One of the most outrageous aspects of the recent Bush administration counter-offensive aimed at reversing the president’s bad poll ratings has been an effort to recast him as a brave, tough and far-sighted Commander-in-Chief in the tradition of Harry S. Truman (Condi Rice, in particular, has been promoting this wildly revisionist argument).Over at TPMCafe, G. John Ikenberry demolishes this false analogy in considerable detail, mainly in terms of Truman’s strategy for dealing with the post-World-War-II challenges facing America, which couldn’t be much farther from Bush’s strategy in the war on terror. Please read it all.I would, however, like to supplement Ikenberry’s analysis by pointing to the radically different leadership styles of Truman and Bush.Truman famously said of the presidency that “the buck stops here.” Bush’s aversion to admitting mistakes or taking accountability for his administration’s actions is so extreme and notorious that he actually gets praise for his occasional “mistakes were made” admissions, invariably abstract rather than specific, that perhaps he isn’t infallible.Truman quickly and decisively fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur as military commander in Korea, at a time when MacArthur was far more popular than the president himself. Bush cannot bring himself to fire Donald Rumsfeld, whose departure would not cause a ripple in public opinion, and would be quietly celebrated throughout most of the armed forces.Truman was of course a fiery partisan, but he also cooperated with Republicans whenever possible, especially in foreign policy. Bush pretends to be “above party,” while in practice (with the sole exception of the No Child Left Behind legislation) treating Democrats who don’t simply surrender to him as nonentities to be ignored if not destroyed.I would have to guess that this campaign to make Bush “the new Truman” is based on the superficial identification of the two presidents as simple, resolute and non-reflective men who never worried much about criticism.Truman, of course, was a man from a very humble background, who did not attend college. Yet his administration built virtually the entire complex superstructure of multilateral organizations and policies, economic as well as diplomatic and military, that guided the West throughout the Cold War and beyond.Bush, the ultimate child of privilege, with a presidential father, a prep school education, and degrees from two Ivy League universities, has actively cultivated a non-reflexive attitude, and is “visionary” only in the imagination of his speechwriters.I obviously don’t expect the Bushies to advertise their boss as the reincarnation of some more likely figure such as Warren G. Harding, but still, this Truman Show does not pass the laugh or smell tests.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Sifting through more data from the 2022 midterms, there was one indicator that surprised and concerned me, so I wrote about it at New York:
As analysts pick over the results of the 2022 midterm elections, there have been a lot of mixed messages for Democrats. Yes, they performed better than you might have expected for the party controlling the White House, especially considering the president has underwater job-approval ratings. And yes, Democrats benefited from an unusually robust performance among young voters, who often don’t participate in midterm elections. But at the same time, Democrats didn’t significantly improve their performance among other key demographics, notably Black, Asian American, and Latino voters. As my colleague Eric Levitz observed, Democrats remain dangerously dependent on white college-educated voters who remain sympathetic to Republican economic messages.
Worse yet for Democrats, there is growing evidence that their single most loyal demographic group, African Americans, was underenthused in 2022. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn looked at the preliminary numbers and sounded the alarm:
“Georgia and North Carolina are two of the states where voters indicate their race when they register to vote, offering an unusually clear look at the racial composition of the electorate. In both states — along with Louisiana — the Black share of the electorate fell to its lowest levels since 2006.
“In all three states, the turnout rate among Black voters was far lower than among white voters. In North Carolina, for example, 43 percent of Black registered voters turned out, compared with 59 percent of white registered voters — roughly doubling the difference from 2018 and tripling the racial turnout gap from 2014.
“While similarly conclusive data is not available elsewhere so far, the turnout by county suggests that a relatively weak Black turnout was a national phenomenon.”
Low Black turnout in Georgia and North Carolina is especially significant because Black candidates (Senate candidate Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Senate Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Georgia) headed up the Democratic tickets in both states. It’s not like the old days when Black voters were being urged to support white conservative Democrats to thwart even more conservative Republicans.
If the signs of relatively low Black turnout in 2022 are accurate and representative, what do they mean? Cohn offers some possible explanations:
“Still, relatively low Black turnout is becoming an unmistakable trend in the post-Obama era, raising important — if yet unanswered — questions about how Democrats can revitalize the enthusiasm of their strongest group of supporters.
“Is it simply a return to the pre-Obama norm? Is it yet another symptom of eroding Democratic strength among working-class voters of all races and ethnicities? Or is it a byproduct of something more specific to Black voters, like the rise of a more progressive, activist — and pessimistic — Black left that doubts whether the Democratic Party can combat white supremacy?”
It’s possible to overinterpret Black voter trends. According to exit polls, the Democratic share of Black voters dropped from 90 percent in 2018 to 87 percent in 2020 and 86 percent in 2022 — not exactly a deep plunge. And some of the negative turnout trends may be attributable to voter-suppression efforts in Republican-controlled states rather than Black voter disaffection with Democrats. In Georgia, moreover, there are encouraging signs about Black early voting turnout in the U.S. Senate general election runoff contest between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker.
But any way you cut it, Democrats have both a practical and a moral responsibility to boost Black voter participation in elections going forward. In particular, President Joe Biden, whose nomination and election in 2020 depended heavily on Black support, should devote a lot of attention to rekindling the fires of affection in this critical segment of the electorate.