In recent weeks, President Obama has been barnstorming the country to gin up support for his health care reform plan. That is a very good thing, as Presidents from Reagan to LBJ to Truman have successfully gone over the heads of Congress to appeal directly to the people to get their sometimes controversial agendas passed by both houses of the legislative branch. As one of my favorite Republicans, President Theodore Roosevelt, once observed, the presidency is a unique "bully pulpit" from which a President can plead his case to stir up mass support behind him, a privilege no member of Congress can match.
The success of our current President's efforts are yet to be determined. He has had the "pulpit" all right, but he hasn't been much of a "bully." Presidents have always had opposition in Congress, but none have been faced with the degree of downright uncivil and wholly uncooperative obstructionist tactics that President Obama has endured from his current ultra-conservative Republican Party opposition over the past year. To his credit, Obama has maintained his civility and repeatedly reached out to his opponents. Each and every time, they have rejected his overtures and have attacked him repeatedly with lies and distortion. The time has come for Obama to drop the "Mr. Nice Guy" demeanor and start a robust strategic counterattack on those who are dead set of making him a failure and destroying his presidency. He needs to attack these Republicans on their philosophy, lack of practical policy ideas, and even on their very method of campaigning. To date, the Obama pulpit has resembled that of Ronald Reagan to a degree: friendly, smiley, with an occasional mild zinger. But Obama's time is far different than the Reagan era. Unlike Reagan, he is faced with an opposition party who rabidly hates him and a public who has heard so many vicious lies about him they are starting to wonder about him.
In 1948, then-President Harry S Truman faced a similar situation. At that time, two years before, Republicans had recaptured contol of the House and Senate for the first time in 14 years; they appeared to be on the rise; and Truman was in political trouble. Inflation was being felt and there was a housing shortage. Soviet Russia was appearing to be on an expansionist kick, and many people were getting nervous about foreign affairs. It was doubtful Truman would retain office the next year. The Republicans jeered at him and mocked him, and, then as now, tried to pass legislation beneficial to the rich but harmful to everybody else. Things looked bleak for Truman and his Democratic Party.
Then Truman hit the road, traveling more than 30,000 miles in 10 months. He lambasted the uncooperative, "do nothing" Republicans at every stop. In a speech delivered in West Virginia, ol' Harry really let it rip. A voice from the assembled crowd called out, "Give 'em hell, Harry!" To which Truman wittily replied, "I just tell the truth, and the Republicans think it's hell."
Here is a slightly abridged version of that speech:
"The Republicans wrote part of their record from 1921 to 1933. They led the
country to depression, poverty, and despair...
In 1932, after 12 years of Republican bungling, more than 12 million men and
women were unemployed.
In 1932 the average worker in manufacturing industries was making 45 cents an
hour -- if he was lucky enough to have a job. In coal mining, the most hazardous
of all occupations, miners were making 52 cents an hour -- if they were lucky
enough to have jobs.
The working men and women in this country could not do much to help themselves,
because the strength of their unions had been broken by the reactionary labor
policies of the Republican administration.
The Republican bubble burst in 1929, and when it burst:
-- There was no minimum wage to cushion the blow.
-- There was no unemployment compensation to carry the working man's family
-- There was no work relief program to help people through the crisis.
-- But the party of privilege was ready to carry big business through the
crisis. It created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for that purpose. The
banks, the railways, the insurance companies -- they got relief, but not the
-- For the unemployed, it was Hoovervilles and soup kitchens. Veterans were
encouraged to go into business for themselves -- selling apples.
That is the Republican record. Most of us well remember it. The Democratic part
of the record begins in 1933, when the Democratic Party began to build
prosperity for business, labor, and agriculture.
We wrote into law the right of the working men and women to organize in unions
of their own choice, and to bargain collectively.
We put a floor under wages.
We outlawed child labor.
We created a great insurance system to protect working men and women against the
hazards of unemployment and old age.
We wrote into law a system of price supports for farm products, so that the
bottom would not drop from under the farmer's income the way it did in the
We put a curb on Wall Street speculation, and stopped the money changers from
gambling with people's savings.
