Friday, September 22, 2006

Hugo, Charlie, Nancy and Harry

I totally agree with my colleague The Moose in congratulating Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel for their plain-talk trashing of Hugo Chavez's latest Bush-bashing incursion into Harlem. This is pretty basic stuff. Yeah, I think Bush has been an unmitigated disaster for our country. Yeah, given the political capital he possessed on September 12, 2001, I think you could make a pretty good case that the debate over Bush's exact status as one of the worst presidents of the last century is a bit of an insult to the memories of Warren Harding and Richard Nixon. And yeah, I have to remind myself of the dictates of Christian charity in foreswearing hatred of the man and his administration.

But still, I do not think Bush's American detractors need any outside help from the likes of Hugo Chavez. He is, as Pelosi pungently put it, an "everyday thug." More generally, he's a guy who would be universally dismissed as just another self-important ex-military caudillo if he wasn't sitting on top of oil revenues that keep his regime from ruin, and enable him to strut around Manhattan showering goodies on low-income Americans. He's pretty much Khadafy without the experience.

I find it really odd and reprehensible that Markos took issue with Rangel for upbrading Chavez (missing the point, BTW, that Charlie was objecting to Chavez's extracurricular appearances in Harlem, not his speech at the UN). But I also probably part company with The Moose in rejecting his particular identification of Harry S. Truman with the idea that partisan differences should generally be subordinated to the national interest.

As it happens, I'm now re-reading Richard Norton's Smith's political biography of Thomas Dewey, whom Truman famously upset in his signature campaign of 1948. It certainly confirms my often-expressed opinion that George W. Bush's 2004 campaign had an antecedent in 1948 as an incumbent candidacy based on eschewing the political center and pursuing a deliberate polarization of the electorate.

Sure, Truman was pre-positioned in the center to some extent via his abandonment by the anti-Cold War "Progressives" backing Henry Wallace, and the anti-civil rights southerners backing Strom Thurmond. And there's no question he was a resolute anti-communist, or that his overall record in building a post-war edifice of international institutions was worthy of all the praise that Democratic centrists have so often given him.

But within those parameters, Truman ran one of the most polarizing campaigns in U.S. political history, suggesting repeatedly that Dewey was a front not only for the restoration of Herbert Hoover's domestic and foreign policies, but for an actual American fascist movement determined to abolish democracy and impose an oligarchy of wealth. He ran a very Kos-like campaign, and most of the retrospective Republican commentaries concluded that Dewey (who in part was spooked by the conviction that he lost in 1944 by being too negative towards FDR), erred fatally in campaigning on a "national unity" message.

On any issue other than foreign condemnations of an American president, nobody would much accuse Nancy Pelosi or Charles Rangel of insufficient partisan zeal. But that's another example of the true HST legacy: keep the enemies abroad in mind, but domestically, leave no partisan attack behind. You don't have to completely endorse this formula to recognize it as a template for what George W. Bush did in 2004, and for what Democrats feel driven to do today.
-- Posted at 4:56 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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