Yesterday, in a post about Joe Biden’s historically bad speech in Georgia, I invited history-minded readers to tell me about a president’s speech worse than Biden’s. Professor Andrew Busch has cited one for me.
Andrew Busch is Crown Professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College. He reached back to 1948 to find a case of a president rivaling Biden for vitriol and demagoguery.
Without in any way demeaning Biden’s accomplishment, I would suggest one possible competitor.
Toward the end of his 1948 come-from-behind campaign, Harry Truman delivered a speech in Chicago on October 25 which rivalled Biden’s in its scale of sheer demagoguery. “In our time,” Truman said, “we have seen the tragedy of the Italian and German peoples, who lost their freedom to men who made promises of unity and efficiency and sincerity…and it could happen here.”
Truman suggested that Republican nominee Thomas Dewey was only a “front man” for a clique of fascistic businessmen such as those who propelled Mussolini and Hitler into power. Sounding amazingly like Joe Biden, Truman declared that “Republican leaders, of course, give lip service to the principles of democracy. But the Republicans preach one thing and practice another. The actions of the Republican 80th Congress opened the gate to forces that would destroy our democracy…This is not just a battle between two parties. It is a fight for the very soul of the American Government.” For the whole text, see [here].
Truman’s Chicago speech is an example of Harry “giving em hell.” Truman liked to say he didn’t give Republicans hell, he just told the truth and they think it’s hell.
But in Chicago at least, the hell Truman gave was slander of the most egregious kind.
Still, Andrew observes that Truman fans can point to mitigating facts, at least when it comes to comparing him and Biden:
Of course, one might grant Truman a bit of leeway, caught as he was in the heat of a difficult campaign. Biden does not have that excuse.
Truman’s demagoguery is also arguably counterbalanced by concrete achievements such as aid to Greece and Turkey, NATO, the Berlin airlift, and the defense of South Korea against communist aggression. Biden, so far, has no such credits to balance the debit.
Right. And it’s almost certain that Biden never will.
STEVE adds the New York Times front page headline about the speech: