Hating Harry Truman

Since there is so much discussion today of the death of bipartisanship and the roots of polarization, perhaps it’s a good time to look at some specific examples of partisan polarizers.

Consider this weekend’s highly typical expression of outright hatred for the president and the entire Democratic Party by a prominent GOP elected official–in this case, that perennial loose cannon, U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-FL):

“We need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, (audience boos) and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, we need to let them know that Florida ain’t on the table,” West said. “Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.”

After a while, it’s easy to get inured to this sort of talk. Most Republicans and many “objective” political observers would either shrug off West as a non-serious person (albeit a member of Congress) or point to some lefty commentator (though almost certainly not a member of Congress) saying something shrill about Republicans.

But it’s helpful now and then to demand a bit of precision from haters, particularly Obama-haters. Since the number one indictment of Obama from most conservatives involves the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act of 2010, it is worth remembering that Democrats (and many Republicans) have been supporting the idea of universal health coverage for a very long time–to be precise, since Harry Truman, who favored something significantly more “liberal” than the ACA: government-supplied universal health coverage. Does Alan West think Harry Truman was un-American? Maybe so, since Truman not only supported universal health coverage, but also vetoed the Taft-Hartley Act (the pinnacle of anti-union legislation, which is now considered too “liberal” by many conservatives because it makes the “right to work” a state option rather than a national rule). How about FDR? He, after all, proposed all those socialist New Deal programs that the anti-Americans Obama, Reid and Pelosi are reluctant to give up. How about Ike? He encouraged Republicans to accept the New Deal as part of the national lanscape–as did, on occasion, every other Republican president up to and including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

It doesn’t take a great deal of analysis to realize that everything conservatives claim to fear and hate about Barack Obama applies to much of the 20th century legacy of American governance. If you want to hate that, fine, it’s a free country. But it is far past time to show some serious, nonpartisan intolerance for the idea that today’s Democratic Party has undergone some massive shift to the left by embracing policies like private-sector based universal health coverage. It is simply not true, and the obvious interest that people like Allen West have in pretending that their own views would have been considerered within the national mainstream at any time after about 1934 should not obscure that basic fact.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.