In 1948, President Harry S Truman reversed his political fortunes and avoided what then-seemed a long certain defeat by running not just against his Republican opponent, Tom Dewey, but also against the first Republican Congress elected since the New Deal.
Tagging the 80th Congress a “do-nothing” legislature (as he did throughout the campaign), Truman told voters in Charleston, West Virginia on October 1 of that year:
The Republicans would like you to forget these fundamental differences between the two parties. But during the past 2 years we have been given a sharp warning that these differences still exist, and these differences are wide and deep.
. . . .
I know, of course, that there are many fine people throughout the United States, who from habit or choice are members of the Republican Party. To them I say that the national leadership of their party has failed them miserably.
With the current Democratic Congress’s approval as historic lows (making George W. Bush seem downright popular by comparison), it would seem John McCain would do well to run a similar campaign against the do-nothing 110th as a reminder of a stark difference between the parties.
It seems the only thing the Democratic Congress has been able to do has to be to increase federal spending at levels even greater than those of the preceding spendthrift Republican Congresses. Having scored his congressional colleagues in the past for spending money “like a drunken sailor,” John McCain should have found a profligate Democratic Congress a natural target.
But, maybe, the presidential election has prevented the incompetence of this Congress from exciting as much interest as it should. No sooner did Democrats take over in 2007 than the 2008 race for the White House began. And that seems to have turned media attention away from the Capitol and to the hustings.
The unending presidential campaign may well have prevented a campaign against Congress from really resonating.