Republicans Need to Do a 'Reverse Truman.'(tactics of Former President Harry S. Truman)(On the Record)(Column)

By Faucheux, Ron | Nation's Cities Weekly, February 12, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Republicans Need to Do a 'Reverse Truman.'(tactics of Former President Harry S. Truman)(On the Record)(Column)


Faucheux, Ron, Nation's Cities Weekly


Republicans in Congress need a new strategy.

Their slide into the no-win budget swamp has muddied their message. Tampering with Medicare, school lunches, and environmental protections, without, properly setting the stage, has reinforced old stereotypes of the GOP as heartless servants, of the rich. Failure to deliver major Contract items - term limits, balanced budget amendment, middle class tax cut, welfare reform, tough anti-crime measures - has disappointed voters looking for swift results. Strident partisanship - born of premature giddiness from the 1994 elections - has made them seem too power hungry.

Of course, the State of the Union didn't help. President Clinton was the model of reason as he deftly embraced conservative values without rejecting liberal themes. More than that, he seemed like a nice guy.

Republicans, on tile other hand, appeared alternately angry and smug. The problem wasn't just Bob Dole looking like an aging funeral director in his well-panned response. It was the whole crew. The visual contrasts alarmed Republican strategists and heartened Democrats who haven't had much to celebrate lately.

On top of that, liberal Democrat Ron Wyden's recent U.S. Senate victory in Oregon, to fill Republican Bob Packwood's open seat, was another sign that the GOP wave has stopped, at least for now. It was also a signal that. Democratic interest groups - like labor and environmentalists - are going to play tough come November.

The GOP should take a lesson from history.

In 1946, the American people were tired of Democratic rule and had little faith in their unelected President, Harry Truman, who had assumed office upon Franklin Roosevelt's death the year before. Responding to the Republican theme - Had Enough? - voters toppled Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Though was viewed as a sure loser in the next election, he proved to be no slouch. He sent the Republican Congress a bold agenda that he knew they would obstruct. They did, and he turned it against them, campaigning against a "do nothing" Congress.

After the 1994 elections, some saw a historic parallel. But this time, it is the Congress that has the opportunity to act boldly and the President who is more vulnerable to the "do nothing" charge.

Congressional Republicans need to get out of the budget swamp, clean themselves off, and purse a daring veto strategy. In effect, do a reverse Truman

If conservative strategists are correct when they say that the liberal constituency is one-third of the electorate and that the other two-thirds are hostile to left-leaning aims, then this is a golden opportunity to test that theory.

Republicans need to put the president's liberal support base squarely into conflict with his more conservative rhetoric.

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