stunning upset in US presidential politics.
He pulled it off by running and aggressive campaign, barnstorming the country where his supporters implored him to “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!”
Many have compared the current Republican incumbent to his Democratic predecessor who won in 1948. Both followed (though Bush not directly) a partisan predecessor who redefined his party — and would inspire the faithful (in both parties) for generations after he left office (well, if the first generation after the Gipper is any indication, this inspiration should continue well into this century).
Bush, like Truman, has often been seen as bumbling through office. And among two-term presidents, only Truman has favorability ratings as low as those of George W. Bush.
A few pundits have compared Bush to Truman, Peggy Noonan being the first that I read. But, there are similarities, more of a temperamental nature, between John McCain and the Missouri Democrat. Both distinguished themselves in war, Truman in World War I, McCain in Vietnam. Both gained a reputation straight talkers, though Truman’s speech was known as “Plain Talk.”
Watching John McCain campaign these past few months, I have seen a feistiness similar to that Truman demonstrated on the campaign trail in 1948. In this week’s blogger conference call, for example, he didn’t mince words when he said, “I will be Hamas’ worst nightmare.” A statement like one Truman might make, simple, direct and to the point.
Not just that. Unlike his Democratic rivals, particularly Mrs. Clinton, the presumptive GOP nominee seems to believe most of what he says. He’s not just saying certain things to please the media. He may pander to to them from time to time, but such pandering does not define him as it does his rivals. And he has stood firm on the war in Iraq, despite media pressure to bend to their whims so as to remain in their good graces.
As he’s fallen from their grace, he’s standing up their bias, responding swiftly to the almost daily attacks masquerading as news from the New York Times and the Washington Post. The campaign sends out regular e-mails to bloggers and often the GOP faithful, pointing out the inaccuracies and flaws in those articles, oftentimes before the print version of the article has even appeared.
Or just to note that these papers are making mountains out of molehills while they ignore similar behavior by Democrats.
And heck, Truman picked a running mate, Alben W. Barkley who was just shy of 72 when he was sworn in as the nation’s 35th Vice President.
Given the dynamics of this election year, John McCain will must keep this feistiness up. For similar feistiness helped Truman win in a year which did not look to favor his party. And unlike John McCain, he was the incumbent that year. But, he still managed to win.
I guess Harry Truman just didn’t get cocky. Nor should John McCain.
UPDATE: Â I was reminded about the point I made above that McCain’s Democratic rivals don’t appear to believe what they are saying when Glenn linkedÂ this comment, “The truly scary part is that Obama stands for, essentially, nothing. . . . Â Obama stands for Obama.” Â I’ve already pointed out (e.g., here) that Hillary stands for whatever she needs to stand for to win accolades from the audience she is addressing. Â It seems that each Democratic candidate stands for his own advancement. Â And little else.