It’s almost time for the Democrats to call in Harry S. Truman. Two weeks after the pollsters gave up on him, the crusty old man from Missouri gave Tom Dewey a country licking in November 1948. Ever since, candidates about to fall into the abyss, never to be heard from again, have imagined themselves to be an incarnation of Harry Truman.
Well, I knew Harry Truman. Sort of. As a boy I sold him a newspaper when our paths suddenly crossed on my paper route. The president was startled when I emerged to the sidewalk from the bushes, where I had retrieved a badly thrown newspaper, but his Secret Service bodyguards didn’t shoot me. I still have the nickel. If not exactly a friend, Mr. Truman was once a customer, and none of the Democrats running this year looks anything remotely like the 32nd president I knew (if only for a minute).
Harry Truman famously ran that year against “the do-nothing 80th Congress,” and the 80th was indeed a Republican Congress. But this year it’s not a do-nothing Congress that has everybody so angry and outraged, but a do-everything-awful Democratic Congress.
The news continues to go from bad to pretty bad to really bad. The government announced only Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits topped 462,000 for the month, that the trade deficit continues to grow and the dollar continues to tank.
With 18 days to go, there’s no sign of a Democratic turnaround. The New York Times tried to spring an October surprise with its “revelation” that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which generally supports Republican candidates, might be, could be (but actually probably isn’t) collecting campaign contributions from furriners. Those revelations, such as they were, fell flat with a thud that almost nobody in the forest heard.
Good old Joe Biden, the vice president who is occasionally allowed to come down from the White House attic, pulled a little October surprise himself Thursday, announcing that Barack Obama had asked him to run with him again in 2012. This was not so much a surprise as a painful shock to Democratic campaigners, even to the president, who understand that voters need no reminder that this president, no longer sublime, and his sidekick, never thought sublime, lie in wait in the shadows like ghouls for the Halloween of two years hence. The president is said to duck into the nearest broom closet when he sees the veep approaching in a White House corridor. Good old Joe frightens the president like the president frightens the rest of us.
Certain giddy Republicans have decided that the Democrats don’t have a prayer on Nov. 2, which is foolish, and besides, Michelle Obama is on the stump thanking Democrats for their prayers and urging Democrats of faith to step up supplications to Jehovah, Allah, the Great Spirit, the Force, the Great Pumpkin, to whomever or whatever. “It means all the world to us to know there are prayer circles out there who are keeping the spirits clean around us,” the first lady told Washington radio talker Tom Joyner.
The president himself continued to appeal to blacks to rally to him. He called black bloggers to the White House to urge them to get to work stirring up the 92 percent of black voters the pollsters say still support the president and the agenda that has so outraged nearly everyone else. “The media is changing so rapidly that websites, like you guys do every day, do two things,” he said. “Number one, it allows us to reach audience that may not be watching ‘Meet the Press.’ I’m just saying. It might be a different demographic.”
Some of the Democratic candidates are clearly losing “it” as well as their races for office. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, where even Barney Frank is feeling an unwelcome hot breath on the back of his neck, rails against the way that the media has been opened up to peasants, peons, coolies, rednecks, tea sippers and other rustics no longer willing to stay in their place. “We have a lousy Supreme Court decision that has opened the floodgates,” he said in remarks about the Citizens United decision that the First Amendment applies to everybody. “I think the Constitution is wrong.”
Since Harry Truman wouldn’t recognize his party, the least the Democrats could do is to get out of the graveyard and leave him in peace. But desperate circumstances demand desperation.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.