The Myth of Harry Truman and the Do-Nothing Congress

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Paul Krugman says that although Team Obama has been reluctant to complain about Republican obstructionism, they don’t really have much choice anymore:

They can point with pride to some big economic achievements, above all the successful rescue of the auto industry, which is responsible for a large part of whatever job growth we are managing to get. But they’re not going to be able to sell a narrative of overall economic success. Their best bet, surely, is to do a Harry Truman, to run against the “do-nothing” Republican Congress that has, in reality, blocked proposals — for tax cuts as well as more spending — that would have made 2012 a much better year than it’s turning out to be.

As an empirical matter, this is true. Basically, the Republican strategy for the past three years has been this:

  1. Do everything humanly possible to prevent the economy from recovering.
  2. Wait for 2012.
  3. Run a campaign focused on the fact that the economy is lousy.

As a political matter, however, it’s not likely that pointing this out will do Obama any good. Harry Truman and the do-nothing Congress may be the stuff of legend, but guess what? That probably had little to do with Truman’s victory. Truman won because the economy was on a tear for the entire year before the 1948 election: Nominal GDP skyrocketed (chart below) and real GDP was growing at a pretty healthy clip too. Economically speaking, it was a terrific peacetime performance.

Obama doesn’t have this. He’s got about 3% nominal growth and 2% real growth. There might be justice in blaming this on Republicans, but probably not electoral victory.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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