Monday, September 22, 2003

Recycling Harry Truman



More than once, I've heard Howard Dean acknowledge the spirit of Harry Truman, who had the great line "We won't give 'em hell. We'll just tell the truth and it will feel like hell."

Harry Truman certainly had his share of political challenges. A lot of Democrats didn't think Truman stood a chance of getting re-elected in 1948. Thomas Dewey, the charismatic Republican candidate that lost a close race to Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, looked like the man who would become the next president. In fact, some of the estranged Democrats were so angry at Truman, they formed a third party, the Dixiecrats, which chose Strom Thurmond as their presidential candidate.

Newsweek magazine polled 50 key political journalists to determine which candidate they thought would win. All 50 journalists believed that Thomas Dewey would win the election. Two months before the election, noted polltaker Elmo Roper was so confident of a Dewey victory that he announced there would be no further Roper Polls on this election.

There are some interesting parallels between Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president, and Howard Dean, the man who should be the 44th president. A friend of mine sent me a copy of Truman's Democratic convention acceptance speech on July 15, 1948, and I found some great quotes that could probably be recycled for the 2004 election:

"The reason is that the people know that the Democratic Party is the people's party, and the Republican party is the party of special interest, and it always has been and always will be."

"The United States has to accept its full responsibility for leadership in international affairs. We have been the backers and the people who organized and started the United Nations, first started under that great Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson, as the League of Nations. The League was sabotaged by the Republicans in 1920. And we must see that the United Nations continues a strong and growing body, so we can have everlasting peace in the world."

"As I have said time and time again, foreign policy should be the policy of the whole Nation and not the policy of one party or the other. Partisanship should stop at the water's edge; and I shall continue to preach that through this whole campaign."

"I have repeatedly asked the Congress to pass a health program. The Nation suffers from lack of medical care. That situation can be remedied any time the Congress wants to act upon it."

"Everybody knows that I recommended to the Congress the civil rights program. I did that because I believed it to be my duty under the Constitution. Some of the members of my own party disagree with me violently on this matter. But they stand up and do it openly! People can tell where they stand. But the Republicans all professed to be for these measures. But Congress failed to act. They had enough men to do it, they could have had cloture, they didn't have to have a filibuster. They had enough people in that Congress that would vote for cloture.

"Now everybody likes to have low taxes, but we must reduce the national debt in times of prosperity. And when tax relief can be given, it ought to go to those who need it most, and not those who need it least, as this Republican rich man's tax bill did when they passed it over my veto on the third try. "

"At the same time I shall ask them to act upon other vitally needed measures such as aid to education, which they say they are for; a national health program; civil rights legislation, which they say they are for; an increase in the minimum wage, which I doubt very much they are for; extension of social security coverage and increased benefits, which they say they are for; funds for projects needed in our program to provide public power and cheap electricity. By indirection, this 80th Congress has tried to sabotage the power policies the United States has pursued for 14 years. That power lobby is as bad as the real estate lobby, which is sitting on the housing bill. "

"In 1932 we were attacking the citadel of special privilege and greed. We were fighting to drive the money changers from the temple. Today, in 1948, we are now the defenders of the stronghold of democracy and of equal opportunity, the haven of the ordinary people of this land and not of the favored classes or the powerful few. The battle cry is just the same now as it was in 1932, and I paraphrase the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt as he issued the challenge, in accepting nomination in Chicago: 'This is more than a political call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes along, but to win in this new crusade to keep America secure and safe for its own people.'"


You can read the entire speech at:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/character/links/truman_speech.html
E.P. Monday, September 22, 2003