I prefer Ike

According to the latest edition of Safire’ Political Dictionary, President Truman in July 1948 used the phrase “red herring” in his acceptance speech to describe Republicans’ use of diversionary tactics in the “Do-Nothing” 80th Congress to avoid dealing with that year’s housing crisis.

Truman, Safire writes, blundered a few months later in using the phrase “red herring” again in further criticizing the GOP’s approaches, among them the suddenly burgeoning House Un-American Activities Committee investigations, as a way to ignore the country’s economic problems — Truman blundered, Safire continues, because the phrase’s “context and meaning had changed” in the intervening months, as “Red” was heightened by the investigations of Communists working for our government. Once Alger Hiss was convicted in the next presidential year of 1952, the phrase “red herring” became associated with soft-on-communism accusations of the Democrats that the GOP used to great effect, according to Safire.

Sixty years later, we have Red Herring Lite, though few of the players will ever have the stature or influence attained by Truman, Eisenhower or even (gulp) Richard Milhouse Nixon. Instead we have Rep. Michele Bachmann and her call to investigate the Communists, er, I mean “anti-Americans” in Congress (despite her somewhat selective backpedaling and many of her fellow travelers in her own party distancing themselves from her). Rep. Bachmann’s approach plays in line with the campaign of fear and attacks the GOP is waging, while ignoring, re-directing or ineffectively addressing real issues like the economy (stupid).

One remaining question is if Rep. Bachmann is not, yet, the 2008 version of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, does that instead make her a young Rep. Richard Nixon (one of the early adopters of using the Red Scare for campaigning gain)? And if so, does that mean Gov. Palin is no longer the 2008 version of a not-as-young Vice Presidential candidate Nixon in 1952 (we’re waiting for the Checkers speech) to Sen. McCain’s Dwight David Eisenhower?

And while the two military veterans are similar in leaving attacks in their campaigns to others (well, mostly in McCain’s case), this last comparison seems to be a knock on our 34th president — McCain is showing little of the restraint, class or fatherly spirit that Ike did.


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