Joe Biden, you’re no Harry Truman

It was clear from President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address that his staff was going for a come-from-behind victory in the style of President Harry Truman.

This was the message of the left-wing media after the speech last night.

Unfortunately, neither Biden’s staff nor the elite media have apparently studied Truman. They have no idea what he did in 1948 to win re-election against all odds.

The Biden team knows what was brutally reinforced in a recent New York Times poll. Their candidate is behind. His policies are not working, and his cognitive problems are worsening.

At a minimum, this State of the Union unified the professional Democrats and made it virtually impossible to launch a dump Biden movement. However, this came with a cost for Biden. 

In 1948, the country had voted four times in a row to put Democrats in the White House (all four were for Franklin Delano Roosevelt). The transition from a wartime boom to a peacetime economy had been difficult. Truman’s commitment to civil rights alienated a large part of the South. His commitment to stopping Soviet expansion had also alienated the most liberal wing of his party.

Gov. Strom Thurmond was mounting an independent segregationist campaign. Former Vice President Henry Wallace was running as a progressive dedicated to creating a more socialist America and appeasing Russian dictator Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. President Truman looked doomed to defeat.

In fact, by September, Truman was sufficiently behind the Republican nominee, Tom Dewey of New York. Gallup announced it was no longer going to poll, because the presidential race was over.

But Truman had been counted out before. During his 1940 re-election campaign to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate, the Kansas City and St. Louis Democratic Party machines decided to defeat him. He was a reformer they could not control. Truman had virtually no money but took one driver and crisscrossed Missouri. He pounded away at the machines and made the election a choice between a courageous independent senator and the party bosses of Missouri’s two biggest cities. Against all odds and expectations, Truman won.

So, Truman knew how to run an intense, aggressive underdog campaign – and he did.

Biden imitated this aspect of the Truman mystique in his 2024 State of the Union – and it worked in achieving two goals. 

First, it demonstrated Biden could still give a major, energetic, hour-long speech. (This was reinforced by the way in which he gradually left the House Chamber while energetically chatting with supporters).

Second, the steady chants of ‘four more years’ and the standing ovations likely neutralized the Democrats who have been considering whether Biden could be talked into retiring or replaced at the convention. At a minimum, this State of the Union unified the professional Democrats and made it virtually impossible to launch a dump Biden movement.

However, this came with a cost for Biden. 

The bitterly partisan nature of the speech also reinforced Republican and independent support for President Donald Trump – and enthusiasm for defeating Biden.

There are four big differences between 1948 and 2024.

First, Truman simply had the job of reassembling enough of the Roosevelt coalition to win a narrow victory. There is no comparably large reservoir of votes from which Biden can draw.

Second, President Trump is no Dewey. Trump will carry an aggressive, enthusiastic, and intense campaign that seeks to reinforce Americans’ disappointment with Biden and move us back on track for a better future.

Third, the problems of the country are far more divisive and hostile than they were in 1948. The reaction on the left to Biden using the term ‘illegal’ to describe the man accused of killing Laken Riley gives you a sense of how hard it is going to be for Biden to cope his own political ecosystem.

Finally, the State of the Union was the wrong place for this bitterly partisan speech. It should be a time for the president of the United States to address all Americans – not for the Democratic Party nominee to address his partisan supporters. Hearing the elite media tout the Truman analogy, I went back and read Truman’s 1948 State of the Union.

Biden began his speech with three consecutive attacks on President Trump and Republicans – on Ukraine, Jan. 6, and abortion.

Compare that bitter partisanship, which alienated every Republican listening, with Truman’s opening:

‘We are here today to consider the state of the Union.

‘On this occasion, above all others, the Congress and the President should concentrate their attention, not upon party but upon the country; not upon things which divide us but upon those which bind us together – the enduring principles of our American system, and our common aspirations for the future welfare and security of the people of the United States.

‘The United States has become great because we, as a people, have been able to work together for great objectives even while differing about details.’

Despite what the elite media says, Joe Biden is no Harry Truman.

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