Harry Truman had a 22% approval rating in gallup during his last year in office. In the 1952 election Dwight Eisenhower was elected president and Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in a national reputation of the policies of the Truman Administration. I’ve watched the Nixon-Kennedy debates online, and in them Nixon’s line of attack against Kennedy was to say that he would bring the country back to the Truman years. There was also a television commercial where Nixon attacked Truman.
But today, Truman is beloved. Every poll among historians has him as one of our top ten greatest presidents. I don’t get it. At what point in time did the perception of Harry Truman among the american public and professional historians begin to change?
I have been chewing this over, and honestly I just don’t know. I never understood it myself. As I noted in one of our Q&A sessions, Bush and Dukakis competed in 1988 to see which could more plausibly portray himself as the present-day Truman.
Who is the last Democratic president of whom the history profession doesn’t have a generally positive impression? Wilson? Over time, they like all Democrats. They’ve even come around to admiring Johnson.