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Truman and the Left


Not that Matt Stoller’s clownshow of a hot take in ranking American presidents deserves 2 posts, but I have to laugh at the love of Harry Truman. It should be said that Stoller’s knowledge of American history wouldn’t fill a thimble so this ridiculousness is not surprising. He’s made laughably ill-informed statements about the past before. Under widespread criticism, he later said he was ranking them on how they stood up to corporations, but that does not really help make this less absurd.

The thing about Truman is that if it was 1948, Matt Stoller would have thought Truman was the biggest sellout of all time, someone destroying the New Deal, leading us toward war with the Soviets, and handing the nation back to corporations. We know this because that was the left criticism of Truman that led to the Henry Wallace third party run. And while Wallace’s campaign was a complete disaster, in 1947 and early 1948, the possibility of Wallace costing Truman the presidency was very real. People forget that Wallace was at one time a tremendously popular figure who had gained great respect from many Americans. Truman helped undermine Wallace through his harsh veto message of Taft-Hartley, helping to ensure that Walter Reuther and thus the vast majority of the CIO was in his camp. Only the far left unions were left for Wallace by the 48 election. But Truman would have gladly signed a more moderate version of Taft-Hartley. He believed the 1946 strike wave was a major problem and that the labor movement was kind of out of control. He was generally friendly to corporations. For that matter, so was FDR in his heart. The NRA was an openly pro-monopoly bill, even though it was a disaster. All FDR really wanted from corporations was for them to bargain contracts with unionized workers. Otherwise, despite his single speech where he welcomed their hate, he was not anti-corporate in any meaningful way.

Truman also deserved his reputation as ratcheting up the Cold War. Today, we might see this as more or less inevitable, but it was very much not seen that way in 1947. Bringing Churchill over for the Iron Curtain speech, using a lot of sharp rhetoric against the USSR, continuing with nuclear testing while not allowing for international control over the atom–all of these things angered the left very much.

Finally, Truman faced a Congress that had moved far to the right was wanted to take control of all of government. He was constrained in what he could accomplish domestically and knew he would face a strong Republican candidate in Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election. Truman could hardly afford to become the leftist some wanted at the same time the McCarthy era was overtaking the nation.

In other words, there is almost no way a Matt Stoller in 1948 does not support Wallace. For years, the left saw Truman as a complete loser and sellout. That Stoller is completely unable, or simply uninterested, to learn even the basics about the American presidents and their times before he ranks them suggests how unserious he is with all of his writing. If anyone was going to be Henry or Bust in 1948, it would have been a Stoller of the time. Everything he says of Obama is what the left said of Truman then. It was about as connected to reality then as it is with Obama now. Both presidents can be criticized, yes, but both are also top 10 presidents.

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