Tags: Give | 'em | Hell

Give 'em Hell, W!

Sunday, 07 August 2005 12:00 AM

Truman was so vexed by congressional obstructionism he promised Vice President Alben Barkley that he was going "tell the truth on those Republicans" and "mow 'em down."

But, as he set out westward, the president hadn't really warmed up yet to his topic.

On June 4, 1948, in historic Chicago Stadium, home of the then-Chicago Black Hawks hockey team, Truman rose to address an annual convention of the Swedish Pioneer Centennial Association. Not exactly noted for wearing their emotions on their sleeves, the bored Swedes listened in stoic silence.

The very next night, the president made a major address in what was then the Aksarben (Nebraska spelled backwards with a straight face) Auditorium in Omaha. It was a near no-show, a miserable disaster.

Next morning, newspapers carried a now-famous photo, shot from the balcony, showing a forlorn Harry down on the stage, addressing an almost-empty hall.

Robert L. Riggs, then head of the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal's Washington, D.C., bureau, who covered the event, recalled that "it was the most god-awful, ghastly sight you ever saw – these 8,000 vacant seats in this great big barn, almost nobody there except reporters."

By the time Truman reached the Pacific Ocean, he had left in his wake a continent of disinterest and gloom.

A public speaker far excelling President Bush in being oratorically challenged, Truman spoke in a nasal voice while chopping at the air with his hands parallel in front of him.

As one observer noted:

"There was no commanding presence about him, and when he read a speech, in his flat, staccato manner, the only emotion he seemed sure to arouse was ennui."

Democrats were in a slough of despond. Newspapers were ready to elect Thomas E. Dewey by acclamation, and opinion polls – no more worthy of anyone's time and attention then than now – had Dewey mopping up the barroom floor with Truman.

In his book, "The Loneliest Campaign," Irwin Ross wrote that as late as Sept. 9 that year, "Elmo Roper announced that he was no longer going to publish a poll on the presidential race. ‘Thomas E. Dewey,' he declared, ‘is almost as good as elected. ... That being so, I can think of nothing duller or more intellectually barren than acting like a sports announcer who feels he must pretend he is witnessing a neck-and-neck race.'"

Something obviously had transpired between the nadir of Truman's campaign and his triumphant re-election Nov. 2, when he garnered 2,135,747 more popular votes and 114 more electoral votes than Dewey.

What happened was that Truman got mad, really mad.

At each successive whistle stop he grew more exasperated with Congress and its passel of stand-pat Republicans. By the time he came chugging back into the nation's capital, he had transmogrified into a pillar of burning sulfur.

Whatever had become of that self-effacing, bespectacled ex-haberdasher from the quaint Missouri town of Independence?

Republican isolationists and reactionaries of that day, whose behavior resembled rather remarkably that of radical-left Democrats (

So they opted to demean Truman as a historical accident no one had elected to the presidency. They ridiculed him as not altogether bright and a certifiable menace to peace, freedom and the American Way.

Both today's Democrats and Republicans forget at their peril the photo of a gleeful Truman, standing on the platform of his railroad caboose and holding up for the flash-bulbs of the Speed Graphic cameras, the Nov. 3, 1948, front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune, then a megaphone subsidiary of the Grand Old Party, with the boxcar headline

Truman had struck a nerve with the American people, the same sensitive nerve the obstructionist Republican Congress had struck in him and in those voters.

The majority of voters had grown sick and damn tired of watching Congress sitting on its hands there in Washington, sabotaging anything and everything the president was trying to get accomplished, all the while blaming him for it, simply because he was the president of the opposite party.

All of a sudden the American president was as sore as a boiled owl and didn't mind letting everyone know it. And he was catching fire all across America.

The voters loved it. Whereas before, Truman had been greeted wherever he went with yawns and glassy stares, now the swelling crowds were hollering back to him: "Give 'em hell, Harry!"

Dewey was doomed.

Truman had his "do-nothing 80th Congress." Bush has his "obstruct-everything 109th Congress."

By this time next year, the 2006 congressional elections will not – repeat not – be about the economy. Not about Iraq. Not about homeland security. Not about Supreme Court justices. Not even about who may have whispered what about whose wife to whom.

Rather, those campaigns will be about all of those things rolled together and arrayed as mounting evidence that Democrats in Congress will do anything they can and say anything they dare to try to keep this president from doing the job the Constitution and the American people gave him to do.

There are a number of things American voters don't particularly admire in politics, and one of them is congressional constipation.

Republicans botched the 1948 presidential election big time by making themselves the do-nothing party in Congress. Democrats today are botching the 2006 congressional elections by playing the same, losing dog-in-the-manger game.

American voters, in their own independent, non-partisan way, took care of stupid Republicans in 1948.

It is George W. Bush's great opportunity to turn this present disgusting situation around, just as Harry S Truman did nearly 58 years ago.

Get mad, Mr. President. Don't just get even. Get more than even.

Give 'em hell, George!

American voters relish presidents with some starch in their shorts. There is historical precedent.


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Truman was so vexed by congressional obstructionism he promised Vice President Alben Barkley that he was going "tell the truth on those Republicans" and "mow 'em down." But, as he set out westward, the president hadn't really warmed up yet to his topic. On June 4, 1948,...
Sunday, 07 August 2005 12:00 AM
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