Truman ’48 DNC Nomination Acceptance Speech Reaction

You don’t hear too much about Truman as a great speaker, but in my opinion he had a very pleasant cadence and tone to his voice at least in this speech. Whether he be speaking or shouting, his voice is nice to listen to.

Something that really took me aback about this address, however, is in how unashamedly partisan and adversarial it is towards the Republicans. After quickly accepting the nomination he launches right into a no holds barred attack of the Republican Congress. As the reigning party for the previous 4 terms, Truman has to defend the party’s role as the policy makers however, and he does so as well. In this regard, Truman’s speech is very unique at least as far as Democratic nomination speeches go, because it both defends the status quo while also being very accusatory and harsh towards those perceived as slowing progress. This also shows how far back Republicans were (at least perceived to be) obstructionist and beholden to the past.

Foreign policy should be the policy of the whole nation, not one party” these are words that would be repeated more or less by Jack Kemp about 40 years later, and now an additional 30 years since then, they are a dream perhaps not to be reclaimed in the near future. But it’s absolutely true, America cannot afford to do a 180 on its obligations and goals towards the world every 4 years. That’s insane, it’s begun to alienate us from previous as well as potential allies and rightly so. How can we expect other countries to trust us if we’re not consistent?

Something I really like about this speech is that Truman backs up his attacks with concrete data, including dates where he called for certain bills or policies and how long it took Congress/Republicans to pass them. This strikes me as far more trustworthy and also infuriating (against the objects of his criticism, not him) than just the generalized attacks you usually see in boiler plate stump speeches. I want to see more of that in modern oration—the 2016 Democrats could have made great use of that instead of just making general overtures about how “offensive” the Republicans are, for example.

Something I’m not personally a fan of, however, is Truman’s body language. As he speaks, he constantly sways back and forth. As far as hand gestures go (a staple in political speech) he tends to make a chopping motion with his hands, or pick up his arms and throws them down. It strikes me as vaguely dictatorial and argumentative. But that’s just my nitpicking opinion of the week.

It might be that as the standard bearer of a 4-time elected party that this is all Truman could do but all the same I wanted some more positivity in this speech. I guess talking about a change, a bold new future, the usual cliches wouldn’t work because the question would be “well, why haven’t you guys done it yet in 16 years?” And to be fair, the Democrats already had ushered in a very unprecedented new society under FDR the last decade he was in power. So, Truman’s position is “I’m doing what I can to continue that legacy, it’s Congress’ fault I can’t do more” but all the same it gets a little dreary and one-note to listen to after about twenty minutes in.

Overall, it’s an effective speech. It’s just very unusual in calling the other party to a higher standard as opposed to talking up your own accomplishments or calling for a change as are the most common paradigms for convention speeches. Truman’s conclusion is very forceful and inspiring albeit brief. That really fired me up to go and vote, more than any moment from any other speech, and after all that’s the whole point of these conventions in the first place.

1 Comment

  1. Another outstanding analysis. Truman is also not a favorite President for me, I associate him with drooping the A bombs, which I view as an unnecessary war crime and his using the UN to bypass congress and get the US into the Korean War starting the bad practice of presidents getting the US into wars without Congress declaring them as mandated by the Constitution . Never listened to this speech before. I have read somewhere that his voice was probably similar to Abe Lincoln’s never heard anything about Lincoln gesturing during speeches. Another good job Cassie!

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