President Biden’s angry, shouting, hyperbolic speech condemning anyone and everyone who opposes him was, most objective critics agree, an epic botch: unpresidential, undemocratic, nasty and bad politics as well. “[It] was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend, ” was Peggy Noonan’s assessment in the Wall Street Journal. “It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the Democratic Party…in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels…. The over-the-top language of the speech made him seem more emotional, less competent. The portentousness—’In our lives and . . . the life of our nation, there are moments so stark that they divide all that came before them from everything that followed. They stop time’—made him appear incapable of understanding how the majority of Americans understand our own nation’s history and the vast array of its challenges. By the end he looked like a man operating apart from the American conversation, not at its center…”
Noonan’s evaluation was just about the consensus, and it sent historians to the archives to find another POTUS speech of similar rotten timber. Professor Andrew Busch at Claremont McKenna College believes he found one: as Harry Truman fought for his political life as the underdog to Republican Presidential nominee Tom Dewey in the 1948 campaign, he stooped to similarly vile demagoguery. “In our time,” Truman told a Chicago audience little more than a week before the polls opened, “we have seen the tragedy of the Italian and German peoples, who lost their freedom to men who made promises of unity and efficiency and sincerity…and it could happen here.” He went on to say, “Republican leaders, of course, give lip service to the principles of democracy. But the Republicans preach one thing and practice another. The actions of the Republican 80th Congress opened the gate to forces that would destroy our democracy…This is not just a battle between two parties. It is a fight for the very soul of the American Government.” Truman also implied that Dewey was a “front man” for fascist interests, just as Mussolini and Hitler had been.