Monday, January 21, 2013

Truman, Obama and Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat, prompted by the inauguration of Barack Obama, recall the ghost of Harry S  Truman.  Specificlly...
...   the Truman of 1948 rather than the Truman of 1952 — the pre-Korean War Truman, that is, whose early Cold War strategy enjoyed strong bipartisan support, to the frustration of more left-wing figures like Henry Wallace and the bafflement of his Republican opponents. The parallels are imperfect, but there are interesting echoes of the divergent Republican responses to Truman’s foreign policy positioning...  [F]or a time, Truman did occupy the foreign policy center in a way that that few Democrats have managed since. 
This doesn't sound quite wrong to me, but it ignores that 800-pound gorilla: the near-hysterical paranoia which motivated Republicans into a strategy more focused on destroying a President than accomplishing anything of substance for the country.   It's a deep-seated notion--the idea that any Democratic occupant of the White House must be illegitimate and needs to be not just thwarted but extirpated.  In Truman's case, the focus would have been his breathtaking upset victory after the whistle stop campaign of 1948. Before that, in the eyes of his adversaries, he was a perverse accident; after, he became a monstrosity.   The most memorable focus was the great mischief-make Joe McCarthy, who probably did more to damage the cause of responsible anti-Communism than anyone else in American history. But not just McCarthy: also his clean-fingernailed enablers like Styles Bridges, Owen Brewster and Robert Taft and most of the rest of the party happily going along for the ride.

Douthat also says that Truman's "credibility crumbled in his second term, when our push to reunify Korea turned into a war with Mao’s China."  Right enough although he might have mentioned that the Korean war police action was off-the-chart popular in its inception; that it lost popularity only after it turned out to be something less than a cakewalk. And would Douthat like to speculate on what the Republicans would have tried to do to him had he not played the military card in 1950?

Update:  And I should have said: sending American forces north was MacArthur's doing, against Truman's express orders.  A major Truman mistake was not firing his insubordinate ass months earlier than he did.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At a big picture level, this a good critique of everything that Douthat writes.