Bush and Truman

Sunday, April 09, 2006
I am reading Truman, David McCullough's biography of Harry S. Truman. This writer has the ability to make history live. His descriptions of people and events of the past have an air of humanity. History is about real people, it is not esoteric. We are all a product of what has come before. Life does not exist in a vacuum.

I was struck right away with the similarities between Bush and Truman. People have often tried to compare Bush and Lincoln but in many respects it seems to me that Truman and Bush have much in common. For one thing there is the complete refusal to govern by polls.

Truman was born in the 19th century, in fact his mother was a child during the Civil War and she never did forgive the Union for General Order 11. This infamous order left many Missouri civilians destitute. So perhaps it was the influence of that other century that guided Truman. I think there is something of that quality in Bush, it is what some people contemptuously refer to as cowboy. Please note, that in America, cowboy is not a negative, but a plus. We like cowboys, always have. Truman could be partisan and demagogic, but he said what he meant and he meant what he said and Bush is much the same way. Plain but complex. The two traits are not mutually exclusive.

Truman was often betrayed by his own party, just like George Bush. Lots of people questioned his fitness to govern, he was despised by the press, dismissed by the experts, his intellectual ability to do the job was in question, his loyalty to his staff was thought extreme, his foreign policy decisions horrified people on both sides of the aisle, his domestic proposals were considered radical. The Dixiecrats despised Truman and swore the south would rebel against him, with Strom Thurmond running against him on a seperate ticket in 1948. Today Bush has the paleoconservatives making the same kinds of threats.

The latest AP/Ipsos poll has Bush at 36% approval rating. Now of course it is true that the poll is full of loaded questions and bad demographics , it is also true that taking all that in consideration Bush's numbers are down. And Republicans are deserting his ship of state like rats. Excuse the hyperbole. But then again it is no more dramatic than a great deal of the rhetoric I see and hear from people on the right who have forgotten who the boss is. And Bush is the boss.

I never voted for a Republican for president before Bush and right now I am wondering if I will vote for one again. The best thing they have going for them is the sheer stupidity of the Democratic leadership, but I have to say I am disappointed, not in Bush, but in the political maneuvering of people who claim to be above all that.

On one hand we have the street theatre of the demonstrators, [fill in the blank as to what kind of demonstrators], together with a hostile press, and now it seems that pundits and pols who make their living provoking controversy and criticism have decided that their own interests are more important than what the boss says. I am not talking about mindless obedience, I am talking about outright assault on issues from immigration to the war and how to fight it. What have you done for me lately they ask... and the answer it seems, is not enough.

When Bush's numbers are in the 30's and the only thing his own party can do for him is run for the exits I would say that Bush will do what Truman did, he will stand his ground. I think he will do that because I think that Bush feels it his job to do what he thinks he should, not what the handlers tell him he should do.

I have to admire him for that.


Rick Ballard said...


If I had to pick one 'snapshot of the moment' pollster, it would be Rasmussen, and he has Bush at 44 and not much lower since the first of the year. Given that 38% of the electorate are registered Republican and that his approval rating among Republicans remains above 85% I don't believe that you can declare that the Party is abandoning him at all. Certain of the elected Republicans are engaging in distancing buffoonery based upon their own polling but that's not news.

As to any President's resemblance to any other, I believe that it is almost impossible to do an effective comparison due to changing issues and circumstances. I agree that Bush holds his ground as well as Truman did but Truman had more problems to deal with than Bush has had. Some from the Dixiecrats over his '48 decision to desegregate the military but even more from the lefty fringe who had placed their fondest hopes on Henry Wallace. Truman is rarely mentioned by Dems today because he was a sworn foe of Communism (and Socialism) and the lefties running the party abhor him for that.

terrye said...


I say this a lot, but I hope you are right.

When I say Republicans, I am not just talking about the rank and file, I am talking about the big shots who seem to think they run everything.

Truman really did have some big things to deal with, starting with WW2. Lots of tests and lots of expectations.

Like I said, with Pelosi and Reid and Dean, Democrats do not have much going for them...but I think that politicians tend to run for the lifeboats when things get tough. And a lot of people are Independents anymore and really can move from party to party. This creates panic among party people.

Before the '48 election the top 50 political writers in America did a spread for Newsweek and everyone of them said Truman would lose. The people felt differently. This is the quality I think the two men have in common, for good or ill. Stubborn.

David Thomson said...

“...it would be Rasmussen, and he has Bush at 44 and not much lower since the first of the year.”

The only thing that really matters is “likely voters.” Those citizens who stay home on election day are essentially irrelevant. It has long been my guess that the Republicans possess a fairly safe majority in the red states. The biggest challenge in 2006 may be the immature crybabies who are often unknowingly disciples of Frederick Nitzsche. These ideological purists sometimes let their emotions overwhelm their common sense.

ex-democrat said...

well said, terrye

Syl said...

This 'Bush is like Truman' thing has been spouted by my guy for a few years now. He believes in it strongly.

Quintessential Americans, stubborn, plain spoken, practical. All that Terrye mentioned.

Today's elites and left of center political classes don't recognize the similarities because they've moved away from an American outlook to a more European one.

So even if they did recognize the comparison, they would reject it.

Rick Ballard said...

"So even if they did recognize the comparison, they would reject it."

Of course they would, 'cause if you dig a step or two deeper you get to Jackson, and Jacksonian solutions are so yucky final.

Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that 'Trail of Tears' thing. (sorry, StY). Anyway, there's not much nuance or nicety involved and if Bush wants to stand equal with Truman then he must deal with Iran in a manner that removes all doubt from their minds concerning the validity of terrorism as a viable tactic for a nation state.

terrye said...

I think part of the comparison is just the unflinching nature of the men. They do not run away from hard things. Not if they can help it.

Raymond said...

So, which terror-using state are you refering to? Strictly, we haven't seen much of that since Libya (after a shelacking from paleocon Ronald Reagan) opted out of the game.