progressive view

Today’s Democrats are Harry Truman’s legacy

Earlier this year for another news organization I wrote a column summarizing messages from candidate speakers at the Knox County Democratic Party Truman Day Dinner.

A couple of wags responded that the Democratic Party isn’t offering candidates like Harry Truman anymore.

Oh, really? Anyone tempted to say that doesn’t know Truman or Democratic candidates very well.

David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Truman” includes a thorough account of Harry Truman’s time as a combat veteran. Harry volunteered to serve in the Great War, leading an artillery unit.

This year’s Democratic candidates include Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who flew 89 combat missions, now running for Congress from Kentucky. A Democratic congressional candidate in Texas, Gina Ortiz Jones, served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Iraq. She earned a graduate degree from the Army School of Advanced Military Studies and is a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council.

Past Democratic Sen. Max Cleland from Georgia lost both his legs and right forearm at age 25 while serving in Vietnam. Veteran Tammy Duckworth lost both her legs in Iraq, and went on to serve today as a Democratic Senator from Illinois. They join other distinguished veterans ranging from John F. Kennedy to John Glenn, elected to office as Democrats.

Harry Truman also was a civil rights advocate — integrating the armed forces by executive order, and calling for federal laws against lynching, poll taxes, workplace discrimination and interstate travel segregation.

The Democratic Party has a long history of civil rights heroes as candidates, ranging from Congressman John Lewis to Stacey Abrams, the current nominee for Georgia governor and who would be the first female African American to be a U.S. governor.

Much of the country first got to know Harry Truman when the Missouri Senator chaired hearings aimed at rooting out waste and corruption in military contracting — estimated at saving not only $10 to $15 billion but also the lives of thousands of servicemen.

Now it is Democrats like Congressmen Kurt Schrader, Peter Welch, Keith Ellison and Steve Cohen leading the way on challenging poor Pentagon practices.

Truman’s presidency is notable for the Marshall Plan for European restoration, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Berlin Airlift. He also oversaw implementation of the G. I. Bill of Rights.

“Because of the GI Bill,” wrote McCullough, “more than 4 million veterans were attending college, as most never could have in older times.”

President Truman, though thwarted by Congress, called in 1945, 1947 and 1949 for a federally funded health insurance program.

Now Democratic candidates across the country are running on Truman-like principles: create opportunity corridors to higher education, respect civil rights, rebuild our European democratic alliances that President Trump has weakened and fight for quality and affordable health care.

Mark Harmon is a professor of journalism and electronic media at the University of Tennessee.