Harry and Barry

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Obama’s fiery tone tonight has prompted lots of chatter about “Give ‘Em Hell Barry” and other assorted comparisons to Harry Truman and the Do-Nothing Congress of 1948. Taegan Goddard recommends Zachary Karabell’s The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election, saying, “I’ll bet there are a few copies lying around the White House.”

Maybe so. And far be it from me to bad mouth whistle-stop tours, coalition building, and full-throated Republican bashing. Still, if you want to understand how Truman managed to pull a rabbit out of his fedora in the election of 1948, the chart below tells the real story. I hope I haven’t made the labeling too subtle.

UPDATE:┬áMaybe I was a little too cute here. Sorry. Political scientists say that the most important factor in getting reelected is the state of the economy in the year before an election. In Truman’s case, the economy was smoking hot: it was growing at a rate of 10% or more in all four quarters before November 1948. The campaign stuff mattered, but the economy was almost certainly the real deciding factor. (And contrary to popular myth, it was a pretty big victory: Truman beat Dewey in the popular vote by nearly five percentage points. That’s the power of a strong economy.)

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate