The President as Interpreter-In-Chief

By Mary E. Stuckey | Go to book overview

tory that characterized his 1948 whistle-stop campaign. Truman used Rooseveltian appeals. But he did not have Roosevelt's ethos or Rooseveltian crises. Instead of the Great Depression, he had a postwar recession. Instead of the Supreme Court fight, he had the Both Congress. Instead of World War II and Hider, Truman had Korea and "Uncle Joe" Stalin. Of all of them, the only one that proved truly effective for Truman was his campaign against the Republicans of the "do-nothing" Both Congress. This kind of dynamic is to prove true for more presidents than Truman, and such campaigning rhetoric will increasingly dominate presidential speech making.

In sum, Truman was, in many ways, an apt successor to Roosevelt. He shared the general philosophy of the New Deal and used many of the appeals designed by Roosevelt. These appeals were effective over radio; Truman was not. He took the same language Roosevelt adapted for radio on the road and onto the rear platform of the presidential train. They worked there because such speeches were short and punchy; they aroused emotion quickly and painted pictures vividly. Such language would rapidly be outdated, however, as television became the dominant channel of political communication in the United States.


Conclusions

After the Eisenhower inauguration, at a luncheon given for the former president, Truman turned pensive. "'Two hours ago,' he mused, 'I could have said five words and been quoted in fifteen minutes in every capital of the world. Now I could talk for two hours and nobody would give a damn.'" 87 Truman meant this as a testimony to the power of democracy: that the transition had been both smooth and absolute. But it is also a reflection on the nature of the office. The world war and the growth of the mass media had combined to make the office of the presidency the most powerful--and the most visible--in the world. The question whether that power can be maintained in the environment of high visibility is one that did not yet trouble the American national scene. The problems with the new strategies of "going public" were barely visible: Truman's troubles with Senator McCarthy and General MacArthur were seen as problems created by his own personal weaknesses, not as problems brought about by the potentialities of the new media and the demands that media and the American public placed on the presidency.

The new media were not yet totally dominant. Even given the popularity of radio, personal speech making was still a prevalent mode of po

-49-

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