Governor Palin, You're No Harry Truman
In the run-up to Sarah Palin's speech Wednesday, many across the political spectrum were tempted to compare the Alaska Governor to Bush 41's dubious VP choice of legend, Dan Quayle. But while her admittedly powerful performance in St. Paul last night was surely never matched by Bush the Elder's master of the malapropism, it nevertheless featured its own Quayle moment. Seeking to pad her reed-thin resume as a small town mayor, Sarah Palin compared herself to President Harry Truman. Well, as Lloyd Bentsen might have said, Governor, you're no Harry Truman.
Almost from the beginning of her speech, Palin tried to turn the Truman analogy to her double-benefit. First, of course, Palin played up the mythology of small town, heartland goodness against the "Washington elite" supposedly represented by the media and her Democratic opponents alike. Then came the Palin's suggestion that she is Harry Truman's natural successor, an inexperienced, little known small town pol who suddenly rises to meet the global crises of the day:
My parents are here tonight, and I am so proud to be the daughter of Chuck and Sally Heath. Long ago, a young farmer and habber-dasher from Missouri followed an unlikely path to the vice presidency.
A writer observed: "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity." I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.
Sadly for Sarah Palin, any resemblance to Harry Truman ends there.
Harry Truman, after all, had been a judge and a two-term United States Senator from Missouri before becoming vice president. A serial failure as a businessman, Captain Truman was a World War I veteran whose political career was fast-tracked by Tom Pendergast, the fabled boss of the Kansas City political machine. Truman was elected to the Senate in 1934. Before being tapped by Roosevelt to be his running mate in 1944, Truman headed a committee that exposed scandals of military fraud and mismanagement after the outbreak of the Second World War.
Thrust into the presidency following the death of FDR in April 1945, the self-doubting Truman emerged as commander-in-chief on day one. (Surely Sarah Palin did not want to call attention to the 72 year old McCain and the age issue.) Truman saw the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and went forward with the decision to drop the atomic bomb. It was his administration which articulated the Truman doctrine of containment of the Soviet Union and intervened to save South Korea.
At home, Harry Truman would doubtless have been a villain to Sarah Palin and her generation of right-wing Republican ideologues. Truman, after all, integrated the United States military and supported union organizing. While ultimately unsuccessful, Truman called for national health insurance. And during his shocking upset of Thomas Dewey in 1948, "Give 'Em Hell Harry" had a message for the Republican Party:
"I have never deliberately given anybody hell. I just tell the truth [to] the opposition - and they think it's hell."
In her creation myth unveiled last night, Governor Palin tried to appropriate Harry Truman's small town roots to enhance her limited biography and VP potential. But as they say on financial disclosure forms, someone else's past performance is no guarantee of your future results.
Governor Palin, the American people knew Harry Truman. And Governor, you're no Harry Truman.