With these reforms and many others, the Democratic Party brought the country to
the greatest period of prosperity ever known in the history of the world.
Things are far different now from what they were in 1932.
The average farm income of the farmer in 1947 was $725 per person, nearly ten
times as great. In 1932 it was $74 per person.
The coal miner who got 52 cents an hour in 1932, gets $1.94 an hour in 1948. He
deserves every cent of it, too; and I'm glad to see him get it.
And business hasn't suffered too much under the New Deal! Corporations had a
loss of $4 billion in 1932. But in 1947 they had a profit of $17 billion, after
These same corporations -- these same corporations now claim the Democrats are
hostile to business. If I were in their shoes, I would want some more of that
kind of hostility.
Today, signs of prosperity are all over the country. I have been all over the
country, and I know what I am talking about!
Farm production is greater than it ever was. Industrial production is greater
than it ever was. Everybody who wants a job can get one.
That's the way America is today. The real question facing us in this election is
whether or not we are going to keep it that way.
For all this did not come about by accident. Some people would like to make you
think it did. The leaders of the Republican Party would like you to believe that
the country just drifted into the great depression, and that it just drifted out
again into prosperity. They would like you to believe that the Democratic New
Deal had nothing to do with recovery -- and that the Republicans had nothing to
do with the Hoover panic.
That is not true and the people know it is not true.
The country was driven into depression by the policies of a Republican
administration and a Republican Congress that served the selfish interests of
the rich and powerful business groups.
The country was brought out of the depression by the intelligent foresight and
planning of the Democratic Party -- and above all by following the fundamental
belief of the Democratic Party that the true road to prosperity begins with
looking after the little fellow. The Republicans believe in taking care of big
business first and letting the little fellow take care of himself.
The Republicans would like you to forget these fundamental differences between
the two parties. But during the past 2 years we have been given a sharp warning
that these differences still exist, and these differences are wide and deep.
That has been made completely clear by the record of this Republican
'do-nothing' 80th Congress.
No matter what the Republicans do or say, the Republicans cannot escape
responsibility for that black record.
I know, of course, that there are many fine people throughout the United States,
who from habit or choice are members of the Republican Party. To them I say that
the national leadership of their party has failed them miserably.
I know, too, that among the Republicans of the 80th Congress there were a few
liberal men who joined the battle against special privilege. You can pick these
men out by their votes. They voted with the Democrats in the Congress more often
than they did with their own Republican leadership. When these men went to their
party caucuses they must have felt very lonesome.
The record of the 80th Congress was made by the forces that dominate the
Republican Party... on domestic issues...the Republican leadership
started out to follow the same policies that nearly wrecked the country under
Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.
Some people have accused me of failing to cooperate with the Republican
leadership in carrying out those policies. Now, I must confess to you that I am
going to plead guilty to that charge. Of course, I did not cooperate in carrying
out policies that I knew would bring disaster on the American people.
But I will tell you how you can get some cooperation in carrying out those
policies -- if that's what you want. I will tell l you how you can achieve unity
in a headlong dash toward another depression. Just elect a Republican President
to go along with a Republican Congress.
Just elect a man who said -- and I quote: 'I am proud of the record of my party
and of the 80th Congress.'
Just elect a man who said: 'The 80th Congress delivered as no other Congress
ever did for the future of our country.'
Apparently he will be glad to help deliver a lot more of the same kind of blows
you got from the 80th Congress. But bigger blows -- and faster and more of them.
What did this Republican Congress deliver for the future of the country?
For one thing, it delivered a body blow at labor in the form of the Taft-Hartley
The fundamental purpose of the Taft-Hartley Act is to weaken organized labor.
Its supporters want management to have the upper hand in collective bargaining.
Do you know why? They want management to have the upper hand so that wages can
be driven down.
What else did the Republican Congress deliver for the future of our country?
It delivered a body blow at nearly a million workers by taking away their social
It delivered a body blow at millions of our veterans by refusing to provide a
decent housing program.
It delivered a blow at every family in the Nation by failing to act on high
What else did the Republican Congress deliver for the future of our country? It
delivered a whole long list of blows at every foundation of our present
prosperity and at our hopes for progress in the future. I can't cover them all
tonight, but I will tell you about just one more.
