by Jules Witcover
President Obama's second term is already beleaguered by the same barrier that stymied his first four years -- a
A previous Democratic president named Harry Truman knew how to capitalize on what he famously called a "Do-nothing
In 1946, Truman lost majority control in both houses, a 58-seat
To dig him out of the hole, presidential adviser Clark Clifford wrote a prophetic memo: "The administration should select the issues upon which there will be a conflict with the (Republican) majority in
The administration, Clifford agued, "must display a label which reads 'No compromise.' ... We want the president to be in position to receive the credit for whatever they do accomplish while also being in position to criticize the
Truman responded by calling the Republican-controlled
Truman proceeded in his whistle-stopping across the country to "give 'em hell," telling farmers that Wall Street manipulators and their Republican allies in
In response to all this, Dewey was largely silent, lulled by polls suggesting his election was assured, though his profile fit to a tee Truman's painting of confident and contended Republicans. On election night, Truman brought in with him Democratic control of both houses of
In a sense, in 2012, Obama benefited likewise from the image of Mitt Romney as a rich, complacent and privileged Republican, but he failed to regain control of the House lost in the 2010 midterm elections. His own efforts to paint the obstructionist Republican House in the do-nothing mold fell short, possibly because he continued his illusion that he still somehow could do business with the
Harry Truman, by contrast, seldom if ever fooled himself about the nature of the partisan opposition he faced. His brassy and man-in-the-street manner was more naturally suited to giving 'em hell than is Obama's reason-together demeanor and rhetoric only occasionally ruffled by confrontational, partisan campaign-style chidings.
In the Obama administration, the Harry Truman role is more vividly and consistently played by Vice President Joe Biden. Behind the scenes one of Obama's most effective intermediaries with the Republican congressional leaders, Biden also does a passing version of the Harry of 1948 in the traditional vice-presidential political assignment as partisan attacker.
If the do-little status quo on today's
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Another Do-nothing Congress