Truman and Obama? Truman Center President’s Day speaker compares the two presidents during election year

Luke Harman

Historian of the United States Senate Donald Ritchie discussed U.S. presidential relationships with Congress in the lecture “A Conflicting Legacy” at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library on President’s Day.

The event was sponsored by UMKC’s Truman Center.

Ritchie is the author of Congress and Harry S. Truman: A Conflicted Legacy, a collection of essays which examine President Truman’s often contentious relationship with Congress. As November’s 2012 presidential election approaches and election campaigns begin to pick up momentum, Ritchie investigates presidential relations with Congress from Truman’s day all the way up to our present presidential system under Barack Obama.

Keeping president Obama’s upcoming re-election campaign at the forefront of his discussion, the Ph.D. scholar of the University of Maryland at College Park identifies the “constitutional principle of checks and balances” coupled with how political prejudice is, and has always been, a source of conflict within Washington D.C. and notably on the presidential election campaign trail.

By analyzing Truman’s successes and defeats during his two terms as president, Ritchie draws some interesting parallels with current president Obama, such as how Congress failed to enact many of the major domestic proposals put forth by both men. However, Ritchie argues that Truman effectively “tapped in” to his former experience as a Senate member during his time as president and effectively forged relationships with Congress members during important election periods in an effort to push his legislation through Congress and also to further his re-election ambitions.

Ritchie also discussed voting trends and comparing the administrative traits of previous administrations such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson. He also poked fun at the ever-entertaining quotes, misquotes and “laughable media representation” of George W. Bush during his terms in office.

Fittingly, audience questions were largely about Obama’s upcoming re-election campaign, direct comparisons with Truman’s domestic and foreign policy in an almost “Who do you think is better?” format. While analyzing both presidents individually and within their own respective contexts, Ritchie concluded that he can see Obama’s re-election campaign following the same system of design as Truman’s and in doing so will gain a majority vote in the upcoming election.

Obama’s current administration, like in Truman’s era, is perceived as “a stalemate between the executive and legislative branches,” Ritchie said. Truman did, in fact, produce, and pass, some important legislation, particularly in foreign and military policy through these new-found relationships with important powers and gained approving votes within Congress. Simply put, Ritchie argues that in this particular tumultuous age of “divided government” in America that Truman’s successful adaptation to his situation should act as a guiding model for President Obama to abide by as he pushes his re-election campaign as a democratic president who faces a Republican Congress and a divided Democratic Party come Nov. 6.

The event was co-sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Center for Governmental Affairs at UMKC and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Mo.

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