That is the rich man's tax relief bill.
The Republican Congress passed a tax bill that reduced the revenues of the
Government by more than $5 billion. That Congress passed it three times and I
vetoed it every time. But on the third try, they passed it over my veto.
I believed that the safety of our national finances required that we make large
payments on the public debt in times of prosperity. I still think so.
But the Republican rich man's tax relief bill has brought us face to face with
the prospect of going into the red again.
I believed that when the wartime taxes were reduced, the poor man should be
relieved first and most. I still think so. But the Republican tax bill doesn't
work that way.
I warned that the tax reduction bill would add to the inflationary pressures and
make prices go even higher. And it did.
For most of you, the tax bill hasn't helped a bit. If you make $60 a week, your
taxes were reduced about $1.50 a week. But since May, when that $1.50 began to
show up in your pay envelope, prices have gone up so much that the $1.50 is
already wiped out.
The rich man fared much better under the tax bill. A married couple with an
income of $100,000 a year got a tax cut of $16,725 a year -- $16,725 a year!
That's about $12,000 more than my net salary as President of the United States.
Of course, prices haven't gone up for them any more than they have for you. So I
would say that they came out pretty well.
Is it any wonder that we call this a rich man's tax relief bill?
That's typical of the way the Republican 80th Congress delivered for the future
of the country. Some time later, I am going to elaborate on just exactly what
they did with the budget this year. And it fits in with this rich man's tax
relief bill. It's outrageous what they did to the country on that.
That Congress delivered for the interests that had their lobbyists swarming all
over the Capital. It delivered for special privilege groups that put up the big
money at election time.
They are doing that right now in this election. That same bunch of lobbyists and
people whom they represent are paying for the Republican campaign right this
Now, they passed a great many bills, which I vetoed. There is only one President
who has a greater veto record than I have, in the short time that I have been
President, and that is Grover Cleveland; and I am proud of that veto record,
because I was standing there working for the people, when I was signing those
But they passed a great many -- not a great many, but several -- among them this
tax relief bill and the Taft-Hartley bill. They passed those bills over my veto.
But when a bill becomes the law of the land, the President of the United States
has sworn to enforce the law, and as President of the United States, I have
lived up to that oath which I took to support the Constitution and the laws of
the United States.
But if you want these bad things remedied, you had better give me a Congress for
the next 4 years that is working for the people and not for the special
Now, if you want unity and harmony and sweetness and light in getting more
deliveries of the kind I have been describing, just shut your eyes and vote
But if you want something delivered for labor, if you want something delivered
for the farmers, and if you want something delivered for the small businessmen,
and for the white-collar worker -- there is just one way you can make your vote
count. Vote the Democratic ticket.
Today, the Democratic Party is the party of the American people. It was the
party of the people under Jefferson and Jackson. It was the party of the people
under Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.
Today, we of the Democratic Party express the will of the American people to
move forward, under liberty, yielding neither to communism nor to reaction.
Today, the Democratic Party stands before the country a living force for peace
Today, we are rallying our forces for the greatest struggle in our history. In
that struggle, I ask your support.
Just give us the votes on election day, and we will do the job."
In this remarkable speech, Truman brilliantly and truthfully framed the Republicans as exactly what they are: a party for the rich, completely out of touch with the wants and needs of the rest of the country. He did so with specific and easy-to-understand examples. He clearly outlined their failures and hoisted them on their own petard.
Barack Obama must now do exactly the same thing. Republican obstinance and unproductivity must be spotlighted and hammered upon. Republican policies favoring the rich but harming everyone else must be clearly presented. The President needs to drop his foolish obsession with bipartisanship. In today's political climate, that is an impossible dream. He must instead attack and expose the Republicans for the liars and obstructionists they are. That is the only way he will stave off electoral defeat for his party this year, and for himself AND his party in 2012. It worked fabulously well for Truman in 1948, and will do so again in 2010 and 2012. He, like Truman before him, must make Republicans the issue, not himself.
Now "GIVE 'EM HELL, BARRY!"