Harry and Barry

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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: Maybe 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.)


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