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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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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